Category Archives: challenges

Mobbing in the workplace


Bullying, psychological terror or aggression, hostile workplace behavior, workplace trauma, incivility, emotional violence resulting in emotional injury affecting the target’s mental and physical health.

Mobbing is an English word, but one I first came across being used by non Anglophones to describe the subtle difference between covert emotional abuse in the work place by a group,  from more overt and recognisable bullying,  which can be carried out by individuals.

Mobbing is  emotional abuse by stealth in an organisation. It manifests itself as “ganging up” by co-workers, superiors or subordinates to force someone out of the workplace through rumour, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, isolation,  undermining and discrediting. The result will be a negative impact on the target’s emotional, psychological and physical well-being.     It is generally malicious non-sexual, non racial general harassment.

Mobbing  is not an isolated incident or the type conflict or disagreement that often arises in offices which can be moderated. It is not always highly visible although rudeness and shouting can be components.    Mobbing is a sustained war of attrition on the target,  with  focus on a specific vulnerability to generate malaise and conflict.  It can be employer on employee, coworker on coworker and even subordinate on superior abuse.

Ringer leader

The mob usually has a ringleader who drives the bullying “programme.”  Leaders can be both extroverted and introverted,  with the latter considered  more dangerous, as  their  actions are under-cover.  Sometimes while appearing  to be publicly agreeable, they direct others from behind the scenes to perpetrate the “mobbing ”  on their behalf.

There are a number of reasons why a person instigates mobbing.  It is always associated with their own feelings of insecurity. They might feel threatened by the skills, success, popularity, age or even the appearance of the target. There maybe a  Machiavellian component of power seeking.  Sometimes more complex clinically identifiable personality disorders are involved.

Bystander syndrome

Ringleaders  engage, manipulate  or recruit the rest of the mob to support or carry out mobbing activities.   These can range from passing on and carrying out instructions to colleagues or reports,  or circulating vicious rumours or gossip to undermine the target.   If the ring leader is senior,  the authority is legitimized.  The recruits comply because they fear becoming a target themselves  or they simply get a kick out of seeing other people suffer.  Others are more passive bystanders who  enable the mobbing situation,  by  failing to take action against it, thus becoming complicit and endorsing it.

One case study

Gabriella  works in a small NGO in Brussels.  Multi lingual and highly qualified, with post-graduate certification in her speciality,  she has  as 20 years’  experience running complex international research assignments and teams. In the two years she has been in her position she has become increasingly isolated in her office,  with only one of her co-workers willing to talk to her on a daily basis.  The office intern has been instructed not to  respond to her instructions.  Every aspect of her work is micro-managed  and  despite the size of the office,  all communication is via email ,  very often aggressive in tone.

The departmental head has downgraded the content of her role and using the office manager as an interlocutor she has been given a series of projects normally associated with entry leve skills.   During a client presentation Gabriella  was stopped mid-way and replaced  in front of the audience by a  junior team member who was not familiar with the content.   She has been sent to cover conferences not relevant to the activities of the organization and requested to produce lengthy reports to tight deadlines.  These reports to date have not been read.

She has no job description or objectives and her requests to discuss the situation  and establish her goals with the office manager and senior  manager have been ignored. Gabriella’s queries on what has been going on have been labelled as a disruptive refusal to co-operate.

This  is “mobbing”.

Diagnosed with depression, Gabriella went on sick leave today. Should her next step be a lawyer? Can she even prove what has happened?

What do you think?  If you have any similar experiences  please share them.

How to create a career strategy when ALL jobs are temporary.

So do you think that change will fly by and leave your career plans untouched? You do? Then I suggest you watch this video!

Do you have career insurance?

One of the greatest challenges is planning a career strategy in a job market that is changing faster than we are.   All the goal posts are moving and staying current is becoming not only challenging, but confusing in economic times where no one  ( yes NO ONE)  is indispensable.

Youth unemployment is soaring to unprecedented heights, default retirement ages are being deferred or even abolished. Benefits offered by corporations have been eroded and the expectation of career longevity with any one organisation is a concept of a bye gone era. None of us would think of not taking out house, car, medical or travel insurance to meet all sorts of contingencies. Yet many of us don’t consider applying these measures professionally.

Career management has shifted to become professional protection which requires career insurance.  But despite the widely available  information about declining economies, many are confronted by change unprepared and uninsured

What can you do?

Create an ongoing personal development plan:  at one time it was enough to work hard, meet or exceed objectives and recognition and reward would follow. This is no longer  necessarily the case. We all have to invest in the ongoing development and widening of our skill sets.  The pace of change is so rapid that many aspects of all our jobs could disappear or be re-allocated.  We have no idea what new jobs will be needed or created. If you have not added formally to your skill set in any way in the past 2-3 years –  this should be a priority. Attend a course or sign up for a webinar. Access to educational opportunities has never been wider and more affordable, especially online and distance learning to fit in with our full schedules and budgets.

Stay current:  if you are part of the brigade that eschews online platforms and technological change you need to get over that. Rapidly.  These platforms offer access to up to date information in all sectors which is easily available and cheap, or even free. There is no excuse for not registering for alerts and staying in touch. All serious professionals would now be expected  to have a complete online professional profile. Make sure you have one.

Do you have career insurance?

Do you have career insurance?

Create a networking strategy: despite  all the clichéd homilies about not digging wells when we’re thirsty or fixing roofs in the rain – many do exactly that.  Make networking part of your daily routine,  on and offline.

   Do you have a “go-to 10? ” These are  your ten contacts for an emergency. Maintain those relationships attentively because no one likes people  they haven’t seen for years, pitching up out of the blue when they need something. Set up an advisory board of professional contacts or mentors whom you can tap into for ongoing advice.

Get out and meet people:  make this part of your annual strategy whether this is at conferences,  or lunches/breakfasts, within your organisation or externally.  It is a vital part of your career protection strategy.

Raise your visibility: speak in meetings, join professional associations,  write articles, offer to mentor junior staff or contacts,  or try to become a conference speaker.

Are you doing everything you can to protect your career?

Learning difficulties in the workplace

Should candidates declare learning differences?

It is estimated that 15% of  employees have moderate learning difficulties.  Although many received support during their education, when they transition into the workplace, for most that support disappears,  although the issues regrettably don’t. I actually prefer the U.S. phrase “learning differences”, which covers a wide variety of challenges and should not to be confused with any intellectual cognitive impairment which is more severe. This might range from mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorders and short-term memory issues, through  to milder conditions on the autism spectrum.

Anything to declare?
For many candidates it’s hard to know where and when to declare these issues, or  whether to declare them at all.  Some companies list the conditions as   “disabilities ” on their application forms,  which many  applicants are reluctant  to admit, because they actually don’t believe  their condition is disabling. Or they fear that it will be held against them in the recruitment process. In many cases it will depend on the type of job being applied for and the severity of the problem – if there are health and safety risks involved (ciphering chemical symbols for example, might be challenging for someone with dyslexia) or if the condition can impact on the job performance with more serious consequences.

According to the British Dyslexia Association being up front can be most useful in the long-term,  particularly if job descriptions change and lead to more report writing and greater organisational demands,  as these may need to be supported by assistive software and strategy training. There may also be (dyslexia unfriendly) tests for promotion.

Poor performance may be dyslexia related and can lead to stress which impacts performance even further. So another reason for being open,  but possibly after an offer has been received to ensure that all channels of support can be available and there are no later accusations of lack of transparency.

As cruel as school
Workplaces can be as cruel as school. One client told me how a report he had written containing some spelling mistakes and word confusion ( caught/court, assistance/ assistants, bear/bare) was circulated on an ” all company” email circulation list. Rather than supporting this employee,  he was made an object of ridicule for almost a year,  bringing back a childhood stammer,  which he had over come 20 years before.  ” Spell check is no use at all for anyone with dyslexia ”  Tom told me   “all the words look the same to us”

Kara Tointon  a British actress, herself  suffering from dyslexia made an excellent documentary ” Don’t call me Stupid”  charting her own  struggles. It really is worth watching.  Here is an extract.

Although many adults with learning differences develop sophisticated coping and cover up strategies for dealing with these challenges (quite often avoidance),  the best way is to accept and confront the conditions and to make use of some of the many tools and supports services that exist.


  • Assistive technology: voice-activated software, text-reading software
  • text-to-speech and scanning tools
  • organization of work areas on to improve the reading of  VDU with appropriate fonts and colours
  • support on a one-to-one basis setting realistic deadlines, organising workloads, clearly marking deadlines etc.
  • Structured admin patterns including written lists, to cope with a host of multiple verbal instructions.
  • Provision of a dictaphone.
  • Find a proof reading ( non -dyslexic)  peer.

Many famous people have dyslexia –  Tom Cruise,  Steve Jobs, Einstein,  Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Branson and Thomas Edison to name but a few! And we all know what kind of careers they enjoyed!

If you are coping with a moderate learning difference in the workplace, don’t remain isolated. Most geographies offer support, please check out your local areas.


Why career blips are good

We are all the sum of many parts
We are all the sum of many parts

Career pundits encourage us, exhort us even, to aim for professional activties in which we excel  or feel passionate about. But for some of us that  simply isn’t possible.

Sometimes,  it’s just a case of  not having the skills to identify what  we are good at or feel passionate  about. In other cases our passions, skills and interests change  and develop over time and are not fixed. Sometimes,  we just need to do something, anything,  to put  a roof over our heads and 3 squares on the table.

Multi- faceted
In High School I was “good” at English, History and Geography, but for different reasons went on to study Economics, which in terms of academic results,  was my weaker subject,  not considered to be my smartest move by my teachers. I was passionate about tennis, but this enthusiasm was best employed as a spectator, rather than on the court. I grew up believing I was bad at maths, yet found myself recently in an MBA workshop, as the only person there who could explain the root of Pythagoras’ Theorem. 

There are times when we don’t want to focus on the areas in which we excel and want to explore new territory.  We come to terms with the fact that our passions are best kept as non-revenue generating past times.

Skills, both hard and soft, which we put on the back burner at early stages in our careers, we resurrect, or even discover for the first time in later years. Other latent talents develop over time and others become redundant. I once considered myself to be pretty hot-headed,  I am now frequently an oasis of calm, when others are getting bent out of shape.

Nothing is set in stone
The reality is that we all have many choices and nothing is set in stone. The real skill is being able to navigate these changes with flexibility and resilience and adapt in true Darwinian style to different circumstances.  Unfortunately, we have all been culturally conditioned to expect a vertical career progression (maybe even vertical lives), in constant upward motion and mobility. But those days are perhaps over.

Individuals who desperately want to pursue one career or life track,  but for whatever reason, simply have no activity in which they excel, or feel passionate about, end up apologising for what is today culturally perceived to be an unfortunate blip.  But today, in a tougher job market these blips are going to be the new norm. We can’t all get what we want as the song goes.

But that shouldn’t imply failure.

  • It’s not the end of the world if we don’t get into the college of your choice or even into college at all.
  • We have all been in jobs that have not been ideal, but out of economic necessity have been forced to stick at them.  We can look around for others or seek another focus for our energy.
  • Life doesn’t end with a missed promotion or lost job. There are other places to work. Other things to do.

Hiring by numbers

It is perhaps part of today’s culture to view this sort of flexibility and adaptability as wishy-washy, uncommitted or uninspiring. I see it simply as a new pragmatism, an ability to adapt to uncertain economic times. This approach  deserves the same respect from hiring practitioners,  as committment to a lifelong career in a given profession, sector or even company.

This new need to ” do what we can ”  makes life challenging for recruiting and hiring managers,  who will have tougher jobs identifying these intangible skills, as their hiring goal posts constantly change.  There will be fewer candidates exhibiting the hallmarks of the traditional, predictable, career trajectory. They will need to move out of recruiting by numbers and probe more deeply. Many, sadly, are not equipped to do this effectively and may need new training themselves.

We are all the sum of many parts and instead of having to explain that with an apology, we should not just be acknowledging that fact, but celebrating it.

Walking the corporate tightrope without a golden parachute

7 ways to create a workplace safety net 
There have never many guarantees in life as a corporate employee. But now, despite employment protection legislation, there seem to be even fewer. We live in turbulent and changing times and no one is immune.  So it’s not just necessary to be strategic about career advancement, but to always have a safety net in place in case of an unexpected fall. Even minor changes which at one time might have produced a little stumble, might send you crashing to your knees. These could be anything from a promotion disappointment, a take over, a new boss coming in,  or even an economic blip that might  unexpectedly impact results and performance.  No one is indispensable. And sometimes our faces, from one day to another, simply don’t fit. It’s not only high-profile CEOs who get fired over the phone.

In the last few weeks I have had  two clients, who have been basically, summarily dismissed. For some reason, out of the blue, their contributions were deemed to be below par. Within an hour they have been placed on notice, told to clear their desks and  instructed not to return to their place of employment. Access to their company email accounts and records has been immediately blocked.  Had they committed some grave offence or were guilty of gross misconduct: hit the boss, lot a few  billion,  or sworn in front of a client? No they hadn’t. There seemed to be no obvious reason to either of them, nor was there any traceable record of any “sackable” offence, or even communicated under-performance. They both had contracts of employment. For some reason they were both surplus to requirements at one given moment in time and were  “let go”, to use that hateful euphemism. Neither were senior enough to negotiate a golden parachute.  

Regretfully, they have both found themselves in a void: hurt, angry, confused and wondering what their next steps could be.  

The take away lessons to both these clients were signficant and there were some commonalities. They realised with that great gift of 20/20 hindsight that when the going was good, they had taken it for granted and had not taken even basic precautions.  Under- performance had been cited in both cases as reason for termination  and in reviewing their next steps,  the only way both individuals could support their own version of events was verbally  and anecdotally.  If considering legal action, this can be problematic.  With future employers it might also be useful to have support documentation to hand. 

 7 Precautions

  • Always store personal professional information outside the office. Both used their office computers for personal use and had not stored key information privately, or as hard copy.  They had no access to vital correspondence on other hard drives,  once access had been denied. 
  •  Always ask for annual goals and targets against which your performance will be assessed in writing. Keep a record of that document or correspondence.  Neither had done this.
  •  Save copies ( in either a personal email account or as hard copy)  of the good stuff! Any positive  feedback or success stories. Once outside the swinging doors, neither had any record of their achievements or access to them, even previous performance assessment documentation where they had received strong ratings.
  • Keep copies of requests for support and document any tricky problems as well , especially the methods you used to overcome them. Neither had  hard or soft copies of ignored  requests for support and advice,  or  any conflicting instructions  they had received. 
  •  Ask for recommendations from peers and superiors within your company  to support your success stories.   These can be posted on an online professional profile for the whole world to see. 
  • Look for a mentor or sponsor within the organisation you can turn to for advice. Both felt isolated.
  • Carry on building an external network.  You never know when you will be unexpectedly on the job market.

This may all seem very cynical, but change doesn’t have to be cataclysmic to produce a massive personal downside in today’s cyclic job market.  Organisations will be equally vigilant in maintaining their records.  Unless you have negotiated a golden parachute  as part of your contract of employment, having a net under the corporate tight rope is simply a basic and very necessary safety measure.  

 You’ve heard of driving defensively –  well  regrettably, although far from ideal,  we now we have to work defensively too.

What other precautions would you suggest?   

Job search: Are you missing in action?

Off the radar

Getting on the job search radar!
I have spent the past week with two different women, of two different ages. Their backgrounds could not be further apart. One is a young graduate, seeking entry-level employment, the other a woman in her 40s, with extensive supply chain and procurement experience, as well as an MBA. She has taken an eight year parenting break, relocated internationally with her husband and is now dealing with the inevitable challenge of explaining motherhood and her CV gap.

Both want to enter the workplace. Both are struggling. Both are drifting off the job search track and are M.I.A. Despite feeling they had nothing in common, even just idle chat reveals the numerous common elements. Not only were they simply failing to get the jobs they wanted ( when they could even find a job they were interested in) they were receiving no response to their CVs, sometimes not even a rejection letter.

Back on track
All job search candidates regardless of age, gender or time in life need to have some basics in place, so here are some easy tips to get back on track:

  •  Identify and articulate transferable skills. It doesn’t matter how you do this but this is a critical exercise, taking time and thought. I repeat my mantra – if you don’t know what you’re good at, how do you expect anyone else to know? Recruiters and hiring managers are not telepathic and don’t have the time to drag it out of you.
  •  This basic but critical exercise leads to the creation of an effective mission statement and elevator sounds bites. CVs should stop disappearing into cyber space and interview performance will be strengthened. If there is any hesitation in delivering your USPs – practise and practise again!
  •   Establish and develop a professional online presence. This is vital for anyone, male or female, young or old, entry-level or transitioning. Failure to do this is tantamount to professional suicide. The entry-level woman had received no advice from her university careers advisor to create this type of profile, which in my view is a scandal in itself! Careers advisors – read my open letter! The older candidate needs to resurrect and tap into her existing network from her days as a professional woman and connect with them virtually on platforms which simply did not exist when she was in the workplace ( LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +) This small step shows you care about your professional image and that you are current in your approach. Your LinkedIn profile url can also be used in an email signature or on other online profiles as a way of extending the reach of your CV.
  •  Create a modern CV with targeted keyword usage. Their current versions are probably not getting past ATS ( Applicant Tracking Systems) or coming to the attention of recruitment sourcers. 97% of CVs, it is maintained, are not read by a human eye! Once again this could account for a failure to obtain an even a first interview.
  •  Most jobs (estimated at 85%) are not advertised. Creating a strong online presence and strengthening a personal brand will drive traffic to your professional profile. It’s no longer about looking for a job – it’s also about raising visibility to ensure you are found. Many jobs are also only advertised on LinkedIn.
  •  There is no substitute for strategic networking at any age and stage. No matter how young you are, or how long it’s been since you were in the workplace, we are all connected to someone! Have some simple, but good quality business cards printed – you never know when you need them! Connect and re-connect. Join networking groups and professional bodies especially if any membership has lapsed during a career break.
  •  Be active. Inactivity is not just a barrier to getting top jobs, it’s a barrier to getting any job! It’s also a great way to beat negative thinking, and maintaining your confidence, vital in job search. It also gives you data to monitor, from which you can make any changes to your job seeking strategy.
  •   Tweak those strategies . Don’t panic and especially don’t be afraid to change. Nothing is set in stone and what works in one set of circumstances may sink like a lead balloon in another! Be flexible

But most importantly never give up. The estimated time to get a job is reported to be on average a minimum of 7 months currently. If you carry on struggling – seek professional help. It will be worth it in the long-term!

Good luck!

HELP! I hate my job!

I HATE my job!

What to do when you HATE your job with a passion!
I spent time last week coaching a young professional who hated his job in a small, family run organisation. In fact he hated it so badly that the things he claimed he would rather be doing instead, covered all manner of unspeakable things, too awful to mention involving finger nails, dentists and Kabul. You get the picture.

He hated the work, he hated his bosses, he hated his colleagues. He vented for a while, but when we got into specifics, mostly he hated the way he was treated and spoken to, but above all he hated the chaos and the stress. He outlined some of the issues that especially caused him grief and truthfully those practices at best would be considered bad management, and at worst, workplace bullying. Attempts to self advocate had been unceremoniously dismissed and there was no HR function.

Leopards and spots
I have worked in this type of family run, small business and know the environment well. The words leopards and spots, blood and water come to mind. It is unlikely that any employee will be able to make a dent in that can of worms and undo not just decades of working habits, but also family culture, when normal business protocols generally don’t apply. In a small organization, transferring to another department or changing job functions are not options, so for this young man there seemed to be 2 choices – stay or go.

Hating your job isn’t good. We spend 2000 hours a year in the workplace at least, so it’s hard to pitch up at the office to do something you passionately dislike. Usually if you hate your job everyone can tell and will interact accordingly. Being desperately unhappy will also affect performance and added stress leads to mistakes, creating a vicious cycle of poor interaction, escalating tension and mis- managed expectations.

There are many of reasons people end up in jobs they hate: inadequate hiring processes and poor candidate decisions to name but two. During the recession many people took jobs that weren’t ideal simply to pay their bills. Jobs and situations also change after the start date creating unanticipated circumstances.

Work on you

In any situation the only person you can change is yourself.

Manage your emotions. Don’t resign in a fit of desperation. Pique doesn’t pay the bills, you do and they will not go away. It is also easier to get a job from a job.
Do some inner work. Time to review your life and professional goals and complete a C.A.R.S. analysis (Challenges, Actions, Results , Skills). Make sure you know what you’re good at and what you goals are.
Make a list of what you like about the jobs – there will always be something.
Change your attitude. If you go into the office looking down, are detached, act dejected and withdrawn, your colleagues will feed off that and respond accordingly.
Check your work. Stress impacts accuracy and you are more likely to make careless mistakes. Create a “To do” list every night for the following day, making sure you schedule the work you hate the most first or at your period of highest energy. Feeling that you have achieved something, even when you loathe doing it will make you feel better.
Find a mentor – someone who can guide you. Even in a small company there has to be one person you can ask for advice.
Silence is golden – don’t post your dislike of your work situation on Facebook or Twitter. Bosses use social media too.
Monitor your health – stress impacts everyone in different ways. Exercise, see friends, eat healthily, have enough sleep and make time for you. If you find you are struggling with anything seek professional help.
Start your job search discreetly and reach into your network. Let search and recruitment contacts know that you are open for a move.
Prepare your interview story. Don’t bad mouth your company. A skilled interviewer will be able to interpret what you don’t say if you focus on your future requirements.
Resign correctly – give the appropriate amount of notice and leave your desk and workload in mint handover condition.
Leave graciously – you may not realise it yet but you have had a substantial learning experience and developed many key skills: resilience, diligence, commitment, focus. If your colleagues behave badly you will always know that you did the right thing.

But above all , you will make better choices next time!