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The broken record we can’t seem to stop playing...

Saying that times are “interesting” right now is like having the needle stuck in the groove of the record – we are going ‘round and ‘round and no one likes the sound – we are all just waiting for something to bump us across to the next track. The truth is that we probably need a new needle and it’s even quite possible that the record is too scratched.

I feel, myself, like I am a broken record – I am having the same conversations on (practically) a daily basis. Even though sometimes I like to put my favourite song on repeat, unfortunately this isn’t one of those cases. It feels like when your work colleague has control of the office music, and you can't stand their taste. There are many different tunes to the conversation, but I guess the one that is on the ‘A side’ is salaries and what these look like right now. The number 1 hit for the third quarter of 2020 is salary cuts.

We have found over the past 12 months that salaries have been decreasing by 5k-20k. This is partially due to the economic climate in Q2 and Q3 19/20, where we saw a marginal decrease, but there has been a far more dramatic decrease in Q4 and to date. Anyone who knows me will know my sweet song is Executive Assistant recruitment – this is what you could call my all-time favourite. So, let’s look at a cross section of starting salaries that will give you a snapshot of the usual market rates for Executive Assistants (these do not include EA roles that include office management or HR duties):

  • $75K - $90K + Super for less than 10 year’s work experience with at least (approximately) 50% of that time in a similar role with good tenure

  • $85,000 - $110,000 + Super for less than 10 year’s work experience with at least 80% of that time in an EA role with good tenure

  • $100,000 - $130,000 + Super more than 10 year’s work experience with one organisation or individual for this time in their most recent role

How do we know this? Executive Assistant recruitment is the foundation of Itch – it’s like the chord progression when writing a song. This time last year, we recruited the following roles at these salaries:


  • $85K + super – EA to the CEO – Global Telecommunication Company

  • $100K + super – EA to the Director – Property Developer

  • $110K + super – EA – Private Office – (24/7 – live and breathe work)

  • $120K + super – EA to the MD – Technology Company (extensive worldwide travel 70% of the year)

  • $125K + super – EA/OM Private office

Now, take a look at the current market rates.

  • FY 20/21 Hays Salary review: $77K to $102K plus super – Average $87K

  • Mercer Survey (excluding construction): $90K to $107K

  • Currently on Seek: The most common annual salary in Perth for an EA in WA is between $75K and $85K

As you can see, there has been a dramatic decrease, basically your favourite band has just broken up.

Of course, there are a few variances that effect salaries - for some people, an EA is a ‘right hand man’ and for others, an EA is an admin assistant who checks emails. Responsibilities and salaries fluctuate based on a whole lot of variables such as:

  • The “unwritten” duties of the role (expectations of going above and beyond the JD)

  • Significant overtime requirements

  • The challenges that need to be compensated for (location, big personalities etc.)

  • The skills that the candidate might have that will add value to the role or the broader company

Despite these variances, the average salaries have definitely gone south across the board.

So, what’s on the B side?

The needle being stuck in that pesky groove is having a huge impact on the behaviour of employees (and candidates). People are avoiding changing tracks, or are simply unable to (despite being sick of the song). Dramatic decreases in offered salaries means some people are stuck – they have built their lives (and debts) based on the salary they earn – going backwards at this point is simply not an option. While some people will graciously take a temporary pay cut, changing jobs and starting back at a salary they have surpassed, which may take years to claw back, is not an attractive proposition for most people.

We are seeing some employers being opportunistic with candidates that have been made redundant, taking advantage of people in a desperate situation. In other cases, companies no longer have the budget for these high salaries, which is understandable, however, they are still expecting the same level of expertise, experience, and commitment from Executive Assistants who are making $20K less. This behaviour is not unique to Executive Assistants either – expectations of what you can get for less money is being felt through the entire business support chain right now.

Our experience from the GFC period tells us that this behaviour never ends well; it leads to high disengagement, and when the market bounces back these people are the first to jump-ship. If you want committed employees, you should start how you intend to finish – you don’t suddenly change the melody midway through a verse – seek advice, ask questions, change your expectations, and always consider the huge cost of turnover.

We are all listening to the same record right now, and quite frankly, the band stinks. But if you make smart decisions now, you’ll be listening to all your favourite tunes much sooner.

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