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How to turn your work-ability into your biggest asset

My husband Ray and I are your typical Aussie mum and dad property investors; our three children are also young investors (in their 30s).

Back in the 1980s, getting a deposit together to purchase a house was arguably as difficult as it is today. My husband and I started saving on our engagement. Our parents were of humble means – certainly not in a position to help out. There were no maternity/paternity leave entitlements, no child care facilities and we relied on one income for many years after we settled into our home.

The Government at the time attempted to solve the problem of housing affordability by providing a first home buyers grant (a means tested cash bonus to assist with the purchase). Although our individual salaries were not particularly high, when combined, Ray and I were not entitled to the grant.

So we worked five jobs between us. When our peers were out dancing at bachelors and spinsters balls, we were the ones working in hospitality, serving them food and drinks. They were driving around in new cars. We drove second hand cars and once we bought a new one, we owned it for 10 years before buying a new one. Our peers were travelling around the world and going to rock concerts. I regret to say I never attended a rock concert. I remember the only musical I went to see was Jesus Christ Superstar.

Economists are always predicting a drop in the property market and investing means accepting some risk. When we decided to buy an investment property, our parents, friends and family, actually tried to talk us out of it! Don’t do it, it’s too risky, you can’t afford the loan repayments… What if you lose your job, what if you fall pregnant or what if there is another GFC, or a war?

Harry Triguboff, Australian billionaire real estate property developer was interviewed on 60 Minutes recently. He said, “Ordinary mum and dad investors are battlers and not millionaires.” In my experience this rings true. Aussie mum and dad investors contribute to rental availability in the market. It stands to reason that the more investors there are, the more rentals there will be available, which assists with rental affordability.

On the same program Tim Gurner, a young property investor turned successful developer, was also interviewed. Interestingly he recommended exactly what we have practiced. Go without the luxuries, work hard and have a goal. While it has been muted that he received a leg up with a deposit from his family, parents can assist in other ways, such a guaranteeing a loan or providing a deposit bond.

When we criticise the lifestyle choices of millennials, are we simply being critical of young people? My children started in the property market as teenagers. We did not provide them with any funding whatsoever. We set the example; they took the risk, budgeted hard and were devoted to their jobs.

The conversation should be about choices, not criticism. Taking a year off and travelling the world on a working holiday… well good on you, you’re only a year behind in savings, and possibly a few steps behind (or ahead) in your career. The occasional smashed avocado and a latte over breakfast won’t destroy your life savings either. Going to university will put your savings back several years and adds a HECS to your financial commitments in most cases, but you’re positioning yourself to catch up as your career advances.

A request under FOI revealed that over the past eight months (August 2016 to February 2017) in NSW alone foreign investors paid a staggering $76.6M in stamp duty to the state government, compared with Australian and dual nationals who paid almost $3.8M. While it’s obviously a great tax revenue stream, the disparity in the figures are symptomatic of local investors losing in their bids to secure property.

Doing something about housing affordability is problematic. Should we make it easier for young Australians by offering investment grants, allowing first home buyers to use their superannuation for a deposit, or further limit foreign ownership of Australian real estate? All of these ideas are debatable, with potential for unintended consequences. Certainly providing better information on budgeting, saving and investing would help educate the next generation of buyers. At present the real winners in the property market are the banks, property developers, fund managers, real estate agents and the state governments who all benefit from high prices.

My generation, the baby boomers, are often held up as a scapegoat for the affordability crisis. In my family we envisage there will be no government pension by the time we retire, so we are providing for ourselves through our property investments. Despite the media focus on negative gearing, its tax advantage doesn’t benefit us significantly. Here are some final considerations that are often overlooked when making a property investment:

  1. Work hard, taking on an extra job when required can make a difference
  2. New APRA rules mean a 20% deposit is required for an investment loan
  3. Banking institutions charge higher rates for property investors (and even higher interest rates for self-managed super funds)
  4. Factor in the significant cost of stamp duty (paid to the state government on purchasing)
  5. Understand the ongoing body corporate fees (if investing in an apartment, unit or development with shared common property)
  6. Budget for maintenance costs
  7. Negative gearing only applies to tax paid on expenses involved in holding your property
  8. Factor in capital gains tax when selling

At some level we are all working for a secure future. What have you done in your world @work to set yourself up for the future?

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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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Our active lunch break

When a shiny new gym opened at the New York end of Collins Street (that’s near Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station), Angelika Langer-Zindel was one of the first members to join-up. It took another six months for her to recruit a work gym buddy, Diana Tanvis Loi. While there are a few fitness junkies amongst us in the workplace, these two colleagues who both work in our Shared Services team (Accounts Receivable and Payroll respectively), are often seen heading off to exercise together at lunchtimes. I asked what motivates them beyond the Healthy Me, Healthy You program we instigated at Slade Group last year.

Why do you choose to work out in-between work?

Angelika: At my local gym I was missing all the fitness classes – there were only one or two classes I could do. If I was late home from work, I missed them altogether. So it’s much more convenient for me to go at lunchtime.

Diana: Same as Angelika, I used to go to 6am classes at my local gym, but it’s just too hard and I started missing my trains to work.

Why go to the gym together?

Diana: At this gym, they have a rock climbing wall facility and it is definitely more fun to climb with a buddy and also safer, as we make sure that each other’s harnesses are secure.

How do you manage to change into your gym gear, then get back into work clothes, as well as fit in a 45 minute class within your lunch hour?

Angelika: There is no time for showers, so we don’t do classes that are too high intensity. A spin class is a definite no. I have short hair, so I don’t have any problems. If you have a complicated haircut, it just doesn’t work!

Diana: Definitely no body combat for me, or I’d sweat. Athleisure is a new trend in fashion – you can wear a hybrid tank top to work out and put a blazer over it to dress it back up for the office. We also have nice change rooms with free towels and showers in our building, but I generally use the facilities at the gym.

Do you miss doing other things at lunchtime? When do you actually eat your lunch?

Angelika: Not really. Doing a lunchtime class is good break; sitting all day is definitely not healthy.

Diana: Most of us only walk a few steps from our desk each day.

Angelika: It means eating at your desk, which is not the best habit, but you have to compromise. I always eat after exercising – if I eat too much before, I feel sick, so it’s good for weight management.

I see a lot people carrying gym bags on their commute. Is fitness amongst corporate types becoming more popular?

Angelika:  I think so. A lot of the classes where we go are fully booked, so it seems that others are sharing the same habits as us.

Diana:  I think more and more deskbound professionals are finding it really unhealthy to be sitting up to 8-10 hours a day. Employers are also becoming more aware of this and allowing flexible work arrangements.

What are some of the less obvious benefits to including exercise in your work schedule?

Diana: I spend a lot less money on shopping since I started going to the gym!

Angelika: That’s right, when you work in the city, you go shopping at lunchtime.

Diana: It’s also a great way to release your pent-up frustration. I don’t think about work at all while I’m exercising and by the time I’m finished I’ve forgotten whatever I was worried about.

Both: We are still recruiting if anyone is interested to join our lunchtime habits!

 

Have you been taking active lunch breaks? What are some of the healthy practices you have incorporated into your work schedule?

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Shower thoughts for the New Year

For many of us, we associate showering with waking up in the morning, so it’s no surprise that some of our best ideas fresh in the day are ‘shower thoughts’. I worked for a CEO who regularly called in with her shower thoughts on her commute to the office. Most were simple, practical solutions to everyday business problems, with an occasional eureka moment… Archimedes would have been proud!

Research conducted by psychologist Dr Scott Kaufman for Hansgrohe (the bathroom hardware manufacturer) in 2014 found 72% of people have creative thoughts in the shower and “14% of people have showers with the only reason being to generate new ideas”. The study concluded “the feel of the water together with the tranquillity of the shower experience and being alone helps generate new ideas and fresh thinking”.

Literally, you can forget about having creative thoughts when you’re under the pump… a full schedule, working to a deadline, competing priorities and other disruptions all require focused thinking. Routine tasks (showering, regular exercise, gardening or even ironing) however, allow your mind to wander while you’re on autopilot. Actually these activities allow your conscious mind to process ideas that your subconscious has been problem solving in the background while you were focusing on the other tasks at hand. The scientific explanation – it’s a combination of dopamine released in a relaxed state of mind. “The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind,” explains creative thinker and social influencer Leo Widrich on his Buffer blog.

Thought leader and cultural change commentator John O. Burdett links strategic thinking and workplace culture. In his book Myth, Magic, Mindset: a template for organisational culture change, Burdett says, “Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable.” Could your organisation’s strategy benefit from some shower thoughts? What about your organisational culture… Is it healthy, does everyone in the team align with it, how could you further nurture it?

So while you’re enjoying some downtime over the holiday period, allow yourself the extra time to lay in bed, watch the sunset or sip your favourite Sav Blanc. Cast your mind to some of the strategic objectives you’ve been trying to resolve during the year. You’ll be surprised how creative thoughts will emerge and solutions will surface.

Downtime assists us tremendously with clear thinking (maybe before the Sav Blanc). Use this time to consider your business structure, your organisational culture, the approach you might take with a difficult colleague, client, or even your Board. It is also a great time to give your mind the freedom for self-reflection and reset your professional goals for the New Year.

Have a happy, safe festive season and enjoy your break. On your return, let me know if you had any shower thoughts that helped you with articulating new ideas.

 

This article was originally published on TRANSEARCH Executive Leadership Insights.

Republished with kind permission from TRANSEARCH International Australia.

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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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Morning routines

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment”

– Jim Rohn

Mornings… Some people love them, some people despise them and some people try to avoid them all together by hitting the snooze button repeatedly. What many people fail to realise is that they are a crucial platform to how the rest of the day will unfold. I have found that if I start my day off well, the remainder of the day seems to flow more effectively. We will look at this in more depth below.

Before we get into the specifics of morning routines, I often hear people say that they don’t have enough time to be disciplined in the mornings or that they are not a morning person. Keep the following in mind however – discipline is the ultimate freedom.

If you’re disciplined with your time, you have more freedom to utilise that time. If you’re disciplined with your body, you have more freedom to be adventurous and active. If you’re disciplined with your business, you have more freedom to be creative and innovative. So again, discipline is the ultimate freedom.

 The majority are contrary to this belief. They believe that being disciplined will feel too suppressive and robotic. This can be a dangerous premise to live by, and often leads to overwhelm. It was Benjamin Franklin who once said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”  He knew then what we know now; high achievers are disciplined with their time, and hence their tasks.

Getting back to the importance of morning routines and why they are so crucial to the direction that the rest of your day will take. Think of your mornings as being the bow and you being the arrow. You want your mornings to aim you in the right direction at the point of release. If you leave the house stressed, the day rarely improves from there on in.

You don’t have to run 30 kilometres or meditate for two hours in the morning to set your day up for success; it may just be implementing three or four positive behaviours around waking up and the hours that follow. I often ask people to compare their normal workday to their ideal workday, from the minute they wake up until the minute they fall asleep. A compelling number on their ideal day have themselves waking up earlier, either to exercise or to be more organised.

Let me share with you the routines that I apply to the mornings. These habits have a huge impact on whether I run the day or the day runs me.

  1. Barley grass: Every morning without fail I will consume a barley grass mixed with water. This allows me to hit me daily greens intake before I have left the house. I take a multi-vitamin every morning as well.
  2. Arrive at least 30 minutes early to first appointment: I always plan my mornings around being early to my first appointment. This becomes crucially important when I travel to allow a space to recharge and mentally prepare.
  3. Exercise: When I can, I always aim to get my exercise completed in the morning. It removes the chances of procrastination and excuses later in the day.
  4. Don’t press snooze: I have always seen pressing the snooze button as a waste of time. You are neither naturally sleeping, nor are you being productive.
  5. Wholesome breakfast: Breakfast is a must for me. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that my daily performance would drop over 50% if I skipped breakfast, possibly more. Your body hasn’t eaten for over eight hours; it’s time to refuel it.

No one is genetically engineered to be a morning person or not, productive people just choose to be disciplined in the mornings because of the rewards it gives them later in the day; time, energy and productivity just to name a few.

If you are constantly having a war with your mornings and the main goal is to survive at all costs, then I strongly suggest changing some habits and developing your own productive routine.

I’d love to hear what morning routine works for you. How would you described your ideal day @work?

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When multi-tasking feels like doggy paddling…

As our lives get busier, multi-tasking becomes a necessity to cope with life’s demands. We may think that we are super human; that we can do it all with time to spare, when in reality we’re struggling to keep our heads above water.

So when does successful multi-tasking become drowning in responsibilities?

One of the earliest signs of drowning is displayed through your physical and mental health. You may begin to feel fatigued, develop a headache or become reliant on coffees to get you through the day. Physical symptoms are often overlooked – who has time for a headache when you have three deadlines to meet this week? However, humans are not superheroes, and it is important that we listen to our bodies when they are telling us something is wrong. So take a break, get some fresh air and listen to what your body needs.

Another sign of when multi-tasking becomes overwhelming is when you no longer have time for things that were once considered important. When going for runs on the weekend or having a night out with the family was once essential to your life, you now realise you haven’t done those things in months. Multi-tasking is not only applicable to your work, and work should not consume your life. Scheduling time for you to pursue your hobbies and passions outside of work is just as important as scheduling your meetings, so don’t forget to pencil them into your diary.

So how can we avoid drowning?

  • Be reasonable with your expectations. You are not superhuman; you cannot attend five different meetings at the one time.
  • Prioritise what is most important and tackle those things first.
  • Ask for help. People are more than likely going to say yes.
  • Schedule time for you.
  • Listen to your body when it tells you to take a break.

Remember, multi-tasking is all well and great if utilised correctly, just don’t go overboard.

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A healthy me means a healthy you!

Seriously, without being twee, it’s true. I admit I live a pretty healthy lifestyle: I lift weights, I eat chicken breast, love vegetables, and drink my three litres of water per day. So, when our leadership team sat down to discuss how to better look after our teams, I wasn’t there to preach. The aim wasn’t to run a boot camp and drink protein shakes every day.

How often do we feel almost at one with our desks? Working long hours we’re often tempted by quick fixes: morning coffees that seem to multiply through the day, fast food at lunch if any, afternoon sugar hits… anything we think will help to get more done. In reality, they only make things worse.

Inertia, combined with a lack of fresh air and poor eating habits, creates huge highs and lows in performance. You have probably seen it at work, affecting the mood in your office, filtering through the whole business as well. Encouraging a healthy culture across our organisations for the wellbeing of our people, is not an easy task.

Providing options allows everyone to find their comfort level.

Slade Group has committed to improve the overall wellbeing of our workforce through our Slade Wellness program, which we’ve called Healthy Me, Healthy You.

We’re providing information to allow our people to make informed decisions about their working habits and promoting a work environment that encourages a healthy lifestyle. We believe encouraging a culture of wellbeing will make Slade a better place to work, as well as enhancing our reputation as an employer of choice.

To help us on our journey, we’ve partnered with TWOSIX Wellness, a corporate wellness business who have offered some valuable insights from their past experiences with professional services firms like us. We were also joined by Chris Heddle from Melbourne Myotherapy and Remedial Massage. This week they partnered with us at the program launch, demonstrating good desk posture and stretches, breathing exercises and how to make organic coconut protein balls (which seemed to gain the most traction).

If that sounds like something you’d also like to achieve, you can model our program initiatives below. We’d love to hear about your progress.

 

Healthy Me, Healthy You
Our recipe for improving and maintaining team performance by encouraging a healthy work environment

Ingredients

  • Lots of water – drinking water reduces dehydration
  • Several portions of healthy food – try raw fruit or nuts instead of processed snack foods
  • Fresh air for good measure – go outside at least once during the day
  • 15 to 30 minutes of exercise – organise a walking group, take the stairs instead of using lifts if you can

Method
Combine ingredients with simple messages. Educate the mixture gently, don’t be too prescriptive.

Cooking
Allow ideas to bake slowly over several weeks to allow proving time. You should notice lethargy fall and concentration improving. Results will be increased productivity and happier, healthier people.

 

What wellness initiatives have you implemented in your workplace?

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