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The Dream vs Reality

My lived experience of part-time work, parenting, and working from home

Three years ago I was looking to return to the workforce after having children. I really wanted to cut out the dreaded commute time to the office, as well as those rushed pickups from school and childcare. Who wants that stress in their lives every day? I thought about how wonderful it would be if I were able to work part-time, and from home, without all the logistical pressures… Surely I wasn’t the only one who dreamed about this?

Well, dreams do come true, but not quite in the way we might have expected!

I secured my ideal three-days-per-week job, with the option to work from home, just as the pandemic was starting to hit here in Victoria. I set up my perfect working space by the window. The garden became my daily view. This was going to be bliss.

However, within weeks I would realise this was not going to be quite so blissful after all. With lockdowns in place, both schools and childcare centres were closed and things changed dramatically. The children would now be home for the foreseeable future. Not only was I a recruiter, I had the added roles of teacher, carer and boredom reliever/entertainer whilst fulfilling my day job. Family life once again became a juggling act, trying to fit in work calls around setting up my young son – who was only new to the education system, with his daily tasks – trying to stop the other child from having too much screen time versus drawing on every surface of the house. It was a nightmare.

While my WFH dream had faded, the world @work carried on. Not exactly normal or new normal, just in a slightly different way. Catching up for coffee with a client or candidate was shelved for meeting on Teams or Zoom, and our recruitment process adapted to interviewing and onboarding candidates online, not knowing when they would meet their employers in person. Even my husband started a new role during Covid – it took him nine months to finally meet his colleagues in person.

Like so many people here in Australia with family and friends abroad, I am heading overseas in a couple of months to see my own family after a long absence. It has been tough for everybody, especially missing out on the special times together. As for me, this time I have decided it’s not going to be a working holiday and I am grateful that Slade Group supports that.

It’s been great to see flexibility occurring more broadly in the market. Progressive companies are supporting their employees by considering extended leave, career breaks, boomerang hires and other forms of engagement – all of which I have benefited from over the years, which enables them to retain the talent they have invested in. These are also the companies attracting that coveted top talent, not only here in Australia, but globally. I am not just talking about the hybrid model or simply working from home. Think about employees working across different times zones. I think we have proven that all of these can be done, and be done successfully.

As some of the old normal starts to return, my dream is growing bright again. I get to keep on doing what I wanted to do, which is return to work (minus the deputy teacher and childcare jobs on the side), in a role I love, connected and productive, at my home office with my desk next to the window overlooking the garden. I truly feel like one of the lucky ones. To all those parents that are looking to return to the workforce – finally we have far more options and flexibility than we ever did before, and I would not want it any other way.

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Posted in Business Support, The world @work

What’s next for the teachers who took the brunt of lockdowns?

The Covid-19 years have focussed attention in schools on the value of teaching professionals working together collaboratively towards the best possible student learning outcomes. For school leaders, the attention has been on building the social capital needed in schools, beyond mere human capital.

Teachers have been isolated so much during lockdowns, missing the professional dialogue and banter that occurs both formally and informally, despite every attempt to meet that issue through online professional learning.

As schools finalise their planning towards next year, hoping that the year offers a new normal, they will be looking to build the capacity of their staffing teams: attracting and developing the best possible professionals that will align and further the vision and values of the school.  Schools are also working through how to maximise the social capital that comes from staff working collaboratively towards agreed and co-developed goals.

Through it all, our leading schools are looking to ensure teacher wellbeing, as well as student wellbeing, is a focus of attention – one that will enable a strong learning culture, inspired by a collaborative and well-supported teaching team.

The recruitment of school leaders, non-teaching school professionals and teachers (permanent, replacement and casual) is a process where great assistance can be provided by specialist recruitment firms, especially where what’s on offer includes a wealth of specialist experience of the educational needs of schools by past school leaders themselves. The new COVID norms will also necessitate specific requirements of applicants and schools (stipulated in recent regulations) and, once again, such assistance from partner firms could be of great benefit to schools.

At this time, many teachers and leaders are also looking at options open to them, whether that be promotion possibilities or simply finding the best possible school culture that aligns to the values they hold as professionals.

School leaders, in what ways are you building the social capital within your schools for the benefit of your students, enabling a collaborative culture of learning? What assistance are you seeking in this process?

Teachers, how are you equipping yourself, with others, to ensure students’ overall needs in this new climate are being met?

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Posted in Education, The world @work

I’m also Covid collateral.

Remember 2019? It was late that year when I took the Melbourne-based role of General Manager for Slade Group and the Interchange Bench. I’d come fresh off an extended break, including giving myself the time to do the Camino De Santiago Trail, to find some ‘me time’ for reflection after 25 years working full time, living in Perth and raising a family of three girls, now young women.

At that stage I had every intention of travelling regularly back to Perth where my young adult children live. That was pre-Covid, when people travelled freely within Australia, often part of any national role.  Our old world @work seems like an alternate universe, with remote working, remote meetings and WFH all part of the 2021 nomenclature.  

With Melbourne and Sydney both in ongoing lockdowns, and continuing border restrictions in place between States, it became very difficult to catch up in person with colleagues, clients and candidates. While I certainly missed those professional relationship building opportunities, on a personal level the relationships I cherish with family and friends suffered the most. While as an organisation, Slade pivoted to a hybrid working model and adapted well to the online environment, it’s a whole other ball game to be separated for long periods from your loved ones.

Imagine having to factor in two weeks of quarantine for a one weekend flying visit! And that’s ONLY if very lucky in the timing to even be granted a travel pass.

From the get-go my dream job had challenges and achievements I had never imagined. Early in 2020, having just begun working on business improvements, we caught a whiff of a new virus, and then in March COVID-19 hit us hard. The important thing at that point was to ensure we minimised costs with a staffing level that was sustainable. The Board and senior management were vital in this journey. We all worked hard, which was very rewarding, developing a strong team focus that saw us through some really tough times. Fortunately, a well-established company with 50+ years in business, a diverse temporary and permanent client portfolio (including essential workers) and risk spread across commercial and government contracts held us in good stead for the remainder of the hardest years on record. Thank you also to the powers that be in Canberra for JobKeeper which kept us going through the darkest months.

But I was unable to make easy trips back and forth to Perth see ‘my girls’.

When the market improved, our brands’ strength really shone. We saw the benefit flow through job orders, whilst also attracting quality consulting talent. Covid fluctuations aside, our attention to building longstanding client and candidate relationships meant we were there for employers when the market for talent opened up again. The culture at Slade Group is mature and results oriented. The people are great to work with – diligent, smart, and they value themselves and each other. And through the tough Covid year(s) now we also had fun. Behind the scenes I had the support of Maria Cenic, our wonderful GM of Finance and Shared Services, together with her incredibly dedicated team, and my senior colleagues and a Board who are forward thinking and growth oriented. 

And now at the end of my Melbourne Camino Trail, I’ve reflected and dug deep to make the right decision: I have decided to return to Perth because in the end, without close family and friends there’s a gaping hole in my heart which just can’t be filled by the joy and satisfaction of work. Melbourne, I loved every minute!

And so, for the future record when someone reads Samantha Cotgrave, Reason for Leaving: Covid.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

The Psychology Behind Why Every Day In Lockdown Feels Like ‘Groundhog Day’

They say variety is the spice of life, and for those trying to thrive in lockdown, the age-old adage couldn’t be more important. No matter how mentally strong and resilient you usually are, it’s tough to shake a sinking feeling when you’re facing health-mandated restrictions on what you can do, who you can see, and how you usually shape your weekly schedule. It’s tempting to build a routine and churn through it while waiting “it” out, but a recent study suggests you’ll need to do more to fight the lockdown Groundhog Day effect to make sure it doesn’t muddle your focus, impair your memory, and wreak havoc on other cognitive processes.

Working from home might be de rigueur moving forward, even when we’re no longer trapped in a cycle of lockdowns, but if you don’t figure out how to nail the dramatic change in context for the better, you won’t be very effective in, well, anything.

recent study on people in Italy, who were locked down for months last year, suggests that the insidious effects of lockdown are lingering memory problems, which would range from forgetting small things like where you left your smartphone, to trouble with attention when trying to read a book or stream a show. If you find your mind wandering a bit more than usual, it seems you’re far from alone.

Out of 4,000 respondents in the study, 30% had reported some degree of change in their everyday cognition. This is obviously going to be accentuated in people with underlying emotional issues like depression and anxiety, but even for those without any such conditions, these cognitive issues were very common.

The implications for productivity are dire, which is why you should be across the more granular details when it comes to this so-called lockdown memory fog. You can’t fight something effectively if you don’t know how it works.

The Groundhog Day Effect

The above study suggests that the reason our everyday memory is on the fritz is that we are living through a kind of Groundhog Day, and this makes it harder for our brains to properly encode memories, not only make them more difficult to retrieve later on, but messing with our sense of time.

Attempting to explain the results of the study, Professor Brett Hayes from UNSW’s School of Psychology references the recently refined contextual-binding theory of memory. This basically states that memories form by linking experience to context.

“What we know about human memory is that the context is really important”, said Professor Hayes. “You might be doing a job at home, chatting to a friend, or watching a movie…. when we have those experiences, we might be focused on the main part of the experience, but our brain is actually encoding a lot of other things just incidentally, like where that’s happening, the location, where and when it’s taking place”.

Our brain is hyper-sensitive to these contextual cues, and it’s what helps us better lay down memories in a way that’s easily retrieved later on. Lockdown strips away much of the variety in our weekly contexts; we’re no longer having dinner out with friends at different restaurants, trying new outdoor activities, working with spaces that allow for variety, and so on. Sleeping on different sides of the bed each night, or working out in different rooms of the house. doesn’t count.

Most of us have then sunk into a cycle that allows for very little repetition outside of incremental variations on the same ol’ shit. Even Bill Murray had more freedom than this in Groundhog Day, and when we’re limited to very few contexts between days, that’s when time can blur and those memory and attentional issues come to the fore.

Of course, most of this may be obvious to a lot of you. But knowing there’s increasing experimental evidence sitting behind this should at least make you feel a bit more… normal. I know I’ve been making far more spelling mistakes than usual lately, and while having too many tabs (web browser tabs, open) usually overwhelms me, this time it’s straight-up murder to my mind.

Routine, Variety, & Socialising

Having a routine – especially a morning one – is always going to be important. Your personal rituals are crucial for daily structure, and just about every successful person in the world will tell you that. But mixing them up and balancing them with variety should hold equal importance, especially now that your range of contexts is severely limited.

Maintaining a level of social interaction is important, beyond whoever you happen to be locking down with.

Another study on a two-month lockdown in Scotland last year required respondents to test their memory via a number of online tasks across memory, decision making, and selective attention. Results suggest that performance was not only poorer during lockdown, but people who were able to maintain their online interaction during those lockdowns did better at all tasks.

People, particularly blokes, don’t like to admit when they’re feeling lonely, whether it’s due to a fear of being seen as weak and emotionally unstable, or being a burden to others. That should stop, if even for the sake of productivity in other areas of your life.

While keeping up social interactions and changing contexts wherever you can is important, it’s a bit harder to put it into practice. This goes beyond just changing your Zoom background every time your mates host a virtual poker sesh, that need for variety should extend to your exercise as well.

“From a memory point of view, if you are able to exercise outside the house, vary those exercise paths from day to day to just allow a different context for your brain to encode those different days, if you want to be able to remember what you did from day to day a bit better,” suggests Prof. Hayes.

“Variations on exercises and activities in your house or apartment will also help you avoid the memory fog”.

From nutrition to sex, variety just leads to better overall experiences and performance. You don’t need an article to tell you that (I would hope), so bring a little bit of that thinking into more areas of your locked-down life. You might be limited to the same context each day, but it helps if you play around with the space between those boundaries to try and switch things up. Trust the process and you’ll see results.

Although if you’re worried this lockdown Groundhog Day effect might bring about some permanent changes, you shouldn’t get too stressed. The above studies also found that once restrictions were eased, particularly the social isolation, and people started experiencing different events in different places, the memory fog effect dissipated quickly.

Hang in there, you’ve got this.

This article was originally published by Chris Singh on Boss Hunting


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Posted in The world @work

Tough. Love. Tough Love or Tough, Love.

Why leading with empathy is so important.

In Slade Group’s Core Strength research about most sought-after employee attributes through COVID-19, empathy took a back seat to ‘here and now survival’ skills.

Make no mistake, empathy has jumped back into the driver’s seat in 2021.

Daniel Goleman in his recent article, speaks to the importance of self-awareness. This includes a highly developed sense of empathy that allows you to see a situation from the other person’s point of view; this enables you to present your position in a way that makes a person feel heard, or that speaks to their own interests.

Post COVID in Australia, organisations need managers and leaders who can respond to the changed work environment with competencies beyond those traditionally sought. It is now recognised that one of those skills is empathy: successful leaders will have the ability to engage and work with people across a broad spectrum of skills, backgrounds and cultures.

It is important to recognise that there are three different kinds of empathy, and each resides in different parts of the brain.

  1. Cognitive: I know how you think
  2. Emotional: I know how you feel
  3. Concern: I care about you

There are managers who are very good at the first two, but not the third, without which they can be easily used to manipulate people. We see this in many overachieving bosses in command-and-control cultures who tend to be pacesetters – often promoted because they have very high personal standards of excellence. They are great at pushing people to make short-term targets; they communicate well because of the cognitive empathy and know their words will carry weight with their employees because of their emotional empathy. However, because they lack empathetic concern, they care little about the human costs of their actions. This can lead to staff suffering emotional exhaustion and burnout.

How can a manager demonstrate empathy in the workplace?

  1. In this post COVID environment, recognise signs of overwork before burnout becomes an issue; many people are finding it difficult to separate work from home life. Spend some time each week checking in.
  2. Take time to understand the needs and goals of staff, who are more likely to be more engaged if their manager is seen as taking a sincere interest in them.
  3. Keep open lines of communication, encourage transparency and demonstrate a willingness to help an employee with personal problems.
  4. Show compassion, genuine connections and friendships at work matter; act empathetically and let your people know they are supported.  

Fortunately, like all Emotional Intelligence competencies, empathy can be learned and managers can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching and training and by organisations encouraging a more empathetic workplace.

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Posted in Slade Executive, Technical & Operations, The world @work

When things went viral: One year on from the 2020 Australian Grand Prix

Exactly one year ago to the day, Covid got real for me. I was attending a Formula 1 Grand Prix breakfast at Albert Park when the shock announcement was made: the race had been cancelled. We filed dumbstruck out of the function, directed into busses that were waiting to remove us from the venue. It was a surreal experience as we made our way back past angry fans who were being turned away at the gates. No doubt they (like myself) hadn’t fully grasped the enormity of worldwide events that were unfolding beyond the boundaries of Melbourne and the F1 GP.

I sympathise with everyone who has suffered through the pandemic, especially those who have lost loved ones. Now I find myself reflecting on the craziest twelve months of my life (so far, and hopefully for the rest of it).

We all remember talk of a new virus in Wuhan, but some of the more naïve of us (i.e., me) didn’t believe for a second that it could, and would, affect everything about life as we knew it.

There is so much of the last year that has caused copious suffering and pain, but through it all there have been things that I have been very grateful for. So, without further ado, here is my silver lining to the year that was cancelled.

Although many of us haven’t been able to visit or see family or friend’s interstate or abroad, I am reminded of how much I depend on those relationships, and how many special people I have in my life. I live in a fantastic country filled with resilience, tolerance and a real ‘can do’ attitude. Through hard work and a tough response to the outbreak, we have largely been spared what many of our loved ones outside of Australia have had to endure. I have been very fortunate to work for an outstanding organisation that has been supportive throughout (and we all know that we remember how we are treated during tough times). I have also learnt that it is critical to work with people whose values you align with. Those relationships with clients, candidates and colleagues have been so encouraging, and even though many of them have been hurt, we have still been there for each other and look forward to better times ahead.

There is also a lot to be said for the recruitment market during this time, and what we envisage ahead. From my perspective, it has been highly segmented with many parts of the economy flourishing. Innovation has been impressive, as has our ability to adapt to changing market conditions. Recovery seems to be trending much faster than expected, and we are seeing a lot of positive sentiment. Hiring certainly has increased, with Medical Technology/Advanced Manufacturing, FMCG, and anything to do with home improvement and maintenance leading the field.

What are the big issues for the year ahead? Firstly, workplace flexibility, and whether employers need (or can get) their people back into offices full-time. We are certainly seeing a large number of employers starting to request staff back in the office full-time. Secondly, stronger loyalty to current employers has developed in Covid times, so it may be a while longer before we see a growing trend in people seeking new opportunities. Finally, in the discussions I’m having with candidates, many feel that they’ve been poorly treated by employers. Those who remained in roles due to the uncertainty of changing jobs during a recession are certain to become a flight risk as the market warms up.

Without a doubt, the war for talent will be back. Now is absolutely the time to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to talent attraction. We are already seeing a significant number of counteroffers as organisations try to retain their best people. However, as you know, by the time it gets to that, it is often too late.

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Without top talent, the potential for recovery may be prolonged and painful

Around the world, employees have had nearly 9 months to assess how their employer is responding and reacting to this pandemic. Many employers have realized that human capital is the most precious asset of the organization and are working hard to retain talent. Other employers may be on belt tightening, headcount reduction and reorganizations of varying types. Top performers are watching how organizations react and recruiters are watching top performers.

Without top talent or with the loss of top performers, the potential for recovery may be prolonged and painful. The best of the best are being sought out by other companies via direct hire or with the help of an independent recruiter.

Each passing week brings new challenges. This new environment for work has brought on unexpected challenges with work from home, virtual meetings and conferences, new cybersecurity demands, and the loss of traditional revenue streams. Project work in a dispersed environment has extended timelines and made deliverables more difficult to achieve. The future rests with your top talent, yet they are facing motivation and availability issues like never before. Childcare and elder care are consuming many top producers. Motivation and morale are on wild tides rolling in and out with each new stay-at-home order or closure of daycare centers.

Retention strategies are critical in addressing and retaining top talent now, more than ever. The pandemic has employees reassessing the cities and locales where they live, friends, health, their careers and certainly their employers. If your leadership team is not growing loyalty with their actions, then they are eroding the bond to your most critical asset. Recruiters are watching and hearing how employers are responding to the challenges they face. The actions of some employers, or their failure to act, is creating targets for recruitment of top talent. Now is the time to double down on your best and brightest because if you do not, someone else surely will. Retain talent or become a source of top talent. That is the simple choice you face.

This article was originally published as “Retain Talent” by Dave Nerz on the NPAworldwide blog.

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Posted in The world @work

Returning to the Workplace – Employee Reluctance

As COVID active cases appear more and more under control, many employers are looking to a return to the workplace. What happens when employees resist the return? Other than the legal and health issues required by an employer for a COVID Safe Workplace, how can you overcome resistance from your employees?

Firstly, is the return to the workplace absolutely necessary? Can you objectively justify the need and evidence that productivity can only increase by working back at the workplace?

One common resistance may be that an employee believes they were capable of performing at full productive capacity from home and therefore does not see the need to return to the workplace. Whilst they may have been productive at home, are you able to evidence that this was also during a time of reduced overall business activity and therefore the functions they would perform only at the workplace were not necessarily required whilst they were working from home.

Perhaps evidence may include the fact that suppliers or customers were also working at a reduced capacity and this reduced the need for your staff to function within in the workplace however now that this has changed, the requirement exists for your employees to return.

As an overview, if you can evidence with data why it is essential that employees return to the workplace, use it to strengthen you case.

Secondly, discuss their reluctance. Understand their reasons for not wanting to return. Some examples may include:

  • Commute by public transport or other where COVID safety would be beyond both their own and the employers’ control;
  • Cost savings such as travel, laundry expenses etc;
  • Reduced meetings and other distractions that would occur if in the workplace resulting in greater productivity from home;
  • Easier to manage commitments such as child care and other activities;
  • Greater flexibility in when and how work is performed when home based.

Consider the reasons provided. Determine if there is any way you can assist with their concerns ie., part time at workplace, part time at home, change of work times to reduce commute times and crowd numbers.

Thirdly, consider ways to entice your employees back. Hold welcome back events such as morning teas and lunches. Ensure your management are meeting with employees regularly to discuss any problems or concerns they are facing with the change of coming back to the workplace. Remember it is natural to make routines around your situation. If employees have been home based for months, they will not be in a routine that requires travel to and from the workplace, or they have possibly cancelled any childcare provisions whilst they have been at home. This will mean that some of your employees are also dealing with the impacts of a change in routine for dependents.

It is important to reinforce the good things as well as the operational needs of working together in a central location.

This article was originally published by HR Advice Online. For more information about our partnership, click here.

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Posted in The world @work