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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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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Posted in The world @work

Ignore this at your peril!

Exactly 12 months ago I was diagnosed with cancer.

There were a couple of jaw-dropping news items last year, but personally being told you’ve got cancer would be right up there. I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say after a routine colonoscopy, I ended up with six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Not much fun, I can assure you!

According to the Australian Cancer Council, “1 in 2 Australian men and 1 in 3 Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.” However on a positive note, “66% of people diagnosed with cancer in Australia are still alive five years after a cancer diagnosis.”

It was the second time I’ve had cancer. About 23 years ago I also had radiotherapy for testicular cancer. This time I’d been diagnosed with, awkward pause… anal cancer. This type of cancer is not that common. In fact in 2012, only 399 Australians were diagnosed with it.

While there is currently no screening for anal cancer available, it can be diagnosed through a number of tests, such as medical examination, a blood test, biopsy, CT scan, or an ultrasound. Early detection is key.

I prided myself on being fit, eating healthy and generally looking after my well-being. Nevertheless, I had cancer. I did have many Why me? moments, but my doctors assured me cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone… Reluctantly, I took that on board and got on with my treatment. Yuck.

There were the side effects: nausea, a strange metal taste in my mouth, fatigue, nerves, hair loss (a free Brazilian), discomfort sitting, pain around the pelvis and bottom.

Twice in a lifetime is more than enough, so hopefully my turn is done, but I thought it timely to share some learnings from my experience with cancer to encourage you all to get a medical check-up.

  1. If you see or feel something unusual, do something about it.
    There are two types of people. Those who go to the doctor, and those who don’t. I’m of the former – I’d rather know if there’s a problem and get on with it.
  1. Get an opinion from a doctor or another healthcare specialist.
    Some of you maybe Dr. Google types. I’m not. I think my GP knows best.
  1. Tell someone close to you.
    Keeping it to yourself only raises your stress levels. I’m lucky I’ve got a great family. My wife became my confidant, chauffeur and nurse. My daughters came with me to the chemo and radio treatments.
  1. Stay positive
    Yes, it can be tough, but staying positive makes a huge difference. Acknowledge the negative aspects of the situation, then get rid of your negative thoughts. Surrounding yourself with positive energy helps you to see a positive future.
  1. You or someone dear to you, may get cancer this year.
    It’s an unfortunate fact. I’m committing to do some volunteer work in the cancer field this year to help others who have shared my situation.

Even if you’re already made your resolutions, promise yourself and me that you’ll kick off the year with a medical check-up. Do something. Book it in now.

How have you worked through challenging personal circumstances? What did you learn from the experience?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Humpty Dumpty and the empty swimming pool

Sometimes life throws you curve balls in the most unexpected ways; curve balls that may change how you see the world, show you what you’re made of, or give you a little bit of both. Let me put some context around that.

Five weeks ago, we were having our swimming pool cleaned ready for summer. The pool was emptied, scrubbed and ready to be refilled. I was doing some maintenance around the side of the pool, so to move from one section to the next, I made a small jump onto the edge at the deep end. This proved to be a very stupid decision, I overbalanced and found myself falling into the empty pool.

As I was falling two and a half metres (it’s a very deep pool), I remember a ridiculous number of thoughts going through my mind… this might hurt a bit, but I’ll be fine… I can undo this… what is going to happen, will I get lucky and just have a few bruises, what can I do to minimise the impact? …and funnily, will I need to take Monday off work?

As I landed, I heard some nasty crunches and whilst the pain wasn’t obvious initially (thank goodness for adrenalin), I knew that things weren’t good. My feet were telling me that I couldn’t move. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, I landed in the chemicals that had just been put in for the pool to be refilled. So here I was, all busted up face down in chlorine, lying on the concrete.

I managed to commando drag myself far enough away from the chemicals to be able to breathe and I called for my husband who was, justifiably, in equal measure distressed and annoyed (“What are you doing down there, what the ‘bleep’ have you done?”). Strangely calm, I explained what had happened and asked him to call an ambulance.

Fast forward through the five hours that it took for the ambulance, fire brigade and police to arrive, get me out of the pool, take me to hospital, the x-rays, checks for chemical burns – I was in a pretty bad way. Hypothermic (it was very cold) with a completely shattered left heel and a fractured right heel, my body had gone into shock, which rendered me non-responsive to those around me.

I’ve had a month in hospital, have had my left heel surgically rebuilt, had to learn how to put weight on a broken right heel and practically relearned how to move. For someone who does everything at high pace, having to consciously assess the impact of every movement to minimise the risk of falling again has been incredibly challenging!

It’s been tough, my injuries were serious and it will be up to a year before I can walk normally. However, I’m also fortunate to have been cared for by some incredibly talented medical professionals and an exceptional support network.

I have had some very difficult days where the pain had me not wanting to move, where I’ve relived the accident over and over, which at times causes extreme anxiety. The tiredness has had me emotional and easily distressed. It’s been hard, but going back to the beginning of this story, I have a very different perspective on life.

Considering my every movement has helped me consider the impact of my actions on those around me. I no longer have the expectation that other people value the same qualities in my workplace as I do. Those small things that once irked me in the office don’t seem so important – I realise nothing should be taken for granted.

I’m still determined, focused and strong-willed, because these attributes have helped motivate me to push through and to get back to work. My job is important to me and while there is definitely an element similar to the people on the WorkSafe ads, my head and hands are fine, but for a few months my world @work means adjusting to a different physical set-up while my body gets back to full capacity.

There’s been no epiphany, just a subtle recognition of what really matters. While I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, I would urge you to take the time to focus on what is truly important. How do you want those around you to perceive you, even remember you? You never know when you’re going to be faced with your own version of an empty swimming pool.

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Posted in Professional Support

Why don’t we ask RU OK every day?

Today is a day to check in with your colleagues and friends to make sure they are OK, but is one day a year really enough?

In workplaces across the country people will hear “RU OK?” today. Some may think the question is invasive, others will think the person asking is simply being a bit trite, only enquiring because someone informed them that they should. Then we’ll usually answer offhand “I’m fine, how about you?” But what about those people who are hiding their difficulties?

We’ve seen the statistics about the impact of mental health on productivity, with the ABS reporting self-harm (suicide) as the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44. Beyond Blue reports one in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition. Yet we only seem to raise the issue once or twice per year.

During my 30 year working career I have had the privilege to work in a number of countries, with some amazing people. There’s one who really sticks with me. He was a brilliant man, a world leader in his field. A father, a grandfather a loving husband who to the world around him, appeared ‘normal’.

Being engaged, enthusiastic and a contributor, appearing to be outwardly happy took a great deal of energy to maintain when he headed out the door to work each day. He often said, if workplaces were more accepting of people’s personal flaws, colleagues more empathetic and society more genuine in its desire to help others, he could have achieved so much more in his career.

So he kept his head down, became very risk averse, doing things the same old ways. Not wanting to draw the attention to himself, he kept his ideas to himself in meetings, leading others to question as his productivity dropped, whether he had any value to add to the organisation.

Unfortunately his internal demons overtook him.

One in five people suffer from a mental illness at some time during their lives. They experience self-doubt, become disengaged, unproductive and eventually isolated. Their impact on co-workers can be enormous. The Aussie attitude of showing no emotion in the workplace has resulted in a hidden epidemic that has seen us lose some of our finest minds, our friends and co-workers, mothers, fathers, children and siblings.

We can improve the way we connect with our colleagues, families and friends by starting a meaningful conversation. Ask someone “RU OK?” every day.

 

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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