Blog Archives

Why don’t we ask RU OK every day?

Today is a day to check in with your colleagues and friends to make sure they are OK, but is one day a year really enough?

In workplaces across the country people will hear “RU OK?” today. Some may think the question is invasive, others will think the person asking is simply being a bit trite, only enquiring because someone informed them that they should. Then we’ll usually answer offhand “I’m fine, how about you?” But what about those people who are hiding their difficulties?

We’ve seen the statistics about the impact of mental health on productivity, with the ABS reporting self-harm (suicide) as the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44. Beyond Blue reports one in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition. Yet we only seem to raise the issue once or twice per year.

During my 30 year working career I have had the privilege to work in a number of countries, with some amazing people. There’s one who really sticks with me. He was a brilliant man, a world leader in his field. A father, a grandfather a loving husband who to the world around him, appeared ‘normal’.

Being engaged, enthusiastic and a contributor, appearing to be outwardly happy took a great deal of energy to maintain when he headed out the door to work each day. He often said, if workplaces were more accepting of people’s personal flaws, colleagues more empathetic and society more genuine in its desire to help others, he could have achieved so much more in his career.

So he kept his head down, became very risk averse, doing things the same old ways. Not wanting to draw the attention to himself, he kept his ideas to himself in meetings, leading others to question as his productivity dropped, whether he had any value to add to the organisation.

Unfortunately his internal demons overtook him.

One in five people suffer from a mental illness at some time during their lives. They experience self-doubt, become disengaged, unproductive and eventually isolated. Their impact on co-workers can be enormous. The Aussie attitude of showing no emotion in the workplace has resulted in a hidden epidemic that has seen us lose some of our finest minds, our friends and co-workers, mothers, fathers, children and siblings.

We can improve the way we connect with our colleagues, families and friends by starting a meaningful conversation. Ask someone “RU OK?” every day.


This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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How the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is far more exciting than its name implies

Yesterday I had the pleasure of touring the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) building in Parkville as an invited guest of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Our hosts from Grocon and Plenary Health showed us around selected areas that were very impressive – not what you may expect of a cancer service!

On entering the 13 story building the stunning internal atrium towers all the way to the roof top garden… a striking feature, but I’ll talk about that later. Still undergoing final touches before the moving in day, the building has three zones: health service delivery, research and back of house (administration). Colour coding is a feature of its leading approach to way-finding through the Centre.

With 160 overnight inpatient beds, a 42-bed capacity intensive care unit and 110 same-day beds, the majority of patients enjoy natural light and some of the best views of Melbourne.

There are also a number of outdoor areas – remember the roof top garden I mentioned earlier? It is one of the largest in Melbourne and features mature trees, a BBQ area and spots for quiet contemplation. All are within easy access to a cafe giving patients and families the opportunity to take in some fresh air and sunshine.

The Centre is a collaborative partnership between Peter Mac, Melbourne Heath, Melbourne University, Plenary Health, VCCC, the Australian and Victorian Governments, and looks to be setting the bar high for facilities combining health research and delivery. True to the aim of architects DesignInc to make ‘a positive difference to the health and happiness of people’s lives,’ the design has been created to encourage knowledge sharing, impacting on breakthroughs to deliver next generation cancer treatments.

VCCC is not only a model for health services of the future. It’s a great example of how more workplaces could be.

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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Posted in The world @work

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?

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Cultural Capital: The new HR

Debate has raged for years about the value of the Human Resources department. Is it deserving of a seat on the Executive or just an administrative function that provides staff with the warm and fuzzies? Often maligned as the go-to place when things go wrong, both organisations and the people working in them could benefit from readjusting their view of HR to the place to go to get things right.

Recent discussions about Behavioural Capital highlight that the way you relate to and act with different markets, such as B2B and B2C, will impact your bottom line. There are a plethora of articles and writings that highlight the importance of behavioural capital, but few that actually quantify it. Have a look at A Cognitive Theory of the Firm: Learning, Governance and Dynamic Capabilities by Bart Nooteboom or read Praxis Towards Sustainable Empowering Learning Environments in South Africa edited by Dennis Francis, Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Milton Nkoan for example.

What if we were to extrapolate the concept to include how you act internally with colleagues? Interestingly, the experts also point out that while many organisations believe they understand their culture, when questioned, they are likely to describe their aspired culture.

So let’s imagine a motivated and aligned workforce who were all working towards the same goal… Let me introduce Cultural Capital. A better title for a new relationship with Human Resources.

In Cultural Capital, HR is a key driver. It partners with the Executive, develops a culture map, then works across the organisation to embed it throughout the employee lifecycle. Imagine the savings:  improved productivity, less sick leave and fewer disciplinary issues. Not to mention the value added to your brand when your business becomes a true employer of choice. Prospective candidates will be beating a path to your door. What a difference a word can make!

Posted in The world @work

Beware the dangers of the overzealous non

In today’s marketplace, organisations across all sectors are very conscious of the need to retain good talent. Understandably, they worry about their IP walking out the door and going to the highest bidder, or employees setting-up in opposition down the road and taking with them the company’s ‘loyal’ customers.

Anxious employers, emboldened by their lawyers, will try all sorts of things. Enter the overzealous non-compete clause – or as my colleagues like to call it, the overzealous non.

From non-compete clauses covering specific timeframes, restrictions on geographical areas, to non-solicit and confidentiality provisions, employers attempt to shore up their business with all manner of contract provisions.

How practical and cost effective are these measures to uphold, and who is really missing out when a preferred candidate declines an offer as a result of the restrictions on their contract?

Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, in A regional guide to ‘restrictive covenants’ reports on the international challenges posed by post-termination restrictions in a global market: “There are few areas of employment law which differ as significantly between countries as the laws relating to post-termination restrictions.” Boston venture capitalist Bijan Sabet is an advocate for getting rid of non-competes altogether. “Non competes stifle innovation because the companies can’t hire the best talent,” he says. Citing California as a model state where non-compete agreements are unenforceable, he observes “Silicon Valley companies hire the best people without limitation. It’s a big problem if you can’t hire the best and brightest.”

It’s true that a small number of people will deliberately go out of their way to cause detriment to a past employer. But the majority act with the best intentions. Sharing market intelligence contributes to the greater knowledge base and benefits an industry overall. “Control is a double-edged sword,” writes Professor of Law at University of San Diego, Orly Lobel, in her book Talent Wants to be Set Free.

Lack of trust and respect are two of the highest ranked reasons for leaving a job, so wouldn’t it be better just to treat staff well in the first place, encourage their personal and professional growth and reward them for their efforts? The overzealous nons don’t think so.

Organisations certainly have a right to retain their intellectual property. They can expect to retain clients and keep their best people too when it’s deserved. So, if you are going to have restraint clauses, be pragmatic, set reasonable expectations, and beware of the overzealous non. It could end up saving you a whole lot of money and dramatically improve your recruitment and retention success.


Posted in The world @work

The truth is out there – Google it

As the new saying goes, online is forever.

Some people have become quite sophisticated at hiding or diverting attention from their past, and embellishing their education or career, so the need for due diligence in the hiring process is becoming ever more important.

I was recently handling a very senior recruitment assignment for one of my clients. We had run parallel advertising and search campaigns, and were developing a very good long list. Candidate response had been high quality, but one of the respondents just looked too good to be true…

The media loves to follow the downfall of a high profile person, especially one where if someone in the hiring process had googled the candidate’s name, a costly hiring mistake, as well as months of ensuing negative publicity, could have been easily avoided. Generally it’s something very obvious, such as the loss of registration for a professional or a criminal conviction, which gives the game away.

But sometimes it’s what you don’t find that is even more telling.  A candidate who claims to have held a director role in an organisation that requires statutory reporting, but has no internet presence at all, raises a few questions: Was that really their role? How long were they actually there? Does this person even exist?

Or perhaps there was an article in an obscure publication or on some unsubstantiated website about the star candidate, indicating a scandal, or raising questions about the way they treated co-workers. In all cases the level of trust between candidate and hiring manager or recruiter is diminished, and raises further questions about their suitability.

CareerBuilder reports, “More than two in five (43 percent) hiring managers who currently research candidates via social media said they have found information that has caused them not to hire a candidate…” What’s more, a shocking 24% of candidates lied about their qualifications!

As important as it is for you to do your due diligence on potential hires, it’s also important for candidates to google themselves to find out what might be out there and address it on their application. Your digital profile is not a hidden X-file; it’s there for the world to see.

Posted in The world @work