Category Archives: Workplace practises

Inclusion initiatives

Diversity and inclusion initiatives under threat

What can HR do to protect diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives struggle to succeed under any circumstances. But with recent dramatic shifts in the current social, economic and political cilimates in many areas, there is a strong possibility that any progress will be stalled. These swings signal a potential backlash to any corporate inclusion initiatives and even a reversal in our wider cultures. In a wider context, the growing mood seems to be dig in, keep people out, protect ourselves and make things “great” again. Whatever that means. It’s always unspecified of course. To specify would mean there is a vision, supported by goals and a plan. Across the board it’s clear there are no goals or plans. Anywhere. Just reactions.

The impact these new cultural developments will have on company diversity and inclusion initiatives needs to be factored in as the anti-diversity noise is getting louder by the day. News pours in from Denmark, Germany, U.K. France as well as other European countries. Of course not forgetting the rise in tension in the US.

When Inclusion is threatened 

Inclusion isn’t about creating a superficially correct business culture, where token minorities and the odd woman are included in low impact initiatives to tick C-suite KPIs and release Boards of their obligations. It’s about creating high quality work teams which will excel at meeting their ascribed objectives and organisational goals. People are needed to lead those initiatives.  There are any number of studies which show that diverse organisations have a higher return on shareholder value and hands down outperform non diverse companies.

Mckinsey business case

Mckinsey business case for diversity and inclusion

Changing climate

Yet they are not working as they should, even in cultural climates reflecting a positive outlook and so we are failing to see a lasting impact. A rational approach supposedly to appeal to the data driven business mind is simply not gaining ground.  Organisational cultural change can take many years. What is holding us back is the unconscious, irrational mind which is clearly overriding factually based D & I programmes.  Today, that irrational mindset seems to be getting stronger.

Somehow hiring managers regardless of their political mind-set and persuasion, need to be committed to doing the best possible for their organisations in terms of attracting, sourcing, retaining and developing top talent. Already on the weak side, these flawed processes will struggle against this changing sociopolitical background.

The level of unconscious bias in the recruitment and promotion process is already high. The tendency to copy paste “mini-mes” so companies create cohorts of corporate clones which tend to be white and male, will become even stronger.  The chances of creating a corporate culture based on diversity and inclusion set against that prevailing viewpoint will be weakened. The use of the hackneyed cop-out term as the right  “cultural fit” will only grow. One hiring manager in a strongly Brexit region told me he had already been instructed to cut certain ethnic groups from the selection process of his organisation.

Challenges for HR

At a time when employee engagement is at an all-time low and insecurity and uncertainty are clouds over- shadowing a majority, HR practitioners face challenges dealing with these key issues. How do companies expect to find a way forward through this morass if they are located in geographies where the beast of xenophobia has been unleashed in a way that many did not anticipate. I’m not sure how many hiring managers will prioritize inclusion initiatives in these areas.

What can HR they do to implement diverse hiring policies if political wranglings over visas and work permits are going to make international hires increasingly difficult? How will they deal with outright discrimination?

Read: Post Brexit uncertainty starts talent drain

The inclusion challenge today for HR is to have the skills and credibility as well as the tenacity and resilience to cut through the crap and call things for what they are. They may need to stand up to poor leaders.

How many are willing and able to do that?

Check out unconscious bias training here


The debate on the future of work continues

Tech tackles workplace bias with new apps

Apps and platforms that tackle workplace bias in job search and recruitment

Tech is considered to be one of the least gender balanced sectors. Women are difficult to identify, attract and when that does happen, the churn levels are especially high. But it is also an area which is well placed to offer support to organisations wanting to monitor or highlight their own unconscious biases for gender and other workplace bias.

Some of the apps coming out of the tech sector offer ingenious ways to identify situations where workplace bias exist. It’s clear that although they all can’t tackle the bias directly  – they do expose it and highlight it.

Apps and platforms that tackle workplace bias

Doxa is an online dating style site, with data driven tools to match women with companies that best fit them.  Doxa helps women job seekers glean how various tech start-up companies treat their female employees. Using employee sourced survey data, the software develops a view what it is like to work at various companies, and how women fare in these workplaces. The profiles examine  compensation,  hours worked and schedules, pay gap, hours spend in meetings, the number of women on the leadership team and maternity-leave policies.

Entelo Diversity

This is a recruiting software which supports companies wanting to create more diverse teams by targeting specific demographics that are under represented in their current organisations. The algorithm reviews the online profiles of potential candidates—using data from Twitter, GitHub and other sites. “Since this information is layered on top of a candidate’s skills and qualifications, the solution provides a level of objectivity as it relates to your hiring practices. It also helps organizations demonstrate good faith efforts and comply with regulations”


FairyGodboss is a data crowd sourcing platform to rank companies for the professional experiences and conditions they offer women. They have identified top industries for “gender equality, women’s job satisfaction, and the ones women would recommend to other women.” PR, Cosmetics and Hospitality are apparently the leading industries when it comes to women’s perceptions of gender equality at work. This gives women an opportunity to research organisations and make informed decisions based on comments of other women.


Blind CVs

Blind CVs don’t tackle the root of the problem

GapJumpers is the “Voice” for business offering what they call blind auditions. The app offers companies a platform on which they can test the abilities of job applicants without knowing their gender or race , identifiers which lie at the root of bias.  I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced this process to understand how it works in practise. Blind CVs tend not to deal with the real problem, simply defer it to late in the process. But they do get candidates through the first stages which is at least a step in the right direction.

Gender decoder Kat Matfield

Gender Decoder is an app similar to Textio, it highlights linguistic gender-coding  which appears in job adverts and other documents. Research has shown that language cause women to self-deselect from applying for jobs that are advertised with masculine-coded language.This site is a quick way to check whether a job advert has the kind of subtle linguistic gender-coding that has this discouraging effect. It’s a free app and one that works well.

I’ve used it myself.  My only comment would be that some of the words that are considered to be male coded such as “confident” and “business acumen” are more of a commentary on our culture. To replace with words which are considered to be “female” is simply patronising.



Gendertimer is an app that monitors the amount of “meeting air time” participants take up. Here you can track who hogs the floor to create greater gender awareness in meetings and other social situations. Research shows that the dominant group is men! Users can manually record any speaker’s gender chart the data. This leads to self-regulation for any extroverts or  “mansplainers” and the possibility of holding more inclusive  meetings.


I saw the pitch for this software diversity dashboard at an #HRTech conference in Paris 2015. Launching in 2016 Founder Sandrine Cina says “Includeed is an online platform which brings together employees, customers and companies around the topics of diversity and equal opportunities. Includeed allows employees and customers to review companies on their efforts towards equal opportunities, letting them know what is really needed and which solutions would be beneficial for all.”

InHerSight . Users rank their workplace across 14 criteria including maternity leave, salary satisfaction and wellness. The platform’s rating system is similar to sites such as Glassdoor, TripAdvisor Inc. and other crowd sourced feedback sites. It aggregate anonymous user-generated data to guide women to make “smarter decisions”.

Just not sorry

Just not sorry is a chrome extension app which produced an international furore in the sorry/not sorry debate. This is designed to help women neutralise their emails from “girl speak”  along the lines of sorry-not-sorry-242x300 “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m just trying to confirm our arrangements and could you possibly let me know your plans for xx. I know this is short notice but would you mind getting back to me by xx”

My own view is that some women (and men) may find it helpful and emails should be succinct because no one will read them!


Textio is a spell check for job adverts, highlighting word choices that show gender bias or hackneyed phrases.  It suggests alternative phrasing to stop self-de-selection by certain categories of job seekers. The program discourages corporate buzz words  such as “ ninja” or “guru”   which appeal to male applicants. Once again, my concern is words which are listed as male coded need to adapt with the culture  rather than the other way around.


Unitive  leads to is a data driven hiring decisions and monitors job applicants and the hiring process, allowing hiring managers to visualize the information behind their decisions. The platform reminds hiring managers throughout the process when they are most likely to exhibit bias. This can be when drafting job descriptions, adverts, reviewing resumes or other written documents to recognize and avoid workplace bias. Candidates compete anonymously to solve problems related to the job.

What other apps or platforms would you recommend to tackle workplace bias? I would be happy to include them.

If your organisation needs unconscious bias training – contact me.




People deprivation and the DIY economy

At one time the term “DIY” conjured up images of hardware stores and tool boxes. Today the DIY economy touches every element of our daily lives, with as yet un-measurable impact. In the past two days alone within the DIY economy I have:

  • Withdrawn cash and deposited cash using a bank machine
  • Scanned and paid for my groceries via a machine
  • Booked a flight, printed my boarding pass, scanned it, plus my passport in the airport
  • Booked and printed a movie ticket (was even charged for the admin – go figure)
  • Spoken to a computer about the speed of my mother’s internet connection (the computer did not get it right)
  • Visited a Microsoft forum to sort out a problem with Skype when the official FAQ page didn’t cover my Q, and a random user did .

I could go on, but I’m sure this mirrors everyone else’s experiences.  According to the Economist, there are seemingly an even greater number of developments  in the DIY economy pipeline on the horizon, other than the ones I’ve named. This shift to a self-service economy and workplace is at the very core of many business models today, as we in all our roles are being required to do more and more for ourselves, without specialist personal involvement of any providers.

For some this is a bonus, it releases time spent on low value work which can be spent doing other things. What I’m not sure exactly. For me it’s just a different type of low value work. The impact of this stealth process of DIY on our personal and working lives is significant.

Do we really understand the potential implications of people deprivation? I’m not sure that we do.

Here are some I have come across recently in my encounters with the DIY economy:

Lack of human interaction

Many activities which were previously managed by a service provider we now do ourselves.  It has led to a loss of basic daily interaction that makes us stop, think and engage with other human beings.  Telephone communication is passé with unscheduled calls now deemed intrusive by 47% in a recent 3Plus International poll. (Add your $2 worth in the side bar)

A Gen Y coaching client commented that the remote working policy of his flat organisation, makes decision-making really slow, as no one  is available to discuss anything face to face.

I almost cried when I finally got a person to deal with my Mum’s broadband speed until he asked me to call him back at some unspecified (Asian) location on my mobile. He seemed genuinely confused when I suggested he call me, as I was the customer!


Our personal hard drives are overloaded with processes we didn’t need to know before: shopping, banking, checking-in, ticketing and reservations, and even more. So our “busy-ness” has increased even further. Stress levels are increasing at a commensurate rate.

A condition called Attention Deficit Trait is evolving in our multi-tasking, device dominated world.

  “It is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades. As our minds fill with noise—feckless synaptic events signifying nothing—the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and thoroughly to anything.”

The human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish and our ability to cope and be effective is reduced.

 Boss-less workplaces

We can now manage ourselves in the workplace. Holacracy is a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss. The work is supposed more structured than in a conventional company. With Holacracy, there is apparently a clear set of rules and processes for the allocation of responsibilities and tasks.

Zappos the inventive shoe company is introducing self- management into it’s company culture via a process called  is seemingly causing confusion with 200 managers opting for voluntary termination.  Now “doing a job is called an “energizing a role,” workplace concerns are “tensions” and updates are made at “tactical meetings.”  The ubiquitous 21st century term “circles” rears it’s head again.  Just Google It

Some more traditional  companies already provide online portals as centralized online resources for employees to manage their own career development, modify personal data, review benefit packages, and  vacation requests. This increases operational efficiency and decreases admin costs.

Manager self-service provides managers with the tools and applications they need to make informed decisions, maximize employee productivity, and also reduce costs. if they are no longer the manager but part of a project circle, they should have even less to do.

Talent Pipeline

Recession hit companies aiming to stay “lean and agile,”  have cut many lower level, unskilled or training jobs with process automation.  The 18-24 year old demographic is hardest hit with a 23.2% unemployment rate in Europe. These entry-level roles serve as a crucial first job on a career.  To be successful in a career, employers are now expecting entry-level candidates to have acquired key skills before they  start and to be “job ready.”

This has resulted in an explosion of unpaid internships where employees are working for nothing in exchange for so called “training.” The implications for the talent pipeline are significant,  as whole cohorts of young workers lack the skills required by businesses.

BYOC  – DIY hardware

Many companies are also adopting a BYOC policy, as many employees prefer to use their own  devices and systems. One intern was even asked to supply his own desktop! If we participate in the collaborative economy we might even be renting out surplus resources ( e.g. our car)

New skills needed

As operational activities are reduced by automation,  we are seeing a skill set shift from hard skills to more strategic ones:  the ability to analyse data, project outcomes, and work and collaborate within teams to allocate tasks. There is also an increased demand for people skills, but many employers are reporting a decline in this area in the Gen Y selection process, as their use of devices (and our DIY economies?)  means that basic communications skills are not honed from what used to be normal daily exchanges.

Do you want to bring back people? Will personal contact continue to be a process of exception?


Indra Nooyi

Is there a place for parents in the workplace?

Indra Nooyi is one of the world’s most successful CEOs heading up PepsiCo and comes in at number 10 on the Forbes Power Women list. She has recently astounded me (and some others) by sharing her involvement with the parents of some of her employees, admitting to writing  to them about the success of their children. At the same time she has also indicated  that when she was trying to make an offer to a hard-to-attract candidate, she called the individual’s mother to persuade her to secure his/her buy-in. Apparently she succeeded. I’m not sure how I feel about the place of parents in the workplace.

Now, I am a parent, and I would be less than honest if I told you that I didn’t feel that special glow of pride when I get positive feedback on my kids even as adults. I do. It’s like going to a parent-teacher conference. Good reports are always welcome. Indra Nooyi is a very successful business woman and at a time when employee engagement in corporate life is reported to be at an all time low, I feel I should listen to her sage advice.

Yet there is something that holds me back

I can’t help but feel that the parent offspring relationship is not for the workplace, unless it is done at the behest of said offspring. No CEO, no matter how empathetic can ever understand a parent child relationship. It also begs a couple of other questions. At what age or level do you stop or start? What do you do with under performers or employees who don’t make the “writing -to- parents” cut? It’s a bit like not being asked to the class party. Should the whole class be invited? What about the employees who lost their parents or are estranged from them?

Surely the best way to let employee parents know how well their child is valued, is to tell the employee him or herself and allow them to share that news if they feel they want to.  Any employee would be more than delighted to tell their mother ” Hey Mum guess who wrote to me today to tell me how great I am?”

When does persuasion become subtle coercion?

As for calling the mother of a candidate as part of the  executive search attraction process, I am not sure if that is almost intrusive. When does persuasion become coercion?  Once again the subtleties and dynamics of any family relationship can never be fully known or understood by an outsider. Some, even quite senior executives, as any psychologist will tell you, carry deep-seated psychological wounds from negative childhood experiences and relationships, from which they have never fully recovered. I have known a number of successful, grounded  executives  be reduced to passive, gibbering wrecks in the presence of an authoritarian father or critical mother.

Just as the helicopter parent  should best stay at home, so  perhaps it’s best to let Junior, at whatever level decide for him or herself,if Mum and Dad are brought into the loop.

What do you think?

Company control of social media rises

Employee social media usage restricted by contract

If one summer poolside conversation is anything to go by, there seems to be growing evidence of companies trying to ring-fence their organisations against the social media activity of their employees. It’s no longer simply just the odd high-profile, headline cases or instances of individuals being disciplined for posting sensitive content about their bosses, jobs or inferior cafeteria food. Nor is it about the use of company time for social networking. This is a wider spread, behind the scenes movement to restrict or clarify  employee social media activity (depending on your view-point)  via changes to employment contracts and the issuing of new conditions of service.


Sophie, an associate in a London-based consulting firm told me that she had recently been asked not to tweet on issues in the organisation’s geographic reach. As an international market leader, the activities of this company span many countries, so this was a significant restriction on what she considered to be her freedom of speech. An Account Manager who has been using LinkedIn for identifying prospects for business development purposes, has received a request from his manager to disconnect from these members. He was informed that the only information on the prospect should be on the company data base. An employee has also been asked to uncheck the options contact for career opportunities and job inquiries on his LinkedIn profile and to post a restricted career history.

Do you need help creating a strong online professional presence?

Catch up

The corporate world has always lagged behind the wider culture with regard to social media usage and as I predicted some time ago,  some sort of ” catch-up”  attempt was therefore inevitable. Employees can realistically expect to have the following conditions imposed on them in the forseeable future:

  • Prohibition of the use of employer-related information in any kind of employee postings
  • Restrictions on usage of social media sites during office hours using company hardware and systems
  • Prohibition on the disclosure/use of any sensitive, proprietary, confidential or financial information about the business or its clients
  • Prohibition of employee endorsement, direct or implicitly of the  organisation’s business in any statement or posting
  • Prevention of engagement in conduct that would violate the employer’s other workplace policies, such as anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies
  • Information relating to any disciplinary policies up to and including termination of employment for infractions or violations of company policy

Employees should:

  • Never release the passwords of their social media accounts to third parties
  • Always use a private email address rather than a business one for all social media contact if in any doubt about  how their social media activities will be perceived by their organisations
  • Never block a connection on LinkedIn on the instructions of a superior. This action is irreversible and the connection may be needed later
  • Discuss openly with any manager who requests a restriction on contact possibilities on a LinkedIn profile. Career opportunities, job inquiries, new ventures and business deals can also afford opportunities for the organisation, not just the individual.  It is also a personal profile so individuals should be able to present their career history in any way that doesn’t damage the business interests of their employer.

The rub of course lies in this final point and where the overlap of personal and corporate interests become hazy. Overall, the social media revolution represents a fundamental shift in the way we communicate and the value of the opportunities  is significant to all. What should be in place are measures that protect organisations and employees alike.

Have you been formally asked to restrict your social media activities via new conditions of service and employment? Please share your experience.

Children: A corporate inconvenience?

In a recent post I suggested that parenting and childcare  seems to have been relegated to the level of  ‘corporate inconvenience’  in many of our current business models, which elicited some comment.

Negative fallout is being reported for both men and women who take or wish to assume responsibility for parenting and childcare. My thoughts were further compounded after reading that women of child-bearing age are considered to be employment risks  and still further, a recent proposal to investigate the extension of the provision of childcare  services in UK schools, by lengthening the school day until 8.00pm

12 hour day care
Now, it could be that outsourcing child care for what could be 12 hours a day for many, is a viable, sustainable solution in societies and economies that have declining populations, aging work forces and skill shortages. I await the research with eager anticipation. But for the future of global economies, it does strike me, that governments and businesses need to examine possibilities to create effective workforces, while allowing children to be raised in healthy environments, physically and emotionally.

Historically, for self-evident, biological reasons, this has been a role assigned to women. As such a high percentage of educated and qualified personnel are now women, it seems crazy to sit back and allow their skills to be under utilised, when they leave the workforce or choose to work below their capabilities so that they can raise their families.

But today in changing times, what happens when men and women alike want (or need) both professional and child-care responsibilities?

In 1977 only 50% of married men were part of dual-career households, which has increased today to 75%.   To achieve work life balance/integration, whatever you want to call it, women in the 21st century are  being constantly urged to re-negotiate the responsibility for household tasks within their own relationships. This is a key benchmark in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and partly accounts for why France  for example despite its progressive employment conditions for women, comes in at the lowly position of 48. They are doing most of the work at home.

But for balance at home to become a reality, men have to then negotiate their own roles with their employers.  An increasing number of men are now citing work/life balance as a major factor in career choice, an element which is strongly endorsed by Gen Y starting out on their careers.

Fatherhood  has been perceived by potential employers as a guarantee of corporate drive and career commitment. On a longer term basis,  a wish for workplace flexibility for family reasons is considered to be  the “mummy track” to career suicide. Men are  frequently advised not to pursue those options, even becoming “supernumerary” following such requests. Single parent fathers with custody obligations and sole responsibility for their children at specific times, are also on the increase,  adding to the  numbers for whom flexibility is a need, not a desire.

Skewed odds
So the odds of men achieving  parity in both the home and the workplace are equally skewed. This not just a case of stereotypical macho slothfulness and a desire to watch the World Cup with a beer, or their partners being unwilling to relinquish domestic supremacy, although they can both play a part.

Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed, , that a mother’s future earnings increases on average 7% for every month the father takes leave, with penalties and loss of benefits imposed for men who don’t take this leave. Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. There has apparently been a commensurate reduction in the divorce rate.

I can’t help but wonder if the very same “think tanks”, with their notable lack of women,  when yobs in hoodies go on the rampage and youth crime soars,  will be the very same ones wringing their hands in horror asking ” where are the parents?”

What do you think?

Extreme commuting! Why more of us are becoming Super Commuters

Limited local opportunities, expanded job markets and better value housing further from city centres are prompting more and more people to undertake longer commutes. Factoring in the career of a spouse or partner, slumps in housing markets making it difficult to sell or rent property,  as well as issues impacting kid’s educations, commuting rapidly becomes the most viable option in a range of other poorer choices. Extreme commuting is growing.

Typical commutes 
Whether by plane, car, train or any other form of transport commuting is consistently listed as one of the bug bears of modern life.  Recent research in Sweden from Erica Sandhow at Umeå University,  on the impact of commuting,  suggests that 45 minutes could be considered a long commute. However, in the US a typical commute would be 50 minutes  while the British commuter spends 200 hours a year getting to work. Although there are a number of benefits from an increased number of career opportunities,  there are also significant downsides, with Sandhow suggesting that couples engaged in commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to get divorced.

International commuting
Just the mildest of enquiries in my social circle produced the feeling that long distance commuting is more commonplace than these stats would suggest. In fact most believed that average commutes are taking increasingly longer as congestion is most towns is rising and 45 minutes elapsed time door to desk  was actually on the light side.

Yet many choose to commute not into their local city,  but internationally.

During a recent trip out of Malpensa airport I found myself in conversation with an Italian gentleman, Fabio, who was negotiating the security line with all the frequent flier finesse of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”. He works in international business development for an Italian conglomerate and was headed, not the 25 minutes typical Italian commute down the road, but 700 kms back home to Brussels.  Fabio was quick to let me know why he has decided to live apart from his family Monday to Friday.

Tough decisions
When I was offered a senior role back in Italy 3 years ago, it was a tough decision. On the one hand I had a great promotion but on the other I also had to factor in my wife’s career. She is British and an E.U. lobbyist, so needs to be Brussels based, as well as my children’s education. They are 16, 14 and 10 – so not great for the older ones to move. We speak English at home and the kids go to Belgian schools so they only have conversational Italian. So as I travelled 80% of my week  at that time anyway – the logical solution was to find a pied à terre Monday to Thursday in Milan and commute between Belgium and Italy“.

I have been in that situation myself twice when my ex-husband commuted internationally, in the days before cheap flights and speedy boarding. It’s not easy. Fabio continued ” When I’m not on the road I can work from home but obviously I need to be in Milan a couple of days a week at least. Technology helps and I’m lucky that my General Manager is a results orientated rather than presence orientated manager, but when you run a team being visible and available is important.”

So what are the downsides as if I didn’t know already. “When flights are delayed or cancelled – that’s a hassle. My wife struggles sometimes dealing with my 16 year old son on her own and feels isolated. It means if she needs to travel for her own work we have complex childcare arrangements as we don’t have family in Belgium. Hikes in fares means that it’s high cost too. But overall it’s the best decision for our family

 Women super commuters
Erica Sandhow’s findings show that extended commutes primarily benefit the careers of men and also contribute to polarised gender stereotyping with women assuming a  greater share of domestic responsibilities in the absence of the men, while their partners become the defacto more significant salary earner. I can certainly testify to that.

If a high number of super commuters are men, what about women?

 I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for. 

I spoke to Hannah who commutes between Paris and Amsterdam, leaving 2 children on Sunday evening or Monday morning,  with her husband Markus until Friday night.  “Yes it’s stressful but you get used to it. I find that I have to separate my work and personal life, but as the main salary earner in the family, I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I am 16 years younger than my husband and will have to work for another 18 years at least.  I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for.  My husband wishes I had more time, especially if I ever have to work at the weekend” 

At the same time, it is reported that those fewer women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher salaries – so there are some benefits.

But are they worth it?

So how long would you commute to work?

Helicopter parents crash into the workplace

Helicopter parents

I have  been somewhat bemused by the spate of articles over the last weeks advising managers and recruiters how to treat helicopter parents in the workplace.  I do have to confess however, to quashing a particularly strong maternal urge last year to hop on the Eurostar to give my son’s boss a piece of my mind. At best he was a truly lousy manager, at worst a bully. You will be pleased to hear common sense prevailed.

Interfering or intervening?
Yesterday, I was quite taken aback by a call from a well spoken woman who introduced herself as Nina. After some solicitous enquiries about disturbing me (she wasn’t), my health (I was fine) expanding, she announced she was the mother of Christian,  a candidate I seemingly had the temerity to cut from an interview process at the end of last week. Apparently, according to Mme. Nina, I had overlooked many of petit Christian’s superlative qualities. She  politely wondered if I had the depth of insight, or indeed the very qualifications required to make such a judgement call. I was kindly therefore prevailed upon, in the nicest possible way, to reinstate him “tout de suite” .

Time wasting
It took me a good 30 seconds to  process the implications of this dialogue. I should tell you that Christian is 26 years old, probably stands at 1m 85 in his socks and had grossly exaggerated his accomplishments, to the point where fact and fiction are completely blurred  in his petit head. He and the CV writer, possibly Mama Nina,  had wasted a number of people’s time, including mine.

I have also observed a recent trend of moving away from being exasperated with this reluctance to cut the umbilical cord,  to one of understanding and even in some cases to accommodating  this new parenting style.  Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters said as far back as 2008 HR teams should turn this trend to their advantage by striking up a relationship with the families of new recruits and accepting that winning the backing of parents can considerably smooth the path,” 

He continued “While I wouldn’t expect to see quite so much involvement by parents once the young person gets to his second or third job, it’s best not to be too rigid about these things. It is quite acceptable for people in their mid-20s to still want loads of backing from home.”

There are valid cases for parental intervention at this age but I am firmly in the exasperated camp

Men and women
There are indeed very valid cases where young adults need more parental support than would be expected at their age: learning difficulties, health issues or disabilities come to mind. But for fully functioning, above average IQ men and women (because this is what they are) I realise that I am clearly out of step with the zeitgeist. I still remain firmly in the “exasperated” camp  and see this accommodation of a co-dependent trend, not just as a worrying infantilisation of the work place, but also damaging to the candidates themselves.  So I urge:

Parents please:

  • Don’t write your child’s CV for him/her. They will not own their own message and fall at the first hurdle
  • Don’t send your child’s resume to prospective employers on his or her behalf. They should do that themselves.
  • Don’t call employees advocating for your offspring whether for the position itself or compensation package.  It will generally lead straight to the reject heap. You are depriving them of learning valuable skills.
  • Don’t accompany junior to an interview, job fair or any other meeting in the process. This will in many cases be the kiss of death for him/her.

In the words of Pink Floyd  “leave them kids alone

GenY please:

  • Do take responsibility for your own career strategy. Be clear about your boundaries with Mum and Dad.
  • If you need mentoring or help and your parents are too invasive, look for a neutral professional. If you struggle financially,  maybe your parents can step in – but as a loan. Make a formal loan  agreement and make sure you pay it back.
  • Do not be afraid to fail or change your mind. Make your own decisions and accept  (and pay for) the consequences.
  • If you feel afraid to make a decision without the deep involvement of Mum and Dad – perhaps there is a need talk to someone outside your family. Can friends or even a professional support you?

The parents of most Millennials are generally out of touch with the job search skills required in today’s market place and in many cases are mis-advising their kids in a number of areas. Intervening (interfering?) is not doing their children any service, but depriving them of vital life lessons which contribute to their maturity and workplace value.  They are: independence,  sense of achievement,  self-reliance, the ability to work autonomously,  the ability to self advocate, the ability to plan for themselves and to think strategically,  a willingness to learn from failure and the capacity to successfully move on.

Like babies who  need to crawl before they can walk, these early career knocks are key developmental experiences. Culturally we are in danger of creating a generation which will struggle to be self-reliant.

What do you think?

The downside of presenteeism

Presenteeism has crept into modern-day business vocabulary and is now listed as a new word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as “presenteeism (noun): working when sick especially to avoid the stigma of being absent. ”  Research about the negative impact of this trend is significant,  with an estimated impact on workplace effectiveness and productivity amounting to billions.

Missed point
The focus has hitherto been on the health aspect of the definition,  which is of course completely understandable.

But perhaps a little brazenly I think we’re missing the main point.

For me, the key part of the definition is “to avoid the stigma of being absent“. This extends the insidious and more extensive reach of presenteeism beyond macho, masters of the universe,   boiler room cultures,  into business practises, which many of us encounter every day, as organisations become  “lean, mean and keen”.

  • Not taking vacations  – despite all the occupational health information about the value of annual holidays, even in countries with statutory entitlement provisions – many still don’t take their full quotas.
  • Staying late when there is no work to be done  – I have much first hand anecdotal evidence to suggest that this practise is rife and that employees who work only their contracted hours are viewed negatively, even if there is no specific deadline to meet.
  • Working to unnecessarily tight deadlines set by disorganised management or power playing superiors.
  • Working late and at weekends to avoid seeming uncommitted.  Technology has created a culture of 24/7 availability and those who don’t respond to messages on their iPhones within nano seconds are perceived to be “slackers”.  I have one contact who stores his emails and sends them out at what would be post business hours in various global time zones,  to give an impression of super  diligence.
  • Skipping lunch  –   the “lunch is for wimps” mentality is prevalent in many organisations, with one connection fainting with hypoglycemia after working for 9 hours without eating.  Many eat unhealthy snacks at their desk which drains energy and reduces output.

“Lean, mean and keen business practises contribute to a false notion of efficiency

The fallout from this culture reaches and impacts entire workforces and in particular those who can’t subscribe to this charade and for any number of reasons have to work their contracted hours.  Working mothers are one category to feel the judgement heat.  Anyone who knows any working mum  (or who has been one)  understands all too well,  that even if they work part-time,  this phrase generally refers to compensation,  rather than the hours worked, while the workload managed almost certainly hovers around 100%.

Victoria Pynchon  highlights this in her Forbes  piece where she boldly talks about the amount of  “face-time” wasted in her career,  suggesting that having a family  might have forced her  “  … to work in a more focused manner, to organize myself and my working teams better”  But truthfully having  children isn’t a prerequisite for being focused, although it is certainly necessary .

But on a general workplace level isn’t it time to over turn this outdated culture , which  all research suggests leads to a  dramatic decrease in individual and therefore organisational productivity.  Or as Brendan S  maintains  that  as offices are inherently inefficient places   we should be measuring productivity by the results obtained and not the hours spent at a desk.

The irony is that “presenteeism ” does eventually lead to “absenteeism”,  with stress from heavy workloads and job insecurity fears,  being the highest causes of  sickness absence.

Or will we reach a situation such as we see with the Apple manufacturers in China where shamefully,  a new spin on workplace Health and Safety  is to install safety nets  around their buildings to reduce the suicide rate.

What do you think?  

Unfair dismissal: 7 ways to create a workplace safety net

7 ways to create a workplace safety net 

We are all walking the corporate tight rope. There have never many guarantees in life as a corporate employee. But now, despite employment protection legislation, there seem to be even fewer. We live in turbulent and changing times and no one is immune.  Unfair dismissal is commonplace.  So it’s not just necessary to be strategic about career advancement, but to always have a safety net in place in case of an unexpected fall. Even minor changes which at one time might have produced a little stumble, might send you crashing to your knees. These could be anything from a promotion disappointment, a take over, a new boss coming in,  or even an economic blip that might  unexpectedly impact results and performance.  No one is indispensable. And sometimes our faces, from one day to another, simply don’t fit. It’s not only high-profile CEOs who get fired over the phone.


In the last few weeks I have had  two clients, who have been basically, summarily dismissed and they believed had cases of unfair dismissal. For some reason, out of the blue, their contributions were deemed to be below par. Within an hour they have been placed on notice, told to clear their desks and instructed not to return to their place of employment. Access to their company email accounts and records had been immediately blocked.  Had they committed some grave offence or were guilty of gross misconduct: hit the boss, lost a few  billion, or sworn in front of a client? No they hadn’t. There seemed to be no obvious reason to either of them, nor was there any traceable record of any “sackable” offence, or even communicated under-performance. They both had contracts of employment. For some reason they were both surplus to requirements at one given moment in time and were  “let go”, to use that hateful euphemism. Neither were senior enough to negotiate a golden parachute.

Regretfully, they have both found themselves in a void: hurt, angry, confused and wondering what their next steps could be.


The take away lessons to both these clients were signficant and there were some commonalities. They realised with that great gift of 20/20 hindsight that when the going was good, they had taken it for granted and had not taken even basic precautions.  Under- performance had been cited in both cases as reason for termination  and in reviewing their next steps,  the only way both individuals could support their own version of events was verbally and anecdotally.  If considering legal action, this can be problematic.  With future employers it might also be useful to have support documentation to hand.

Do you have your safety net in place? Check out the career transition programmes if you are in difficulty.

 7 Precautions

  • Always store personal professional information outside the office. Both used their office computers for personal use and had not stored key information privately, or as hard copy.  They had no access to vital correspondence on other hard drives,  once access had been denied.
  •  Always ask for annual goals and targets against which your performance will be assessed in writing. Keep a record of that document or correspondence.  Neither had done this.
  •  Save copies ( in either a personal email account or as hard copy)  of the good stuff! Any positive  feedback or success stories. Once outside the swinging doors, neither had any record of their achievements or access to them, even previous performance assessment documentation where they had received strong ratings.
  • Keep copies of requests for support or feedback and document any tricky problems as well, especially the methods you used to overcome them. Neither had hard or soft copies of ignored  requests for support and advice,  or  any conflicting instructions they had received.
  •  Ask for recommendations from peers and superiors within your company to support your success stories. These can be posted on an online professional profile for the whole world to see.
  • Look for a mentor or sponsor within the organisation you can turn to for advice. Both felt isolated.
  • Carry on building an external network.  You never know when you will be unexpectedly on the job market.

This may all seem very cynical, but change doesn’t have to be cataclysmic to produce a massive personal downside in today’s cyclical job market.  Organisations will be equally vigilant in maintaining their records.  Unless you have negotiated a golden parachute as part of your contract of employment, having a net under the corporate tight rope is simply a basic and very necessary safety measure.

You’ve heard of driving defensively –  well  regrettably, although far from ideal,  we now we have to work defensively too.

What other precautions would you suggest?