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How facing off against the unknown led me to certainty

Standing at a sheer 1986 metres tall and casting a shadow over the Alpine National Park, Mt Bogong (the local Aboriginal name for the mountain roughly translates to The Big Fella) holds the rugged crown of the highest mountain in Victoria, Australia. Mt Bogong proved its status as a Grade 4 hike back in 1936 when it took the life of Cleve Cole, a pioneering skier who attempted the first winter crossing of the Bogong High Plains. Along with two others, Clove skied across the High Plans from Hotham to Bogong, and after reaching the summit ridge, fell into the trap of unforgiving weather conditions. Although Cole met a grave ending, his legacy lived on through his showcase of absolute grit, determination and a sense of freedom to achieve the impossible – in his mind, no mountain was too big.

What we’re dealing with right now is a ‘Bogong’ of catastrophes on an economic, financial and human scale. COVID-19, an invisible foe, is triggering headlines and push notifications that are sending our minds into overdrive while putting enormous pressure on governments, employers and health services to cope. We’re in the midst of a pretty scary time facing the unknown, made harder by not being able to see the mountain, but like those early explorers, we’re also keeping on keeping on.

Large organisations are pivoting, smaller businesses are finding innovative ways to operate and communities are rediscovering the locals at work in their own patch. People are staying active, families are still connecting, birthdays are celebrated (online). You name it – we’re trying it: How to videos on making your own face mask, bingo evenings in suburban streets, supermarkets opening early for the elderly, random acts of kindness and dance parties via Zoom. Everyone is doing their part to remain optimistic, comply with the State directives and #flattenthecurve. There’s a global sense of connectivity – We’re all in this together, which some of us have never felt before.

In Temporary & Contract recruitment we’ve definitely taken a hit, but I know I can speak on behalf of my team, the broader business and the industry that we have not lost faith. We’re continuing to help candidates find work, investing more time in professional development, focusing on staying connected and nourishing our client customer relationships. It’s been an opportunity for many to use isolation time in positive ways.

Back in February, which now seems such a long time ago, Slade Group announced a bushfire relief initiative that gave me the opportunity to visit one of the affected areas within Victoria, meet with members of the community and directly give back to small businesses through our spending (Slade absorbed our travel and accommodation costs). After some Google searching, I decided on Bright, a quaint town in Northern Victoria nestled near the base of the Alpine National Park. From a quick search I was sold; it’s picturesque Main Street, colourful flora and beautiful backdrop of the National Park really sparked an interest to experience this for myself. What I didn’t factor into the equation, was that my partner would somehow persuade me to take a 45 minute drive to the base of Mt Bogong and complete a gruelling 9 hour hike up the tallest mountain in Victoria!

Yes, it was tough. And I did look at my watch every 5 minutes, calling Harrison every obscene word under the sun. But after the first couple of hours I was so thankful to him for persuading me to go on this hike, and thankful to myself for having the sheer determination to achieve the goal and complete the climb. Looking back on this day and where I am now, it’s true, I was facing the unknown and struggling, but I didn’t back down and I eventually reached the summit.

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How the wrong job can affect your mental health – 7 signs to look out for

As the tally of seemingly meaningless statistics scrolled above my head, the reason we were all there became less clear, yet somehow it all made sense to someone crunching the numbers for management.

If you’ve ever worked in a call centre, you’d understand that call times, uptimes, downtimes, pretty much anytime you spend on or off the phone – even going to the toilet – is all logged and scrutinised. At the end of each pod of desks there’ll be an authoritarian figure (hello, team leader) shouting out the numbers like a charioteer whose task is to ensure we’re galloping along on course with the regional average, a flotilla of headset wearing warriors charged with keep our customers happy.

Completing call centre boot camp – a two week training course prior to our actual start date – those numbers were embedded into each individual customer advisor’s head. If we couldn’t reach the targets, there’d be someone to remind us that sometimes quantity is more important than quality. I felt like I was lost in a sea of numbers – that I myself was just a number.

Here are 7 signs to look out for that indicate you might be struggling:

  • Loss of energy or motivation – not being able to self-motivate or lack of determination to reach your goals
  • Irritability or aggression that is abnormal
  • Lack of sleep
  • Changing in eating habits
  • Strain on relationships in and outside of work
  • A lack of self-confidence that occurred in the timeframe you’ve been employed
  • Increase in sensitivity, and a worry that you’re constantly unfulfilling the needs of your manager

After what seemed like an infinity, I decided I’d had enough and I would change this myself, intrinsically thinking of the end goal in all of this – my happiness! My focus then began to steer towards the customer experience, and how having more of an interpersonal approach would benefit the person on both sides of the headset. I exercised the points listed within this article over the course of a few weeks, and found that in within the first few days my stress began to ease and I was able to really get behind what mattered – my work.

When we look back on our careers, there’s often that one job we can pinpoint, which still to this day makes us shudder. One where we felt overlooked, underappreciated or overworked. Maybe you didn’t get along with a particular colleague or manager, or your values weren’t aligned with the culture of the company. Sometimes in the short-term you just have to get on with the job, but grinning and bearing it shouldn’t be at the determent of your longer-term mental health.

Most of us in professional roles can think of times when we felt worn out and just needed to take a break, but did you know that according to the Australian Human Rights Commission around 25% of workers have taken off days due to stress? Studies show that job pressures can play out in various mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. The sad reality is many people who experience this feel trapped or unable to leave due to financial circumstances, which can lead to a feeling of further isolation.

Here’s what can you do to help yourself.

Set realistic boundaries – Reasonable KPIs help us to benchmark our performance, but don’t let them consume you to the point where you are at panic stations the entire day. Speak to your manager or a respected colleague about how you can meet your targets.

Ensure you take your full lunch break – You’ll have enough time to read a book, eat proper food and leave your office or desk. You might even consider reducing your screen time (taking a break from your smartphone) to wind down and regenerate for the afternoon.

Get fit – If you’re going to improve your mental health, you’ll need the energy to do it. Go for walk or a jog in the fresh air at lunchtime, before or after work. Participating in sport and fitness activities as a hobby can be a fun way to end the day on a high.

Maintain a positive image of yourself – If you’re good at identifying the negatives, be better at listing the positives! Maybe you have great conversational skills for network, you’re savvy with technology and computer systems or simply always on time. Everyone has good (and bad) qualities – focusing on your strengths will improve your confidence.

Understand that you’re not on your own – This brings me back to the importance of conversation. Talk to your colleagues, your friends outside of work or family, do not suffer in silence. An HR or recruitment consultant can also offer guidance to help you find work that is a good fit with your knowledge, experience and personal interests.

In my experience it’s been little wins each day that have helped me grow by building my self-confidence. Of course I always knew I was more than a number (more easily realised without those numbers literally hovering above head), so if you’ve had similar thoughts reading this, I would love to hear what tips you might have for better mental health.  

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Bench and the City

A Working Holiday Visa doesn’t have to mean charity mugging other professionals on Collins Street. It can literally turn your world upside down (if you’re from the northern hemisphere, like me). Currently residing in Melbourne – one of the top destinations for Brits on working holidays – I’m originally from Liverpool in the UK. As the newest member of the Interchange Bench team, I am delighted to share my Aussie story (so far) and provide some insight into the seemingly chaotic world of a traveller working in the professional services industry.

Back in early 2018 I was a wide-eyed, fresh-faced, slightly less tanned 20 something who had just touched down, eager to explore what Australia had to offer. Some would say I was living VERY vicariously (using pay pass in any country is just too easy – keeping track of your spending, not so much).

Fast forward two months of living life to the fullest… my finances considerably diminished, I was almost royally f#&$@d! I knew it was time to stop fantasising about never ending holidays and return to the real world, which meant I would have to secure a full time job!

I had previous experience in Healthcare Recruitment and Law in London, so securing a role that would stimulate me, as well as further develop my skills and experiences, seemed like a reasonable expectation. Yet after scanning numerous backpacker pages on Facebook and applying for hundreds of jobs on SEEK, Indeed and various other job boards, I was at a loss as to why I was unsuccessful.

I’d already tried the standard traveller’s juggling act: two hospitality jobs with unsociable hours that were not only underpaying me, but I was travelling the length and breadth of the city just so I could eat and pay my rent. Over the course of 6 months I realised it was very easy to fall into the trap of an unbalanced working lifestyle… and once you’re in it, it can be very hard to get out.

Horror stories abound about the 88 days of regional farm work we travellers do to extend our time here. I appreciate that fruit picking would be an anathema to many city folk, so you may be surprised to know I found it rewarding. The location wasn’t too bad (I worked at a renowned winery in the Margaret River region, just a few hours south of Perth on the beautiful WA coast). My labouring pushed me in ways I didn’t think it would (mentally, not physically, the monotonous nature of the work meant you had a LOT of time to reflect). Battling Mother Nature in the peak of winter for 8 hours wasn’t on my bucket list, but it had to be completed and I’m so happy I did it. During my three month period in Western Australia I met characters from all different walks of life. I spotted kangaroos, explored majestic jewel-caves, surfed for the very first time, took selfies with the smiling quokkas in Rottnest Island (officially the world’s happiest animal, according to the WWF) and even had the sheer luck to see a Great White shark at Busselton (from a safe distance).

With the epiphany that upon my return to Melbourne, I’d solely apply for positions that would offer me fulfilment and career development, I now look back on my first approach to job hunting and understand the errors in my ways. I didn’t have my recruitment head on: my cover letters were generic, the emails I sent to hiring managers were longwinded and I’d left all traces of my personality somewhere back on the road. No wonder I received hardly any responses!

Thankfully things changed when I fell in with a recruitment consultant. Job searching in general is hard work, but much tougher in a foreign country, even when you speak the language (no comments on my accent please). Hand on heart, recruiters are the glue that bind candidates to jobs in the market. They provide insight and guidance regarding career progression, pay rates and much more. But most importantly, working with someone that’s on your side helps alleviate some of the stress that comes with a job search, as well as being a fish out of water in an ocean on the other side of the world.

Things began to change and opportunities arose. With the support of my consultant at the Interchange Bench, I navigated the storm of the Australian job market, and here I am on the other side of the desk, ready to do the same for you.

Have you ever taken a working holiday? I’d love to hear about your experiences as an expat in the world @work.

Look out for more Bench and the City posts on the Interchange Bench blog or follow us on Instagram

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