How is the current ‘Return to the office’ transition impacting on employee well-being?

The pandemic and post-pandemic era has shifted the way we work and our attitudes to work. Whilst these changes will not be fully understood without the benefit of time, it is important to reflect in real time on the most recent transition: that of returning to the office.

The last 2 years has been a series of non-stop transitions, and the ‘return to the office’ is perhaps the latest one being experienced as individuals and organisations try to find a way to navigate a new ‘modus operandi’.

This ‘Return’ has been a gradual work-in-progress for many in the past 12 months, with several false starts as Covid continued to disrupt. It seems however that for most organisations employees have returned to the office in some shape or form in the first half of 2022.

So what does this mean for our health and well-being?

Several studies in 2021 tested employer and employee attitudes to how people would wish to work post-pandemic. Unsurprisingly it was a mixed picture with differing views emerging amongst employee groups as well the ‘organisation’ and employees.

On the one hand, the picture was encouraging.  Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD, heralded the post pandemic world as a successful new era with “more employers now looking at how to embed hybrid and other flexible working arrangements into their organisation in the long term.”

On the other hand, sensational headlines suggested some of the major tech firms such as Apple, Google & Microsoft as well as some Investment banks were mandating returns on a ‘full time’ basis. Alarmingly, there were also reports of organisations penalising those who continue to choose to work at home by reducing pay.

What were the key themes of the studies?

I have collated a few key themes that I believe are likely to be significant issues when we consider how this topic might be impacting on well-being at work:

A gap between the views regarding office-based working of those in leadership roles and employees

  • 96% of employees want flexibility when they work and 76%  where they work. Only 17% of employees want to return to the office every day compared to 44% of executives (Survey by Slack, 2021)
  • 25% of employers planned to ask employees to return 3 days a week, and only 14% said they would offer complete flexibility (Ellis Whittam).

Assumptions that employees working in the office full time pre-pandemic, will resume that mode of working

  • Of 448 employers, 33% said that they expected staff who previously worked full time in the workplace prior to the pandemic to return every day post-pandemic (source: Ellis Whittam 2021).
  • A YouGov poll found that one in five (19 per cent) businesses would not allow any remote working after restrictions were lifted (down from 35 per cent before the pandemic).

A lack of consultation with employees over the ‘return’ and a feeling of a loss of control by employees

  • Of those planning to introduce hybrid working, only two thirds of employers had consulted their workforce in relation to the patterns that they would like to work. (Ellis Whittam)
  • 66% of executives say that they were designing return to work policies with full transparency to their employees, compared to only 42% of employees noting this transparency (Slack).

A ‘return’ that is much too soon

  • A YouGov survey of 1,061 business leaders found 24 per cent would allow all their workers to work from home at least one day a week once the last of the coronavirus restrictions had been lifted, expecting them to be back in the office 4 days a week.
  • A survey by McKinsey highlighted employee concerns about childcare issues, busy commutes and health issues.
  • Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, encouraged managers to act with caution when returning to the office, warning against a “pendulum swing” between full home working and a permanent return to office working.

So how is this playing out in terms of well-being at work?

Of course, there will be employees who have welcomed the return to the office with open arms. For those who struggled with well-being and loneliness issues due to working at home in the first place this has been a huge and welcome relief. And we know that there were many, when allowed, who have been going into the office by preference for well over 12 months.   McKinsey found 37% of employees reported positive impacts on mental health on their return.

However it is those who haven’t chosen to return or been able to return ‘on their terms’ that is much more of a concern. According to McKinsey, one out of every three employees surveyed said their return to the workplace had a negative impact on their mental health, citing feelings of anxiety, depression, or general distress.

This is worrying at a time when we are already acutely aware of the mental health crisis currently being faced. The same study indicated that 40% of younger workers would leave rather than be forced to work full time in the office.

Organisations should rightly be worried about these issues in terms of caring for their workforces and not to mention the knock-on impact on productivity, retention and engagement. Research from Slack also highlighted that minority groups such as women and ethnic minorities were also likely to be adversely impacted by the return to the office.

So how can employers continue to navigate this in the best possible way for the well-being of employees?

These past few months have been a perfect way to test the model. Many of our clients, anecdotally, do seem to be offering a level of choice in at least which days employees can be in the office. Many are adopting the hybrid model – where teams can design their own days in the office versus at home. And what is working now, does need to be constantly reviewed.

Policies that have been designed and implemented should now be reviewed in full transparency and in collaboration with employees.

As Simon Blake, CEO of Mental Health England continued; “let’s not enforce rigid boundaries and instead of thinking forever, take a whole-organisation, fluid approach to workplace wellbeing.”

Let’s not assume it’s all working just fine but instead create an ongoing dialogue between managers and teams about what can work. We need to stay fluid and nimble. If this is done well, genuine flexibility is a key part of an organisation’s mental health and well-being strategy.

Rather than making decisions based on assumptions or the view of the minority, this is a true chance to create employment environments that take full account of the diverse nature of teams and workforces and empower them to design their own work and well-being strategies. This will have far-reaching benefits in terms of positive career management for all.

Kate Mansfield, Programme Director, CCS

Resources list

https://charliewaller.org/mental-health-resources/coronavirus-mental-health/return-to-work-anxiety

https://allwork.space/2022/03/returning-to-the-office-will-largely-have-a-negative-impact-on-mental-health/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2022/03/15/get-ready-for-the-return-to-office-showdown/?sh=2670f41d195d

https://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-study-finds-50-percent-of-leaders-have-plans-for-a-full-return-to-the-office/

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/08/return-to-office-mandates-will-soon-be-very-outdated-atlassians-head-of-distributed-work.html

https://fortune.com/2022/01/21/amazon-ceo-andy-jassy-omicron-return-to-office-remote-work/

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/business-transformation/library/workforce-pulse-survey.html

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210618-the-workers-pushing-back-on-the-return-to-the-office

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/returning-to-work-keys-to-a-psychologically-safer-workplace

https://www.ajproducts.co.uk/blog/improving-the-work-environment/the-psychological-impact-of-returning-to-work-a-guide-for-employers

https://hbr.org/2021/11/dont-let-returning-to-the-office-burn-out-your-team

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1745142/one-in-four-firms-continue-allow-working-from-home-poll-finds

The Great Resignation: what employers can do

Who created the term “The great resignation”? It was Anthony Klotz, a psychologist and professor of business administration at Texas A&M University who coined this now somewhat hackneyed phrase when he said the great resignation is coming in an interview with Business week (May 2021).

Like any catchy phrase it caught the imagination of many a headline- seeking journalist, so that what started out as an indication of what might be happening led to a broad generalisation that it was in fact happening.

The situation is far more complex then the implied description of droves of people seeking a new life outside conventional employment channels as a result of the pandemic. Yet there are factors, pre- and post-pandemic, that are driving people to consider the possibility of making changes (not necessarily resigning from their jobs). Alistair Cox CEO of Hays* says there are several reasons for this apparent desire for movement. I have extrapolated from some of his points:

Burn out

Burn out and exhaustion have affected many people: home schooling, the shrinking of human contact outside the home and the sheer volume of online activity have left some people craving alternatives. And people have had enough of constant and relentless Teams calls.

Remote working

The taste of remote working has been great for those with a strong autonomy driver and/or the need to balance family considerations with work demands. An employer who requires the return of workers to the office may just tip the balance for some people.

Effects of Covid

The pandemic has affected many of us in profound ways. We have lost friends and family, been unable to visit sick loved ones, and know at least 1-2 people with long Covid. We have suffered a collective and individual shock, and we realise that life is too short. As we know, how are you a shock can lead to reflection on what really matters in life.

Career management confidence

Over many years employers have moved from a top-down career management model to one that fosters self managed career development. So perhaps this has worked and consequently workers are taking the initiative in their own interest, not necessarily in that of their employer. Whilst lockdown contributed to people wanting stability, there is a new energy and confidence for career development post-Covid.

Job seekers have access to better statistics about comparative salaries and their technical skills enable them to obtain that information quickly.

Pre-pandemic system failures

In some jobs, there were already signs of crisis pre-pandemic. Covid extended these systemic weaknesses, leading to a serious retention crisis among, for example, doctors, nurses and care workers. The situation is now so bad that the government has for some years operated a GP retention scheme to stop the rot and is importing thousands of nurses from abroad to make up the shortfall.

Health and wellbeing

There is an increased willingness of employees to demand, as a priority, consideration of their health and well-being. This is possibly a response to many employers highlighting the importance of health and well-being during the pandemic.

Rewards

Rewards come in many forms, including the sense of being properly rewarded financially for the work, and receiving recognition for good work from managers. Many of the jobs that people leave are poorly rewarded, such as those in the care and hospitality industries.

We know there is no general truth in the term ‘The Great Resignation’, but it does perhaps indicate a seismic shift in attitudes to employment, employers and career development, which began long before the pandemic. Covid has perhaps accelerated the pace and skewed the nature of this shift.

We know that retirement was increasing prior to the pandemic, especially among more highly educated older workers. But even that statement hides a more complex picture, as many people from their mid-40s are re-evaluating their life and work choices as they contemplate the possibility of working well into their 70s. (see ‘The Hundred Year Life’ by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott).

The pandemic has hastened a wake up call for employers – to take more seriously the desire of their employees to be treated as ‘whole’ people, with lives outside of work that need to be respected. One example of an employer which is doing just that is a fast growing tech start up that allows its employees to work whenever and wherever they wish, as long as they get their work done.

Even if the Great Resignation is not strictly true, the evidence suggests that many people are considering the possibility of making changes. To retain good employees, employers need to act on that, by recognising them as fellow human beings. That means getting to know them, understanding their needs, helping them define their ambitions and aspirations while respecting their whole life considerations.

*https://www.hays.co.uk/blog/insights/the-great-resignation-why-are-so-many-thinking-about-quitting

4 Tips for Creating a Network of Organisation Wide Career Mentors

career mentors

Career conversations are what they say on the tin – a conversation about a career. Done well, and positioned effectively, they can contribute significantly to employee engagement and sense of well-being, especially important in this post Covid era, when many people have been re-evaluating their relationship with work.  More specifically, we have seen benefits including:

  • increased mobility across the organisation
  • individuals better equipped to navigate career moves laterally and developmentally
  • encouragement of minority groups to go for positions they might otherwise avoid
  • annual or biennial employee engagement survey scores improved significantly.

Whilst HR and L&D are well placed to support career conversations, there are several potential drawbacks to positioning career conversations solely within HR or L & D. They include:

  1. The Human Resources department may not be seen as independent, as they are often linked with performance improvement and talent management
  2. There may be a conflict of interests where  confidential information is revealed (e.g. when a HR professional needs to report on an individual’s potential for development)
  3. Since trust is key for an open and honest career conversation, the degree to which this can be achieved will depend not only on the trust level one on one, but the way HR is seen as a whole in the organisation
  4. The way career conversations are positioned in your organisation will also affect their effectiveness. Are they seen as a ‘last resort’, or an intervention when things have gone wrong?  Perhaps they are set up as a way of helping someone to exit from the organisation?  Whilst these may well be helpful at the time, the reputation or “Brand” of career conversations may thus be pigeonholed.

Career Mentors: An alternative option…

An alternative is to develop an organisation-wide group of individuals (some organisations like to call them Career Mentors) recruited because of their representative breadth across the organisation, as well as their potential for developing excellent career conversation skills.

group career mentors

This approach has many advantages:

  • Employees can choose their Career Mentor, thus enabling engagement and a sense of trust from early on
  • People like to help their colleagues (thus also contributing to engagement)
  • Career mentors are exposed to a wider range of roles and development avenues in the organisation, thus not only helping others but being better informed themselves
  • It can help with organisation-wide networking, as Career Mentors  meet people outside of their normal working function
  • And ofcourse it can relieve some pressure on HR.

Over the past twenty years, we at CCS have been privileged to develop the skills of line managers and others across many organisations, public and private sector, UK based and global.  Oxfordshire County Council recruited and trained over 30 volunteers across the organisation who supported both one to one conversations and career workshops. We have also developed internal career conversations skills among managers and volunteer Mentors in the BBC, NHS, Schroders, Saint Gobain, CERN and the international charity JDC.

mentoring tips

These few tips may help to make the difference between a sustainable and successful programme and one which dies a death after a year or so:

1. Ensure it is seen as independent and its Terms of Reference are clearly defined (eg how career conversations differ from any other coaching or mentoring in the organisation)

Confidentiality is critical to  trust in the value added two individuals. Generic themes can be fed back into the organisation but anonymity must be scrupulously maintained.

2. Involve as Career Mentors people at all levels and from different parts of the organisation

Giving a wide choice of mentors is likely to increase use of the service, as well as providing useful information about its relative popularity in those parts.

3. Be clear about what will be key measures of value of the service.

Agree with senior management the value criteria of the Career Mentoring  and link the service clearly to the organisation’s Business and People strategy. Draw from these clear goals to evaluate performance.  Plan to evaluate the results right from the start, and link the success criteria to the valued outcomes ( eg: retention of talent, more lateral moves, engagement survey responses).

4. Quality Control: ensure the Career Mentors are properly trained and sign up to a Code of Ethics ( eg confidentiality) and have a regular opportunity to discuss any challenges arising in career conversations

Inevitablychallenges will arise, especially for novice Mentors. Regular ‘Case discussions’ and internal briefings of relevant developments and useful resources will help to maintain and build excellence.

Reference

Building an internal coaching program: a five step blueprint for success, Forbes Coaching he’s Council 30 August 2017

Top Tips to Start Our Career Planning in 2022

top tips career planning

I’ve had several productive career conversations lately with clients and those within my network and many are in a reflective mood, myself included, especially as we are about to conclude another year. The common theme is that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by what needs to be achieved next year, regarding our career goals. The continuing uncertainty of the pandemic does not of course help when our energies are already depleted.

So where can we start?

We hear about the need to “future proof” our careers (John Fitzgerald, ‘Future Proof your Career: From the Inside Out, 2018). We also understand the importance of building a Personal Brand by finding ways to reinvent ourselves and remain relevant.

build your personal brandThat’s the theory.

However, when it comes to taking the next steps in our career, the multitude of options can result in a complete overwhelm. Before you know it, procrastination sets in, and we somehow find ourselves practicing the art of “doing nothing.” Or simply focusing on getting through each day’s work based tasks.

Doing nothing in terms of our career planning in the long term is problematic though. Small planned action steps are crucial if we want to ensure we truly are ‘future-proofing’ our careers.

To help break free of this feeling of stagnation and to try to boost your energy for 2022, we’ve outlined some top tips, to make the career planning process a little easier.

Career Planning Tips

career planning tips

  1. The holidays are a good chance to reflect. Once you’ve reflected on the past 12 months, outline what’s important to you in your career.
  2. If you’ve encountered setbacks and challenges, what did you learn from the experience? What helped you move on? What lessons can you apply, moving forward? This definitely relates to a core idea of Career Resilience – our ability to bounce back and learn from setbacks!
  3. Note down some broad career aims and goals – then write down just a few small action steps.
  4. Identify who your “supporters” are. These are people inside and outside of work, who will hold you accountable and/or champion you to remain focused on completing your career goals. Think about how often you can arrange to meet these key people and make sure you get time booked in with them.
  5. Identify your key skills and strengths. What is your key point of difference and how can you articulate and demonstrate this within your work, your business, your network or with a future employer?
  6. Make a commitment to build on your professional and personal development. What new skill can you learn? How many “coffee chats” will you hold (virtual or face to face), to expand your knowledge? How can you keep up to date with the changes in your organisation and industry sector?
  7. Create a vision board, (manual or digital), depicting your future career successes. This will help to inspire and motivate you, as you work towards your goals.
  8. Be flexible. Review your progress regularly and be willing to adapt and change your plan as required.
  9. Lastly, don’t forget to treat yourself to a small reward for every successful milestone! This will really keep up your motivation and energy.

To find out more about the CCS Resilience training, see https://www.career-counselling-services.co.uk/developing-career-resilience/

When will HR put on its own oxygen mask first?

When will HR put on its own oxygen mask first?

There is no doubt that the onset of Covid 19 has placed a disproportionate amount of strain and responsibility on Human Resource professionals who have been placed into unchartered territories with no choice but to respond to the ongoing challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Last month Rob Nathan and I ran a seminar aimed at creating some space for several HR, L & D and Talent professionals to reflect on their own well-being and to consider some ways in which they could better harness their strengths and energy to help them navigate the current challenges.

We called it ‘Care for the Caretaker’.

It had an overwhelming amount of interest.

So why was there so much interest?

HR professionals sit in the uniquely challenging place of having to represent their organisation’s best interests and those of the employee. The sheer pace of the crisis in 2020 left little time for much reflection or self-care.

Research suggests 93% of HR decision makers reported feeling more pressure than ever before (LHH 2020) and only 34% of HR professionals felt able to ‘switch off’ (CultureAmp’s HR for HR survey June 2020).

The CIPD suggested 63% of HR professionals said employee health and well-being was one of their top three priorities during the pandemic. Indeed one only has go google ‘what should HR be doing about mental health’ to see the focus on this debate.

Many have risen to this challenge but we wondered at what cost to them?

We couldn’t help but ask to what extent, ‘Was HR putting its own oxygen mask on first?’.

Our audience of HR professionals seemed to agree with this and shared some of the key challenges which had affected them in the last 12 months.

Key challenges for our HR audience

  • Feelings of loss of control & stress of worrying for others
  • High expectation on HR to be leading from the front
  • Increased workloads and sense of always being ‘on’. Many employees working unusual hours and patterns which means HR email is constant. Also affected by different time zones.
  • Enabling others to learn technology and new ways of working and as learning professionals themselves, an increased sense of expectation to help others to lead the way
  • Loss of boundaries with permanent home working

Our audience wanted to quickly move to solutions and as Career Coaches we were keen to impart the value of reflection before moving to consider action steps!!

We shared some thoughts about the links between strengths and energy and how this links to more meaningful self-care. We wanted to offer the opportunity to reflect a little more deeply than surface level care tips. This created the chance for HR guests to think about what motivated them more deeply and to consider the links between self knowledge and career goals. In turn this prompted discussion on boundaries and self-management.

We shared our model of self-management:-

effective self managementIn conclusion our HR professionals felt that there were a number of important take-aways from our session that could enhance their current and ongoing workplace experiences.

Here are some of the key thoughts which might be useful to readers:

Ideas about ways to improve self-care for HR:

  • Setting and following our own boundaries.
  • Peer learning and peer support and setting up HR colleague networks.
  • Focusing on strengths and drivers – concentrating on what raises energy and doesn’t drain you.
  • Understanding the distinction between learned behaviours and strengths. Be clear on where your energy comes from – distinguish between what you are ‘good’ at and where you thrive.
  • Communicating what our energy and boundaries are to others. Voicing out loud what we want to commit to.
  • Arranging meetings that last 45minutes or 1hr15 meetings instead of 60 or 90 minute meetings with no downtime. 
  • Seting an example of how as HR professionals we look after ourselves – lead in this way when it comes to well-being, mental health and self-care.
  • Thinking about self-care as values-led – who you are and what matters to you. This becomes an attitude shift rather than surface level changes that are much more likely to be sustainable and systemic.

The mood was optimistic – it was clear that our group were incredibly purpose led and that the space to reflect on how they could continue to add such huge value to their organisations in a way that was both energising and sustaining for them was hugely powerful to see!

We finished with a quote from David D’Souza pre-pandemic, which resonated more than ever:

“The bravest most game-changing action that HR can take for the rest of the business when it comes to mental health is not role modelling perfection but imperfection; showing the workforce they are vulnerable…”

Immediately after the seminar, we were delighted to be invited to run a similar programme in-house for one international organisation.

If you would like to discuss anything in this article, please contact Kate Mansfield kate@career-counselling-services.co.uk.

Turning CV Weaknesses into Strengths

manage your career

turning cv weaknesses into strengths

With the UK economy struggling to cope with the impact of COVID-19, unemployment is rising. More applicants are applying for fewer jobs, and the situation may worsen in the coming months.

Faced with growing piles of CVs, recruiters will be looking for quick ways to thin the herd. Unexplained gaps in your employment history give recruiters an easy excuse to reject your application.

This article will help you turn gap-related weaknesses in your CV into strengths.

Does your CV have a problem with gaps?

A gap of a few weeks won’t be an issue for most recruiters. Longer gaps also won’t be much of a problem if they occurred five or ten years ago.

However, an unexplained gap that’s longer than a couple of months, and within the last few years, could affect your chances of getting an interview.

If you make the cut but don’t address a recent gap at the interview stage, a prospective employer may have still unspoken reservations that could still harm your prospects.

Your rights vs reality

A prospective employer should not discriminate against you just because you have gaps in your CV.

Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance.co.uk said, “UK law protects workers and job applicants from discrimination in relation to a wide range of factors, called protected characteristics, including illness and disability. Time off work due to injury, illness or psychological issues like stress, should not affect how a future employer considers your application.”

An unexplained gap in your CV could relate to a health issue. In theory, at least, employers should avoid rejecting your application on the basis of an unexplained gap as this might amount to unintentional discrimination.

In reality, an unexplained gap creates uncertainty in the mind of a recruiter. Even the most conscientious employer will be wary of unanswered questions. When choosing between two equally-qualified candidates, a recruiter will usually favour the applicant with a more coherent, more complete CV.

How do you fill a CV gap?

If you had six months off work ten years ago, you probably don’t need to mention it. That said, you are taking a risk by leaving more recent gaps on your CV without offering at least some explanation.

Even if you think the reason for a gap isn’t particularly relevant or impressive, like you had to take six months off work because you had a serious road accident, you should usually still include that information on your CV.

There are several ways to tackle CV gaps, some more effective than others. These include:

  • Hiding a gap by fudging dates (not recommended)
  • Leaving a gap (depends on the circumstances)
  • Giving details and “selling” the benefits of your time off (usually the best option)

Should you fudge dates to hide a gap?

How you order and present the information on your CV can hide a multitude of sins. Instead of listing job tenures by months and years, you could hide almost a two-year gap by just listing your job history in years.

Recruiters are wise to most tricks, however. If you manipulate dates to hide a longer gap, you could be setting yourself up for failure. If you only reveal a gap when asked for more detail in an interview, the recruiter may think you were trying to hide something (which you were).

Hiding a CV gap can look dishonest, and saying nothing means you are unable to put a positive spin on the gap when a recruiter does spot it. Manipulating dates to hide a recent gap is not recommended.

Private reasons for a gap

If the reason for the gap is something you don’t want to discuss publicly, like a traumatic injury, you have every right to keep this private. In this case, it would be helpful to a recruiter to state something generic on your CV, rather than simply leaving a gap.

You could write something like “In 2018, I had to take several months off work due to health issues. These are now fully resolved.”

A good recruiter will know not to press further. If you are offered an interview and are concerned the issue might be raised, you could contact the company’s HR rep or the recruiter before the interview and explain that you don’t want to discuss it for personal reasons.

Far from negatively affecting your prospects, this approach will show that you are a proactive problem-solver.

Turn CV weaknesses into strengths

Putting a positive spin on a gap in your CV will usually involve a change in mindset. Don’t approach your CV as just a list of qualifications and jobs. Instead, try writing your CV to emphasise the skills and experience you have gathered. A gap doesn’t have to mean wasted time.

During your recovery from a serious injury, you could have spent time coding HTML, or learning to speak Spanish. You could have taken an online course, set up a website or blog, or done charity work or mentoring.

Even if you don’t think you have much to show for a long absence, you can still emphasise your emotional or psychological growth. Anyone who has suffered a serious injury or illness knows that recovery is a long process. You could focus on how you have developed stronger willpower or become more resilient as a result of your experience.

Be more memorable

Whatever the cause, most CV gaps can be spun. By clearly explaining what happened, you can avoid the risk (and anxiety) that a problem is discovered later. If you did hide something, and it came to light later, your employer may revoke a job offer on the basis of perceived dishonesty.

Taking an open and honest approach here will show your whole CV in a more positive, trustworthy light. Your more rounded application will be also more memorable, giving you a better chance for reaching the interview stage and improving your prospects of landing the job.

Our Career Coaching programmes can help you identify a coherent and convincing career narrative’. For further info contact CCS today

Four ways to manage your career after Lockdown

manage your career

manage your career

COVID has thrown us off balance. We have had to adapt fast, as many of us have been forced into survival mode. Health, finances, infrastructure have all been at best under threat and, at worst, decimated.

We may have been furloughed and are wondering about whether we will be taken back full or part-time. Our future plans ( eg change jobs, retirement, exotic holiday) may well have been trashed. We feel knocked back -in shock, scared, anxious and immobilised. We even start worrying about small things we can do nothing about.

Crisis can be a good time for re-evaluation. Possibly, the way you viewed your job or career before Lockdown has been confirmed. If you were questioning your commitment to your work, now you think may be a good time to change. But this is hard to do when you and much of our economy are in crisis.

As Steven Covey says in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Schuster,2004), focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. In career terms, now may be an excellent time to consider the way you manage you career, rather than changing it. Here are five guidelines to get you thinking what you could be doing differently:

1 Build relationships

Why is this important?
Good relationships increase opportunities for current or future collaboration. Building the number of people in your network means you have more ‘go-to’ people. It also widens your own visibility, increases your knowledge or work and development opportunities and enables you to understand a wider range of needs in your organisation, industry.

Building relationships takes time, and needs to be two way to be mutually satisfying and sustainable. Now may be a good time to re-connect with dormant contacts – whether that is a specific approach via Linkedin or an invitation for a virtual coffee.

Some ideas for action.
Try ticking the ones you would take action on at some point, and another tick against those you intend to action now.

  1. Offer to share your knowledge or experience with someone (or work on a new project together)
  2. Connect with someone you don’t usually work with (in or outside your organisation)
  3. Complete a Stakeholder Map – like a Mind Map of your key contacts
  4. Let people know of an event or piece of information that you think will be of interest or value to them

2 Be open to change

Why is this important?
We have had to adapt to the greatest threat to our survival and well being since World War 2 . At work, demonstrating your agility right now could be critical to the viability of your organisation. It will make you more able and confident to adjust to future changes, and build your reputation as a ‘can do’ person.

Some ideas for action.
Try ticking the ones you would take action on at some point, and another tick against those you intend to action now.

  1. Be open to requests for help outside your usual areas of responsibility
  2. Note down what enabled you to make successful changes in the past
  3. Be proactive! Find out about likely changes coming up in your organisation or industry
  4. Ask about opportunities to be involved in new projects/work shadowing
  5. Volunteer
  6. Look for the benefits of any new ways of working ( eg more remote working, socially distancing, wearing a mask)
  7. Talk to your manager about ways you can contribute

3 Career Development Strategy

Why is this important?
Having some compass for direction sharpens your ability to define and convey your personal brand. Clients I see often rue the fact they have not taken sufficient care of building their reputation or personal brand. It can inform your networking and development goals, and impact your own energy and motivation to develop and grow.

Some ideas for action.
Try ticking the ones you would take action on at some point, and another tick against those you intend to action now.

  1. Identify mentors and others who can help by giving support but also feedback
  2. Clarify the areas of your personal brand you want to be better known for
  3. Identify and learn from others who manage their careers well
  4. Have career conversations with different stakeholders
  5. Identify opportunities for development – in a new or related area (internally or externally)
  6. Form your career vision (but use as a focus for energy, not a blueprint).

4 Use of Personal Energy

Why is this important?
More than ever, it is critical to look after yourself. This means knowing yourself, using your time well, playing to your strengths and managing your anxieties, as far as possible. Doing this can help you decide about future work responsibilities, ensure you get enough ‘down time’ and make you feel more in control.

Some ideas for action.
Try ticking the ones you would take action on at some point, and another tick against those you intend to action now.

  1. Write down the strengths you have  which you want use more
  2. Take at least five minutes in every hour to ‘chill’, relax or reflect
  3. Collaborate with people who make you feel good
  4. Notice what activities give you energy, and do more of them
  5. Find one or more people with whom you can unwind.

One thing I have noticed and learned during Lockdown is that we -as a society- are inter-dependant. The same is true of groups within society. We depend on each other, whatever our role, to get important things done. Returning to work after the Lockdown is not just about looking after ourselves. It will need us to show empathy and be willing to step in when needed , whether that be for new work projects, or realising that a colleague is working less because he must look after his young children. Maybe your employer is having to solve new problems in response to coronavirus, and you can give your time or skill to help out. The feeling this gives you, stretching your skills, reaching out to help, can contribute not just to the furtherance of your own career goals but a sense of being valuable in our communal quest to emerge from the Lockdown perhaps more ‘together’ than we were before.

Post Lockdown: What are your work priorities now?

work priorities post lockdown

It was only a couple of months ago that our world was different. We went to work, liked some things and grumbled about others, loved or hated our job, were stressed from an always-on culture, thought about starting a business of our own, felt secure but trapped by our pay and benefits, craved more autonomy or a creative outlet, wanted a better work-life balance and a lot more. But we had no time to make a change, and never a moment to sit down and work out what we really want.

That was then.

Now – some people have been stressed and stretched from needing to transfer everything online. Others have unfortunately had their jobs made redundant. Staff not furloughed have had to take on new responsibilities. There have been back-to-back meetings, but little of the usual face-to-face chat that can be both a distraction and a source of energy, information and fun. Key workers, parents of young children and many others have never let up. They have doubled their pace. Other people have had more time. For them, it has been an enforced slow-down, welcome for some , not for others.

At CCS we conducted a survey of attitudes to work as a result of Lockdown. What are the positives? And the negatives?

Some of the answers are summarised below:

The Positives

  • It has been great to learn new skills (mostly IT)
  • The slower pace has brought stress levels down
  • There is more time to be creative and experiment- try out new things
  • Liking the flexibility of working from home
  • Having more time for ‘myself’
  • Forging new online collaborations
  • Realising there are new opportunities to consider
  • Experiencing less interference from politics and bureaucracy

The Negatives

  • Missing casual chats and ‘feeding’ off each other
  • Not having the warmth of personal interactions
  • Lacking a ‘culture of community’
  • A dislike of working from home
  • Anxiety about health and finances: own and family
  • Feeling out of control and worrying about small things

It depends

  • Taking on new or different responsibilities
  • Having daily, rather than weekly, meetings

The sudden and enforced change of Lockdown is not dissimilar to the impact of a life crisis, when we may review what really matters to us. We have had to change our lifestyle, and we may begin to question whether our previous way of life is the one we want to continue.

Our work values, or priorities, may have changed.

We don’t have to wait until the next crisis to re-evaluate our priorities. We can use the time to think about what really matters to us. What has stayed the same as before Lockdown? What is different? What have I learned about myself and the way I would like to work since Lockdown? What three things will I commit to take action on – now and immediately after Lockdown ends?

Look at the following list of Work Values or priorities and rate below how important each one was to you before Lockdown, and how important that Value is to you now.

Use the 1-10 scale, where 1 = not at all important and 10 = of the utmost importance

Work Value Importance pre- Lockdown (1-10) Importance to me now (1-10)
To have autonomy and flexibility
To express my creativity
To have work that fits with other parts of my life
Working closely with others
Time to relax and switch off
Learning new skills
To do something useful for society
To be appreciated for my efforts
To lead and influence others
To embrace change

 

Now, mark with * those Work Values you want to ensure are realised in the future. Choose the three you can commit to taking action on now, and two you intend to action in the first month after Lockdown.

Our values inform our priorities, and so can guide our choices in order for us to feel fulfilment and satisfaction.

Any changes you make could range from tweaking the way you work to making quite radical changes in your career.

Questions people are asking are:

  • Could I work more flexibly, working from home two days a week?
  • In what ways could we work more effectively in our team?
  • How professional is my online visibility?
  • Could I use my creativity more in my current role?
  • With whom do I need to network to build my Personal Brand or reputation
  • Could I find a more creative role?
  • What training or development would really interest me, and be useful?
  • Could I do more meaningful work? Or work in a way which is more meaningful?
  • Could I volunteer?

At CCS, we help people to re-evaluate their strengths, motivators and work values to better navigate their future career. Do contact one of us for a free Introductory Discussion about ways we can help

6 ways HR and Line Managers can respond effectively to employees returning after Lockdown

line managers help-employees post lockdown

line managers help employees post lockdown

COVID has thrown us all off balance. We have had to adapt fast, as many of us have been forced into survival mode. Health, finances, infrastructure have all been at best under threat and, at worst, decimated.

Furloughed or not, people returning to work will be anxious about their safety. Will it be possible to keep social distancing? How will any restructuring will affect their future? They will still be reeling from the impact of Covid-19 and the Lockdown; they may have suffered personal loss of family or friends, and still be worried about catching the illness from others during the daily commute or even from the workplace. Some employees may be obsessive about hygiene, others quite cavalier. A few will return quite upbeat, keen to make the best of the situation. Others may come back feeling numb and scared, and wait to be told what to do.

Each person will return to work with their own unique experience of, and stories about, COVID-19. In varying degrees, they will need to talk about their experiences.

We have worked with many organisations over the past four decades, where we have seen the value of open and empathic conversations. Below, we list some suggestions to consider for ways to respond to the different needs of employees returning to work after the Lockdown:

1 Respect individual differences to gain engagement

It will take a while to get people onboard and motivated again. They will almost certainly not be ready to contribute at full speed straight away . Not only will everyone’s experience of COVID be different. Each person will respond differently. Respecting individual differences means listening for individual needs. The taste of home working may have convinced some people they want to continue working remotely at least part of the time. Others may be delighted to get back to the workplace, because it was too hard to work remotely, and so neither enjoyable nor productive.

Encourage people to talk, and to talk often. HR cannot do this alone, so it will be important to ensure that line managers have the skill, time and approach that is needed to listen, without the usual pressures of imminent action. And to do this often.

2 Build strong communities, show appreciation and seek suggestions

Many of us have learned the value of support, even if achieved via online communities. We may have been linked by our Thursday evening Clap for Carers ‘get togethers’. Possibly, we have learned that strong connections can be forged online. Capitalise on that, and build communities between remote and non-remote workers. Topic or Project related WhatsApp groups (with clear Groundrules) are a brilliant way of feeling connected.

Self esteem may have plummeted for some people. They will need genuine reassurance and appreciation, not just for excellent work, but for actually being present. Train your line managers to notice good work and to praise, rather than to point out faults or weaknesses. Decimate micro management and encourage demonstrations of empathy.

Invite your employees to talk about their learning from the COVID experience, and to suggest ways teams and the organisation could work together in the future.

Expect people to be vulnerable, in varying degrees, for quite a while. Don’t just ensure there are safety guidelines in place. Train as many people as possible in listening and coaching skills. Career conversations should be taking place, but also just plain conversations.

3 Encourage personal resilience

We live in more uncertain and unpredictable times than ever. It will be critical that individuals develop the skills, attitudes and behaviours to manage setbacks, and stay attuned to their own wellbeing. Encourage your employees to manage their careers actively, to think ‘out of the box’ about ways in which they can develop and grow. Train managers to have conversations to encourage and support this.

Resilience requires both focus and flexibility. Encourage employees to forge contacts and to network actively for their career management. Make networking a way of life. Create alumni groups of ex-employees some of whom may be retained on contracts.

4 Review the culture of your organisation

What have been the dominant values and attitudes underpinning the culture of your organisation? Do any of these need to be changed in light of the crisis? When an individual experiences trauma, he or she may well re-evaluate what matters now. Now may be a great time to ask your employees what really matters to them.

However many employee have been furloughed or been made redundant, it will be critical to create a culture which engages and values the individuals you rely on to get the work done.

5 Encourage ideas, creative thinking and innovation

During the Lockdown, some people will have enjoyed learning new skills or resurrecting dormant ones. Whether these skills have been in IT, design or craft, whether they have taken on new responsibilities for colleagues unable to work or because of new requirements arising from a cessation, reduction or increase in work, many people have been exposed to the need to be creative and to adapt quickly to the unique demands generated by the COVID crisis.

Capitalise on this new found energy and willingness to experiment. Ask for opinions , ideas and contributions to ways in which the work of the organisation can be managed successfully.

6 Consider signing up to the Mindful Business Charter

https://mindfulbusinesscharter.com

This Charter formalises your organisation’s ongoing commitment to promoting the mental health of your employees, so that everyone feels supported at work. The Charter recognises that stresses at work cannot be completely avoided, but long hours and inefficient work practices are not always the case

The main areas the Charter covers are:

BUILDING TRUST AND EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION:

  • Discussing with colleagues their preferred method of communication and clarifying any relevant implications of an individual’s working patterns
  • Treating colleagues with the appropriate level of respect and courtesy
  • Asking for and providing feedback to others on a regular basis.

ADHERING TO SMART MEETING AND EMAIL GUIDANCE:

  • Allowing people to join meetings by the method they deem suitable, providing dial in details as default on meeting invites unless it is imperative that everyone attends
  • Being respectful of others’ time by planning meetings properly (considering who needs to attend / giving appropriate notice / setting clear agendas and objectives) and avoiding last minute cancellations
  • Avoiding over-use of email and not copying people into emails that they don’t need to receive

CONSIDERATION GIVEN TO THE NEED TO ‘SWITCH OFF’:

  • Where support is required outside of someone’s core working hours, giving them options for when that could be (early morning or evening / weekend).
  • When sending emails outside of business hours, being clear in the title whether it needs to be read / actioned promptly or considering sending pre-timed emails (so emails are not received late at night and at weekends)
  • Including working hours / availability as part of my email signature, so people are aware of each others’ working patterns
  • Respecting people’s right to take annual leave without the expectation of them checking emails / being on call, and role modelling the same behaviour myself where possible

IMPLEMENTING A BEST PRACTICE APPROACH TO COLLABORATION, INSTRUCTION AND DELEGATION:

  • Respecting the need to provide sufficient context and information for a piece of work, ideally including the purpose and ultimate recipient
  • When instructing on a task, negotiating rather than imposing a deadline, being transparent where possible on the wider timetable, and promptly communicating timing changes which impact others
  • When being instructed on a task, being confident to flag when a deadline is unrealistic and / or unachievable.

LinkedIn Lockdown Spring Clean: Top 5 Tips

linkedin lockdown spring clean

During these uncertain times, you may question whether it is worth putting any energy into your job search, LinkedIn or career management.

Many of you may be facing furlough or a downturn in workload. A LinkedIn Lockdown Spring Clean, may be just the thing to support your longer-term goals and career aspirations.

So, what is a LinkedIn Lockdown Spring Clean? It is a term I have coined to encourage you to undertake a deep dive into your LinkedIn connections, to qualify, reconnect and purge – if necessary.

Some people just don’t have the time to respond to LinkedIn messages especially if connections run over 500. Thus a build-up of messages occurs and important information can be overlooked – I have been guilty of doing this many a time.

In addition, many people are not discerning when it comes to accepting LinkedIn invitations, making it challenging to keep on top of who is in their LinkedIn network.

Professional networking and relationship building is critical for effective job search and career management, yet many people neglect to stay aware of who is in their network – unless they want something of course. That’s one of the biggest challenge many of my clients face.

We know that the number one way many organisations recruit is via referrals. Thus, utilising your LinkedIn network to access opportunities, especially in a competitive job market, should be an integral part of your job search strategy.

During career coaching conversations with my clients, many shy away from reaching out to their network, (unless it is a close colleague or friend), primarily because they haven’t had the time to get to know their connections.

Top 5 Tips to Clean Your Linkedin Account

tips review linkedin

These five top tips will kick start your LinkedIn Lockdown Spring Clean, to encourage you to build a truly connected network:

  1. Conduct a LinkedIn Network Audit – take stock of your connections and the role these connections can play in your current and future professional life. For example, who can connect you with others? Who are the knowledge providers? Who are the influencers and therefore can help build your own network and profile?
  2. Reciprocity – is the key to networking. Share an interesting update about yourself or an article, business insight or home-working strategy you’ve found useful. If you do this on a regular basis, you can potentially avoid embarrassing outreaches in your time of need, especially if you contact people you haven’t connected with in years. The key here is to find an reason to reconnect.
  3. Purge – be kind here. Take note of your LinkedIn audit and decide who stays and who goes. (LinkedIn has helpfully made this exercise discreet, so your connections may never know – unless they also conduct a LinkedIn Spring Clean Audit of course!)
  4. Refresh – your profile. Given the current climate and the changeable world of work, how can you reframe your skillset to make yourself more attractive and stand out from the competition? Is it time to update your online personal brand perhaps?
  5. Re-build – looking at your career audit, identify and connect with the professionals and companies you would like and need within your network.

Sit back, admire your work… and repeat.

If you would like to learn more about CCS coaching programmes, please email me at Czarina@career-counselling-services.co.uk

Czarina Charles, CCS Associate