Category Archives: adapting to change

Maternity leave – then what?

Maternity leave:  then what?
Maternity leave: then what?

Making decisions about going back to work after maternity leave is always challenging.  D-day looms large and is unavoidable. Decisions have to be made eventually. The period leading  up to the return to work can be one of great stress.

What goes on for the new mother?

  • Guilt and angst : this plays a massive and understandable role. The arrival is a bundle of joy who has become the centre of your new-found universe. You love being with your new-born and are fearful of missing major moments in your baby’s life.  You worry about his/her well-being, developmental needs and even safety if you make other childcare arrangements.  Only you can make that call. It might be helpful to put this phenomenon of a full-time stay at home Mum into historical perspective. The notion of a stay at home mum whose sole activity was to focus on children and home is rooted  in the post World War II  demand to keep jobs open for soldiers returning from the war and a need to increase a decimated population. At the same time we saw a distinct separation of work and home and the development of a child centred culture.  However, throughout history children have been raised by many people other than their mothers,  or by their mothers who took on  economically related tasks. In lower income groups women always worked and the upper classes farmed their offspring out to wet nurses and nannies. So this “mummy” dilemma in the overall historical scheme of things is relatively new.
  • Too much work: it is a lot of work. There is no other way to say this. But with good organisational skills and outsourcing low value work then there are ways  to prioritise. Many couples now use workplace practises in their homes.
  • Cost of childcare: there is a real need to be strategic and think long-term. Childcare costs are indeed high and women should campaign for tax breaks to defray expenses. If governments are serious about encouraging women to return to the workplace, they will make sure that happens and also cap childcare costs. But the short-term burden of childcare expenses should be benchmarked against the longer term impact of lost salary, career gaps and reduced future pensionable earnings caused by opting to work at a lower level or part-time to accommodate childcare responsibilities.
  • Lack of support network: women express concern about managing the responsibilities of career and family. The workload does increase exponentially with children. But very often the toughest negotiations are needed within the woman’s own home and relationships. In most developed economies where women make up 50% of the work force and are the most qualified, they are still carrying out 80% of household chores. There is something wrong with that picture.
  • The partner will have an affair with the nanny:    Any number of high-profile husband’s have had dalliances with their nannies: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Tiger Woods to name but three. But  if  the thought of finding the father of your baby in flagrante in the playroom is a real deterrent to returning to work, then that might suggest serious reflection is required.    Although it’s normal for any new Mum to feel a little insecure after giving birth, there are lots of hormones whizzing round.  Retaining your professional self  and financial independence is even more important long-term with divorce rate impacting as many as 50% of marriages.
  • Paternity leave: there is a growing movement to encourage men to take parenting leave to share the load.  In Sweden studies by the Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation suggests that higher levels of involvement by both men and women in childcare result in stronger earnings potential for women and a reduced divorce rate. What we are seeing is the pendulum swing and the emergence of the ” daddy factor” where men are acknowledged  for soft skills related to  parenting. Women of course are not generally afforded the same recognition.
  • Exploring new options: for many women, motherhood is a catalyst for other career transitions to find that elusive work life balance with as many as 33% leaving the corporate workforce never to return.

But after all the soul-searching,  the only people who can make those choices are the individual parents. For those that stay together they must also deal with the future consequences of those decisions. For those that don’t,  it is quite often the  single mother who faces those challenges alone.

What’s in a name? More than you think!

I found myself sitting in a group recently and the conversation turned to the challenge of names!  It transpired that all present had some issue with their names and much to my surprise  over 50% of the individuals around the table had changed theirs legally. This is much more common than I ever imagined with 58000 people in the U.K. changing their names in 2011 alone and not limited to celebs such as John Wayne and  model Elle Macpherson wanting to lose their less glamorous monikers!


In my group the reasons given were:

  • Marriage  – assuming new husband’s name. I was quite surprised that the young women in the group had either changed their names to assume their husband’s name or intended to do so.
  • Divorce  – dumping the ex – husband’s name. I was equally surprised by the women who hadn’t changed their names post divorce, even in the most acrimonious circumstances. Others had reverted to their maiden names (which is their father’s name quite often). Declaring your marital/ relationship status is no longer necessary in most countries  but it might be advisable to check your employee handbook to establish what the requirements are for your company  for communicating this transition.
  • Merging names: Many couples are double barreling names after marriage as a compromise.
  • Never liked assigned name   – the majority of changes were because they simply never liked their names and wanted something completely different,  a name of their own choice which they felt was more in line with their own personalities. Not just their first names, but family name as well!   I actually only connected with my own name relatively recently! Here, there will be legal guidelines to follow and informing any necessary contacts. Make sure that you have a document  (Joe Brown formerly known as Peter Jones for example)  to support this change. It will be especially necessary for academic certificates and references from previous employers, credit checks, bank accounts etc.  Apparently leaving the office on Friday as Melanie Dobson and returning on Monday as Zoë  Maitland was relatively seamless,  producing only minimal difficulties. One woman reported testing a number of different names with friends and colleagues before finally selecting her first choice!
  • Name difficult to pronounce – my son tired of people mis- spelling and mis-pronnouncing his Welsh surname and anglicised it.
  • Discrimination – sadly, some people in the conversation had changed their names fo fit into the culture of the country they had chosen to live in.  They felt particularly in job search this had increased their chances of being called for interview.
  • Name too common:  One group member had tired of being one of the millions of John Smith’s globally and never being able to claim a domain  name or unique email address!  He just wanted to stand out!
  • First and last names : One woman had no problem with her names but commented that her boss introduced all the men on the team by their first and last names, but her only by her first. Should she be put out? Yes possibly! She isn’t Beyoncé.   It just seems more professional and perhaps this more familiar, slightly indulgent approach  suggests a more service role  (maids, waitresses  are frequently referred to by their first names only.) Definitely ask why there is a different approach based on gender.

So, how do you feel about your name?

Children: A corporate inconvenience?

In a recent post I suggested that parenting and childcare  seems to have been relegated to the level of  ‘corporate inconvenience’  in many of our current business models, which elicited some comment.

Negative fallout is being reported for both men and women who take or wish to assume responsibility for parenting and childcare .   My thoughts were further compounded after reading that women of child-bearing age are considered to be employment risks  and still further with a recent proposal to investigate the extension of the provision of childcare  services in UK schools by lengthening the school day until 8.00pm

12 hour day care
Now it could be that outsourcing child care for what could be 12 hours a day for many, is a viable sustainable solution in societies and economies that have declining populations, aging work forces and skill shortages. I await the research with eager anticipation. But for the future of global economies, it does strike me that governments and businesses need to examine possibilities to create effective workforces, while allowing children to be raised in healthy environments, physically and emotionally.

Historically, for self-evident biological reasons, this has been a role assigned to women. As such a high percentage of educated and qualified personnel are now women, it seems crazy to sit back and allow their skills to be under utilised when they leave the workforce or choose to work below their capabilities so that they can raise their families.

But today in changing times what happens when men and women alike want (or need) both professional and child-care responsibilities?

To me it seems nothing short of a confused mess.

In 1977 only 50% of married men were part of dual-career households, which has increased today to  75%.   To achieve work life balance/integration whatever you want to call it, women in the 21st century are  being constantly urged to re-negotiate  the responsibility for household tasks within their own relationships.  This is a key benchmark in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and partly accounts for why France  for example despite its progressive employment conditions for women, comes in at the lowly position of 48.

But for balance at home to become a reality men have to then negotiate their own roles with their employers.  An increasing number of men are now citing work/life balance as a major factor in career choice, an element which is strongly endorsed by Gen Y starting out on their careers.

Fatherhood  has been perceived by potential employers as a guarantee of corporate drive and career commitment.   On a longer term basis a wish for workplace flexibility for family reasons is considered to be  the “mummy track” to career suicide,  where men are  frequently advised not to pursue those options even becoming “supernumerary” following such requests. Single parent fathers with custody obligations and sole responsibility for their children at specific times are also on the increase,  adding to the  numbers  for whom flexibility is a need,  not a desire.

Skewed odds
So the odds of men achieving  parity in both the home and the workplace are equally skewed. This not just a case of stereotypical macho slothfulness and a desire to watch the World Cup with a beer, or their partners being unwilling to relinquish domestic supremacy, although they can both play a part,  but by  outdated business models and corporate cultures  which mitigate against all.

Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed, , that a mother’s future earnings increases on average 7% for every month the father takes leave, with penalties and loss of benefits imposed for men who don’t take this leave. Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. There has apparently been a commensurate reduction in the divorce rate.

I can’t help but wonder if the very same “think tanks”, with their notable lack of women,  when yobs in hoodies go on the rampage and youth crime soars,  will be the very same ones wringing their hands in horror asking ” where are the parents?”

What do you think?

What is the most marketable skill needed by future candidates?

Times they are certainly changing  and as an increasing number of our populations in developed economies are completing further education, only to become unemployed,  the cries from, and about, ” over/under-qualified ” candidates come  loudly from both sides of the hiring process.

This can cover:

  • too many/few  years of experience,
  • education levels above/below demanded level
  • too highly paid in current or previous job,  or simply unemployed

 Both candidates and hiring managers are frequently guilty of wasting each other’s time. Candidates often apply for jobs sometimes in desperation, often times without any insightful or strategic thought, when their qualifications far exceed or fail to meet the demands made on the profile.

On the other hand organisations over- egg their job profile omelette assigning ludicrous qualifications and experience requirements to even low-level jobs.

Madeleine a research scientist  told me “ I recently passed through a hiring process down to the final short list. I was eventually rejected on the grounds that I had a Masters and an MBA and would get bored with the job.  My qualifications are clear on my resume.  Although no process is ever a complete waste of time I actually took 3 afternoons off work to attend the interviews with the executive search company and then twice with the employer. If every company did this job seekers would be trouble with their current employers”      

Alternatively, the concerns hiring managers have about placing candidates that are too highly qualified are in many instances valid. There could be repercussions for the team, the person could be onboarded and then leave because they lose interest or become disruptive or demotivated for the same reason

So with workplaces and technology changing at such a rapid pace and job functions disappearing or being re-engineered faster than we realise,  it is going to make the identification of the right calibre candidate hard to assess as transferable skills, training potential and cultural fit becoming increasingly important. By the same token it will also become increasingly challenging for candidates to know when they could the right fit for a particular job and  if they should submit an application.

In that case it will therefore be more helpful  for both parties to focus on requirements and qualities needed in the future:

  • Getting beyond job titles and focus on  skills and  achievements
  • Examine team playing abilities and leadership experience
  • Look at personality, enthusiasm, learning styles and flexibility

If we are currently preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet then provided that basic skills are in place,  the most valuable and marketable skill candidates can have and need, will surely be the pace at which they can learn and adapt.

What do you think?

Where are you in the change game? Me and my Kindle!

The dark place of resistance to change

I am frequently heard exhorting all sorts of people to adapt to change in job search. I run workshops in women’s groups, coach private clients and MBA classes in international Business Schools. I get profoundly frustrated when eyes glaze over in lack of understanding. If I get it… why can’t they?

In some areas I am pretty advanced. As an early adopter of social media, particularly in Europe, I made a relatively seamless transition to new technology as it related to career strategy. For some unfathomable  reason I could see the almost immediate connection between changing technology, economic circumstances and new approaches to developing a career. I just got it.

So why people clung onto these outdated less effective ways of managing their careers was truthfully incomprehensible to me.

Yet in one area I confess, I too, remained intransigent. Books. I needed a cover and paper and something with weight I could put down on a coffee table, in my briefcase or on my nightstand.  I have spent fortunes on excess luggage shipping my reading material around with me and on postage having current titles delivered to any number of destinations. I’ve given myself back and arm ache, schlepping around weighty tomes and supplies of reading matter. I’m not even a corner turner, or spine bender. I wouldn’t dream of writing on one of my books. Even my best-loved reads are in such pristine condition that charity shops are willing to travel miles to pick up my rejects, whenever I make a donation.

I had a collection of probably about 4000 books (I’m a hoarder too!) You can imagine how much space that took up. For some time now my friends have been suggesting I acquire a Kindle, bemused that I am effectively paying storage to house books I would  probably never read again. My accountant, had he not been bald,  would have torn his hair out. I resisted for all the aforementioned reasons.

But the real reason was that because of something equally unfathomable, this was one area I didn’t want to… I simply couldn’t…. change.

Does the sun rise in the west? No! This was what I knew and was used to.

I was given a Kindle for Christmas, complete with pink case. I went through all the usual social gestures of appreciation (“lovely darling, thank you.”) I  handled the rose-coloured item gingerly at arm’s length,  viewing it with deep suspicion, as my daughter enthusiastically  talked me through the user instructions. Cautiously, under supervision, I downloaded a few titles, grudgingly acknowledging the cost effectiveness and speed of the inter-connectivity with my Amazon account. I nodded reluctantly to the very clear advantages for someone like me who travels so much.

In early January, away from prying eyes,  I returned to this fine article,  picking it up with my finger tips and started to read. I had to admit it actually wasn’t so bad. I adjusted the font size.  I picked it up again and it was on the exact spot I left it. I sped through the books I had downloaded,  mixing up the forward and backwards buttons from time to time, but no real harm done.  When I finished one title on the train to Paris  I simply downloaded another.  And hey-ho there it was! No postage. It slips into my handbag at a fraction of the weight of whatever weighty tome might be on my reading list.

So now when I talk to anyone who has doubts about creating a LinkedIn profile, opening a Twitter/ Google+ account, or using a Facebook page for professional purposes, I feel I have been in that dark place of resistance. We all have them and they are all different.

Will I ever buy a paper book again? I’m sure I will. Just as anyone will print out a hard copy CV.

Am I glad I finally got over myself, because this is what it is really about?  Absolutely.

Where are you in the change game? Where is your dark place of resistance?

P.S. I am not working for Kindle!

P.P.S. Article by Jonathan Franzens “ebooks are damaging society” for a counter view.

Portfolio Careers: impact on workplace & jobseeker

Portfolio careers a rich tapestry of work experience - on the increase

A Portfolio Careera tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences; employment in a series of short-contract or part-time positions

Not new but on the increase
The term Portfolio Career is being used in current business  vernacular  with the same type of smug and superior ” in the know -ness” ,  as we might have seen when the atom was split or  the wheel invented.  I always smile indulgently! The concept of a portfolio career is actually far from new. What is new is the number who have embarked on this career path.

“Moonlighting” has long been a euphemism associated with  individuals aspiring to break into such professions as  acting, music , arts, writing etc,  or others running more than one job. As companies abandon the corporate  ” cradle to grave” employment concepts,  and move towards the leaner and meaner machines of more recent times,  we had already started to see the beginnings of this seismic shift some years ago. Business Week referenced the changing work place practise of   Perma Temps,   as organisations  began to seek flexible ( =  disposable) workforces, to allow rapid response to fast changing business conditions.

I view and review literally hundreds of CVs in any given week.  Although predicted by all the trend spotters, the shift to individuals having an increasing  number of jobs and spending less time in each , is becoming very marked. I am  often asked to avoid ” hoppers/movers/jumpers”, but that is now an outmoded concept,  particularly as younger age demographics move between jobs more strategically,  with periods of employment, also punctuated by stints in further education.

No alternatives
Portfolio  careers and the wearing of many hats was once  associated with mid- career or older professionals, perhaps after redundancy seeking a better work / life balance,  or  when there were no other options. It was considered a fall back position.  We are now seeing younger  Gen Yers  build up this type of career,  not because they particularly seek an improved quality of life,  but because they have to tap into different parts of their skill sets, simply to  get a job,  any job.   This is also apparent when coaching career changers pursuing MBA courses,  when I have come across a range of skills from Project Management, entrepreneurial roles , to  professional photography,  all in the same student.  The real  challenge is to create an interesting and credible career profile to showcase success stories, transferable skills and  the lessons learned from such diverse backgrounds and interests.

However, there are people who simply prefer the variety, flexibility and freedom offered by tapping into a wide range of skills, so they choose a wider portfolio career, over a more traditional focused one.  At one time a portfolio career was considered to be higher risk than a corporate role. Today,  I’m not sure that is the case.  Portfolio careers suit disciplined, self motivated people with strong time management skills,  who have a variety of skills and interests,  as well as the drive to go out and market and monetize them. Portfolio careers are also generally associated with adept networkers and can be a great route to gaining experience in a new field, whilst maintaining a part-time role in a traditional job in line with a professional background. Many do just that.

The real issue will be for the demographic which doesn’t voluntarily choose this more entrepreneurial style of career strategy.  Flexibility for companies is key, of course, but if organisations aren’t careful,  they can wind up searching for new talent in an alienated and demotivated workforce, which has struggled to gain skills in a wide range of unstructured and less professional environments. It also means a  quantum shift from lazy and uninsightful  “copy / paste” recruitment methodologies, sadly  relied upon by companies and some search consultants alike.

Career changers: 30 minute daily strategy

Can you afford not to?

For anyone embarking on a job search related to career change and developing what is now called a “personal brand” for the first time, I outline the steps and options involved using social networking. As I do so, I am always aware of two things. Faces turning ashen with panic and then groaning, as clients,  whether individually or in groups, mentally try to calculate how much time this process is going to take out of their already busy day. There is a reason it’s called net “working” (not net “vacationing”).  It is indeed a lot of work, it does take time and much of it is doing stuff people have never heard of before  (and wouldn’t choose to do if they had!) .

Today,  job search is personal, flexible and strategic. Sadly there is no template or blue print which can be reproduced, although guidelines can be given.  What works for one individual, will not work or sound authentic for another. The whole point of it is also to be unique and stand out, not to be a clone of your neighbour.  The learning process is  intuitive,  as we move away from the old style rigid approach. This does indeed makes life far harder for any job seeker today and it is time-consuming. However,  authenticity is key,   which is why we have to run, stroll or even crawl,  the hard yards for ourselves.

Strategic alliances
As recessionary thinking starts to hit us again after a very brief interlude of optimism,  the job market looks set to shrink.  Economic downturns touch even the brightest and the best. It’s imperative that developing a  personal brand  and raising visibility becomes a daily part of all job seekers’ routines –  before there is a crisis.  Social networking is a great way to supplement and enhance actual networking,  although ( and I stress)  not a substitute for it.

Simple basics
—Select a primary platform  – for most people this should be a professional network   (e.g. LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing)  to showcase career success stories and background. The largest English language one is LinkedIn for and anyone seeking a career in an international arena,  I would always advise a profile placed on this platform. — As a minimum I would suggest the following activity:

  • Send out 1 update daily to develop your reputation. If you have a blog so much the better,  otherwise any nugget of information that could be interesting taken from the press or other media related to your new function/sector. Twitter is a good source.
  • Post 1 comment in a LinkedIn group related to your target career.
  • Indentify and connect with 5- 10 new connections in your target sector – preferably ones you hope to meet in person.
  • Research companies in your target sector.

Connect with other platforms  – extend your reach via Twitter and Facebook which are becoming fast growing global job boards as the Like, Share and Tweet functions become a quick way to circulate job information. Employers are also strengthening their Employer brand on these platforms and offer increasing opportunities to inform and connect with job seekers. Trend spotters are suggesting that these 2 platforms will change the job search  landscape in 2012.   Although their figures are US-based, Europe is  usually only a few steps behind. Get ahead of the game. Even a British spy agency is seeking code-crackers via Twitter and Facebook.

  • Post content via Twitter.
  • Share content from others ( RT).
  • Comment on or “Like ” a blog or LinkedIn update.
  • Post an update or a note on Facebook.
  • Locate followers and friends that might be helpful to you.
  • Pay it forward  – share any new updates with your peers or other job seekers in your network.
  • Partially automate when you are busy. Bufferapp hits Twitter and Facebook. I would advise not to over do it  – engagement is key.
  • Filter out the white noise of LinkedIn updates using LinkedIn signal 

—One of the advantages of Social Networking is that it’s self scheduling  – so any of this can be fitted  around other activities and in a piece meal fashion. It’s a question of carving out 10 minutes of time, 3 times a day which may make a difference. Yes, initially it might take longer, but as skills are honed and knowledge acquired,  it can be whittled down to become  rapid fire productivity. Eventually you will think in terms of the time this is saving you.

 The real question is perhaps not if can you afford the time,  but can you afford the risk of not allocating those key minutes, in the current economic climate? If you don’t take time to plan now,  you may find you have  more leisure than you planned for  to live with the consequences.