On ageing

I turned 50 a few years ago. The thing is, I don’t feel it. In fact I get somewhat taken aback when I get offered a seat. I think, do I look ill? Tired? Or worst of all pregnant? No doubt things on my body are heading further southward… Not to mention East and West. But do I look old enough to warrant being offered a seat on the tram? Thank you young lady but I can stand the 3 stops between car park and office. Or the middle aged man in the airport departure lounge… who must have been close to my age. Ok, I may have just got off a long haul flight, but seriously! Or, shock horror, the offer of a seat on the London underground where old ladies, tourists and small children get trampled in the rush for available seats! Cue much scowling from seasoned commuters when tourists block seats with their bags. There’s an etiquette people!

I took umbridge couple of years ago when I discovered that the term digital native did not apply to me. Surely my generation were the ones to introduce computers to the workplace for heaven’s sake. Migrating from our Amstrad and Commodore 64s was a natural progression. Ok, yes that does make me old but not ancient!

Ageing is a process denied to some (or something like that). Having been diagnosed with cancer (twice) does put growing older in perspective. Far from being ‘life changing’, as one colleague’s well-meaning spouse suggested, my close call with potentially life-limiting illness was life affirming. Yes, I want to live to a ripe old age. Yes, I want to travel more, to work in different organisations, learn more, write more, laugh more, love again. Yes, I want to live! Even embrace the decline that old age so often brings.

My mum is now 86. Her decline over the past year or so has been marked and my brother and I are preparing her for a move into care. She is ready. She accepts she finds it hard to cope at home. Even with support services in place, she finds more and more daily activities exhausting. Things we take for granted when we are young and vibrant. Meal preparation, showering, cleaning. Many things we can outsource. But others, such as feeding her cat, calling her friends or family, organising her finances, can’t always be assigned to others. She is forgetful, easily confused and anxious about the world she no longer understands.

Yet even watching my mum’s decline doesn’t make me long nostalgically for my youth. With each extra year of life, I have the opportunity to embrace living. I can continue to nurture old friendships and welcome new ones. I can learn, laugh, love and try to remember to live in the moment. Youth isn’t wasted on the young. We can all maintain a youthful outlook, even as the years pass. Ageing well is a tribute to the life we have lived and the experiences that are yet to come.


Is it time to rethink your workplace wellness strategy?


More and more businesses are considering corporate wellness programmes and introducing initiatives to support the physical and mental health of their employees. However, these may fall short when it comes to embedding wellbeing into the DNA of your organisation. The most common approach that organisations take is to introduce health promotion programmes such as physical fitness or nutrition guidance that places the onus firmly on the employee to do the right thing. However, a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US found that many of the return on investment claims of corporate wellness strategies cannot be supported. As reported in the British Psychological Society Research Digest this week[1], corporate wellness programmes that focus on healthy behaviours will generally only improve health outcomes for those employees who are likely to be doing well without the workplace intervention.

For a workplace wellbeing programme to really make a difference, you need to take a more strategic approach. In the words of Brigadier General Dr Rhonda Cornum, who developed the world’s first mass organisational resilience programme for the US military – the Comprensive Soldier Fitness Programme, it’s all about data driven decision making. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dr Cornum on a number of occasions and her mental toughness, ability to bounce back from adversity and growth mindset have left me in awe. Having a data driven approach to workplace wellbeing means starting with evaluating the unique issues facing your business and its people. What do your workforce metrics tell you about your employees? Are there particular areas of the organisation with absenteeism or presenteeism concerns? Do you know why people are accessing your employee assistance programme? Are you seeing an increase in stress or mental health-related absences? Are your employee engagement scores lower in some teams than others? Do you know whether your workplace wellbeing programmes are producing the results that you want? And last, but by no means least, what are you wanting to achieve from a wellbeing programme in the first place? Using the data that you already collect on your workforce will help you to focus on what initiatives are most likely to be effective.

There is a growing amount of research that demonstrates, scientifically, what works to build the wellbeing and resilience of individuals, including in a work environment. Having a scatter gun approach and hoping that it’s going to improve the mental health, productivity or engagement of employees is too simplistic. By identifying the wellbeing issues that are impacting on your people, implementing interventions that have been rigorously tested through research and then evaluating their impact against your desired end state will go much further in realising positive outcomes for your workforce. Having a wellbeing lens takes time, energy and resources. But the long term benefits for your business and your people will be worth the investment.

[1] https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/08/23/first-randomised-controlled-trial-of-an-employee-wellness-programme-suggests-they-are-a-waste-of-money/

How age-friendly is your workplace?


shaking hands

The current generation of older worker – the baby boomers – have revolutionised every aspect of society and are now transforming the concept of retirement. Don’t expect these rebels to sit gently rocking in their arm chairs, reading the daily paper in their older years. They are more likely to be travelling the world, caravanning across Australia, chasing after grandchildren, caring for their elderly parents, and juggling their work-life balance. This cohort is unlikely to be attracted to the traditional model of retirement that their parents embraced. So, having policies that enable older workers to transition to retirement by working part-time, or to take time off to establish volunteering routines, travel or learn new hobbies will be far more appropriate to modern-day retirees than the traditional ‘golden handshake’.  As the proportion of older people participating in the workforce increases, so too will the demand for age-friendly workplaces.

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What’s the worst that can happen?

What is it about interviews that fill me with a sense of dread? Besides the fact that I’m trapped in a room, being scrutinised by two or three people, and given less than hour to convince them that I’m the person they want to hire to undertake their vital piece of work? At times, it feels a bit like going into battle!

2013-08-21 14.41.27

I recently found myself looking for new contract, which meant having to dust off my interview skills. After many years of working as a contractor, you’d think I’d be rocking this interview thing by now. Nope. Now, I know I can talk until the cows come home about what I’ve achieved in my past roles, how I’ve applied my skills and how these are relevant to the role and even how I’ve managed a situation when things haven’t gone to plan. I’m confident I know my stuff. If I’m asked to do a presentation, I can rise to the occasion – years of practice means I can keep my nerves at bay even when I can feel my knees trembling! Yep, like a duck swimming I am. So why, as I was sitting in my car outside of an organisation I was about to interview with, did I have the overwhelming urge to turn around and drive home again?

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How to leave a job

I think I’m getting pretty good at leaving jobs. Not that I’m a serial job hopper. I don’t start a job, decide it’s boring, then throw in the towel at the first opportunity (although there have been times when I wished I had!) And, let’s face it, in these tough times good jobs are hard to come by so it isn’t very wise to just chuck it all in just because you don’t like the commute, or the office, or your colleagues, or think you could run things better than your boss. Having said that, I’ve definitely left jobs in the past because of poor management. No, I’m not a flaky employee. I’m a career contractor (for that, read ‘crazy person who’s decided that having control over her work-life balance is more important than getting a regular income’!) As a career contractor, I take on long or short-term contracts of work for an organisation that needs my skills and expertise for a period of time. I’ve been working this way for almost 9 years and, quite frankly, it has transformed my working life. I’ve worked for start-ups, national and international charities, community groups, global corporations, federal, state and local government departments and volunteer organisations. I’ve worked in many industries and sectors, countries and locations. I’ve worked with some amazing people (and some total nut cases), made lifelong friends, done some really interesting work (and some really dull stuff) and managed to earn a reasonable living. But, with each new contract comes the eventual reality that I will leave. I’m used to it now and usually view the ending of a contract as a new opportunity. After all, one door closes and another door opens. Sadly, many organisations don’t view the endings quite as positively as I do.

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Change in uncertain times

I think I’ve always been comfortable with change. I don’t view it as something to fear, but something to embrace. It took me a while to realise that not everybody thinks like I do.

Throughout my working life, I’ve often found myself at the coal-face of the interaction between people and organisations and I find it fascinating. Working in change management means that I often see the very worst of people – but also the very best. That intersection where people and organisations collide can be fraught with conflict. Supporting people to navigate the sometimes rocky terrain is often where HR practitioners spend most of their time and energy. It is a slippery path to tread – caught between the needs of the employees and the demands of management. More often than not, management wins. No wonder HR is often seen as something that is ‘done to’ people rather than ‘done for’.

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