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EOFY – trivia, observations and reflections

I’ve just finished an interview with an accountant… (insert your joke or comment of choice)… for a Financial Controller role. Actually it’s a great opportunity with a small private investment company.

I generally start an interview with an easy general question like, “How’s work?” In this case the response was, “Flat-out! I’m super busy because of EOFY (End of Financial Year).” Makes sense and I’m sure there are thousands of accountants around Australia who are saying the same thing.

According to that font of all modern wisdom, Wikipedia, Australia is one of only a small list of countries that use 1 July to 30 June as the financial year. Others include New Zealand, Japan and Egypt. In comparison the US use 1 January to 31 December and the UK is more unusual, being 1 April to 31 March for government. UK businesses can choose any 12 month period.

Given that much of Australian law and business practices have British origins, you might expect that we would have a similar EOFY. Some sources suggest that our reverse seasons compared to the Northern Hemisphere mean more Australians are on holiday in January and at work in the winter months. I’m not a Mythbuster, so I’ll just say that is plausible.

In my patch of the recruitment world, financial services, three out of four major Australian banks have changed to 30 September as their EOFY. Most other financial services organisations that I work with ie. industry superannuation funds, fund managers, smaller banks, investment consultants and private wealth managers, use 30 June as EOFY.

What I’ve seen in the last few months is lots of strategic planning for next financial year and establishment of budgets. Generally I’d say recruitment intentions are quite positive.

For many of us EOFY is a busy time, trying to complete work. Now is a chance for a quick spot of reflection and strategy refinement: What worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

OK reflection done, there’s calls to be made!

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

‘Trump’s wall’ can’t stop talent fleeing the US

At 6:41pm Eastern Australian time on Wednesday 9 November, within half an hour of the calling of the US Presidential election result, in came an email with a request to chat from a very highly regarded Assistant Professor at a major Californian university.

“I have been quite fulfilled at (the) University,” she said, “but the results of our election have made me seriously concerned about the future of environmental science research in the US. I now want to consider something new and somewhere new.”

In our tightly interconnected world we are vulnerable to global shockwaves: the prospect of a Trump presidency may seem ominous for the global economy, but it could also throw up opportunities. We expected that Brexit would see some international professionals seeking opportunities in Australia to the benefit of business and universities here, but this week’s US election result could have an even bigger impact.

I have been recruiting academic roles for a major Australian GO8 University of late and our search for three of that University’s schools has involved contacting academic leaders all around the world. A number have been interested to talk further, and perhaps will apply, but most prospective candidates were happy where they are.

It’s not surprising. Given the new President’s comments on climate change in the lead up to the election, further concerted action on climate change appears unlikely in the US. But what really struck me was that this academic was ready to act on her convictions and back her professional experience, to up stakes and head to ‘warmer’ climes that hopefully (we’ve also seen some of our leading scientific minds looking abroad for a more welcoming political climate) will be more compassionate and supportive of her work.

Not everyone can move countries at will of course. The Assistant Professor is fortunate that there are career pathways within her professional community that facilitate knowledge sharing amongst academics. If she is able to continue her work here, her research will lead to a better understanding of climate impacts, from changes to wetlands, arid and other landscapes (highly relevant considering the environmental challenges we face in this country), then we will all benefit from her expertise.

So while some nations are talking about building walls that may prevent workforce mobility, Australia could be holding a winning hand if we maintain open-minded policies. From an executive search perspective and as a regular international traveller for senior appointments, I’d love to be able to refer more talent both ways.

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The money or the holiday?

Welcome to the annual leave game show: The Australian Fair Work Commission has recently changed various modern awards to allow for the cashing in of annual leave under specific conditions. How would you feel if this trend extends to non-award employees in the future?

At first glance, the freedom to choose annual leave time or its monetary equivalent seems like a great win for employees. Who wouldn’t love the flexibility to select whichever option suits their personal situation? Unfortunately, there’s the potential that those who need a break most won’t take it.

Australia is recognised internationally as a hardworking nation. A global survey by online travel site Expedia, as reported by Moira Geddes for news.com.au, reveals over 50% of Australians feel vacation deprived. In an interview with Geddes, George Rubensal, Managing Director of Expedia ANZ says Australians are not taking enough holidays, with 11% of us taking no vacation at all. Even though we have the right to time off, employees feel constrained by an obligation to work, with a staggering 17% of workers saying their bosses don’t allow them to take leave!

News.com.au reports that business leaders supported changes to allow for more flexible working arrangements, but unions are concerned about annual leave becoming a commodity, rather than an entitlement. Finding that you really need the respite afforded by taking annual leave when you’ve already cashed in your leave benefits puts additional pressure on employees to negotiate with their employers and compounds the problem. The same principle applies to those calls to allow low income workers to access their superannuation.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver makes the point that employers should be encouraging a work environment where employees feel secure to take the leave they have earned. It’s also important to remember that more hours worked does not necessarily lead to greater productivity.

Here are some ways the scenario could play out:

  1. Employees perceive that they are indispensable to their job, so they don’t take leave and risk burnout in the process
  2. Employers try to achieve higher output by encouraging their employees to work rather than take leave
  3. Employees working under financial stress take the cash, even though they really need the break
  4. Employers who recognise that holidays contribute to increased productivity find it difficult to convince staff to take leave
  5. Employees spend more time at work and less time with family and friends, which also affects relationships with colleagues and business performance

In the always online, connected digital age, taking time out to allow our minds and bodies to recharge is more critical than ever. Our annual leave provisions allow us to do that.

Would you take the money or the holiday?

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Every temporary tells a story

Why do people like to temp? Over the years as a consultant filling temporary positions, I have met all kinds of candidates. Each one has a unique story and a different reason as to why they want short-term work. The obvious ones who we expect to find in temp roles are students, travellers, working mums (and dads). Less recognisable, but often highly proficient, are the part-timers, in-betweeners and career temps.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at last count part-time employees made up 40% of the Australian workforce, with almost 22% employed in casual roles. From my experience placing candidates in Professional & Office Support roles, I’ve profiled the most common traits of temporaries and categorised them into four groups.

The Part-timer: They’re trying to fit work around lectures or day care. Whether it’s a few days per week or peak hours, Part-timers are always in high demand. Students and working parents rule in these working situations. Finding the right job match for someone with a fragmented schedule is sometimes a challenge, however there’s always a client with an equally demanding brief. Recently I had an aspiring actor in need of 2-3 days per week to work around her auditions. Due to various scheduled audition times, she needed flexibility. After proving her value to the company, they were able to accommodate her. They love her so much, they have booked her for another 6 weeks in July.

The Traveller: Here for a good time, not a long time, they’ve arrived in Oz most often from the UK or Europe with only a backpack. Not afraid of a bit of hard work to fund their next adventure, our Travellers are highly motivated, ready to start work right now. I once had an Irish chap who was willing to do anything – I’m not joking… After a two week assignment document shredding, he had made such a great impression with his friendly and positive attitude that my client offered him a three month assignment working in their customer service team. He couldn’t believe his luck!

The In-betweener: They’re prepared to wait for just the right permanent role and they’ll temp while they hold out. That’s our In-betweeners. One candidate who comes to mind was working as an Executive Assistant for a CEO for many years. She felt it was time to move on and was looking for a career change. Temping completely re-energised her. She was able to request assignments where she could utilise her significant experience, testing new working environments without a long-term obligation. She enjoyed it so much she became a regular on my availability list, eventually settling again in a permanent role in an organisation suited to her skillset.

The Career Temp: Repeat assignments are their bread and butter and our clients will specifically request them for an assignment, over and over. Career Temps, will have a deep and meaningful relationship with us. I can think of a candidate in particular who I’ve been working with for over five years who just loves the lifestyle temping affords – the flexibility, the variety of work, the people she meets and the different industries she has been exposed to. It certainly works well for her. She’s competent and reliable, I couldn’t ask for more.

All sorts of people temp for all sorts of reasons. And most people have a story about temporary work from some stage in their career. We’d love to hear about your experiences.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Would you want to work part-time if you could?

A client recently asked me to find a Senior BDM for their boutique funds management business. Nothing unusual about that; however, my client only required someone on a part-time basis, three days per week (or equivalent). They were more than happy to provide flexible work hours to accommodate responsibility for kids or a carer’s needs, for example.

There are plenty of people who want flexibility too. Yet, working through the long list of BDM contacts that I have, I was surprised to find very few of the candidates who were ideally suited were seeking a part-time role. The most common responses to my approach were: “That sounds interesting, do you think it could lead to a full-time role for the right candidate?” or “I would love to work part-time, but I can’t afford to take a pay cut.”

From an executive point of view, part-time workers aren’t traditionally associated with highly remunerated roles. Yet, as reported in The Huffington Post last year, a growing number of executives are actively seeking the flexibility of a part-time role, while busting the myth that a top level job can only be accomplished successfully on a full-time basis. As Management Today Deputy Editor Andrew Saunders says, “there are very few jobs – no matter how senior or client-facing – which cannot be done on a part-time basis.”

Similarly, working flexibly shouldn’t be associated with a loss in productivity. Simon Allport is a Managing Partner at Ernst & Young who chose a flexible work model to spend time more time with his family. “At EY, we find offering flexibility makes for a happier, more engaged and more productive team,” he says.

Whilst part-time employment is ideal for many, economic or other realities can still make it unviable for some. In my experience contract roles are often extended beyond their initial term, and working part-time often does lead to a permanent position. Candidates who have that extra level of flexibility can use the opportunity to network within an organisation to further their aspirations.

As it turns out the successful candidate was someone within my network who I have known for many years. Her children are now school age and the part-time role was a perfect fit.

Are flexible working arrangements a perfect fit for you?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

The unknown executive

The setting: Any meeting room in corporate Australia

The situation: Executive committee meeting

The room dynamics: Hearty conversations interspersed with nervous politeness

The issue: Who is that executive at the table no-one knows?

Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Welcome to the world of the repatriated expat.

Unfortunately many senior executives face challenges on return to the corporate office after years abroad leading the operations of an off-shore subsidiary or working in the overseas office of a global entity. It’s probably not surprising that nearly 90% of returning expats leave their current employer within 12 months of returning to Australia. The result is a major loss of experience, expertise, corporate knowledge and business networks that may have taken years to cultivate… not to mention the negative internal employee relations.

How can that be when the executive is offered and relishes the time to build his or her career and gain invaluable international experience? They run with the opportunity to learn new skills and develop the expertise critical to the ongoing growth of the organisation. And their family experiences a life changing experience in a different culture, education system, social environment, and diverse expat and local community.

Wind the clock forward as the executive rings up corporate head office after a few years of stellar performance in the international operations. “My time is up and I would like to discuss coming back to Australia…” pregnant pause “…we will come back to you.”

In the meantime, the executive office has been restructured, key executives have moved on or into new roles with different responsibilities, the business model has changed dramatically as new strategies start to re-shape the business, and the competitive environment has become intense. All of a sudden all the experience and expertise captured overseas no longer appears to be as valuable as previously expected. So what to do?

When that international opportunity opens up, executives can do well to consider three possible options, and plan accordingly.

  1. Three years or less: the most promising, although least likely. The executive will complete an international role, have constant contact with the corporate office and key executive sponsors, and plan a return well in advance; in a very small number of cases, plan a return before they start the international assignment.
  2. Usually longer than three years, and most likely. The executive armed with new skills, experience and expertise plans to return to Australia with a new employer and that process starts well in advance of a return (potentially 12 months in advance).
  3. The long-term assignment where the probability of a return to Australia becomes less likely after five years or more.  The executive’s thinking starts to divert to alternate employers in the country of choice or indeed other countries. Financial and family issues take on a whole new degree of planning and execution in order to fully capture the opportunity.

In conclusion, plan with the end outcome in mind and update on a regular basis and don’t be the unknown executive in the room.

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A call out to all the great Union Leaders! Who are you? Where are you?

In the June 20 edition of the UK Financial Times I read the third article that week covering the plight of Uber drivers. No one knows how their new ‘co-dependent employee’ label came about, but travelling across the US, UK and Europe, I could see a clearly accelerating legal discourse on the impact of the shared economy on the labour market. A week earlier, the plight of Silicon Valley wunderkinds and their concerns about being pawns in a race to the top between their masterful employers was all over the US media.

In contrast, the week I got back to Australia, Kathy Jackson and her blatant rorting of the Health Services Union was front and centre of the news.

What an extraordinary contrast in focus. The realities facing the new labour market vs the archaic model of traditional union operations.

We’re undoubtedly grateful for the past hardships endured by workers in their battles for better conditions and for the legacy value that Unions negotiated on our behalf such as the 8 hour work day. But where is the leadership thinking in Unions today?

The market is seemingly light years ahead and has left them behind. And what informs the union leadership of today? In fact, what is the profile of professionals employed by the unions? Where are the Bob Hawkes, the Rhodes scholars, the best and the brightest? Or is the fast pace of industry in this new century just so much more tantalising than old school union organisations? And given that the union movement has traditionally offered a vital pool of talent for future ALP candidates, what does that say about the forthcoming political talent on the left?

Step up union leaders! Re-create your relevance in a shared economy. The world has changed and so has the agile, flexible and fluid expectations of a large share of the labour market. Smart organisations and their employees, the strategists, academics, scientists, technology experts and educationalists are recreating the future world of work.

Are unions futilely fighting a rising tide, or can they spot a good swell and redirect their efforts in order to be relevant in the rapidly changing world of work?

What’s your view of unions in our present world@work?

Featured image: Vintage Tobacciana Advertising – Union Leader Smoking Tobacco by Joe Haupt, Creative Commons licence and copyright

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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?

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