Blog Archives

Cure the Sunday afternoon blues

“It generally started about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, irrespective of rain, hail or shine and the activity or people I was with at that time. I’d start thinking of the next day and my shoulders would instantly tense up, I’d start snapping at my kids and/or wife and increasingly become more taciturn and grumpy as the day progressed. This would happen every Sunday and started to have a real impact on my quality of life, family relationships, and started to limit the activities I would do Sunday afternoon and evenings.”

Sound familiar? It’s an unfortunately common situation for highly pressured executives. A candidate once shared this personal story with me, which fortunately became a wake-up call to consider a career change.

I recognise that it’s rare to find individuals who bound out of bed on Monday mornings – naturally most people would prefer to be at leisure than go to work. Of course our level of motivation varies with the demands of our role, our clients or customers, and our employer. However, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs that can affect your job enjoyment, intense and sustained angst about work is not normal. Left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage to our health, including stress, pressure on relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and a reduced work/life balance.

On the surface this individual seemed to be in the ideal work situation: he was in a key leadership position within a successful global blue chip organisation, earning an impressive wage, on a fast-track path to further success and growth – but it was just not right for him.

I appreciate that it’s not a simple matter to change jobs. Financial considerations, geographical location, time available to job seek, or your personal situation can be constraints.  If this sounds like you, consider these alternative strategies:

  • Speak up. Have an honest discussion with your manager and/or HR about revisiting the aspects of your job that cause you angst. Do these need to be delegated or shared with others in the team? Is your workload achievable within the resources and parameters provided? Do you need further training and mentoring to help you perform your job?
  • A sideways step could be an option if you like your company, but the role or your direct manager is not a good fit. Is there any opportunity to move to another role or division within the company?
  • If your employer and/or company culture does not align, but you enjoy your role, network across your industry through LinkedIn, industry forums and seminars, even former colleagues who have left to join competitors. Make yourself known throughout the sector, whilst maintaining your professionalism and remaining discreet about your intentions. This could lead to a direct approach to you to consider a job should an appropriate role arise.
  • Consider investing in additional training and/or studies that will further your professional development and enhance your employability to other organisations. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to pursue a field outside your current area of expertise. It also serves to demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and continuous development.
  • Have a confidential discussion with a recruitment firm who specialise in your sector/job of choice. Whilst this should be implicit, emphasise the need for the recruiter to respect your confidentiality and ensure your resume is only sent out to prospective employers with your approval.

Whilst it might be a work in progress, you will find that the simple act of taking control of your work situation can improve your outlook and with this perspective, allow you to enjoy your whole weekend.

As for the candidate mentioned previously? After taking a leap of faith, he did change jobs and has continued to progress his career with another organisation better suited to his style. He has also joined that rare group of individuals who look forward to Mondays.

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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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Your recruiter is a tool

Well, I don’t mean tool in the pejorative! A well forged, fit for purpose tool is a valued accessory. Would you attempt a home renovation with just a hammer? In the job search process, savvy candidates realise recruiters are part of the solution – a tool in their kit rather than their sole strategy to market. Having placed many executives in senior roles over the years, people often ask me what more they could do to improve their prospects for selection. Here are five strategies to consider:

  1. Leverage your networks

It’s easy to underestimate the breadth of your own individual networks, but candidates who take the time to analyse their contacts (which may include previous colleagues and managers, university contacts, neighbours, social networks, etc.) find them a valuable source of information. Whether it’s a new opening or general market information, your chances of obtaining a position improve when you’re already recognised in your industry. For a prospective employer, it’s also less risky to hire someone who is known to be a strong performer.

  1. Select your recruitment partners carefully

While it might be tempting to send your resume to every search firm, be selective about the organisations with whom you’re entrusting confidentiality, particularly if you’re currently employed. Think about the exclusivity of your application rather than applying with every recruiter. Consultants strive to represent unique candidates who have not been overexposed and will proactively market them to our clients. Make sure that’s you.

  1. Take the lead on your job search and partner with your recruiter to bridge any gaps in your networks

Ideally a recruiter should complement, not replace, your job search activity. Manage your applications carefully and partner with recruiters who can present you to companies where you don’t have existing contacts or an established network.

  1. Cull what’s not working

Evaluate your job search progress on a regular basis and refine or ditch any strategies that aren’t working. This includes analysing the performance of your recruitment partner. If they said that they were going to market you to a particular company, ask for a progress report. If you think that they’re not delivering, then re-evaluate whether they are best suited to help you.

  1. Customise your resume

One mistake I often observe is that candidates will customise their covering letter, but fail to adjust their resume accordingly. Review your resume and consider tailoring it to suit each opportunity. The changes could be as simple as emphasising your most relevant experience by reordering your achievements.

If your perception of recruiters in general has been negative to date, try adjusting your engagement strategy by following my advice. I’m confident you’ll get results and be successful.

What advice do you have for executive candidates?

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Nobody likes a pouting recruiter

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”

– Dale Carnegie

Once, early in my career, I accepted a new role despite my misgivings about the position. The recruiter talked me into it. Female engineers were quite a rare find in the late 90s and recruiters were constantly approaching me with engineering opportunities. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t stay in the position for long and in hindsight, I should’ve backed my instincts and walked away from the opportunity.

The ‘hard sell’ is rarely effective in the long term (particularly within an executive search context). I’ve seen it at work in business, as well as that personal experience working as an engineer. I don’t blame the recruiter for the outcome by the way – it was my choice to take the job against my better judgement, but the experience has shaped my approach to recruiting as an executive search consultant.

As a hiring manager, you may have observed that candidates who were subjected to a hard sell, more often than not, withdraw at some stage of the recruitment process. They’ll find an excuse to pull out, accept a counter-offer or won’t be a long-term hire if they do join the company. It’s not a great result for anyone: HR, the hiring manager, the recruiter or the candidate – not to mention the significant cost to the business in beginning the whole process again. Ethical and professional recruiters seek to add value to their clients on a long-term basis and are not simply seeking short-term commercial gain.

Passive candidates, who form a major part of the executive search process, may express a little hesitation and reluctance on first approach. This is completely normal and does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in discussing the role further. However, there’s a big difference between informing a candidate about an opportunity and delivering a sales pitch.

My approach includes fostering dialogue with a prospective candidate and providing them with as much information as possible on the role. Once it is established that their skills, culture fit, remuneration and career goals are a good match, I encourage them to participate in a discussion with my client, as position descriptions are no substitute for a face-to-face meeting and the insights that are obtained through that discussion.

Should the candidate then decide that the opportunity is not one they wish to pursue, I respect their decision, thank them for considering the role and do not press the matter further. This approach has allowed me to forge trusting and long term relationships with my candidates; they understand that I will respect their views, will listen and am not purely driven by commercial considerations. Similarly, my clients have confidence that I’m representing them in the market in a professional way and respecting all candidates throughout the process.

Personally, I still suffer from the inevitable disappointment when an ideal candidate decides not to proceed with a role. It’s particularly hard if I feel that the opportunity meets their expressed goals and would provide them with a chance to further grow and develop professionally. However, nobody likes a pouting recruiter and it’s futile – not to mention unprofessional – to let that shape your behaviour or treatment of the candidate.

It’s important to remember that there are usually other factors involved that may be guiding a candidate’s decision (which they may not feel comfortable disclosing), and it’s not possible to address every contingency. In fact some of these individuals have returned to me in later years, when I have had the pleasure of placing them in their next role, whilst others have engaged me as a consultant.

It’s risky changing jobs. Candidates are acutely aware of the need to perform in the role within a new organisation and team, long after an executive search consultant has moved on to their next assignment. So forget the hard sell and take my advice: Behaving professionally, respectfully, ethically and with complete transparency always yields positive results in the long term.

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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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