Do you have to be liked at work?

As a manager writing this and possibly as managers reading this, your answer to this question may be no. As a young person or graduate in their first role, the answer may just be the opposite. As for people who need to be needed, or need to be liked, I think we can guess what they would opt for.

But is it necessary to be liked at work? I think maybe only sociopaths and psychopaths are comfortable not being liked. That probably puts me closer to that end of the spectrum than I prefer.

Could it be I say that, because no-one likes me? (I don’t think that is the case, but you never can be sure can you?). Traditionally, HR people don’t fall into the category of people to like at work. We seem to be the department that people are scared of. The ones who wave the rule book, the ones who keep everyone in place.  (If anyone can tell me how we break that cycle, I’d be eternally grateful.)

I much prefer to be respected at work than liked. Liked is something I save for my friends and hopefully my family. Working in HR has taught me there will always be times when we need to appear as the enforcers of rules. Mostly that is because we are (or should be) about the needs of the business. The needs of the business dictate that you must perform well at what you do and must not perpetuate bad behaviour. That’s why they call it work. I would rather be known and respected as someone who has the guts to make a difficult decision or have a difficult conversation, than someone who has no credibility because they find these situations too difficult. I have been both intensely disliked and extremely well respected for the same decision. I have been respected by people who don’t like me – and I choose the respect every time.

I did a straw poll before writing this post asking the question of being liked at work and a few people mentioned that being liked can make your way in the office smoother. It is much easier when people co-operate with you because they like you. It means you are more likely to get a quick response or a little favour that makes your job easier or your day more pleasant. But why should this rely on being liked?

Are we, as adults, not evolved enough to make this happen regardless of whether we like someone or not? I worked for over 3 years for a man I disliked intensely. I didn’t respect him, but I respected the position he held; the one that managed me. Ultimately that meant, I reported to him and I did what he asked of me. Again, another definition of work. I’m not sure whether he liked me or not, I dare say he didn’t, as I challenged him in many ways – but we managed to get our respective jobs done in a way that complemented what we wanted to achieve in the business.

I do admit that some of the best relationships in my life have come out of meeting people I have worked with, including my wonderful un-marriage. Some friendships I have which have passed the test of time are with people I once worked with.  Most of those friends were colleagues, some worked for me and one was my boss.

I have a rule not to be friends with anyone I manage directly at work. Why? Trust me, it’s not because I am mean and nasty…. (There is a theme developing though). It is that I learned that it is much harder to manage someone you are friends with than someone you don’t know that well personally. In a work environment, we need objectivity. Making friends with and liking people who report to you, makes all of that subjective. When it comes to managing the poor performance of a friend, there is no greater ground fraught with large unexploded landmines. Not only will the business relationship be put under pressure, the friendship probably won’t last.

By the same token, managing people who are your friends or people you do like, may create an environment of complacency. If you are liked by your boss, do you really need to try that hard?

Like most people, I have worked in all kinds of organisations, some where the people are mostly friendly and some where the word friendly has never been uttered. The friendly workplaces can quite easily translate into situations that reflect family dynamics. People learn about basic concepts of fairness, equity and resource allocation in their families, and these are crucial issues in the workplace. These basic concepts in families may be very different from the ones we find ourselves in at work. Familiarity in a workplace can cause as many conflicts as family situations do.

It takes a mature person to see past the likes and dislikes of our managers or our teams and just see the forest through the trees. If we can compartmentalise the relationships in the office and keep focused on the outcomes we will be measured on, maybe we will have more time and energy to pursue relationships that are lasting outside of the work environment.

Are you OK? – I mean, ARE YOU? REALLY?

How to Ask.....

It’s RUOK day in Australia, (11 Sept) a brilliant initiative around suicide prevention. I say in Australia, because it doesn’t seem to reach here in the UK, except via the Facebook posts of the Aussie friends and relatives I have.

I absolutely applaud the initiative and I am sure it has made inroads into the public recognition of things like depression and bullying that lead to suicide.

If we only ask this one day per year then it is a start.

How to Ask.....
Are you really?

It takes a brave person to say that they aren’t OK actually. People who are depressed or leading a terrible life fighting their own demons, or other people’s demons, sometimes won’t say what is really going on for them. Are you OK is a great start. But what if they say yes and they aren’t?

How many times do we get asked Are you OK and we answer, “yes, fine thanks”? In fact there is a plethora of “funny” jokes all over the interwebs about how women are asked this often and they send a chilly “I’m fine” response back! Oh yes, I laugh until I stop when I see these and that’s a short journey…..anyhow I digress.

The thing is – we aren’t usually OK all the time. And that’s OK. The more we get used to hearing that people are not OK – that they might be struggling a bit, that they are tired, or run down, or they have had an emotional day crying on the couch, the more we will realise that life is actually like that.

I think what we could all do with some more of is learning what to do when people do actually say, No – I’m not OK. We can’t always know what people are going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much people mean to us until we lose them. That’s what happens in a world where we feel like we can’t get too close to other people, where making friends is hard, where just wanting some “me” time comes before being with friends and family.

A friend of mine recently lost a friend to suicide. She feels eternally guilty that she didn’t see what was coming. Of course she asked if she was OK – and the response she got back was, yes. It’s tough, but I am OK.

We don’t always know when we aren’t OK, as weird as that sounds. Sometimes it takes someone to nudge us a bit and not only ask if we are OK, but to ask some more questions. Perhaps remind them on some behaviour we may have noticed.

This world sees most of other people’s lives through social media eyes, via our computers and mostly through our phones (wankers flashlights as I heard them recently referred to). Am I going to post on Facebook that I am not OK? No way. I don’t want sympathy, or I don’t want platitudes from people who say they are “here for you” and who aren’t. I probably want to be alone with my demons. As awful as they are, they are mine and parting ways with them takes time and guts and courage. I am fortunate enough to have people close to me who do recognise when I am not OK, but not all of us do.

Perhaps what we can say to friends is to not just ask the question Are you OK, but to tell them it’s OK to not be OK just for now. That things will change and life can get better, or we can work on changing our thoughts to make the most of a shitty situation. And then as the website suggests, start a conversation. Ask, Listen, Encourage, Follow Up. Simple steps that could make a difference.

It takes a brave person to say they are not OK, and it takes a true friend and an even braver person to keep that conversation going.

Disclaimer: I’m not a pyschotherapist, nor a mental health professional. I’m just a normal person who is sometimes not OK. (And thank the gods, this isn’t one of those times if you are wondering – I am perfectly OK and I mean it! 🙂

Rich and Privileged

We have a sign on the chalkboard in our kitchen that reads “Rich and Privileged” – and it has nothing to do with money....and it has nothing to do with money.

Let me clear something up. We are neither rich, nor privileged in the biblical sense. There is no old money in my family (in fact there is NO money in my family!) and there is no peerage status awaiting either of us.

I was at Tesco on a gorgeous sunny day recently, when I was greeted by some wonderful customer service. One of the men who worked there helped me with my groceries and took me to an empty register.  He didn’t have to do that, but was just being generous. When I got to the counter, I said to the woman who was serving me, “you poor thing, inside here with a jacket on, whilst the sun is shining outside”. She said to me “Oh, I’m not poor darling, not by any standards, I’m rich in SO many things!” She was Jamaican as I found out later, so you can imagine that statement just sounded so much more gorgeous with that beautiful accent!

I agreed with her and told her that there was a sign in my kitchen which has been in our house as long as we have, almost 4 years. This past year hasn’t been our best, certainly not financially and certainly as I haven’t worked for 3 months or more this year. Some of my friends have given me sympathy and are supportive and wonderfully empathetic. Of course it’s tougher living on one wage than it is on two, but good heavens, there are a few million people in the world worse off than me!

Every day of this wonderful life, I am grateful for everything I have. One of my favourite sayings is that I have two legs and I’m breathing, and that’s a jump on some. Every day that my feet hit the ground – well you know what they say – Any day above ground is a good one. I’m fortunate that I have this mindset. It hasn’t always been with me and there are some days it is tested. But I have so many living examples close to me of people who are worse off than me, that I am grateful, just grateful. (Comparing myself to others isn’t the sole purpose for feeling this way, I do still justify and have my own feelings; can recognise and appreciate them for what they are – for all the psychologists reading this!)

Apart from waking up with all my body working, including the breath part – seriously what else could be wrong? I’ve used applied this mindset lately more than ever during the time I have been looking for work. Every day I get up and think it is an opportunity to re-invent myself. Not that I hate the me I already have, but if you can, why not?

Every day I think there are people out there in recruitment land who haven’t heard of me, so it’s my job to change that. It’s a numbers game. I want to get back into something I haven’t done in a while, so I know it is going to take some time. I also haven’t done much Change stuff in the UK (which by the way recruiters, doesn’t actually mean I can’t do it!) I also don’t have a linear CV – it doesn’t read like a straight HR pattern, one HR role into the next.

I’ve been selected for my career roles because of my attitude. I’ve also succeeded at them because of this attitude and that’s a hard thing to put on a CV. I have won jobs due to my attitude and kept them because of the skills I have learned and applied. My old favourite saying “recruit for attitude, train for skill” gets tested when people only look at the skills side of the equation. Something wrong with that standard recruiting model perhaps?

So, given that I already think I’m streets ahead before I get out of bed, the rest of the day can only go well right? To be able to use the internet, make phone calls; to be able to read and write and cook my own food without hunting it; these are things we take for granted every day. In my world, we have smart phones, laptop’s notebooks, tablets – every imaginable way to make contact with people. I live in a city of more than 12.5 million people. A lot of us are out of work. However, a lot of us are far worse off than me.

I’ve always given thanks, way before Oprah made it trendy. I’m still not sure who I’m giving thanks to – (but that’s another post). I just believe we can be thankful for all the things we take for granted.  I won’t go into the people who inspire me every day, they know who they are. And there are millions of people I don’t know who inspire me every day. They aren’t the usual heroes of everyone else.

Even though I am a massive sports addict and I am convinced there is an athlete buried under here somewhere, sports people aren’t the ones who drive me. I’m not saying they aren’t inspiring, but I do get my inspiration from people who just have a great handle on the balance in their lives.

I get my inspiration from people who do jobs they hate, because there is a greater good; from people who have problems in their relationships and fight to keep going; from people who have made massive life decisions and have had massive life decisions thrust upon them. I get motivation from people who are the antithesis to all these things. If we can’t see the truth and beauty in other people, learn from them and adapt those lessons to ourselves, what on earth are we doing here?

Please don’t think I am a Pollyanna, I don’t “DO” this to win points or to write great blog posts! I am optimistic and I am positive – and yes, those two things are different. I believe we can always be more, and I believe we can learn all of these things. One of the remarkable books I have read in my life is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. To say it changed my life is an understatement.

We are 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. It’s a choice. We choose our reactions, our mental state (mostly), our surroundings. If we don’t like it and it starts to go a bit off course, then we have the power to change it.

A recently appointed mentor of mine (although he may not yet know that!), recited a story to me about going to a circus as a young child. He watched the clown practice and practice and practice juggling. He got it right most of the time, and when he didn’t, nothing happened. No attitude, no despair, no reprimanding himself because he had got it wrong. He just kept going. What a gift, to have obstacles put in your way that will make you fail – and go on regardless.

In my rich and privileged life, I am taking the lessons from the clown and applying them, one day at a time.

Do People Resist Change?

Or is it change thrust upon them that they resist? This is one of my favourite topics to understand and convey, so I surprised myself when I realised I hadn’t written about it yet.

One of my new favourite mantras is “I am that which is constant” which just serves to remind me to get back to my core, despite what is going on around me. In a world full of change, I am the only constant. The me I know and trust. I used to think that I was unusual because I enjoy change. Then I realised that people change many things about themselves all the time. We create change in ourselves throughout our lives. We change our marital status, our professional status, our educational status (as Facebook reminds us!). We move, have babies, take on sporting challenges, get a promotion or even get sick parents, partners or children – it’s all change. Some of it is our choice and some is thrust upon us. What makes us accept the changes we decided upon and resist the ones we don’t?

I have been in many professional situations where managing resistance to change was the thing I spent most of my day doing – until I realised I was doing it all wrong! It can be exhausting if you think about it in a negative way – like “resisting change”. When you master it, and think positively about how to work with people to achieve the same outcome, regardless of the process – it becomes the most rewarding thing.

As leaders, we must do what is best for the business, it’s our job. Does it really matter what journey we take to achieve it? If we propose the outcome then work together to create the solution, resistance to change is minimalised. Sometimes it takes a while for people to be clear that they don’t like the change. We all need time to think things through, so if offered some time to digest, it’s easier to swallow.

There are of course business decisions made where not only the outcome is determined, but the process is too. These are the most unfortunate of experiences, because people are affected the most; resistance is at its highest and the results might be achieved but at the cost of people’s happiness, faith in the company and enormous stress levels on all sides. I’m not naïve and I have been involved in many business decisions where the people were going to suffer, regardless of how we created the solution! These are terrible situations to be in, but as an HR Professional and Leader, these are the jobs we do.  We must either find a way or make one, as Hannibal said. (True, he was leading elephants through the desert, but some days that’s how it feels!)

Enforced change hits people personally. When we deal with resistance to change, it all stems from personal values. People may not like the proposed change because it impacts them directly in a negative way. In a personal situation, change can be managed more easily. We can speak out and talk about what we don’t like. In a professional situation, this can be interpreted as resistance.

I encourage people to speak out about the changes they don’t like, in a constructive way. I also encourage them to propose an alternative solution. If we provide people with a reason to change and the chance to come up with their own solution, this ‘resistance’ can be addressed. It’s important to make clear that although we invite a solution, if it doesn’t ultimately meet the needs of the business, we will have to keep working until we find one that does!

Resistance takes many forms: individual or organised, active or passive, aggressive or timid, overt or covert.

People can be clever about the way they resist change, or their actions can be subconscious. It just means we have to be on our game. We have to understand why the resistance is there, what are the personal issues for the people involved and how do we address them. We need empathy for why people don’t want to change. It may be that they have never had to before (it’s possible!); or they don’t agree with the way the business is changing and the direction it is headed in.

Ultimately it’s about choice.

The thing is that sometimes the direction might not be right, sometimes business has to do things people don’t like. At the point of discourse though, it is our choice to decide if we agree and go with it or if we don’t. So either bow out if you don’t like the change, or find a way to make it work for you.

I could bang on about the ways people resist change and tell you some wonderful stories – but, this is about how to deal with it, in the way I try to and from my own experience. Change needs to be based on inspired collaboration. We need to find the common ground between different needs and motivators. We need to address both the positives and negatives of changing and of not changing. Once we communicate all of those things and take the time and personal interest to understand why people are resisting, we will have a much better understanding of not only our goal, but hopefully of what drives the people who work for us.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943

In the light of a Facebook post from my Mum two weeks ago, celebrating 61 years of living in Australia, I’ve been prompted to share this history, which is part of my life and culture. My maternal grandparents both died when I was very young and I have always felt a bit ripped off to not have them share their cultural history with us as kids. I do know that in the lead up to and during the Second World War, they were living in Malta, with five of their six children. As the youngest, my Mum was yet to be born and my Grandparents were up to seven years from leaving Malta to live permanently in Australia.

I’ve always thought my Grandparents were so very brave, moving their six children and the only lives they ever knew, to a new country. This was 1951, only a few years after the war finished. This story ends on the 10th of July 1943. Granny probably just found out she was pregnant with Mum; incredible for me to imagine!

Having emigrated myself, I know how difficult a move like this can be, let alone with six children! English was widely spoken in Malta during that time, but it was still their second language. It surprises me how my Grandparents survived the war and what was happening to their beloved home country, then decided to leave, when peace arrived.

Even though I didn’t know them, I have great admiration for the risk they took. Had they not have done this, my Mother would not have had the love affair of her life with my Dad, my siblings and I would never have been here; I would most certainly not be living in the EU….and so it goes. I was enthralled to read this story.

The history of the Siege of Malta is on a stone plaque here in London. I have transcribed the words below. If you don’t know the story, it’s an interesting read. If you do and like me, have part in this brave and courageous culture, you will no doubt be as proud as I am.

The Siege of Malta 1940-1943
The text on the stone plaque in London commemorating the Siege.

Malta GC:  The Siege of 1940 -1943.

In the sinister shadow of fascism spilled across Europe and into North Africa, Malta under the protection of Great Britain, found herself alone in a hostile Mediterranean 800 miles from her nearest allies in Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besieged by enemies, Malta became a fulcrum on which the fate of the war balanced for the next three years. If Malta fell the rest of North Africa would follow, opening the door to the oil fields of the Middle East and for the Axis powers to join in Asia and threaten India. The allies knew this, so did the Axis powers. Malta, besieged, became and remains the most bombed place in the history of war.

Supplied only by sea, at great cost, Malta was defended not only by her own people but also by forces drawn from the whole free world. Figther aircraft delivered by the American and Royal Navies were piloted by Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Convoys crewed by British, American and Commonwealth seamen were supported by the free forces of Greece, The Netherlands and Poland. Free Norwegians added their merchant fleet to the allied cause.

In April 1942 King George VI awarded to the people of Malta, the George Cross, the highest decoration for civilian courage and heroism.

By summer 1942 only weeks of food remained and the Allies mounted Operation Pedestal as a last attempt to save Malta. After a five-day running battle the convoy’s four remaining merchant vessels and the immortal tanker Ohio, all that was left of the fourteen that set out, entered Grand Harbour. The date was 15th August 1942. The Feast of Santa Maria. The siege was broken. Within months North Africa was retaken and the first steps of European Liberation begun.

The stone this text is from, was taken from Malta and presented by the Maltese Government on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War to commemorate all who participated in the siege and defence of Malta, 1940-43.

Chronological History

June 1940:

Italy declares war on Britain. Malta is now only 100 miles from Axis Airfields. Defences are three obsolete fighters and a few guns.

July 1940:

The first convoys arrive. Air raids total 80 already.

August 1940:

More fighters and better guns arrive; civilian population evacuated from target areas.

September 1940:

Two more convoys arrive with troops and equipment; Malta is to become an allied fortress in the Mediterranean.

October 1940:

More fighters and additional airfields commissioned.

November 1940:

Torpedo bombers attack the Italian fleet at Taranto with devastating effect, a strategy later copied by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour.

December 1940:

The Italian army is defeated in North Africa forcing the Germans to send massive reinforcements. Striking forces from Malta cause so much damage to axis supply lines the axis high command decide to annihilate the island. The Luftwaffe moves to Sicily and begin round-the-clock attacks on Malta.

January 1941:

Axis bombers attack and damage the British carrier Illustrious in a convoy to Malta. The ship arrives at Malta for emergency repairs and is subjected to three days of ceaseless bombing before leaving to the USA. 39 axis planes are lost in the blitz for only 2 allied fighters.

February 1941:

The attacks continue; the civilian population are moved into rock shelters underground. Air raids now total 400.

March 1941:

Four ships arrive in convoy with essential food, ammunition and fuel; they are bombed incessantly on their approach and in harbour.

April 1941:

The carrier Ark Royal delivers another consignment of new Hurricane fighters.

May 1941:

Malta’s fighter defences are strengthened and reorganised; a bombing squadron is added to attack axis supplies to North Africa.

June 1941:

Axis forces invade and occupy Crete with airborne troops, a similar plan is proposed for Malta.

July 1941:

Sixteen Italian torpedo boats attack newly arrived convoy in Grand Harbour; all are destroyed by the defences.

August 1941:

The siege is gripping more strongly, food is severely rationed, the air attacks continue incessantly.

September 1941:

Eight ships reach Malta in convoy with vital food, fuel and stores. Malta striking forces are now destroying half of all axis supplies being sent to North Africa.

October 1941:

Food is desperately short, 3 British submarines shuttle in supplies under water to avoid the air attacks. Rationing is made more severe.

November 1941:

Malta striking forces are reinforced and increase axis losses to convoys to North Africa. Axis air forces increase the attempts to subdue Malta.

December 1941:

Air raids increase to 175 in this month alone; the entire civilian population is now conscripted into the defence of the island. Everyone lives underground in rock shelters. This memorial is quarried from that very same rock.

January 1942:

The axis determination to eradicate Malta continues with no demarcation between months; some bombing raids last up to 36 hours, during this month there are 263 of them. Food fuel and ammunition run dangerously low.

February 1942:

An allied convoy from Alexandria is attacked and destroyed on its way to Malta; the supply situation becomes even more critical. What food there is is now contaminated with the taste of high explosive.

March 1942:

With great determination, two fresh deliveries of spitfire fighters are made by aircraft carriers. Three ships arrive with 5000 tonnes of supplies which are discharged under ceaseless bombing. 177 axis aircraft are destroyed.

April 1942:

Raids are now between 4 and 10 per day in waves of 100 or more aircraft. By now, 15,500 buildings have been obliterated but civilian casualties are mercifully light at 1,104 thanks to the shelters hewn into the living rock of Malta. Air raids now total 5,807 accounting for more than 6,557,231 kilos of high explosive bombs. Food is shared between the entire population via communal “victory” kitchens. Ammunition is in very short supply. As the raids pass the 2000 mark, King George VI awards the entire island population of Malta the George Cross in recognition of their gallantry in the defence of their island fortress. With fighters now depleted to dangerous levels, reinforcements are desperately needed.

As April becomes May the USA comes to Malta’s aid, USS Wasp successfully delivers 2 cargoes of Spitfires and their pilots.

May 1942:

General Lord Gort replaces Sir William Dobbie as Governor and Commander-in Chief, he brings in his hands the George Cross medal and citation from the King.

June 1942:

The new fighters take immediate effect in improving the defences but food and supplies continue to deteriorate. Single-ship deliveries by fast warship and submarines cannot keep up. In North Africa, the axis retake most of the coast of Libya and fears of an airborne invasion become acute.

July 1942:

The axis, encouraged by their advance in North Africa and the success of their air raids on Malta opt to press on to Egypt, invasion fears recede. Fuel and ammunition stocks are critical, food stocks weeks from starvation.

August 1942:

With no alternative, Britain recalls all available warships to fight a convoy through to Malta. 14 of the fastest merchant vessels are committed to Operation Pedestal. They are escorted by the heaviest concentration of warships in the war so far. For 5 days, the convoy is continuously attacked. The attrition is horrific, but finally the 4 surviving merchantmen are delivered to Malta. The new American-built tanker, Ohio, decks awash, engines wrecked, bombed, torpodoed, a crashed axis plane burning on her deck; is, by a miracle, brought into Grand Harbour on the 15th of the month, the Feast of Santa Maria. All of her 11,000 tonnes of fuel are intact. The entire population watch as their salvation is nursed home by two small destroyers. The tide of the Siege and history, was turning.

September 1942:

Malta striking forces again press home their interdiction of axis convoys. Air defence goes on the attack seeking raiders before they reach Malta skies.

October 1942:

In a 4 day onslaight, the axis lose 114 aircraft to 25 Spitfires. Axis losses now total 1,252 with another 1,151 unconfirmed. The civilian populaton has lost 1,600 killed and 1,818 grievously wonunded.

November 1942:

Axis forces retreat in North Africa, allied landings take place, leading to their eventual rout. A convoy arrives unmolested. The siege is finally over.

December 1942:

Malta becomes the forward base for the first steps in the liberation of Europe. Allied and Commonwealth troops begin to build up in Malta with supplies arriving unhindered.

On the 10th of July 1943, the invasions of Europe begins in Sicily.

Go to the edge and jump, you never know you just might fly…

T.S Eliot said: Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

It’s a funny thing, this risk business. You’re either into it or you aren’t, no fence sitting where risk is concerned. It makes you either grin ridiculously or panic spectacularly. I’m the grinning type and so are hundreds of others I know. They’re all around us these risk-takers. Know anyone who has left a relationship, started a new business, changed jobs, moved house, got married, had kids…..they all took risks. We don’t always see ourselves as risk takers – and let’s be honest, we all know people in our lives who have never risked. Some stay in the job they hate, the marriage that darkens their soul, the house that makes them ill or unhappy. I’ve had a bit of risk in my life and I really encourage it, even though it may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do! I was one of the early adopters if you like a risk taker before my time. As a kid, I was the one always getting into trouble, having accidents, being found out….some things never change.

What is it that makes some of us take risks and others’ not? Is it confidence and belief in ourselves? Is it out of necessity? Is it learned – did our parents risk? Or, do we risk new things in spite of what we learned growing up? I think it must be a combination of all them – or some of them at different times.

I had parents who took risks. Sometimes they turned out and sometimes they didn’t. We moved a bit as kids, some moves bigger than others. Always those moves meant new schools where we adjusted to life and made new friends. I know we weren’t always happy about it, but those choices were never our decisions to make, so we went along with it, coached and supported by strong parents, committed to their decisions. I remember being very happy to move to the Gold Coast – beach, sand, sun etc – but not necessarily all that happy to leave 5 years later! Did my parent’s cautious risk taking affect me? Yes, absolutely, what great role models! They decided to move because of job prospects, better education for my brother, sister and I and to be closer to (or further away!) from family. My Dad took the biggest and bravest risk of his life, changing profession as an older guy – from construction to this new-fangled computer business. What a tough few months for my family, and what a proud daughter I am to think back on that now he isn’t here.

I risked so much when I chose the Unhusband. Friends and family were surprised when my marriage fractured (or was smashed with a hammer as one of my friends likes to put it!). So was I by the way – but that’s another story. The phone call and message that stuck in my mind was from a gorgeous friend who told me how brave I was! I never thought I was brave, I just did what I felt was the “right” thing to do – for my soul to sing. Brave wasn’t something I set out to be – and it certainly wasn’t top of my feelings list.

You do become brave, you do grow, you do feel like you are much better than you ever thought you were, because you took a risk.

Things don’t always turn out, I’m not Pollyanna (she was blonde and American…) Sometimes life is tough and sometimes it sucks like a Hoover. It’s about making those new circumstances work for you. Accepting the status quo, just for now, until things can be better. The Unhusband and I took the biggest risk together when we moved from Australia to the UK. Sheltered little naïve things, not quite entertaining the impact of this little thing called the GFC. Wow – what a shock that was. It took a long few months to get work for Unhusband, but thankfully he is an uber-god in the geek world and London needed his skills. I wasn’t in such high demand. As an HR professional, falling into an enormous pool of HR professionals who had been made redundant, I wasn’t needed so much! And they all had UK employment law experience, which I didn’t have. So, no-one was quite falling over themselves to employ me I can assure you. I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. I had come from a high powered job, complete with a post-graduate degree to being unemployed for the first time in my life. (Although I never saw myself as that, maybe it helped.)

So I did what any woman in her early forties would do. I panicked. Then I re-invented myself. I can assure you the story was not as wonderfully romantic as it sounds, but I got through. I started my own business walking customers through the mire that was social media (it was early days). I was fascinated with social media in the HR arena (still am) and thought I could help some people out. I took a massive risk. I also had amazing people supporting me. Would I have done it otherwise? Probably – I would have had to!

Is it the best thing I ever did? In many ways yes. There was an awful lot of pain – not the least financially! But on the back of that came a new-found confidence, pride in myself and an ability to appreciate that I was a risk-taker; that I would put myself on the line to make something new work. In a lot of ways there was choice. I could have chosen to remain defeated. I honestly did try being the un-housewife for about 2 weeks. Unhusband came home one day to find me quite literally bored rigid, frozen on the terrace.

With risk there comes change  and if you don’t like change, this risk thing is going to be a bit of a malarkey!

I have watched people come in and out of my life, some I really care for who don’t have enough personal power to take a risk that will change their lives forever. It makes me sad and I wish I could bottle my risk taking and give it to them. As my Mum says, it would be a boring old place if we were all the same, but don’t you just wish you could gift the things you know you’re good at?

I have other people in my life who have taken risks that I admire. Three of whom stand out right now. Interestingly, they are all women (this is not a gender assessment, simply a comment). I admire them for their courage, for their determination and for their belief that whatever they are doing now, there has to be something else better. My sister is one of my current risk-heroines. She chose to be alone with her 3 amazing children rather than be in a marriage that was failing to live up to all she had created. All my family at one time or another have taken risks that I admire them for. An Adelaide friend is another. She is about to launch her own business. She has two young boys who are far more important to her than her next career move and this enables her to focus more on the life bit of that balancing thing. Her values are so strong; she knows she can take her unique style of professionalism and turn it into something people want. Brave women.

The last one is my cousin. She had risk thrust upon her. Well, actually she had change thrust upon her when the love of her life, and father of their gorgeous boy Will, died suddenly with cancer at 38. So there’s a risk no-one planned for. She is an amazing woman. Brave and strong and tough – and emotional and fragile and doubtful. But they took a bigger risk too. Before he died, her husband started his own business. She is keeping it going. It is so far out of her field it’s almost funny! Incredible. Would I have the courage to do that – who knows? I have the blessing at this time to not have to find out like she did. These women all have something in common. They are mothers. How fortunate are the kids they have, to be shown these brave role models. I don’t have kids, I don’t think that affects whether you are a risk taker or not, but I do think they have much more to lose than me!

Bottom line: At the risk of alienating half the world, I like the risk-takers. I respect them. That’s not to say I won’t be friends with you if you aren’t one, but I think there is something fundamentally different about people who take risk. We believe in ourselves, we are optimistic, we are prepared for either the worst or the best of times, we plan ahead and we adapt.

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? Can you manage it? Short of death, I bet you could!

My favourite quote must be this from Bertrand Russell. “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps most fatal to true happiness”.

“we’re just so busy”….except for me, thankfully.

The life posts of this blog have taken over the work bits lately, which is a healthy change for me.  I have this thing called adrenal exhaustion. Actually it’s clinical name is adrenal fatigue. Never one to do things by halves, I kind of ignored the fatigue part and soldiered straight on to exhaustion. To be fair, I didn’t even know I had it when I was at the fatigue bit. Mostly because all of my life until just recently I have been too busy to stop and pay attention. To my own health! Writing that now just sounds ridiculous. It was true; and at almost 45, one of the life lessons I am finally getting. There are many reasons I am with my beloved Unhusband; him teaching me the pace that life should be taken at, is one of them. (I do believe the word should needs to be removed from public circulation, however it is terribly handy sometimes!)

So not paying attention to fatigue gets me to exhaustion. How did I get there? Could be cycling in the Alps – 2 mountains per day for 3 days, a 342km round trip. That was certainly the clincher. But living the life of always busy, constantly striving to achieve, overdoing every last thing – from cleaning the house to eating and drinking, to studying just didn’t suit me long term. Over-achievers disease can be a wonderful thing if you have the adrenal glands to sit it out. Clearly mine were very ordinary from the offset. I think I got a few second hand things in this body, they were one of them. Liver is a bit ordinary too, metabolism……well the list goes on . Oddly enough – they’re all linked to the wonderful adrenal glands, who knew?

Life, stress and just existing all depends on these 2 little glands in our body that drive almost all of our functions. The fact that they are not recognised by the medical profession the world over only starts to raise my ire. I won’t go into the detail of being diagnosed with this business, but let’s say if I did, the NHS would not come out looking like a profession concerned with wellness. (My favourite quote given to me during this time by a well respected NHS GP – and the best one I saw! – was, “Well, we don’t really do much about nutrition at the NHS”). Anyone with any IQ points can make a leap between nutrition and obesity – right??

Moving on!

After almost 8 months of being ill, I reflect on various things that contributed to this little state of mine. Yes, it could be the bike ride. It was HUGE! It was a long haul to get fit enough to do it (I still don’t think I was!); it could be the emotional year I had with one of the closest people in the world to me being diagnosed with and later dying from cancer. It could be that I spent weeks flying all over the world, eating food that didn’t agree with me – particularly during training for the bike ride! But you don’t know what you don’t know right? I know I am a Glutard (coeliac is the clinical name). I’m allergic to all kinds of things food wise, mostly wheat and gluten. With it come all kinds of other food allergies and sensitivities that your body can’t process because your intestines are damaged. If they don’t work, you don’t get the nutrients into your body that you should be. Vicious circle. Suffice to say, my diet has now changed radically (yes, again!). To the point where a dear friend asks me if I am off the paper and onto high grade cardboard now, given the restrictions to what I can and can’t eat.

Glutardia was only a bit of it. The ride, the emotional stress of losing someone you love, and all the bits of life in general. I had given it a good beating over the past few years, moving country, arriving in the GFC, not getting work, starting my own business, training for the ride, doing the ride, back and forth to Australia to support those in crisis. But when I think about it – and of course I have for a long while – this ridiculous effort has been going on for years! How many jobs did I do where I worked insane hours per week. One of which, over the past 15 years of my career, I know I was truly appreciated. One!! This is why it made sense to me when I read the amazing book Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan. One page in particular screamed at me. I have taken the following from her, but could have written it myself.

Knowing the hard limits to our cognitive capacity and the huge costs of long hours should not be an intractable problem to address. We have a century of data and a roll call of the disastrous consequences that follow those who insist that heroic hours are a proof f commitment to an employer. Companies that measure work by hours could make themselves smarter by the simple act of measuring contribution buy output rather than input, and celebrating those who can go home early.

Many people – and not a few companies – like to think that they can somehow stretch the cognitive limits of their minds, that doing lots of Sudoku or using programs like Brain Trainer will somehow enlarge their capacity. They’re out of luck. They only exercise that seems to nurture, or at least protect our brains aerobic exercise 1. Yoga, toning and stretching may make you feel good, but in fMRI scans, only aerobic exercise seemed to have a visibly positive impact on the brain. If you want to protect your own intellectual capacity, or that of your employees, the only way to do that is to go to the gym – or go home! When Gail Rebuck assumed the chairmanship of Random House, she inherited what she calls ‘an hours culture’ in which everyone stayed late to impress the boss. Unwilling and unable to work in this way herself, she let it be known that anyone working past six pm was either incompetent or had a boss who didn’t understand how to manage workload. The culture shifted overnight. The sooner we associate long hours and multitasking with incompetence and carelessness the better. The next time you hear boasts of executives pulling an all-nighter or holding conference calls in their cars, but sure to offer your condolences: it’s grim being stuck in sweatshops run by managers too ignorant to understand productivity and risk. Working people like this is as smart as running your factory without maintenance. In manufacturing and engineering business, everyone learns that the top priority is asset integrity; protecting the machinery on which the business depends. In knowledge-based economies, that machinery is the mind. (p301).

For all of you who work like this, I urge you to think again. I doubt anyone has ever said “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work” on their dying day. I know too many managers who manage their people in this way.

I played the game. I was addicted to the power, the rush, and the over-achievement of it all. I was really good at it, I practiced hard; I made myself ill for weeks, I didn’t really have a life, I ran around telling everyone how busy I was all the time, I got a gold medal in moaning about it really. Now though, I just can’t bring myself to listen to people who tell me how busy they are. We are as busy as we make ourselves and if you are busy – you are. Enjoy it. If not, shut the bejesus up and stop moaning. It’s a 21st Century affliction. Where did we ever get the thought that busy was so good? We now spend our days on social media telling the world how busy we are – The Busy Brigade are trying to take over the world! Although, now I live in the UK I have to say it seems far more prevalent in Australia!

We are all different. I thought I was a robust, tough little cookie – I still think I am. I just think now that I am no longer equipped to withstand it as I once did, or as people still do today. I was ill for long periods of time. I had migraines every other month that shut me down for 3 days! When we start listening to ourselves, it is truly frightening what we hear.

I’m not saying that over-achieving is bad. I still achieve, I still have goals and lists and I have an amazing life. I just don’t need to do it at such a break neck pace. It made me ill. Not doing it doesn’t. That bit ain’t rocket science!

hr… it’s lonely at the top

In reading the latest post from Alison Chisnell, I realised and I guess recalled, what I remember feeling, at a time when I was deep in middle earth HR. That this is a lonely job. It is a tough job, and one you don’t seem to make friends in (it’s just easier that way!)

I mean that in the best possible way. If you think about what we, as HR Professionals get charged with; what we are told, what we do – a lot of that is surrounded by confidentiality, integrity and privacy. If you hear something, or if you are the official holder of information, you are usually where the buck stops. If the CEO has decided to outsource the business, you get told but you can’t tell anyone else. If there is a performance issue with a staff member, same deal. I have even been entrusted with relationships that have needed to be kept secret!

Alison’s post reminded me what it was like, being in a position of managing change within an organisation. It isn’t just HR Professionals who can be isolated, senior management are in the same boat. The saying of it being lonely at the top didn’t just magic it’s way into our phrase books. I’m not talking about HR being the “top” of the business world (although, we all know it should!), or making a point about it being a better role in any organisation (again…..!), but usually, when the heads at the top want some change in the business, we are either the first to know about it from them (preferable), or the first to hear it on the grapevine, possibly because something has been done in a “unique” way. It makes us the top of the tree sometimes, when it would be far easier not to be.

Either way, the idea of HR Professionals talking to each other, supporting each other and sharing our experiences is a healthy one. In the world of Social Media, or in fact most online business, everyone shares everything – results, what to do, how to do it, how not to do it especially! In HR, we tend to want to be the keepers of information. Shared knowledge is a powerful thing. To be the one sharing your own knowledge, helping people out and perhaps lending an ear or a shoulder of support needs to be encouraged. Thanks for the reminder Alison!