Category Archives: Lifestyle management

Message to self: why we need business dress codes

At the risk of coming over as a Jurassic fossil,  I’m not a fan of business dressing down, even on  Fridays,  let alone Monday to Thursday.  And before the hoodie brigade and Facebook/Google/MySpace crew come at me with Smart phones  blazing, I’ll tell you why!

Yes of course the words judging, books and covers come to mind. I know that what we’re wearing should have no impact on the quality of output, performance or decisions taken. I equally know it’s important to feel comfortable in an office or business situation.  Clearly coal miners and steel workers cannot work in a jacket and tie and pole dancers, nurses and aerobics teachers can’t wear straight skirts and business suits. Some clothing is not occupation appropriate that is obvious.  Nor am I in favour of fashion policing and suppressing freedom of expression.

Organisations
It isn’t either totally about general business impressions.  At a recent meeting in London I walked to the conference room through an office which seemed to be populated by pizza delivery personnel who had misplaced both their mopeds and their pizzas. Even if the client meeting is in a side office,  many have glass walls and visitors generally have to pass through common areas. People do note the state of the offices, as well as the people working in them. This office did not inspire confidence and part of that message came from the way the personnel were dressed. It looked sloppy.

The fact is that grooming does make a difference. It sends out an important message to all around about us as individuals, as well as the organisations we work with and for.  More importantly it’s also a signal about how we feel about ourselves and our jobs.

Message to self
Last week I had an early evening coaching session with a client. I thought she had come from the gym. In fact she had come from the office.   She was struggling to assert herself in her business environment and  her late nights in the office and early morning starts had morphed  into one sleep deprived 80 hour week blur. Her personal life had all but vanished.  She  had also stopped wearing make-up and it seemed that she had possibly lost her hair brush.  Her garments of choice were more appropriate for a rock festival than the offices of a multi-national.  She claimed that everyone in her company adopts this casual approach and she is not one bit out-of-place. Not unsurprisingly there seems to be  morale and motivation issues in that organisation as it fights a deepening recession.

But effectively she has no life outside this 15/24 work day and as her job is a daily assault course, that is how she dresses.  At some level that is how she perceives her daily routine and her role in it.

Her goal was to revert to re-creating a lost professional identity, one that she could separate from her personal life,  so that in some small way she has one.   By simply getting up in the morning and putting on her professional face and uniform and taking it off every night and putting it in the laundry basket when she gets home,  she has created  a critical psychological  and physical distinction and barrier.

We are all our greatest assets. It’s important to care, believe and invest in ourselves.  Taking pride in our appearance reflects on us professionally. It’s also a cut off point and a visual and physical boundary between our work personas and the rest of our lives. We  all need that vital separation in a world where  our professional and personal selves can potentially slide into one undifferentiated continuum.

A business dress code is one way of doing that.

What do you think?

Early retirement: Dreams can go sour

The flotation of a private international company on the stock exchange made Martin, a long serving board member a multi-millionaire. Within a relatively short period he had access to wealth that wouldn’t put him on any global rich lists, but provided that he didn’t do anything crazy, would guarantee  him the very comfortable life style that most people only dream about – for the rest of his life. He had no need to work again. Ever. He was 47 and jumped at early retirement.

Meet Jean who inherited his grandmother’s property portfolio, selling at the top of the market in 2007 to make a small fortune. He retired from his role as Engineering Director aged 49.

5 years later their dream situations are far from idyllic. Both feel lonely, isolated, possibly even mildly depressed.   Their relationships are under strain. The children are now either in university or working abroad. Friends are at work. Non executive directorships have not materialised. Perfection has morphed into problematic.

When considering early retirement at what is in reality a relatively young age to stop being professionally active,  it’s a good idea to take these factors into consideration:

  • Do you really want to stop work altogether or simply change career?  Sometimes the wish to retire early and not wanting to work at all, becomes confused with an inner signal of a need to do something different. Many people believe that switching direction in late 40s is not an option,  but that is no longer true even in the corporate world. It is always good to discuss the personal aspects of early retirement with a transition professional, not just  financial advisors.  There are many options including becoming an entrepreneur.
  •  Do you have a retirement strategy and goals?  To give up what has been the structure and fabric of your life requires a strategy,  particularly in the medium term. Make sure you have one.  What will you do when the thrill of having breakfast at 1000 at home and wearing pjs all day wears off?
  • Do you have hobbies and pastimes that will occupy your time and stimulate you intellectually? Senior execs who  have taken early retirement  mention frequently the lack of intellectual stimulation as well as the ” buzz” and social engagement they gained from the positive aspects of their senior professional roles. Do you have substitutes? Can you take personal development or other courses,  do voluntary work or acquire new skills?
  • What are your friends doing?  Many men particularly complain  of a buddy shortage. Generally their energy has hitherto been channelled into their careers and their friendship networks tend to be smaller than their female counterparts.  Although the retiree can now go sailing at the drop of a hat or play golf during the week, their friendship groups tend to be reduced and in any case their pals are not available.  Many are now deferring their retirement  dates, so the time when friends become available for week day outings is also likely to become deferred .
  • How is your network?   Networking is a life long activity and particularly for those seeking non executive directorships, a vital component of any early retirement strategy.  Steps should be taken to position yourself in the pre-retirement run-up. Unless you are strongly visible and high profile, these positions will not come to you.   You will have to go after them.  Think carefully before disconnecting from business associations and professional networks and cancelling subscriptions to journals and newsletters. Do you have an online presence? Even if retired I would recommend a professional online profile to maintain visibility.
  • How is your relationship? Many men taking early retirement very often do not factor in the role and input of their partners, leading to unforseen relationship difficulties. Professional women may expect their men to assume a greater domestic role, a foreign assignment for many executives, especially if there are children living at home. Non working partners may feel as though their space and routines have been invaded and resent the impact on their day time previously autonomous schedules.    Many transition experts will also bring partners into any pre-retirement coaching sessions and it’s always useful to prepare your relationship for this next phase of your life.

It’s indeed strange to think that what would be a fantasy for most of us in today’s economic climate, can actually have a downside. Early retirement even with  a sizeable bank balance is not without challenges. Like any major transition professional support and preparation is advisable, especially when the dream starts to go sour.

The phrase “having it all” rears its ugly head again

The phrase ‘having it all’,  the famous tagline coined by the original Superwoman  Shirley Conran,  has plagued us since 1975 which truthfully started all this nonsense. I had hoped it had disappeared for ever.   It conned women into believing that we could ‘have it all’  when it actually means ‘doing  it all’ or ‘managing it all’.  It has now reared its ugly head to probably do the same level of disservice to women everywhere, as it did first time round.

Another high-profile  writer has  caused a storm. Anne-Marie Slaughter was the  first woman director of policy planning at the State Department  and in ” a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan.” She has stepped down for family reasons which has precipitated a flow of unprecedented angst on behalf of ” women”.  In the Atlantic July/August “Women  still can’t have it all”   Ms Slaughter basically reiterates the  many truisms that most talent management specialists, as well as both women and men everywhere,  have been saying for years when dealing with the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

Important issues
There is no doubt that a highly visible woman publically targeting the key issues  both men and women face in their careers today is beneficial.   But sweeping, emotive, headline- grabbing generalisations from women of privilege do other women everywhere a disservice, not just in the upper echelons of  U.S. government administration. This headline is being picked up and syndicated globally to become a stand- alone #trending news item. 

What is “having it all” anyway? Should  Ms Slaughter’s headline become a defining slogan for all women?  I don’t think so. But sadly, it probably will be applied to all women,  all over the world, just as Conran’s did before her.

Out dated business models
Corporate business models are currently generally based on two factors:  a fully functional  nuclear family which in many societies is significantly reduced  and there being a distinct divide between  domestic (usually childcare) and revenue generating responsibilities, with one partner today tending to assume point roles on each side of that divide,  women focusing on childcare and men on revenue generating.  This model which exists to various degrees in different parts of the world is outmoded and impacts both men and women equally:

  •  Global economies are dealing with skill set shortages, declining birth rates and aging populations. We have essentially created a cultural conundrum. Economically we need women to have children.  We cannot support an aging population with an insufficient economically productive base. 60% of graduates are now female,  those skills are under utilised with developed economies filling key gaps with migrant men.
  • A presence  rather than result focused business culture in today’s hi-tech,  super- communication age is also out dated.  Organisations can be effectively managed without all personnel being in the same place, 24/7/52
  • A macho work culture where ” pulling all-nighters“, working 15 hour days and not taking time off at weekends and vacations is glorified and seen as a “good thing”,  rather than acknowledged as increasing the incidence of risk for error and being potentially damaging to both physical and mental health.
  • Men and women are both refusing to relocate for family reasons and have been for some time,  as any search specialist will tell you: spousal professions, housing costs,  education, single parent status and child and elder care are the 5 reasons most often quoted to me.

Extreme commuting
The extreme weekly commute from Trenton to Washington Ms Slaughter was undertaking seemed to be at the root of the issues  and anxiety she was facing. She makes no mention of why her husband and family didn’t move with her.  Many families relocate with children aged 12 and 14.  I would imagine the job of her husband  Andrew Moravcsik ,   who “supports ” her career as a Princeton Professor was a criterion. Perhaps it wasn’t feasible that he move to Washington. Perhaps he didn’t want to.  But an increasing number of men are re-locating to support their wives career progression.

Nor do we know what emergencies caused her to rush home  mid-week and why her husband was unable to handle them.  As Conran famously quipped  “you don’t need  a pair of breasts to take a child to the dentist

Children –  a corporate inconvenience
Fathers in the workplace tend to be viewed more highly,  not just  above women, but also above men without children. So although we hear about the “Daddy Factor” where men are perceived positively for family involvement, most say that if this manifests itself in a substantial time commitment, then that perception would rapidly shift to become career suicide.  For our businesses to survive and to maximise the potential of both men and women in the work place, we cannot continue to relegate child care to the level of corporate inconvenience.

Any re-location specialist would have suggested that this arrangement whether for a man or woman, was potentially fraught with difficulties for all  involved, without significant workplace concessions.  Astonishingly,  this seemed not to be part of any sign-on package.  Although men who work away from their homes and families putting in punishing hours, might appear to do so more willingly, they are not unscathed,  reporting significant damage to their relationships and health and are afterwards filled with regret.

Wanting too much
Ms Slaughter’s regular job is as University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University where she  says  ” I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book”

By most people’s standards male or female, she already had it all. The suggestion  that she didn’t, creates a benchmark for inadequacy.  Did she simply want too much and have unrealistic expectations?

But above all  letting the mantras and experience of  famous,  well placed, individual women, whether Conran or Slaughter become global catch phrases for all women is high risk.  This is damaging to the men and women who would, and do, make  entirely different choices. They will inevitably be tarred as flight risks by that same stereotyping brush when applying for senior positions.

What does ” having it all ”  mean for you?

Nip/Tuck: new career strategy for men

Nip/ tuck – a new career strategy for men

I recently came under fire from some male friends of a “certain age”, complaining that I needed to write more about the problems that men face in their careers. So I was delighted when news this week featured the latest figures relating to male cosmetic surgery and could oblige.

Exactly a year ago while examining the value of make-up for professional women in the workplace, one of my contacts, a senior lawyer, William,  mentioned that a growing number of his peers were resorting to cosmetic surgery to support their careers. “An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage.”

Remember, you heard it here first!

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, I simply didn’t take it too seriously. I couldn’t understand how sporting a “6 pack” could make a difference. Presumably it’s not on display in the workplace, or at least not the offices I go to, so more appropriate for the beach or bedroom than the boardroom. So I was surprised to hear in the media,  suggestions that the number of nip/tucks  for men showed a higher increase in 2011,  than in any other demographic.  Only cursory research showed similar trends in Australia and the United States.  One of the reasons cited was to gain, or maintain,  professional credibility and advancement.

Increase
Male surgery  now accounts for 10% of all cosmetic procedures in the UK, with a tummy tuck seeing a 15% rise in popularity, as men turn to the knife to eliminate or reduce their middles. The second most popular procedure for men, rising by 7% was the removal of ” moobs”  – man boobs (gynaecomastia). This surgery was followed by liposuction with an 8% rise, along with rhinoplasty (nose job), blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), otoplasty (ear correction) and face and brow lifts.

Appearance of control 
I immediately picked up the phone to William.  We went through some lawyer-speak for ” I told you so” and then got down to business.

He elaborated  ” A forgotten demographic is the 50 something executive,  by anyone’s standards  probably successful,  but feeling the pressure from younger professionals, both male and female, coming hard on his heels, through the ranks. Many will have to work longer than they anticipated. Some have re-married and have young children even at this age.  Our culture places great emphasis on physical appearance as an outward sign of what is basically  power, control, high energy, seeming competent, capable and in charge. Old-looking men with straining shirt buttons over bulging bellies don’t give off that impression. We work long hours, have business lunches or sandwiches at our desks or on trains. Combined with family commitments,  we struggle to get to the gym or take the exercise we need. For many this is a quick and relatively painless solution.”

He put me in touch with George, a gentleman no stranger to the scalpel,  with 2 cosmetic procedures already notched up, a tummy tuck and eyelid surgery, as well as Botox injections.   Clearly my tips on Touche Eclat had fallen on deaf ears.  “ I work in  a client facing environment and was starting to look a bit paunchy, saggy and tired. Companies don’t like to work with people who look as though they lack energy and permanently seem in need of a vacation. It was well worth it and I have no regrets!” Whatever happened to the revered elder statesman role?

But anyway who is going to see this perfectly re-constructed abdomen in a professional environment I asked somewhat directly?  George did smile when he expanded  “ It’s about confidence, my suit fits correctly. I just feel better.”  

Is 60 the new 40?
To repeat what I said last year, this rising trend to attempt to create washboard abs or any other age reducing surgical procedure, simply to stay ahead in the career game,  seems a sad commentary on our times and corporate cultures. The ultimate irony of course is that youth unemployment figures are at an all time high.   Could it be that our rejuvenated 50-something Boomers, with their  newly achieved 6-packs are getting in the way?

If 60 is really the new 40, then things are not going to improve any time soon for Gen Y.

  What do you think?

Are we seeing a resurgence of candidate power?

Candidate power

Top candidates making greater demands
As the worst of the recession seems to have bottomed out and economies are hopefully experiencing an upward turn, I have noticed a slight, but perceptible shift in the executive search process. Organisations had their pick of top talent for probably 3 years, the challenge during that period was being able to sift through the sheer numbers of applications to identify the best candidates. Hiring managers who could during this period, choose their terms of engagement, are currently meeting candidates who are more demanding. Top candidates are now involved in multiple processes, very often with their existing companies being prepared to enter a bidding game and making counter offers to retain key employees.

Normal candidates
I’m not talking about corporate prima donnas, who are playing one company off against another, or leveraging their current employer with empty threats to move. These are genuinely top class individuals who have probably been held back by the lack of opportunities, caused by the economic downturn. In the intervening years we have been exhorting candidates to research and prepare to create good impressions with potential employers. But now is it organisations which are found wanting and not making the correct impression on candidates?

Internal audit
Perhaps now is the time for hiring companies to carry out internal audits to check that they are operating to best practises: They should be satisfied that:

All stages of the recruitment process from sourcing, interviewing, offer and onboarding, especially candidate communication and management, is efficient and timely. Any hiccoughs or delays in any part of these processes will result in losing the preferred candidate. Lost candidates = lost revenue, as positions remain open for even longer.

Salary and benefit levels are in line with the market. If hiring managers don’t know what market rates are – now is the time to find out.

Development and training programmes are in place to guarantee employee engagement in terms of future career opportunities.

Tomos, a recently graduating MBA suggests ” After a period of stagnation candidates need to know that companies are offering career development opportunities. For me this is as important as the salary package.”

Employer branding and reputation are strong. Just as employers can research candidates on-line, the reverse is also true. It is becoming increasingly easy for candidates to establish the corporate culture of any company by asking well placed connections, a few carefully constructed sentences about hours worked, vacation times, bonus systems, management style and so on. Glowing references from existing employees are a huge boost to the recruitment process. However, even a well-intentioned comment can send the wrong signals. One contact decided not to apply for a position when an internal connection within the company mentioned that he had a closer relationship with his Blackberry than his girlfriend.

First impressions count
Organisations which are complacent about any aspect of their hiring systems might be in for a wake up call. As Matteo, a Business Development Manager actively looking for a new opportunity confirmed, the recruitment process is the first encounter with the overall corporate image. If that isn’t strong, other areas of the company can be brought into question. “I was involved in 3 different search processes. All opportunities were attractive in different ways. The offer I accepted came from the company with the most professional hiring procedure. I felt it was one indication of how the company was managed from the top down

First impressions cut both ways.

Why Gen Y need to plan ahead

Gen Y: Career Strategy and Longevity

Career strategy and longevity
I spent the weekend socialising with a crowd of fabulous people all substantially younger than me. It’s graduation season and there was some exhilaration and some angst. Some results were better than expected, others disappointed. A few already had devised strategies, other’s hadn’t. One thing for sure is that any future career will not be defined by today’s degree results. There are many choices to be made and none are set in stone. They were looking for pearls of wisdom and I’m not sure my thoughts, one in particular, were what they wanted to hear. This generation needs to prepare, not just for a physically longer life, but a potentially more extended working career than its parents.

§ Longevity – Born in an era of a global gradual ascendancy of wealth, this generation has for many years been protected from their futures by their affluent “boomer” parents. It is only during the recent recession that their bubbles have started to burst. It struck me that career strategy for this generation will consciously need to start factoring extended longevity into the mix, more so than mine ever did. Not only will Gen Y outstrip their parents in life expectancy, predicted to be a minimum aged 80 on average, with typical projections of 87 for a man and 88 for a woman, many can expect to live longer.

Not unsurprisingly, clutching a graduation diploma, the last thought on anyone’s mind is a picture of themselves with false teeth, thin hair, liver spots and a walker.

§ Building a career that facilitates a longer working life , or at least into the late 60’s or early 70’s. Education will no longer stop at graduation and personal development and the acquisition of new skills will be ongoing. Flexibility and multi-skills will be key. On the plus side, the drive to get on a corporate ladder will be reduced, but on going commitment to personal development will be vital. Creating a portfolio of transferable skills will be the new mantra.

§. A need to save – Unless there is a sizeable inheritance in their futures, as pension plans both state and company reduce, Gen Y will need to be prepared to save an increased significant proportion of income throughout during a career. The Chinese save approximately 40% of their income. With high unemployment in this demographic and higher student loan payments, many young people will be saddled with debts into their mid 30s.

§. Opt for a simpler, low-cost life. As part of one of today’s largest consumer groups many are used to having it all, now. But on top of that, every day life requires more gadgets than ever before ( mobile phones, lap tops, internet accessibility and more) which eats into their pay cheques and reduces an ability to save. This is in stark contrast to my own graduation where apart from my books, all I possessed on leaving university, was a kettle and a few cups.

§ Protect their health – with obesity rates and associated diseases spiralling, this generation will have to consciously protect its health, perhaps more so than any other, with such a strong need to be economically active longer. Another interesting spin-off might be in our knowledge based economies, more sedentary jobs could become reserved for older demographics who are no longer physically able to carry out certain functions.

With a declining birthrate and fewer younger people supporting an aging population, will jobs requiring physical stamina start becoming economically more signficant and pay prime rates? Could we envision a situation where a young builder will be considered as, or even more valuable than an aging banker? Now that would be fun!

What do you think? What career advice would you give the class of 2011?

BYOC : Unexpected work/life bonus

Not everyone wants to be in a situation where their careers are their only or top priority. Men or women.

I recently found myself, somewhat unexpectedly spending rather more time than I would have liked, in the departure lounge of Fiumicino Airport, Rome. It’s a long story, one that doesn’t even matter and with everything going on in Syria, Libya and Japan, I’m not even going to make the mildest protest. But I have actually often found that some of my most interesting and informative connections are made during delays in travelling both business and personal. People who are usually too busy are happy to idle away the time with just about anyone. That day was no exception.

I became involved in a conversation with Thomas C and Brendan S, both routed via Rome for a connecting flight to Heathrow, on their way back from a Supply Chain conference, in a still desirable Middle East destination. At a guess they were both in their mid to late 30s. They actually both looked very alike, booted and suited as they were in the male executive uniform of dark grey suits, crisp white shirts and designer ties, which did eventually end up in their pockets. Both had young families and Tom’s wife was still on maternity leave, following the birth of their first child. That was pretty much where the similarities ended.

Paternity leave
Tom, a middle level manager enjoys his job, but his wife is the hot-shot, lead salary earner, already tipped to make Managing Director level in an American Financial Services company. My ears pricked up. I was thrilled to hear this  modern-day story! But alas there was a twist.

We had always planned that when we had children I would reduce my hours to part time and Katie’s career would be the primary career. Her income potential far outstrips mine and she is passionate about what she does. But we are already experiencing difficulties. My company doesn’t want to give me flexi-time or part time hours, even though it’s quite standard to support women. They reckon this will open the floodgates from other men wanting reduced hours. My boss also took me to one side and told me it would be a damaging career move and I could limit my chance of involvement in any long term, high level projects.”

This anecdotal story is supported by a survey carried out by uSwitch of 1,000 men which showed that 41 per cent of men polled would be concerned to take paternity leave, citing fear of losing their jobs or having their career prospects reduced.

Excessive demands
Not everyone wants to be in a situation where their careers are their only or top priority. Men or women. What would happen if flexible and part-time working were available to all? If a company is fearful that a large section of its workforce would down tools and apply for reduced hours, doesn’t that send a message that perhaps there is something amiss with their workplace culture? Are people being expected to work too hard and simply too long? But perhaps more significantly is there something wrong with our business models that requires people to work in this way, but also our cultures for endorsing these values?

BYOC
This was in stark contrast to Brendan’s story. I would say ( am I allowed to?) that he would be described as a typical alpha career man, already at Director level, with mention made of private prep schools and exotic foreign holidays. His wife is a part time interior decorator running her business from home allowing her to focus on raising their family, as two of their children have special education needs. But Brendan also works mainly from home. His company has adopted what I recently learned is known as BYOC policy – bring your own computer. He is paid a monthly allowance for using his own hardware. He has a docking station in his company offices, where there are no assigned desks. What started as a drive to reduce IT infra-structure and real estate costs, has now turned into a work/life balance benefit, where company employees can work from anywhere at anytime. This is seemingly becoming an increasingly attractive business model.

Does this mean he is sneaking a quick look the PGA Masters instead of doing whatever supply chain people are supposed be doing I asked? ‘ Not one bit ” he told me. ” I don’t think the senior management intended to be progressive at the beginning. They wanted to reduce IT costs and office overheads. When I’m in the office the distractions are huge. Offices are inherently inefficient places. At home I am totally focused. If I’m travelling I can work completely normally. The technology on my own laptop is infinitely superior to anything my company could afford to buy at the moment. It means that I can self schedule and be there for school runs, medical appointments and so on. What is important is that I get things done – not how and when I do it..”

So ironically could it be economic and technological imperatives rather than altruism, that could facilitate a future workplace which is not driven by preconceived and stereotypical ideas based on gender?

What do you think?