Tag Archives: Career Coach Brussels

Quarter-life crisis and over communication

24/7 standby

24/7 standby

In today’s high-tech, 24/7, global communication , we are seeing a pace of communication that is super charged. This is something  we would have thought should lead to rapid, informed and correct decision-making.

Everyone happy… right?

My observation is that the reverse could indeed be true.

I would even go as far as to say that in many cases we are creating a pattern and expectation of communication that is totally overwhelming which is damaging performance.   I have noticed this particularly in junior and mid-level employees, who unlike other generations cut their teeth on this notion of being constantly in touch.  As a consequence their boundaries are not as distinct. It’s great fun receiving updates from friends around the clock, but becomes very different and stressful in a professional context.

A friend’s daughter recently wondered somewhat perplexed,  why privacy is really important to our generation!   I believe the lack of it, is contributing to what is becoming known as Quarter Life Crisis in hers.

Permanently “on call” 

Working across multiple time zones and constantly on stand-by,  leaves many junior and mid level employees overwhelmed, over supervised and exhausted.  Matthias a young and highly successful marketing executive in a Fortune 500 company, a Director despite being  in his early 30s, says he starts checking his emails at 0600 and as late as midnight. He told me he hears alerts on his iPad  throughout the night.

Shouldn’t he just turn it off I suggested naively and respond in the morning ?  At the beck and call of senior management located on all continents, failure to respond instantly he told me is perceived to be “a lack of energy or engagement.” He is now questioning his commitment to a corporate career as he examines his work/ life balance.

All company mail
global email

Another unforeseen outcome of the wide-reaching and easy communication technology is increased control and policing. This can be so tight that it leaves many employees so fearful of making a mistake  they become paralyzed. Factor in the viral consequences of the reporting of any misdemeanour, then the culprit is faced with company wide shame and humiliation via the ubiquitous all company e-mail.

Take Marianne. She has a  postgraduate qualification in HR management and  is a junior recruitment coordinator for a  major international company. Despite having three years experience in the function, plus a professional qualification, every aspect of her job is supervised by a barrage of emails and reporting instructions so time-consuming she is almost unable to learn the skills of her function. Six months ago she made a minor scheduling error.  This was picked up and circulated on a global all department email where she felt international humiliation. As she said “if God could have been cc’d he would have been, it was escalated so far up the chain.” She also wonders about her corporate future.

Take Lucien.  A marketing graduate, slightly dyslexic, made a typo on an email to a client. His boss instead of addressing the situation professionally, copied the whole company (yes everyone) in what he thought was a riotous joke.  Suitably shamed Lucien could barely face going into work  where instead of  creating some Outlook templates to support him, every email was scrutinised individually. Massive delays were created and customer satisfaction fell off. Lucien finally left and has no intention of returning to corporate life.

Everything urgent 

Others report receiving non-urgent mails and texts from bosses during vacations and on public holidays  many carrying  a high priority red-flag. Amanda told me “ my boss made it very clear that he was unhappy that I couldn’t respond to a query on my expenses when I was in a wedding! ”  

Re-wind

Back in the day when I started work, communication was significantly slower. Would I want to turn the clock back to those days?  I am no Luddite,  so not at all. I love fast communication. But there were certainly advantages from days gone by.  If someone made a mistake it would probably take a few days for it to come to their bosses attention via laborious manual processes which were imputed into the system and eventually printed out on continuous computer listing pages the size of breeze blocks.

Things clearly went wrong, but nothing too horrendous. Only a small number of people were usually aware of the issues and certainly not the whole company. Mobile phones did not exist. Neither did the internet.

So although we see many significant benefits,  not all technology is without a downside.   Needs will vary from one organisation to another, but what is needed is clear protocols about appropriate frequency of contact and what constitutes an emergency!

Why parenting is an HR issue

Happy familyOne of the areas of greatest disconnect between corporate culture and the wider world, is the issue of parenting.  This is going to present significant challenges to many organisations in terms of H.R. policy  in the upcoming years, especially for those that don’t confront those issues.

The successful running of organisations is largely dependent on a fully functioning nuclear family. That is: a revenue generator (usually the man) and a childcare/homemaker (usually the woman.)  Any move to deviate from this model impacts the employee and therefore ultimately the organisation.

We are already seeing major repercussions.

Outdated model

By 2015 Gen Y will out number Boomers in the workforce.   They are the 21st century generation of men and women who want something different for themselves, their careers and their families than their parents.  Added to this we see the emergence of other demographics:

  1. the rise of the single parent
  2. the rise of the two career family,
  3. men who don’t want the stress of being the single bread winner or to be pigeonholed into gender stereotyping roles assigned in a bygone era.
  4. Reverse parenting: elder care

These significant cultural changes render the old school model  flawed and potentially ineffective.

Crusader vs Realist

These developments impact organisations in a number of areas and requires some out of the box thinking to adapt to changes in the supply side of the employee market. Some organisations have evolved, yet for most their systems remain resolutely unchanged.  In the last two weeks I have been conflicted in my roles as crusader for change and realistic coach,  fully aware of the all too prevalent discrimination that exists around family obligations for both men and women.

I have discussed with candidates the wisdom of embracing motherhood on their CVs and LinkedIn summaries. How to handle resume gaps of 15 years for stay at home Mums is a frequent challenge, with lack of continuous service heavily penalised.  Cap that with the dilemmas facing men who have taken  or wish to take paternity leave  when they are viewed with suspicion.  Or more serious still,  STUDS (Spouses Trailing Under Duress)  who have given their partner’s career priority.  And of course stay at home dads.  I know of some couples who don’t broadcast their non stereotypical approach for concerns about social stigma.

This blinkered thinking impacts human resource programmes in a number of key areas, as organisations are slow to  recognise and respond to the pace of change.

What we see is an approach to find people to suit the model, rather than changing the model to suit the workforce

Where does this happen?

Recruitment:  with as many as 30-40% of families  in some geographies now being headed up by a single parent oftentimes the mother, organisations are struggling to attract the best talent to suit their corporate culture. They are obliged to restrict themselves to candidates who are available,  rather than the best. Combined this with stereotyping prejudice related to childcare  responsibilities in the recruitment process where illegal questioning is still commonplace, many excellent potential candidates are cut or not fully considered.

Absenteesim:  Many single parents do not have the 10 hours per day required by many employers locked into presence rather than results models. What they could offer is core, prime time hours contracts with flex time covering non core hours. Lack of flexibility leads to increased levels of absenteeism. U.S. companies reportedly lose $3 billion each year attributable to childcare related absences.

Lack of mobility:  many single parents cannot be geographically mobile. They may be restricted by custody and access arrangements under divorce agreements to relocate or travel. Perhaps they are reliant on local family members for support. Two career couples are also in the same situation having to factor in the overall responsibility of running their families. In a recent 3Plus Mini-Coaching event on Having it All ,  one participants told us that in her couple when it comes to travel “the first into the Google calendar wins.” This impacts recruitment cycles.

Retention:  with schools still operating on the same schedules that they have done probably for a hundred years, closed for 14 weeks a year with a 3.00pm or 4.00pm pick- up,  making that after school gap until they get home from work  a parent’s worst nightmare to fill.  This has spawned a host of after school businesses which eat  into the incomes of all involved with no tax breaks or support.  Add to this routine medical care and possibly emergency  attention for kids,  there are a number of different demands made on parents which contribute to making life hard to manage.  There might also be an element of senior care and reverse parenting as their own parents age.  Under duress many women in particular leave their companies unable to find that elusive work/life balance.

Under-performance:  Other employees work below their potential accepting lower level jobs in exchange for flexibility.  Men who would be willing and want to share in these responsibilities and take paternity leave  are also discouraged by macho cultures. It is reported that men are twice as likely to be refused flex working conditions as  a woman.  Any investment made in employees early in their careers is  therefore not maximised.

Succession planning: Research from Right Management suggests that  an increasing number of Boomers are postponing complete retirement with a shift to working part-time. This can be attributed to the devaluation of savings and pensions,  but as the Boomer divorce rate surges many men at least,  go on to have second families well into their 50s. This makes early retirement a pipe dream with family commitments for an increasing number as late as mid- 60s,  reducing turnover at senior levels and therefore development opportunities for employees lower down the hierarchy.

So in an era of a declining population in most developed economies with aging populations to support,  organisations have to move away from out of date thinking and come up with some new approaches.  It is essentially basic maths. Something’s got to give.   The nuclear family is no longer the mainstay of our wider culture and cannot continue to be the lynch pin for our corporate environments.

Which parenting benefits would be most helpful to you? Please take the poll:

After work socialising: Do you feel pressurized?

Business and pleasure have always been uncomfortable bedfellows. It is widely considered than an informal off site or out of hours coffee, lunch, dinner or drink can oil commercial wheels and resolve tricky office situations much more smoothly than dealing with them in the office. Networking both internal or external are considered to be political skills necessary for professional success.

after hours socialHowever, I am increasingly hearing  from a number of sources the difficulties of dealing with the unspoken pressure to socialize outside offices hours with either co-workers, vendors or clients.

Processing this can be challenging for any number of reasons. Meet four people who say ” No”.

  • Childcare responsibilities:  many working  parents manage tight schedules when it comes to childcare. Many have  teenage children at home unsupervised,  others need to relieve nannies or collect kids from nurseries and day care. Very often there is also some after school participation in the early evening.  Suzette an IT Recruitment Manager told me “it’s  part of our office culture and routine to meet good clients for a drink on a Friday after work. My son plays football for a local junior team and I simply have to be back to take him there. My partner’s commute is much longer than mine and he can’t make it back in time. I  know this puts me in the poor team player category but it can’t be helped.  Sometimes I ask one of the other parents to cover for me with my son, but I resent feeling pressurized when I’m doing a good job in office hours and have excellent relations with all my clients .”   
  • No interest:  Some people simply don’t want to go to cafés and bars with their colleagues.   Aashif, an associate with an international law firm with suggests If I have been in the office since 0800 and if I can actually leave the office at 1800 –  I wouldn’t choose to go for a drink with people I have been working with all day. I  have given enough time. I just want to get home,  not because I have a wife or children,  but I want to do other things. I also don’t drink alcohol so it’s not a lot of fun because as a non-drinker I can see the impact that even one glass has on some people.  I am always happy to meet clients for lunch. I know I am viewed as anti-social”
  • Blurring boundaries:  Chloe a Fund Manager at a large bank finds the pressure to go to after work outings with colleagues and clients  frustrating and even annoying.  “There is a lot of blurring of boundaries at these post work drinks and some bad behaviour.  If people really want to socialize with their work colleagues or clients  they  can have coffee, lunch or even breakfast.  Very often some of these functions turn into late night events which I think can be inappropriate. ”   
  • Damages reputation:  Behaviour outside office hours can be quite often misconstrued and lead to office gossip and even reputation damage. Martin heads up an all female team and found that he was the subject of water cooler whispering following after work social events with a group of only women.   “They were perfectly correct occasions and genuinely intended to cement the team. But  the best of intentions back fired and there was a lot of open sniggering from outside the department,  so I simply stopped suggesting them.”

So do you feel pressurized to socialize with clients, colleagues or vendors after office hours?  Take the poll. 

15 Tips to finesse an online interview

Today your face can be beamed onto cinema size screeens
Today your face can be beamed onto cinema size screeens

Why?  Online interviewing skills are a must have…

Increasingly organisations are wanting to replace first contact screenings or even an initial interview with a Skype call or other online call.

This is something that is given insufficient priority by job seekers or even totally disregarded. Research from Right Management in 2012 indicated that at that time only 9% of interviews take place via web cam. Their prediction was that this will increase to 43%  over the next few years. So although cutting out extended travel time can  be a bonus for job seekers, online interviewing skills are now a must have.

Offering a Skype call can also help arrange an informational interview. A network connection might be reluctant to give up hours for lunch or coffee, but a Skype call,  which can be more easily scheduled into a busy calendar,  might be more appealing.

However, simple as it might seem,  it can be challenging for most of us to be our sparkling best with our job search A game on tap for an online interview. Sometimes even the best internet connection and web cam don’t do any of us any justice at all. Today, with advanced technology our faces can be beamed onto over sized plasma screens in conference rooms the world over. “Skyping” is no longer associated with hunching over a lap top screaming into a pilot size headset, sounding like a goldfish.

It now requires an element of finesse and one job seekers should factor into their prep work.

So where to start? —

  1. Treat it  seriously:  just because it’s  online doesn’t mean you are not being professionally evaluated. You most certainly are…. and it’s even more difficult than a face to face.
  2. Have a professional photo:  as well as your USP in your Skype  profile. This is part of your consistent branding. Many choose funky pictures for their Skype  profiles,  forgetting the professional associations of this technology. Re-visit that thought.
  3. Make sure your name and Skype address is easily traceable. We all like to think we are unique only to find there are dozens with the same name or handle.
  4. Test the technology: Don’t download Skype or any other technology five minutes before your appointment . Test your microphone and headset.
  5. Understand the technology:  know how to Skype type, screen share and what to do if the signal drops,  which it does sometimes  (turn off your camera.)
  6. ——Request a time that suits:  one where you can be guaranteed calm, the kids are in bed,  the dog isn’t running amok or the dishwasher  gurgling in the background, and so on.
  7. —Location: you need a tidy, quiet,  professional or neutral background with writing materials to hand.  If your computer is in your bedroom or kitchen,  try to angle the computer away from your unmade bed or dirty dishes. I once interviewed someone sitting on the sofa in his living room with his partner ironing in the background and the kids fighting in the corner. It didn’t go well.
  8. —Dress code, grooming:  it’s very easy to take Skype or Face Time calls in your PJs, chilled,  having a coffee. I even had someone drinking what I suspect was a bottle rather than a glass of wine. But it’s not professional. Dress code should be as for a face to face interview.  
  9. —Watch your posture : sit up straight.  Elevate your computer if you have to on a pile of books. It avoids your interviewers looking up your nose.
  10. A wifi head set is best otherwise we can all look like pilots on a space launch.  —
  11. Look at the camera and not the screen. Minimize your own image.
  12. Close down any sound alerts: incoming mails, Twitter and so on. Nothing is more distracting than hearing constant pinging in the background.
  13. Turn off your other phones: land line and mobile  – also potential  distractions.
  14. Have any documents available for easy sharing – either via screen share or download
  15. Use mobile technology  judiciously.  We are all on the run – but taking an important interview via Skype on a Smart  Phone or Tablet can be tricky.  I have been involved in these situations and they don’t favour the candidate. I recently talked to  an interviewee literally running between meetings including a period in a lift. She was so out of breath she sounded as if she was experiencing a cardiac arrest.

So don’t forget to be prepared for this latest development! It could well happen to you sometime very soon!

Why there’s only one new year’s resolution to make in job search

Make it a big one!

Take control of the elements within your control

Why you only need one new year’s resolution in job search

“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”  Tony Robbins

I’m a well documented contrarian when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. I think particularly with job search that goals should be ongoing and strategic. It’s no use setting any goals  in January and only to forget about them during the rest of the year. But there is a lot of hype associated with the start of a professional new year and this week is the first back to work after a protracted break for many.  It’s perhaps better to tap into the momentum of the zeitgeist than ignore it.

So instead of setting multiple potentially short-lived, minor goals  – go for  just one. But think big.

Commit to taking control of your job search.

This is particularly important for the behavioural and serial procrastinator who avoids taking on any tasks because of the complexity of choice, perfectionism, or fear of failure.  Procrastination is ‘the art of keeping up with yesterday and avoiding today.”  says Wayne Dyer.

I worked with a client this weekend for the first time who bemoaned the inequities in the recruitment system, only to find that two days before a major interview he was not familiar with the content of the hiring company’s website.   His lack of past success and confidence,  I suspect can be attributed to the fact that he was simply inadequately prepared.

That is his responsibility and totally within his control. 

But with a new year and new challenges,  the task can seem daunting. To avoid falling into the trap of  “in one year out the other” what can be done going forward?  Simply make a basic commitment to taking control of the elements of your job search where it’s feasible and possible to do so.

Branding

So much of this process  is in the hands and at the whim of others or  impacted by happenstance.

These are the elements outside your control:

  • The number  and quality of  other applicants
  • The organisational structure
  • The recruitment process
  • The perception of others
  • The personalities of others
  • The questions posed
  • The decision-making process

So that means we should firmly take control of the things where and when we can.

Within our control we have:

  • —Our mind set
  • Our personal appearance and image
  • —CV content and presentation
  • —Online presence & content
  • ——Non verbal communication
  • Verbal delivery
  • —Responses and pitches prepared
  • Constructive and effective interaction

If a job seeker struggles with any of these critical components in  job search on an ongoing basis,  and can’t  or doesn’t take control,   then some basic questions need to be asked perhaps with professional help.

Dickensian: Zero-hours contracts

Zero hour contracts

Zero-hours contracts

I’ve just had two astonishing conversations with two young people. This wasn’t related to wild nights out or any inappropriate behaviour, but their employment conditions.

Both are working on zero-hours contracts.

For the uninitiated zero-hours contracts are apparently a particularly British phenomenon. A  bit like Christmas pudding and red double-decker buses, just infinitely less wholesome

They are understood to be an employment contract between an employer and a worker, during which the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any minimum working hours, and the worker in turn is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered.

Increasingly, many companies  across all sectors  are taking on staff on ‘zero-hours’ contracts.  These contracts effectively provide employers with a pool of  employees who are ‘on-call’ and can be used when the need arises.

At one end of the spectrum  the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggest that they provide  great possibilities for  individuals to strike a work life balance or supplement fixed incomes on an ad hoc basis. Students and pensioners particularly value this arrangement .

On the other hand,  they are viewed as yet another component in the exploitation formula with rife mal-practise reported.

Risk reduction

Zero-hours contracts are becoming increasingly popular as a way of tapping into a pool of labour to meet operational requirements and reducing recruitment and employee costs. They are also a way of minimising risk connected with workforce planning or it would seem planning of any kind really.

Research indicates that those on zero-hours contracts earn less than those on staff or on fixed-hours contracts,  with no rights to sick pay  and holiday pay  often refused.  They are also more widespread than is generally thought and increasing used for  hiring young people in the 18-24 demographic.  They are fast becoming a way of circumventing corporate statutory obligations. Although officially associated mainly with unskilled labour, anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is not consistently the case.

Victorian

There is something very Dickensian about this system with workers lining up, albeit at the end of their mobile phone and a few being selected,  with the rest remaining un-contacted.  Peter is on a zero- hours contract with a London  based call centre company.  Earlier this month he paid for travel to his place of work only to be told that there had been a miscommunication between the account manager and the client and there was no work until further notice. The contacted group was sent home after thirty minutes without pay.

Peter an arts graduate told me ” The choice to refuse work  in reality doesn’t exist.  If you refuse you are labelled as inflexible. Very often the management is poor with minimal training given. There is no accountability. The manager screws up and the workforce has their shifts cancelled.  Communication is erratic and anyone who speaks up is regarded as a ” trouble-maker. ”

He continued  “It’s made clear when you are hired any employment rights are restricted and there is  no job security until anyone has been employed for two years. But usually any long-termers are terminated just before they reach  the two years service point. Very often employees are given spurious official warnings for the slightest contravention to create an HR paper trail to “justify” a termination. One colleague was five minutes late after his train broke down and was given a written warning even though he sent an explanatory text to say  why he had been held up”

It is generally agreed that zero-hours contracts are effectively becoming licences for poor management and a pathway for potential employment abuse.

Kara with a degree in Psychology,  has been working on zero-hours contracts in the hospitality and retail sector. She explained “with no job security it is impossible to plan or save. My daily worry is how I am going to pay my most basic bills. Many of my friends are forced to live with their parents even though they are in their mid 20s. I work two jobs to make sure I have enough money to eat and cover my rent.  I’m 26 with a degree and it seems crazy that I can’t get a job to keep myself above the poverty line. When I do go for interviews for “proper jobs” I am told I don’t have the right experience. It’s like being on a treadmill ” 

Although the U.K. government plans to outlaw any restrictions  on employees on zero-hours contracts working elsewhere,  they are still allowing the concept to remain.

So although much is written about leadership and employees being valued the reality is that those leadership priorities are often disregarded to increase shareholder value and benefit business balance sheets regardless of the longer term implications.

Short term solutions

These are very short term solutions which will come back to haunt us. Together with it’s bed fellow unpaid internships  with zero-hours contracts we are seeing a reverse trend to Victorian era style employment practises which has a multi-generation impact.  Nicknamed KIPPERs (“kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings”) in the U.K., we have a huge demographic who are spending what should be a formative period acquiring key professional skills,  in employment and economic limbo. This in turn is impacting their parents who continue to be forced to support them.

What will we see next? The return of the truck shop? 

Do you need a “staycation”?

Do you need a stay-cation?

Do you need a stay-cation?

The festive season is upon us and for many it is a time of acute stress and busy-ness. Honouring our professional commitments and personal obligations becomes almost a full-time job at this time of the year.

Many look forward to taking a vacation to get away from it all.   But sometimes the process and planning to get away is equally tiring.  This  might involve extensive periods in traffic,never-ending queues in airports, followed by often delayed long haul flights.

Planning

One candidate told me he was so exhausted at the end of 2012 “trying to get to the Maldives” that this year he has decided to stay put on a “staycation.”

As quite often happens,  over the next few weeks I heard the same word  “stay-cation” repeated.  I had never come across it before. It involves apparently simply staying in or around your home and chilling and relaxing. But staycationers complain that when they talk to alpha vacationers,  that  they have to be almost apologetic when they mention their “staycation” plans.  Extreme vacationers it would seem are not happy unless they are abseiling off cliffs,  skiing off-piste in places the more remote and far-flung the better, spiced up by a dose of horrendous adverse weather for good measure.

Vacation snobbery

We seem to have created a vacation hierarchy, and “staycationing” it would seem is definitely not near the top.

One job seeker has given herself permission to take time off from her job search other than tracking some key emails and some light seasonal networking.  A keen outdoor pursuits and nature lover  is she heading for an exotic destination? “No” she told me in an almost guilty whisper  ” I am just staying home“. Since when did the vacation police become so powerful?  Shortly after, my own daughter, an intrepid international traveller herself,  told me how she is looking forward to her own “staycation.” She lives in Dubai so there are worse places to chill in December.

I have also subsequently read pieces about “planning your staycation” to make them more effective.  Vacations are supposed to be relaxing surely? The origin of the word is 14th century “freedom from obligations, leisure and release.” 

There is nothing in there about location or the nature of the activity. Perhaps this is just me,  or do we also need to be released from the obligation of planning?

What do you think?