Future proof your career

A few years ago, jobs like social media manager didn’t exist. Today, the call for people with the skills to oversee digital communities is overwhelming. It’s more than likely that we’ll face similar scenarios in the future, with jobs that today seem obscure becoming ubiquitous. In fact, the United States’ Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released information on the skills that will be most in demand in 2016.

  • The healthcare industry is set to grow, and will have to meet the needs of an ageing population. The fact that people have longer life expectancies than ever before adds another dimension to this situation.
  • There is an ever growing need for educational services.
  • In the professional services industry, administrative and support jobs are gaining traction.
  • Unsurprisingly, the scientific and technical fields continue to grow. Companies’ reliance on information technology shows no signs of slowing, while network security comes to the fore. New technologies require new skills, and with the business environment becoming ever more complex, management and technical consulting services will remain of the utmost importance. Related to this, in the IT industry, the relentless demand for telecommunications services will provide many opportunities for skilled workers.
  • Other sectors pinpointed by the report include leisure and hospitality, accommodation and food services, warehousing and storage and retail. Utilities, finance and the public sector are also expected to be major employers. While South Africa’s economic and social contexts obviously mean that there is more demand for certain skills than others, it’s unarguably interesting to observe the global trends. It’s also possibly worthwhile developing skills that may be useful in these industries.

Is there a bully in your workplace?

Online trolling tactics have made us hypersensitive to the dangers of cyberbullying, but it’s not just social media users who are at risk. Workplace bullying is a very real problem, too.

Doctors Gary and Ruth Namie of America’s Workplace Bullying Institute (workplacebullying.org) define workplace bullying as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results.” The colleague who accuses another of doing something they didn’t do, the employee who makes inappropriate remarks, the team member who makes another feel humiliated – they’re all bullies.

Obviously, one thoughtless comment shouldn’t turn someone into the office villain, but if an individual has repeatedly victimized others, their behavior needs to be addressed. From a personal perspective, bullying can be so traumatic that it takes a toll on emotional and physical wellbeing, but the impacts from an organisation’s point of view are significant, too, including lower staff morale and subsequent poor productivity.

What to do?

First, educate your teams so that they understand what constitutes unacceptable behavior; even something as seemingly insignificant as ignoring a colleague may be considered bullying. It’s critical for managers to play a role in this process, too.

Next, create policies that define bullying behaviour so that the company’s approach is institutionalized. Publish these in a handbook which is issued to all employees, and ensure they include information on what resources are to hand should an employee feel bullied, and how these can be accessed. Explain, too, what action will be taken against bullies.

If an employee presents a complaint against another, ask for them to document bullying incidents. Remember, though, that the bullying may already have affected their self-confidence and sense of security, so make it clear that this isn’t about casting doubt on their testimony, but rather creating a record of evidence for when you confront the bully.

Finally, manage any individual who has been accused on bullying. Schedule a meeting with the individual and HR, where the issue is explained, and possibly invest in anti-bullying training.

Mid-career crisis?

What happens when you find yourself at a crossroads: you’ve climbed the ladder to reach a comfortable place in your career, but you find that you no longer have the drive to give it your all? Is it too late at this stage – when you are no longer a fledgling newbie, but a respected member of management – to make a leap?

I’m all for doing what makes you happy in life. In fact, I truly believe that, while we all experience some doubts and niggles at some stage, the more passionate you feel about your job, the more successful you will be. But, before you sign up for night classes, here are some things to consider.

  • If your restlessness comes on the back of a family crisis (a divorce or death in the family, for instance), cool your heels. At times like this, it’s natural to re-evaluate your life. The flipside, of course, is that this might also be an ideal time to take stock and make a change.
  • Your financial situation is a major factor. By the time you’re in your 40s, you’ve become a member of the ‘sandwich generation’, looking after your parents as well as your kids. Before you start at the bottom of the ladder once more, are your finances sufficiently healthy to weather the change? Will you be able to manage on a lower salary?
  • Are there any steps you can take that aren’t permanent or drastic? Could you, perhaps, remain within your organisation? Maybe a lateral move, or some new skills training, are all you need. Or maybe a fresh company with a new culture will revive your enthusiasm. Perhaps a sabbatical will help you to get back on track.
  • If you do decide to change, you’ll need to maintain an open mind. The workforce you’re about to become part of will be substantially different to the one you joined 20 years ago – but keep your eyes and ears open, because they’ll have a lot to teach you.

Four office configurations that make sense

Cubicles. Everyone hates them. They may be optimal when it comes to functionality, giving employees a reasonably private workspace that still allows them to maintain close contact with their team – but, there’s no denying that they are one of the more depressing office space configurations.

Enter the office of the future, where flexibility is the key word. In this environment, workspaces are configured according to the company culture – so, if your organisation prides itself on its collaborative nature, the establishment of work circles and open plan settings becomes important. Here are some other ways giving careful thought to configuration can boost your organisation:

  • Workspaces can enhance employees’ health. Sitting for hours at a time can have a tremendously harmful impact on your body. Help your employees by providing furniture like standing desks, or chairs that supply lumbar support. Bathrooms featuring showers are also a help for those who have run or cycled to work.
  • Not mad about open offices, but even less fond of cubicles? Modular furniture may be the answer. Within minutes, you can assemble a private workspace that meets the needs of a staffer looking for a place where they can have a private conversation or finish a project.
  • Touchdown spaces are a new alternative to meeting rooms. They’re less formal than board rooms (so more attractive to millennial and Generation Z workers), and yet just as conducive: these spaces offer a variety of seating options where staffers can have a quick catch up, then move on.
  • The ideal office should offer a mix of formal, private work stations; larger open spaces; formal meeting rooms and quiet pods where more casual conversations can be held.

If your office doesn’t quite measure up, chances are that there will be changes in the not too distant future. After all, if the world’s leading corporates are offering sleep pods (see our last blog post), a touchdown space suddenly seems far less revolutionary.

Three trends that may revolutionise your workplace

Henry Ford, he who invented the assembly line as the ultimate answer to optimising worker productivity, would be turning in his grave if he could see some of the solutions today’s corporates are coming up with to coax a little more work out of their employees. We’ve taken a look at three of the most innovative and interesting trends. What do you think – do these have a place in South African corporates?

  1. Work together, live together. If you can’t make it til 5pm without losing your temper with one of your colleagues, this trend is definitely not for you. On the other hand, some US start-ups, like Enplug – a company that specialises in advertising technology – have set up digs where their workers not only sleep, but work and socialise too. The upside is, apparently, the streamlined thinking and focus this creates. The downside? There’s no reason not to call a meeting at 10pm – everyone’s around, anyway.
  2. Power napping at work. Since Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, experienced injuries during a fall caused by exhaustion, the working world has taken note of the importance of sleep. Some corporates have responded not by cutting working hours, but by providing sleep pods where workers can reboot with a quick nap. Google and Procter & Gamble are amongst the first to adopt this trend, claiming that it helps to give employees a much needed boost.
  3. Working barefoot. Less extreme than encouraging a workday nap – yet apparently equally effective when it comes to reducing stress – are organisations that insist employees shed their shoes when they come to work. The theory is that it creates a more relaxed mindset and helps to eradicate hierarchies between employees; some scientists also claim that without shoes, the different textures of carpets and flooring may help to stimulate certain points in the feet – just like reflexology. This is a practice we at SearchSpecifics have been practising for years; we’ve found that it allows us to relax and produce without restrictions. It provides a point of calm in our pressured environment.

Generation Z: What’s it all about?

Just when you got your head around managing millennials in the workplace (well, almost), a new challenge arises: this year sees the first members of Generation Z (those born between the mid-90s and early 00’s) taking up jobs.

Just like their predecessors, this generation is set to upend the workplace with a new set of aspirations. Their primary goals? Whereas, for millennials, it was (mostly) about the money, Generation Z seems to be focused on finding their dream job. Which makes things difficult for employers because, while millennials’ financial objectives meant that they were likely to stick out a job they didn’t enjoy (especially during the recession), these new workers will be loyal only to themselves. When a better offer comes along, they’re going to take it.

What does this mean for organisations? For a start, the nice-to-haves that were so important for millennials (like remote working opportunities and flexible schedules) will come second place to the potential for real career development. Show Generation Z how you plan to get them from their current post to the corner office, and you’re in with a chance.

Retention is also going to become an increasing priority. If your employee is constantly on the lookout for an organisation that can offer them more in terms of job satisfaction and meaningful work, it means that you have to work hard to persuade them not to leave. In fact, a study cited in Fortune.com said that many Generation Z’ers believe that one year is the optimal time to stay in your first job. The message is clear: the more you can offer them in terms of training and development, the better. Help them hone their skills through courses, by all means, but also be aware that this group want seek development in its broadest sense – so send them to conferences, encourage them to select a mentor, and remind them that you’re as focused on their next step up the career ladder as they are.

Before you boomerang…

The prospect of new opportunities can often make your present job seem stale. But what happens if you’ve tried other avenues and found that you genuinely prefer what you were doing? Before you ask your manager for your old job back, remember that there are certain instances where it’s better to accept that some things are better left in the past.

Don’t consider returning to your old position if:

  • You’re going back at a disadvantage. If your manager makes a big deal about you returning, to the point where you feel like they’re doing you a favour, you’re definitely going to be on a weaker footing than when you left. Maybe you’re fine with this, but consider that your departure may have left a serious dent in your credibility that will affect how everyone – from your colleagues to your superiors and direct reports – sees you and interacts with you. It may even impact on your opportunity for advancement.
  • You experienced a personality clash with any of the people you interact with daily. It’s often said that people don’t leave job, they leave managers. Too true. If you and your previous manager just didn’t get on, it doesn’t matter how interesting the work: the hostile environment will erode your productivity and enjoyment of the job.
  • You’re not actually completely convinced that this is the job – or company – for you. If you ask for your job back, it’s vital you have a long-term view. Leaving again if something better comes up with most certainly result in burnt bridges and may even affect your reputation within the industry.

Should you resign after three months?

It happens: you think you’ve found the dream job but, only weeks into the stint, you decide that it’s simply not for you. Conventional wisdom tells you that future employers may raise their eyebrows at your decision to leave; other people might say that you probably haven’t given the position a chance. But, if instinct tells you it’s time to go, it might well be time to hand in your resignation. Here are some further considerations:

  • Your first step should be to discuss you concerns with your manager. By vocalising your misgivings, you are giving the company an opportunity to address the issue – something they will undoubtedly appreciate, given their investment in hiring and training you.
  • If you’ve tried to fix the problem and you still don’t feel happy, consider that if you feel a job doesn’t suit you, you’re probably not all that well suited to the job. People seldom perform well unless they’re passionate about what they’re doing, so you’re not the only person who’s being short-changed by an unsatisfactory arrangement. The organisation would benefit from someone who’s willing to give more of themselves.
  • Today’s job market is a lot less prescriptive than it used to be, meaning that future employees are less likely to judge you as unreliable or lacking commitment if there is a short term of employment recorded on your CV. It does become an issue, however, if there are many such interludes.
  • If you’re determined to resign, do so with grace. Explain your situation to your employers (without emphasising your negative feelings about the workplace or the job itself). Remember that South African industries are small; chances are that you’ll be working together, in some capacity, in the future.

Getting the most out of your career coach sessions

So you’ve decided to go ahead and hire a career coach – after all, it might be just what you need to reignite your workplace enthusiasm. Now what you need to know is how to make your coach work for you.

First – and perhaps most important – is finding a coach that you can gel with. Coaching is an intensely personal process: after all, you’ll be revealing some rather intimate details to your coach, like your fear of failure and where it stems from. Your values and ethics are also going to come into play, so if you’re working with someone whose views are vastly different from your own, you’re not going to make much progress. The best way to find an appropriate coach? The same way you would find a personal trainer or therapist: ask around, especially amongst your peer group, as they are likely to have an outlook similar to yours.

Next, when the coach gives you homework (which they will), make time for it. Of course this is tricky when you have an already overcrowded schedule but, again, if you’re not prepared to put in the hours, you’re simply going to be wasting your money. What’s more, even if the activities strike you as odd or unnecessary, you need to ignore your scepticism. Your coach has trained to become an expert in this area, so you can be sure that they know what they’re doing.

Finally, your coaching process is going to involve a lot of probing questions. Remember that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, so don’t base your responses on what you think the coach wants to hear or what you imagine will earn you more points. Give honest, frank answers, otherwise your coach won’t be able to give you the correct advice.

Coaching – yay or nay?

Somehow, you’ve fallen out of love with your job. You’ve tried all the usual avenues, thought to inspire and motivate – approaching your tasks a different way, learning and applying new skills, and even mentoring a new member of your firm – but nothing’s working. Could a career coach be the answer?

Don’t let the ‘buzziness’ of the word coach put you off – yes , it might sound all very trendy, but the truth is that coaches do achieve results. Enthusiasts say they can help increase your productivity, clarify your goals (and thereby make them easier to achieve) and identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you are better able to harness them.

These can indeed add to your overall job satisfaction: often, the reason why your passion starts lagging is because work becomes too repetitive, or even because your stretch targets are, well, too challenging. A coach can even help you find out why your enthusiasm has started to wane, and can put you on the right track again – or give you tips for improving work life balance. Your coach could also hope you hone skills like networking or interviewing; anything that could give you a boost.

The flipside – and there is always a flipside – is that coaching requires an investment in time and money. While your company might be persuaded to pick up the tab, you need to be realistic about whether you’re willing to put in the hours. If you’re already feeling stressed or put upon, this might become something extra to add to your grudge list. But, if you’re not willing to put in the work, you won’t make any progress. You’ll be exactly where you are now, but a little poorer and with more on your to-do list.

The ultimate solution? Consider shelving any scepticism and give coaching a try. In coming editions, we’ll provide tips on how to choose a coach and get the most out of your sessions.