Blog Archives

R U Really OK?

Imagine this: You witness one of your colleagues, a solid performer in their area of expertise, become so overwhelmed with their workload, that they break down during a team meeting (on camera, because we are meeting virtually), when asked, “How’s your week looking?”

What an eye opener. Yet, this is the reality for many of us, working from home, during the current lockdowns in our major cities in Australia.

It made me think we really need to reach out and take some of the pressure off those we work with, whether colleagues, clients or candidates.

When asked, we have a tendency to reply automatically and say, “I’m good”. So here are some of the things I’ve heard those in my professional network trying to say:

Clients:

“I’m feeling isolated WFH. I’m usually a homebody, but I’m getting lonely.”

“It’s hard to stay focussed. I feel like there’s no purpose to my job.”

“There are only so many walks I can go on for exercise or to get fresh air.”

“So tired of all the virtual meetings!”

Candidates:

“I’m feeling uncertain about finding a job during the current restrictions.”

“I’m nervous about what future lockdowns will mean for my career.”

“My self-esteem is suffering, even though I know I’m highly capable.”

Coworkers:

“I am missing my work colleagues and the social face-to-face interaction. I have no one to vent to.”

“I have plenty of work to keep me going, but I am lacking motivation because of the uncertainty.”

“I just want to come back to the office to have a sense of purpose.”

“It’s hard to stay focused and concentrate on my job requirements due to lots of stop-starting.”

“I’m so sick of looking at the same four walls.”

Carers:

“Home schooling is so hard with young children. My kids are missing the mental stimulation of the classroom and having their friends to play with.”

“I just want to cry!”

Often lending an ear is enough to give someone we care about a leg up. R U OK Day this year is a timely reminder that a conversation could change a life, but starting the conversation at work isn’t always easy. We’ve partnered with Prima Careers to include a helpful infographic below.

R U OK infographic

For more information, go to ruok.org.au or contact Lifeline on 131114 if you or someone you know needs urgent assistance.

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Posted in Interchange Bench, 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

Our push for better mental health. Are you up for the challenge?

Did you know that one in five Australians will experience mental ill health this year, yet only 46% of people seek help? It’s a complex challenge – for our loved ones and ourselves, but most of all, for the nine Australians who die by suicide every day.

That is why I will be getting behind our resident fitness instructor, Bill Sakellaris, who is taking part in The Push Up Challenge. Not sure what that is? Well let me tell you a little bit more about it. The Challenge is an initiative that was started by the Push for Better Foundation. They aim to engage and educate people in mental and physical health, and raise awareness of the mental health issues affecting everyday Australians. Their focus is on the prevention and early intervention of depression, anxiety and suicide.

So how many push-ups do you need to do? 3,318 over 25 days! A huge effort, but not impossible (and if that’s a lot for you, they’ll take 75%, 50%, 20% or a donation). Bill has committed to doing 133 push-ups per day starting 1 June. We know he can do it, but you can absolutely do less, or more. A push-up is a push-up and supporting is support!

I am proudly supporting Bill and I would love to be able to support anyone else who decides to join the challenge.

So, will you be joining us? Head to thepushupchallenge.com.au or click here to register. You can participate as an individual, a group, as a workplace or help fundraise. There is even a handy app you can download to track you progress. Follow the Push Up community on #pushforbetter and don’t forget to let us know you’re participating, so we can get behind you too!

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

7 down to earth Wellness Building Blocks during isolation

Wait, wait, don’t scroll down, this is not just another COVID-19 blog. This is 7 down to earth Wellness Building Blocks during isolation.

Seriously though, I had the pleasure of hearing Taylor Johnson from Roots Reboot speak yesterday about the 7 Building Blocks to Wellness, and lord knows we need wellness during this COVID-19 crisis. Taylor used the analogy of a house, describing how all 7 elements below are critical for a strong foundation, in our case, wellness.

Rate yourself along with me on Wellness vs COVID-19 isolation, here we go:

  1. Sleep – essential for rest and recovery, mood and attention span, and for our body to reset. Get those sleep habits right, no screens.

    My COVID score: 5/10

    Not good, watching a bit too much Netflix (Michael Jordan story and The Capture on ABC iView), staying up way too late, a little interrupted sleep and sleeping in way too much. Streaming TV – how good! How am I ever going to get up for work again?

    Your score _____?

  2. Nutrition – watch what we eat, don’t binge, hydration, watch the alcohol intake (I am watching the alcohol, but mmm it’s nice) diet smart, more veggies and watch the snacking during the day. I know, I know, but I’m bored, and the fridge is so handy and the chocolate so good with the TV and the red wine.

    My COVID score: 4/10

    I’ve slipped, let myself down. Extra cakes, extra biscuits and a bit of extra red.

    Your score _____?

  3. Exercise – get up early, stretch, walk, roll, run, swim, gym… you know the drill. It lowers stress (you know the benefits on the heart), builds strength, muscles and releases endorphins.

    My COVID score: 5/10.

    I’m sleeping in, whereas I used to be up at 5:45am for gym. I’ve gotten lazy. But I did a big 75 minute walk this morning. I’m back – nearly.

    Your score _____?

  4. Mindset – remaining positive and optimistic, mood, open to new ideas and new learnings, a growth mindset.

    My COVID score: 7/10

    Not bad. OK, whilst in lockdown I’m working, Zooming, taking the glass full approach that one day this will end, won’t it? I’m trying to keep the family up and about.

    Your score _____?

  5. Social – out with people, meeting people, engaging and connecting, talking, relationships, rapport, support network, shaking hands. No, none of that during isolation.

    My COVID score: 1/10

    Distancing and isolation are the enemy of social – I’m just at home with my wife and kids… and they’re over my singing and dancing already! But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is slowly opening social up, stay optimistic.

    Your score _____?

  6. Self-care – looking after yourself from the neck up: kindness, compassion, empathy, mindfulness, meditation, understanding, self-awareness, laughter, hobbies, enjoying something for you, self-love, and self-talk.

    My COVID score: 7/10

    I’m trying hard here to talk to myself and keep an up mood. Not good every day though, I must admit. I have my good and bad days.

    Your score _____?

  7. External environment – cluttered work desk, cluttered house or surroundings, relaxed working environment, making healthy choices.

    My COVID score: 8/10

    I’m lucky I’ve got everything at home I need, but I’m not home schooling the kids! I’m next to a park for a walk when I feel I need it for instance.

    Your score _____?

Well, how did you rate?

My report card: 37/70 (just a pass)

“Laurie is just ok during COVID 19; he needs to get out much more and mix with his friends and socialise!”

Love to hear how you’re coping right now, today – seriously.

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Posted in Consumer, Sport & Entertainment

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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Lessons from Mother Nature for human nature and Human Resources

Most organisations today are aware of their environmental impact and responsibility. But beyond any legislative requirements, are there lessons from nature that may boost resilience among employees?

And before you cynically dismiss this thought as too ‘touchy-feely’, think of scientist Albert Einstein’s comment “Look deep into nature; then you will understand everything better”. Recruiting and HR professionals appreciate that there have always been (and probably will always be) the darkest of disasters in both Mother Nature and human nature.

Thankfully few of us will ever face tragedy that strikes with the strength and speed of tornadoes and tsunamis, or with the ferocity of floods and forest fires. Yet most of us do indeed confront crises that can instantly change the course of our lives, eclipsing not only our dreams but also our desire to carry on.

I know because I’ve been there.

Misfortune strikes everyone sooner or later. In my case, it was long before I was HR Manager for IBM’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Tokyo. I started life in an orphanage, lost both adopted parents to cancer the year I graduated from university, faced that dreaded disease myself long after my divorce, and fractured a vertebrae to be told I’d never play sport again. Shift happens!

Although the ‘f’ is often omitted, shift happens not only in fault-lines of the Earth but also in the faults and frailties of its inhabitants. Budget cuts, redundancies and takeovers may not be life-threatening for some but rather paradigms shift in both our personal and professional lives. And whether change is referred to as disruption or transformation, it still creates stress that everyone from the CEO to the most junior employee must deal with.

We need to re-charge not just our devices but ourselves.

My own energy always seemed boosted amidst nature. Climbing in the sublime silence of the Antarctic, strolling along a beach or gazing at a beautiful garden all offered their inexplicable breath of fresh air for my soul.

Only while writing my latest book, The Gift of Nature; Inspiring Hope & Resilience, did I discover why. Research from leading universities now offers scientific evidence that time spent in nature does indeed contribute to better mental well-being.

Employees who are mentally and physically healthy are surely happier. And there is little doubt that happy employees yield happier customers, which in turn yield better returns and stronger organisations. And whether you’re a CEO or just joined the organisation yesterday, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself!

So here’s a few simple nature-related tips to help cope with that feeling of being overwhelmed those of us working in HR have all felt from time to time:

Don’t make mountains out of molehills, play the blame game or make excuses. It might not be fair and it might not be your fault – but it is still your responsibility to deal with it. For perspective ask yourself this: will this matter in five or 10 years’ time?

Do get moving and stop moping. You don’t need to scale the Himalayas but never underestimate the rejuvenating powers of getting out in nature for a walk on a beach, in a park or in your own garden.

Do re-charge your high tech world amidst the high touch world of nature. We’re so busy being busy that we overlook the importance of balance and unless you’re an emergency worker, you don’t need your phone on 24/7.

Do get eight hours sleep a night and sleep on it before making any major life decision. Take time to breathe in fresh air as you inhale the future and exhale the past.

Do talk to a trusted friend or health care professional. A problem shared can be a problem halved and never be too proud to ask for help.

Do fill your mind with positive thoughts. We are bombarded with the worst aspects of Mother Nature (typhoons, tsunamis, drought etc) and human nature (bullying, abuse, corruption, violence etc). So if a beautiful quote or photo from books, music or art resonates with you, put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror as a daily reminder to soothe your battered soul.

When you’re embroiled in the many faceted and increasingly complex world of recruitment and HR, when you can’t see the forest for the trees, when everything under the sun seems bleak and when you think no one else understands or has been there, think again. And know that lessons from Mother Nature can help you weather the inevitable storms of life. Such is the power of nature amidst the random nature of being alive.

And remember, life does indeed mirror nature – some of its tragic but most of its magic!

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The agony and the ecstasy

It’s the last week in September – one of the most eagerly awaited weeks in the Australian sports calendar… AFL finals fever is palpable! Recently Slade Group and the Interchange Bench were fortunate enough to get our own Aussie Rules footy fix, hosting well-known football journalist Caroline Wilson, CEO of Geelong Football Club, Brian Cook and Marc Murphy, Captain of Carlton FC at our annual Footy Lunch.

Our panel (with me as MC) rapidly covered off: Who can beat Richmond this year? (Collingwood); Can the West Coast Eagles win at the MCG? (I think so); How long will it take Carlton FC to make the final eight? (About 3-4 years!); And why are players leaving the Suns? (Global warming??)

Seriously though, what was most interesting about our panel discussion was Marc Murphy’s take on the current state of player welfare.

Back in the 80s, when I was playing, the big question was how do we get into Chasers nightclub and the Underground (without queuing, and a drink card would be nice too, thanks)? Innocent times in comparison.

Seriously though, Marc got everyone’s attention when he identified health and wellbeing as the top issue facing current AFL players. As someone who works in the people capital business, I was really interested.  Let’s talk about them here:

Mental Health

This is a massive issue, so much so that the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) has established a specialised in house Mental Health and Wellbeing team to provide counselling to current and past players. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that up to one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – AFL players are no different.

Stress

All of us have work pressures – present stressors that can lead to mental health issues. However as AFLPA Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Brent Hedley wrote, the current stressors for players include: performance anxiety, public scrutiny, media attention, injury and being away from the family. The public spotlight simply magnifies these stressors.

General Health and Wellbeing

Other common health issues amongst AFL players may include: depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and gambling, side effects from injuries such as concussion, not to mention a whole range of other physical injuries related to contact sport. They may appear to be super human on the field, but often spend more time off field recovering.

Social Media

Social media can be a frenemy, especially for high profile footballers. Hedley’s advice is “Social media can be a confronting environment for players and cause significant stress, but it can also be one that gives players a chance to express themselves and show their human side.” This highlights the importance for players in having a strong network away from their sporting identities, which can support them when football is causing them stress.

Our Footy Lunch was a great event – we even picked a winner for Saturday (that’s right, your tip’s the one)! Yet Marc’s comments really hit a nerve with me. Footy players are like you and me (well, perhaps a bit more like me)… They win, they lose, they struggle, they laugh and they cry. The major difference is for a sports star, it’s all played out on an open stage for everyone to see. Players need help in the workplace from time to time, just like us. I think it’s great to see through the AFLPA that they’re getting it.

How do you manage stress and other pressures in your workplace? What are some of the strategies you have used to help improve the health and wellbeing of others @work?

 

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Posted in Consumer, Sport & Entertainment, The world @work

It’s on our lips and close to our hearts

This month the Interchange Bench is getting behind Liptember – an initiative that supports and raises awareness for women’s mental health – a cause very close to our team’s heart. While we can’t always kiss away the blues, educating the community on women’s mental health whilst raising funds to support specific women’s mental health research and support programs can help make a big difference.

Why are we targeting women’s mental health specifically? Experience has shown that placing a gender lens on mental health results in more accurate research and enables more effective support programs. Liptember says, “Currently, the majority of mental health research is focused on men’s mental health, with the findings applied to both men and women. This has resulted in a number of programs and prevention strategies that are unable to fully assist the mental health needs of the female population. The Liptember campaign hopes to change that.”

Funds raised by Liptember, which as the name suggests, has its prime campaign focus during the month of September, will be donated to the Centre for Women’s Mental Health, Lifeline, Batyr, RUOK?, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and the Pretty Foundation. We think these are pretty worthwhile causes, and you can follow the links if you’d like to learn more about each organisation.

Mental health doesn’t discriminate, so whether you’re a girl or guy, join us for Liptember to support the women in your life (wearing lipstick is optional). To donate now, head to the Interchange Bench fundraising page or contact me for more information.

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