Monthly Archives: June 2015

A line in the sand: Three scientific reasons for taking a break

Remember when you had to wait for the office to open before you could contact someone to access their services? People were more patient then and there was less sense of a need for immediate gratification. You had time to unwind after a hard day’s work, got to recharge your batteries, start afresh the next day.

In this 24/7 world it is hard to find a place where you can truly relax. Being in constant communication has blurred the line between the end of the working day and our personal time. Our smart phones are now our banks, our maps, our music libraries, even our medical records; for professionals, an extension of our workstations in the cloud. Whatever did we do without them?

In our connected lives, we’re constantly looking and listening to what’s being shared via our social networks, keeping an eye out for photo opportunities, an event to tag or a potential status update to post. Everyone knows what we are doing all the time. We are never really alone, always traceable, thanks to GPS. We leave nothing to chance, least we should get lost amongst the digital noise and a memorable moment pass us by.

Not to mention when you take a holiday (hopefully somewhere you don’t get phone reception, where WIFI is just a term that they use in town). You pack up your electronic devices and chargers, plan to check your email and text messages, arrange Skype meetings while you’re away. It’s all an effort just to keep the wheels turning when you should be taking a break… Don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just writing this!

In a recent article Why You Need to Stop Thinking You Are Too Busy to Take Breaks, Courtney Seiter draws a line in the sand. For fans of technology, here is an abridged version of Seiter’s three scientific reasons to prioritise taking breaks at work.

  1. Breaks keep us from getting bored (and thus, unfocused)
    When you’re really in the groove of a task or project, the ideas are flowing and you feel great. But it doesn’t last forever—stretch yourself just a bit beyond that productivity zone and you might feel unfocused, zoned out or even irritable… Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries).
  1. Breaks help us retain information and make connections
    Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” (which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard. You might think that the focused mode is the one to optimize for more productivity, but diffuse mode plays a big role, too… Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.
  1. Breaks help us re-evaluate our goals
    When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives.

Maybe we all need to draw a line in the sand today that says “I have had enough”, ditch the device and give ourselves some time to regenerate and approach things anew.

Should you be taking a break right now?

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

We’re all just contractors, really.

Seen any long-term employees lately? Workers with over ten years tenure are becoming a rare breed. Many will never qualify for long service leave. Jobs for life? Unlikely for aspirational professionals in today’s workforce.

Traditional employment paradigms are slowly disappearing from the vernacular. They’re being replaced by concepts such as the agile work environment, activity based workplaces and a contingent workforce, which better describe the current landscape. Employee tenure is also decreasing over the years, with McCrindle Research finding that employees are changing their jobs as many as 17 times, with five career changes now the average.

What’s causing this shift? A challenge to the long held perception that retaining an employee in a permanent full-time role is imperative to protect the IP of an organisation.

So why wouldn’t workforce flexibility be attractive to employers? Engaging contractors provides many benefits: The ability to ‘right size’ your team, engage technical experts for specific projects, or inject fresh ideas from people with broader industry experience. Less can also bring more: Short-term specialist staff can help to refine best practice methodology in a company.

Despite performing well locally, some Australian multinationals faced a headcount freeze during the GFC. Contracting executives proved an effective solution. Mitigating long-term risk, while ensuring the required outputs were achieved, contractors gave these organisations the ability to engage mission critical staff, without the need to negotiate with their overseas parent for appointment approval.

Whilst the ratio of contractors to permanent employees varies across sectors and companies, generally we are seeing an increased willingness from organisations to consider a contractor as a worthwhile alternative to the traditional permanent employee, which is backed-up by an overall increase in contractor ratios.

What does this mean for employees? To succeed within this new paradigm, the ability to continuously improve, develop your skills and experience, while adapting to different working environments in all types of organisations will be the challenge. An attitudinal shift is already in play, with more recent entrants into the workforce already adopting a flexible, agile perspective to their career. For these individuals, a long-term role is not even a consideration and may not even be a preference.

Accompanying this agile workforce will be a greater emphasis on performance based management and key performance indicators (KPIs). Employees will need to collaborate and engage with an ever-changing team who may increasingly be based remotely and not be accessible within traditional office hours or a corporate environment. Similarly, employers will need to adjust their thinking and recognise that traditional ‘line of sight’ management is also a thing of the past.

For executives, cultural fit is always imperative. With contractors progressively performing roles that were previously held by staff under permanent employment arrangements, it’s more important now than ever before. Executive contractors are also being assessed for their contribution to the organisational culture, not just their skills and expertise, even for short term contracts.

When you’re recruiting, don’t place limitations on the talent available to you by thinking only in terms of engagement. A contemporary shift in workplace attitudes, ongoing technological advances that allow for flexible working practices and the reduced need for staff to be present in traditional workplaces means better options for employers and employees too. In the meantime it will be interesting to review workplace statistics in 2020 to see whether this trend continues on its current trajectory.

What workforce trends have you observed in your industry? How have contractors positively contributed to your organisation?

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Peering over that hill: Tips for mature workers

While ‘job for life’ opportunities do still exist, the reality is that most of us will change roles frequently throughout our working life. For people who are seeking a new role either by choice or necessity and who are in the twilight of their careers, the prospect of looking for a job can be stressful and challenging.

Without a doubt, the mature worker brings a host of capabilities and with a gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest and youngest workers in some organisations, these individuals are in a unique position to add value and mentor both directly and indirectly, bringing knowledge that only time and experience can provide.

If you’re facing the potential of a late change in your career, here are some tips to remind you exactly how much you bring to the (work) table:

  1. Employers are looking for results, not years. Talk about your achievements, identifying the benefits of having you as part of the company. No matter how small, draw attention to the great things you’ve done.
  2. Maturity isn’t something to apologise for! Celebrate the experience, resilience and stability that have come with time that younger workers aren’t able to demonstrate.
  3. Your experience may be intimidating to hiring managers with less tenure or experience, but with a little discretion and guidance, you can add value to help them fast track their own careers.
  4. Significant work on long-term projects or development over a series of shorter-term assignments provides further evidence of commitment to achieving outcomes. Sell yourself on ROI, highlighting your successful accomplishments by backing them up with cost-benefit facts.
  5. The likelihood of you needing time off for all of the usual life events is greatly reduced; you’re more reliable, dependable and you won’t let people down.
  6. It stands to reason that you have a great work ethic – more and more that isn’t a given and it makes you highly desirable to employers.
  7. You didn’t start texting until you had already learned how to spell. This is a huge advantage for professional correspondence. It’s likely that you will know the difference between there, their and they’re.

Be proud, keep reminding yourself that you’re experienced, maturity adds value and that makes you fabulous.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Applying the 85/15 principle

What would your response be if I asked you to walk and run 100km in the Australian bush with me? You’d be part of a team of four and we’d be raising money for the Oxfam Trailwalker. Would you have thought you couldn’t do it? That the human body isn’t meant to do that kind of thing? It was mad? These were the kind of responses from most people… or that they happened to be busy that weekend!

I eventually found three others who were keen to take on the challenge. We formed a team and hit the ground running, so to speak. Not only is it a physically demanding event, all four team members must complete the 100km course together, everyone must check-in at all the designated checkpoints and make it over the finish line within 48 hours.

Leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning of Friday 10 April, the course started off at Wesburn Park and ran through the Dandenong Ranges, covering some beautiful country. We travelled over the mountains into Warburton, onto the O’Shannassy Aquaduct and along the flat section of the Warburton Trail. From there we moved up to the peak of Olinda, down through Ferntree Gully, Lysterfield and finally finished in Jells Park Wheelers Hill.

There were times throughout the 100km course where our bodies felt like they’d gone as far as they could, our brains were telling us to stop and the thought of a hot shower was almost enough to make you want to throw in the towel and raise a white flag. But, as with most challenging situations, whether they are physical, mental or both – we actually had a lot more in the tank than we realised. It’s called the 85/15 principle.

This principle was first introduced to me by a seasoned Oxfam Trailwalker participant, who has a background in medicine.  She told me the Oxfam 100km is actually a piece of cake, provided you do your training. When you think you’re near exhaustion at say 85% of your physical limits – ignore it. You’re actually at 15% and have 85% of your capacity in reserve. I was intrigued.

She said the human body is amazing in terms of its strength and underlying capability and sometimes we should ignore our natural instincts, reservations and doubts.  Those reference points to exertion and the physical boundaries we place on ourselves are in our minds and you actually just need to keep pushing through.

It can be the same in our professional and personal lives. Whether we are mentally challenged by solving a difficult problem, managing multiple projects with competing deadlines, or feel like we don’t have enough resources to successfully deliver – once you’ve solved the problem, delivered the projects and completed what you thought was unachievable, it reminds us we are capable of so much more than we think.

Our team of four completed the Oxfam Trailwalker together in 20 hours and 45 minutes, finishing at 4:45am on Saturday 11 April, and I’ll tell you what – we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our tired and grubby faces. While the event certainly took us out of our comfort zones, we all took on board a valuable lesson. Next time you’re confronting a serious challenge, try the 85/15 principle: When you feel like you’re at 85% of your limits, flip it around and know you’re capable of much, much more than you’re giving yourself credit for.

I think most of us have probably been guilty of underestimating our own capability at some point throughout our lives, as well as the true potential of what our colleagues, clients, friends and family can achieve. We are far more likely to achieve our goals when we ignore our doubts and just get on with it, while supporting others to do the same.

What challenges have you set for yourself to take you out of your comfort zone?

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized