Take Control of Your Return to Work

Rachel Wright2-Dec17Rachel Wright is a Career Coach and HR professional at WrightCareer who specialises in helping women to achieve a successful return to work following a career break. In this article, Rachel shares tips on how to take control of 5 key areas essential for a smooth return to work. These are based on her experience of coaching women returners and setting up her career coaching business after a career break. Rachel will cover what inspired and enabled her to succeed including building confidence and self-belief, breaking down internal barriers and regaining a professional identity.

For myself and many other women, we spend years building our careers and professional identities until the time comes when some of us have children.  In many cases, including my own, we make a conscious decision to take some time out of work to bring up our children.  As I emerged from the haze of the sleep deprived early years, I started to listen to other mums say that they wanted to return to work but felt that they had lost their confidence, didn’t know what they wanted to do and often didn’t know where to start.  This sparked an idea and a passion in me that I couldn’t let go of and which eventually led to me making my own return to work, transitioning from HR into the field of career coaching.  Through my experience of working with returners I have identified 5 key areas essential to be aware of, and take action on, to ensure a successful return to work.

Break Down Your Internal Barriers

The main barriers to getting started on your return to work journey often begin with what is going on inside your own head more than what is going on in the working world.

I feel rusty and out of date and employers aren’t going to be interested in me when they see that I have taken a career break.”

No doubt, you have had years of experience prior to your career break and have gained a multitude of transferable skills during this time.  You are likely to have developed your ability to multi-task, adapt to change, deal with difficult situations and organise events. These are all skills which are transferable to the workplace.  Through reading up on the latest trends and challenges in your profession and speaking to old work colleagues you can identify what areas of your knowledge, skills and expertise you want to develop and refresh to ensure you are up to date.

I won’t be able to get the flexibility that I need to meet my family commitments.”

Talk things through and get buy in from your family at an early stage about practical arrangements for when you return to work as it will be a change for everyone.  Can older children take on more responsibility?  Can your partner share some of the home responsibilities?  What do you want to outsource and pay someone else to do?

It is also important to understand what motivates and interests you because, if you discover this, then it will be the driver for you to start breaking down those barriers.

Build Your Self-Belief and Confidence

Seek out some 360 degree feedback from past work colleagues, family and friends.  Ask them to tell you what they believe to be your top skills and strengths.  What words would they use to describe your personal qualities?  Make sure you also come up with your own list, and then compare your list to what others are saying.  We can often be very critical on ourselves and it helps to get perspectives from others.  Also take some time to make a list of your satisfying achievements and think about what skills and strengths you were using at the time.

Reconnect With Your Professional Self

Start attending work related events, join professional networks and reconnect with former colleagues. When I started back, it helped me to find out what was going on in the working world in my previous profession as well as in the field I was looking to move into.  I immediately started to make new contacts, rekindle existing relationships and join in with work related discussions.  It also provides the opportunity to practise verbalising your career story, starting with your work background, to what you have achieved in your career break and what you are now looking to do.  By saying it out loud it can help you to refine your story and encourage self-belief.  It will also mean that you are in control of the story you are telling.

Start To Network

Draw out a personal network map so that you can identify all the people you know from different parts of your life who could be useful contacts in connection with your return to work.  Think about whether they can share information with you, act as a mentor, support you in some way or connect you to other useful contacts?  Then start to reach out to them, whether it’s through LinkedIn, catching up for a coffee or meeting with them to find out more about the organisation they work in.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile then put one together, and include a professional photo.  If you do have a profile, then make sure it is up-to-date and relevant to the kind of role you want now.

Be Creative with Your Job Search Strategy

Strategic volunteering can be a great way to gain experience and build confidence back in a work setting.  Many charities offer internships and are happy to take on volunteers to support their work.

A growing number of organisations are now running Returnship programmes where you can secure a paid internship for 3 to 6 months and receive coaching, training and mentoring support, with a high chance of you securing a permanent role at the end of the programme.

87% of recruiters are now using LinkedIn to look for candidates.  Manage your LinkedIn activity and connect with relevant people in your profession.  You can then search the name of an organisation you may be interested in working for to find out if you have any connections there.  Get yourself noticed by joining in with relevant online conversations to demonstrate your expertise and interest in a particular field.

To conclude, make sure you take the time to really understand who you are, what you want, what is stopping you and what can help you. Then put in place a realistic action plan so that you take control of your return to work.

Rachel’s article appeared in the December 2017 edition of Women in Leadership Newsletter – published monthly by Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Take a minute out of your busy day to recharge your batteries

P1030433One of the key challenges facing the female leaders I interviewed during a research project into Women in Leadership was struggling with the 24/7 culture in an increasingly global marketplace.  Expectations to answer calls and respond to e-mails immediately whatever the time of day or night on top of an ever increasing workload are stretching people to breaking point.  Leaving work behind when you walk out of the office door seems like a distant memory to many of the senior leaders I coach.  It’s not surprising that stress levels at work are rising at a rapid rate.  According to UK government statistics 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17 resulting in 12.5 million working days lost.  As well as the human cost, those non-productive days have a significant impact on the bottom line of companies already struggling to stay ahead of the field!

As stress levels rise doctors, counsellors and coaches are increasingly recommending mindfulness practice. What used to be considered by many people as “alternative” is now firmly in mainstream health practices. In a nutshell, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Research shows that that the practice of mindfulness techniques can enable people to develop resilience to the challenges and stress of the modern workplace. Mindfulness also raises self-awareness and self-management and many research studies show remarkable gains in business productivity as a result.

Take a mindful minute

When I recommend mindfulness practice to clients who are feeling stressed by a heavy workload their initial reaction is often “I simply don’t have time!” However, once I explain that it only takes a minute most people are willing to give it a go, so why don’t you?

This short exercise, called ‘the mindful minute’, will enable you to create a simple and short mindfulness meditation tailored just for you. Here’s how:

Lower your eyes and notice where you feel your breath. That might be the air going in and out at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest or stomach. If you can’t feel anything, place your hand on your stomach and notice how your hand gently rises and falls with your breath. If you like, you can lengthen the in breath and the out breath or just breathe naturally. Your body knows how to breathe.

Focus on your breath. When your mind wanders, as it will do, just gently bring your attention back to your breath.

This exercise can be done for longer than one minute. However, even for one minute it will enable you to pause and be in the moment.  You might also find it helpful to breathe out stress on the out breath and breathe in relax on the in breath.

Doing this short exercise at intervals throughout the day will enable you to create minutes of present moment awareness, with all the positive benefits of mindfulness.

If you are feeling stressed by a heavy workload and would like help finding your mindful moments please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk

Is Multitasking a Myth?

multitasking-Oct17I often hear female family members and friends proudly announcing – usually in front of their husbands or partners – their “innate” skills at multitasking.  This invariably prompts a playful exchange of views about how women are “natural” multitaskers and men find it hard to focus on more than one thing at a time.  The Cambridge English Dictionary defines multitasking as A person’s ability to do more than one thing at a time” with a surprising footnote that supports the above assumption “Women are often very good at multitasking”. But is this true?  Is there such a thing as multitasking, and how is our performance affected when we are simultaneously paying attention to our computers, smart phones, iPads, and urgent tasks we need to complete by the end of the day?

In our culture, there is certainly a perception that people can successfully multitask and a belief that the more we do it the more efficient at it we become. After all, most of us would say we are multitasking many times during the day. So what are the motivations behind all our multitasking? In her blog article “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention,” Linda Stone, writer and consultant, makes a distinction between simple multitasking and what cognitive scientists refer to as “complex multitasking” to explain her theory of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA).  In simple multitasking, each task is given the same priority. One task may even be routine, like stirring pasta while talking to our spouse. Stone claims the driving force in simple multitasking is to be more productive. In complex multitasking, the motivation is not to miss anything by maintaining a field of CPA. As Stone explains, “In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.” One of these cognitive tasks may also seem more important than another, requiring our brains to be focused on it while remaining alert to the several other less important cognitive tasks requiring our attention. Stone continues, “When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel. Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.”

Indeed, neuroscientists are discovering that different parts of the brain are switching on and off, resulting in the serial processing that Stone refers to. This switching happens so fast that it appears we are performing multiple tasks simultaneously.  Therefore the dictionary definition of multitasking as “A person’s ability to do more than one thing at a time” doesn’t reflect how our brains function. When we try to do several complex tasks at the same time we are rapidly switching back and forth between each task with some of us in an unfulfilled state of continuous partial attention.

So what exactly is the data derived from recent research in the field of multitasking showing? Dr Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford University, carried out a study on the performance levels of extreme multitaskers in the student population.  Contrary to the fact that most multitaskers think they are extremely good at it, the results of Nass’s studies raised concerns: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking! They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganised. Recent work we’ve done suggests that they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be we’re creating people who may not be able to think well and clearly.”

Stone’s theory of CPA is supported in the article “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers” by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass and Anthony D. Wagner. The abstract of their study states the following surprising findings: “that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.” It is important to note Stone’s CPA is not multitasking; rather she is referring to the kind of attention we hold while we are complex multitasking. Maintaining our attention in this state of hyper-vigilance keeps our fight or flight response activated. According to Stone, some people will feel alive, on top of things and connected. She concedes this can serve us well at times. However, Stone claims the shadow side of being on continuous, continuous partial attention (CCPA) is a constant activation of the fight or flight response. The complex multitasker is in a continuous state of overstimulation with a perpetual feeling of lack of fulfilment that can lead to stress-related diseases.

So empirical evidence supports the view that multitasking is a myth. The word points to something that at best can be viewed as individual tasks being performed through a very rapid switching back and forth to match the way our brains function or through continuous partial attention.  Research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, indicates that continuously trying to do several complex tasks at the same time can negatively affect performance and lead to increased levels of stress. Therefore, the quality of our lives and our health may depend on our ability to efficiently switch our attention from one task to another.  Importantly, it will also depend on our ability to learn how to deal with any distractions from the task that requires our attention in this moment.

If you are struggling with your work load and want to improve your skills at efficiently switching your attention please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk


Five practical tips for leading more effectively in multinational teams

Mary Douglas-Aug17Mary Douglas is a Finance Director with a depth of experience of designing and implementing multi-disciplinary finance-related projects in blue chip multinational organisations.  I invited Mary to share her ‘top tips’ on how to lead effectively in multicultural teams.  These are based on insights she has gained as a leader and a team member from what worked well, mistakes made, or from passing comments by colleagues that have sparked a new way of thinking. 

One of the biggest impacts from advances in technology during my career is that we now work in an increasingly virtual global work space where teams no longer need to be co-located.   Working in this environment is interesting and exciting but can bring its own set of challenges.  I have worked in varying complex teams ranging from corporate office global roles, regional Shared Services Centres to large multidisciplinary special project teams.  At the core of all these teams has been the people I worked with and I believe how we interact with each other is the key to creating an effective and successful team.

1. It’s about people – put yourself in the shoes of the other person

I can particularly relate to putting myself in the other person’s shoes when I have team members visiting from another country on a secondment.  I remember how I felt when I first moved to Jamaica and how I sometimes missed home at times of major celebrations.  I try to think what it is like for my team members to be away from family for a prolonged period at a time of significant events.  I have found that little gestures to celebrate these occasions really help with team morale.

From my shared service centre experience quite often a centre located offshore can be viewed as the anonymous ‘shared service provider’.  Therefore it can be easy to forget how seconded staff may feel when in the UK. By showing an interest in the culture of team members from different countries it can help a team bond together and is a great way to expand my own horizons.

One of the most difficult times in my career was when I was so focused on achieving an outcome I forgot that my team members were people first.  It was a hard lesson to learn as I hadn’t been thinking about the impact of my actions on them.  Now I also consider how things may look from the other person’s viewpoint.

Whenever practical, I try to physically meet team members located in different locations at least once as these visits give me a greater appreciation of their working environment and the practical challenges they may face.  It is interesting to finally meet people face to face and see how our respective preconceived visions of each other match up with the real thing.

2. Develop some short term goals to breed success and have a clear vision of what the team is trying to achieve.

When I have been in teams that successfully achieved some early goals it has created a great team bond that motivated us to want to deliver more success.  I try to set some short term project goals so that we can deliver progress together at an early stage.    I also think that celebrating success and taking time to look back and recognise what has been achieved is equally important as achieving the successful outcome.

I am someone who likes to know what my objective is within a project so I always try to provide a clear vision for my team of what we are trying to achieve and how we fit into the bigger picture.  In several of my roles this understanding was a big factor in motivating my team to come together as a unit, think creatively and want to change things for the better.

3. Understand the reality of time differences

A simple comment made by an Australian colleague made me think more deeply about the impact of scheduling meetings to suit my time zone.  Colleagues working in a smaller regional office often attend a lot more calls with a wider range of head office staff.  This means that they have early morning and late evening conference calls most days.  I now offer to schedule meetings during my Australian or American colleagues’ working hours and have rapidly built rapport by recognising that the world does not revolve around me!

I always structure the agenda for multinational conference calls so that items relevant to all team members are scheduled first and UK specific items are discussed at the end. This enables colleagues in different regions to drop off the call when they are no longer required.

Another chance comment on inheriting a new team taught me to avoid scheduling meetings on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon with people that have long distances to travel.

4. Don’t assume that everyone interprets what you say in the same way

My many travels have taught me to not assume that my colleagues will interpret what I say in the same way as me.  I learnt the hard way that ‘yes’ does not always mean agreement or understanding.  This is sometimes true in cultures where demonstrating a lack of understanding may be considered a sign of weakness and disagreeing with a more senior team member is not the norm.

I find it useful to ask for someone to quickly recap the key points of a conversation either mid-way through or at the end of a meeting.  This is a great way to test interpretation and provides an opening for everyone to ask clarification questions.

5. Use different communication styles for instructions

I like to use a variety of communication styles when requesting input or issuing instructions in a virtual team because everyone tends to have their own preferred style of receiving information.  If I have initially introduced the concept in a meeting or on a call I will follow up on key points in a concise email, particularly if telephone links have been poor.  Conversely, if I have initiated complex requests by email I will follow up with a meeting or one to one call to provide further contextual background if needed.

In summary, the key to leading or being part of an effective multinational team is remembering that it is all about people.  Therefore, it is important to demonstrate respect for your colleagues.   As a leader, providing a clear vision and goals for your team will enable them to see the path you want them to follow.  Finally, adapting your communication style to meet the different needs of each member of your team will ensure that your messages are received loud and clear.

If this article has resonated with you and you would like help developing your team leadership skills please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk


Tips to help you to positively stretch out of your ‘comfort’ zone

Chris climbing Mayrhofen-Aug17I learnt a lot about stretching out of my ‘comfort’ zone during a week’s holiday walking in the Austrian Alps earlier this month.  This photo shows me and a fellow walker concentrating on the next few steps up the steep mountain path.  I remember trying to ignore the 3,000 foot drop to our side!  At the tops of the mountains we were rewarded by stunning views of the mountain ranges and valleys below which made the physical and mental stretch worthwhile.

Friends will tell you that I love walking and I spend much of my free time hiking with friends in the beautiful Surrey Hills and beyond.  All of these regular walks help to keep me fit and healthy and are usually well within my fitness level and ‘comfort’ zone.  However, when I go on holiday I like to give myself more of a challenge and stretch myself further to see what I am capable of achieving.

Here are some of the insights I gained during the holiday about how to make the stretching easier:

Recognise how far you want to stretch yourself

Each day the walk leaders described the ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ walk options and asked us to choose the one we would like to do.   The first walk of the holiday involved using chains to climb up a steep section of rock face followed by a walk along a narrow ridge with 3,000 feet drops either side.  I was tempted but, having previously experienced vertigo in similar circumstances, I decided this walk was a step too far.  I chose the ‘easy’ option and enjoyed the walk.  When I later looked at the video my partner had taken of the harder section of the walk I was relieved to see that I had made the right decision.

Ensure you have the support you need to help you to succeed

We were fortunate to have two skilled and very experienced leaders to guide us on our walks.  They kept a watchful eye to assess our fitness levels and the type of support and encouragement we each needed.  Also, I am very aware of terrain that make me nervous, especially exposed footpaths. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate to ask one of my walking companions for a hand up or to stay close during challenging sections.

Set a steady pace

The leaders set a steady pace appropriate to the level of difficulty of each section of the walk.  This was especially helpful up the steeper, narrower sections as it enabled us to keep together and give each other a helping hand and encouragement when needed.

Focus on the road ahead and not the pitfalls

When walking along the narrower, exposed footpaths keeping my attention on the leader rather than looking at the huge drop to my side helped me to focus on the way ahead and settle the butterflies in my stomach.

Take regular breaks to renew your energy

I have seen walkers race ahead up steep mountain paths on many occasions only to overtake them later as they struggle to catch their breath having stretched themselves too far.  When you sweat, your body loses a huge amount of water as it tries to cool itself down. Just a brisk walk in warm weather, for example, can make you lose a pound of water as your body tries to resume its normal temperature. Therefore it was essential to take regular breaks to replace the water loss and eat snacks to replenish our energy levels.

Give your companions enough space to move freely

Walking behind someone who regularly thrust their walking poles back in my direction, I quickly learnt to leave enough space to enable him to move freely to suit his walking style and avoid injury or accidents.

Enjoy the journey

When I want to improve my fitness, I sometimes walk with a group who like to do long walks at a fast pace. The downside, is that if I stop to tie my bootlace or admire the beautiful views they carry on regardless as they get their sense of achievement by completing the walk as quickly as possible.  By contrast I enjoy taking regular breaks to soak up the scenery and explore interesting places along the way.  So it’s important to recognise which type of journey you enjoy the most to help you to choose your travelling companions.

Focus on the ‘peak’ experiences

When I was feeling tired on some of the steep ascents I brought to mind the photos I had seen of the stunning views from the top that had inspired me to book the holiday.  These images gave me the energy boost, inspiration and motivation to complete and enjoy the journey.

If you would like to stretch out of your ‘comfort’ zone please get in touch to find out how I can help you on your journey. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk

Bridging the gender pay gap – If you don’t ask you don’t get

gender pay scale-July17The media has been flooded this week with news of the huge gender pay disparities revealed in the BBC’s unprecedented report of top earners.  With 7 men at the top of the earnings tree and women representing only a third of its 96 highest paid and earning a fraction of the salaries paid to their male colleagues it is unsurprising that female stars have expressed outrage.

The BBC is not the only organisation with huge pay gaps.   According to the 2016 Office of National Statistics Report the average pay for full-time female employees was 9.4% lower than full-time male employees.   The gap for all employees (full-time and part-time) was 18.1%.  Although this gap has been narrowing over the last 10 years there is still a long way to go to achieve financial parity.  From April 2017 UK employers will be required to include details of gender pay and bonus gaps in their annual reports.  Hopefully, this important step to bring transparency to any gender pay disparities will provide the necessary pressure and impetus for employers to put their houses in order.

What can women do to narrow the gender pay gap?

When reflecting on what women can do to address pay differentials with their male colleagues a comment by one of the BBC’s female presenters grabbed my attention:  “Women have got to get serious and stick up for each other. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that men and women have very different approaches to negotiating salary increases. In a BBC Radio 4 interview Nicola Horlick, investment fund manager, shared her thoughts on some of the reasons for the gender pay gap.  She said that most of her male colleagues negotiated hard for salary increases whereas her female colleagues tended to accept the first salary offered without question. The multiplier effect of these contrasting behaviours is to change what may have started out as a narrow pay gap to a chasm several years’ later.

Gender differences in approaches to salary negotiation

Friends tell me I “negotiate like a man!”  I have my dad to thank for passing on these skills as he liked a bargain and was a shrewd negotiator. He ran a green grocery business and I used to get up at 5 am during the school holidays for the pleasure of watching him skilfully negotiate prices at the fish and vegetable markets in Birmingham.  I was fascinated by the ease at which my dad got what he wanted and used to watch, listen and learn. It obviously paid off as a Sales Manager once asked me if I wanted a job selling cars after he had listened to me negotiating several ‘extras’ when buying a new car including a full tank of petrol, 12 month’s road tax, and parking sensors.  I was on the verge of persuading the salesman to include an MP3 player when his manager stepped in to put an end to the negotiations!

Results from a study from Carnegie Mellon University in the US demonstrate how vastly men and women differ in their approaches to salary negotiations.

  • Women, on average, ask for 30 percent less money than men.
  • Men are four times more likely to negotiate the salary for their first job than women.
  • Men are eight times more likely than women to negotiate their starting salary and benefits for a new job.
  • Women ask for salary increases or promotions 85 percent less often than their male counterparts.
  • 20 percent of women say they never negotiate at all, even though they recognise negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.
  • 5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiation.
  • When asked to pick metaphors for negotiations, men picked “winning a ball game match,” while women picked “going to the dentist.”

If you get a sinking feeling at the pit of your stomach when thinking about negotiating a new salary or salary increase here are a few tips to help:

1.  Ensure you are paid your true worth

With many employers struggling to attract candidates with the necessary skills and experience, if you are a talented jobseeker, you may find yourself in a stronger bargaining position. Whilst you need to be wary of pricing yourself out of the market for a new job, you also need to ensure you are paid your true worth – or ideally, slightly more. Employers might specify the salary a particular position carries, but there may still be room for negotiation in order to secure a more lucrative contract. The more in-demand your skills are, and the keener a hiring manager is to secure your signature, the greater the scope for a better offer.

2.  If you don’t ask you don’t get

You may feel uncomfortable asking an employer for more money. But in order to maximise your earning capacity, it is important to overcome any reluctance to do so. Employers will always be eager to get a good deal financially out of the person they hire, so there is no reason for jobseekers not to do the same. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. Humility may be an endearing quality at times, but it will not help you to pay the mortgage. Indeed, showing confidence in your abilities and asking employers to stretch a little further might just add a few pounds to your pay packet.

Employers will rarely, if ever, offer a higher salary without being prompted to do so. If you make such a request it could be rejected outright, but the hiring manager may decide to consider it. If they think you are the best candidate for the role and will add value to the organisation, it is possible some form of compromise could be reached.

3.  Make a clear commercial case of the value you bring to the organisation

If you are going to ask for a higher starting salary, it is important to make a clear commercial case for the employer to accept your request. You need to be able to explain clearly – ideally with the use of evidence and examples – why it makes sense to pay you more than the advertised rate. This means considering what makes you particularly valuable as an individual – what are your skills and what can they add to the organisation? This should build upon the information you have outlined in your CV earlier in the application process.

Employers may be interested in your level of experience, qualifications and educational background, plus your ability to sell, your industry contacts and personal clients, and perhaps even your knowledge of competitors. The more fact-based your submission is, the more likely the employer will decide to agree to your request.

4.  Be realistic when negotiating a higher starting salary

It is important to be realistic when negotiating a higher starting salary – otherwise you could jeopardise your position altogether, with the job going to someone else. Find out how much similarly skilled and experienced individuals working in the same industry are earning – this should help you assess what a good offer is. Speaking to industry contacts, checking salary guides and researching the hiring company can help build up a clearer picture.

If the idea of negotiating over pay unnerves you, it may be worth practising the conversation – running through the different scenarios so you have a clearer idea about what to say. Developing the pitch in your own time, rather than acting on the spur of the moment, should help take some of the edge off. Keeping things simple is advisable – just ask the question in clear, unambiguous terms. Not only will this avoid tying yourself in knots, it will also show the hiring manager that you mean business.

Remember that negotiating a starting salary is a business transaction – so in order for a deal to be reached, there needs to be something in it for both parties. As such, you need to be realistic and reasonable in your demands, and decide upon the lowest offer you are willing to accept. In the first instance, there is nothing wrong with asking for a higher-than-likely figure. If the employer does decide to negotiate, they will inevitably move downwards from your starting point.

5.  Patience can be key

If you do ask an employer to offer more money, it is unlikely they will agree to your request on the spot. It is entirely reasonable for the hiring manager to go away and discuss this with their colleagues or superiors following your meeting, and get back to you at a later point in time. They may even seek additional information from you to support your case, so always be prepared.

Should your negotiation fail, it is important to react in the right way – remaining gracious and composed.  Although you may it difficult, never take a refusal personally, as this is a business deal.  It may be worth asking whether other benefits – for example, additional annual leave – may be available in lieu of a higher starting salary. Potentially the hiring manager may be able to sign off on such requests, even if they are not in a permitted to offer additional pay.

Failing to secure a better pay offer isn’t the end of the world – after all, you have still managed to secure a new job. This gives you the opportunity to impress as an employee, and demonstrate your true value to your bosses. If you make the right impression during the first few months, your next conversation about salary could end up being much more fruitful.

If you need help building the skills and confidence to negotiate a better deal at work please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk

Are you struggling to look on the bright side of life?

Smile Capuccino-June17You have probably heard these ‘catch’ phrases before from people trying to cheer you up when you are going through a low patch:  “Look on the bright side of life.”  “Stay positive.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “Don’t let them grind you down.”

According to research negative thinking may have had a huge influence on why humans survived as a species since our ancestors who were more attuned to the dangers around them were the ones more likely to survive and pass on their genes.  Therefore our default mode may be to focus on the negatives and seeing the bright side of life may take more of a conscious effort and practice to create a new habit.

The problem with negative thinking is that studies also show that this type of mind set and outlook on life can adversely affect our health.  When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety in the same way it would react to physical danger. To help you cope with the physical demands you are about to ask your body to perform, your brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. They trigger a range of physical reactions that will equip your body for action.  Over a prolonged period of time, raised levels of these chemicals can start to have a toxic effect and you may become more prone to infections.   Therefore, looking on the bright side of life doesn’t just help us to feel happier but it could be actively keeping us healthy.   Here are seven ways to help you to focus more on the positive:

1. Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life

Do you feel the energy drain out of you when you spend time with people who are constantly focused on the negative and what’s going wrong in the world?  If so, redress the balance and start spending more time with friends, family and colleagues who have a positive outlook on life as this will help raise your energy levels and lift your mood.

2. Share positivity with others

Take every opportunity to share something positive with people you come into contact with every day.  For example, if you think a colleague gave an excellent presentation, share your thoughts with her.  Tune in to people’s strengths and share what you have noticed about what they do well.

3. Search for the silver lining

When you experience a challenging situation ask yourself “What have I learned from this experience?”  “What will I do differently next time?” “How has this made me a stronger person?”

4. Separate facts from fiction

Challenge yourself when you use words like never, always, worst, ever, etc.  Do you always lose your car keys?  This is unlikely.  Perhaps you forget where you put them sometimes.  Are you never going to find a solution to the problem?  If you are stuck, have you been resisting asking for help?  Or, if it really is an intractable problem, why are you banging your head against a wall?

5. Practice Gratitude

Recent studies have found that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.

Here are three simple things you can do to build positive momentum to help you to look on the bright side of life:

  1. Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.  A friend found this very helpful when her husband was going through chemotherapy.
  2. Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
  3. Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.

6. Choose a positive thought

When negative thoughts are getting you down think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small.  If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous few days or week.  Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.

7. Move more

Most of us know that regular exercise is good for our body.  But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.  As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.   Research shows that regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.

I appreciate that looking on the bright side of life can be really hard when you are going through challenging times.  The good news is there are effective strategies you can use to help you to stay more positive, and most importantly – feeling better overall.

If you would like help looking on the bright side of life please get in touch. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.


Financial equality – The first step to gender parity

Fiona Dunsire-May17The steps that both employers and individuals can take to promote financial equality have a huge impact on empowering women and achieving gender parity in the workplace.  Fiona Dunsire, UK CEO of Mercer, the global consultant helping companies improve the health, wealth and careers of their people, discusses how the need for financial independence framed her own career decisions.  She also highlights the actions employers can take to recognise and support the different financial needs of women.

Despite all the talk and genuine good work being undertaken by many companies, we have to acknowledge that in the workplace there is a long way to go before we achieve gender parity. Only 25% of senior leadership roles are held by women. At Mercer, we are in the privileged position of advising companies on actions they can take to ensure they have a diverse and thriving workforce and we can see what is working, and not, in practice.

For me, steps that both employers and individuals take to promote financial equality will have a huge impact on empowering women and achieving gender parity. The gender pay gap is well publicised and increasingly under the spotlight, but the adverse financial position of women is much broader than just a pay issue.

In the UK working women are paid 18% less than men, on average (far more than that if you work part-time), but come retirement, women’s pensions are almost 40% lower than men’s. That’s the triple whammy from time out of the workforce, part-time working and longer life expectancy: women have 12 years’ less time in the paid workforce on average, 41% work part-time (compared to 12% of men, so even if everything else is equal, absolute earnings are much lower) and women live 13% longer in retirement, so they actually need higher pension savings than men.

The demands on women’s money are also telling: 1 in 4 women are responsible for funding childcare compared with less than 1 in 10 of men, and the same percentage spend between a quarter and half their salary on childcare.

Women are also more vulnerable to losing income through caring responsibilities, of which elder care is a growing proportion – 1 in 9 of UK employees are working carers, of whom 1 in 5 will leave employment as a result. Indeed, the gender pay gap is greatest for women over 40, a function of time out of the workforce.

Divorce can also materially impact women’s income, particularly in later life – divorce in the run up to retirement can come as a shock which it is difficult to recover from financially.

Finally, there is evidence that women are more risk averse than men. In Defined Contribution pension schemes, which are now the norm, the size of your pension savings depends on the investment choices you make and taking less risk will normally mean lower growth and a lower pension over the long term.

There is a ‘virtuous circle’ whereby the more there is equality in earnings between women and men, the more that further supports women’s career progression and financial resilience. For example, greater financial equality allows for a more healthy balance in the household decisions that have typically led to women’s lower workforce participation. In my experience, it also allows you to delegate or outsource many of the tasks that consume women’s time and energy in the home!

It is fair to say that my own early life experience framed my career decisions and choices, and  strongly influenced where I am today.

My father died suddenly when I was 10 and at that point, it became very obvious that my mother had nothing to fall back on – she had married young and despite good school qualifications, had not completed further education.  She was a great role model to my sister and me, and went back to college to get qualifications and become a teacher. We lived solely on her student grant and widows’ pension, which was an early lesson in responsibility and careful budgeting. As a teenager growing up in the early eighties, the need to ensure I was financially independent and resilient to whatever adverse outcomes life might throw at me was very important.  It has undoubtedly framed my career choice to become an actuary and progress to senior leadership. It has also allowed me to have much more balanced discussions with my partner about our careers and family life than many of my peers. In practice, at any point in time, this became about what the opportunity and motivation was for each of us, rather than a purely economic decision. I am lucky in this respect.

If employers are serious about getting more women into senior leadership, and thus a more gender diverse workforce, then addressing the adverse financial position of women is an enabler. The steps companies can take range from obvious actions to identify and address pay, promotion and performance rating differences;  to more innovative solutions such as paying higher pension contributions to women; financial education and communications tailored to women and health policies and workplace  benefits which reflect women’s differing needs. Evidence shows that companies which recognise the specific financial needs of women have more women in senior leadership roles. The requirement for larger UK employers to publish gender pay data will be painful for practically all companies.  This is a good opportunity for companies to face up to the issue and reassess what they are doing to support financial equality for women.

If you are experiencing any difficult leadership challenges please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Is there an angel sitting on your shoulder?

angel-May17A few years ago I was on holiday in Canada with my partner enjoying a wonderful cruise through the network of small islands along the Inside Passage from Vancouver Island to Alaska.  During the journey the cruise company organised fascinating talks by wildlife experts several times a day.  We spotted bald eagles soaring high above us, white Kermode bears fishing for salmon in the rivers and watched in amazement as the huge tail fins of humpback whales breached the surface of the water with a huge splash.  The staff were very helpful and friendly which made our experience even more enjoyable.

At the end of the cruise I wanted to let the staff know how much we had appreciated the trip.  When I asked a crew member for a feedback form a look of concern replaced the warm smile as she said: “I’m so sorry you have had problems during your cruise! What can I do to help?”  When I looked at the feedback form I noticed all the questions were about problems customers had experienced.  There was no space for positive feedback.

My experience in Canada is mirrored so often in the business world where appraisal conversations centre on ‘weaknesses’, ‘areas for development’ or objectives not met.  No wonder many of the coaching conversations I have with clients about the challenges they are facing at work are focussed on lack of confidence and self-belief.

When this happens I share this personal story about the revelations I experienced after completing an assignment during my coaching training 10 years ago.  The task was to contact five to eight people who knew me well and ask them to describe my ‘unique abilities’. Things that I was particularly good at or special qualities that the person saw in me. I had never done anything like this before so it felt a bit awkward at first.  How many times has someone given you a compliment and you respond with an embarrassed “Oh, it’s really nothing!”? You can’t seem to find the self-confidence or self-belief to reply with a simple “Thank you”. Those familiar gremlins appear on your shoulder telling you that talking to people about what you do well is “blowing your own trumpet” or “arrogant”! If you choose to listen to them it’s easy to shrink back into your shell instead of confidently brushing them off your shoulder.

Returning to my assignment, thankfully, my natural curiosity and passion for self-development gave me the courage to contact eight people in my personal and professional lives to ask about my ‘unique abilities’.   I was delighted and surprised to receive eight replies within a few days.   I remember the wave of emotions that surged through me as I read the many heartfelt, positive messages about the special qualities those eight generous people recognised in me. One of the most insightful responses was from one of my sisters.   Her message touched on qualities she had seen in me from a teenager which was a revelation.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself from other people if you ask the right questions.  As a result of that simple and insightful exercise ten years ago I created my unique abilities ‘angel’.  I conjure up a mental image of her sitting on my shoulder to counteract the gremlins who appear from time to time. Whenever I come up against a challenge or simply want to remind myself about the qualities that other people see in me I call upon my ‘angel’ to give me a boost of self-confidence.

I invite you to contact eight people you know well to discover your ‘unique abilities’ and look forward to hearing about any experiences you would like to share.

If you would like help discovering your unique abilities to boost your self-confidence please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.

Be bold for change

CathBishop2-April17I met Cath Bishop, triple Olympian rower, after listening to her inspirational talk at an International Women’s Day event – ‘Be Bold for Change’.  Whilst still competing in the Olympic Games Cath made a bold step to start a new career as a diplomat with postings in Bosnia and Iraq between 2001 and 2013.  She has since turned her talents to a different field and currently works in leadership development as a speaker, facilitator and consultant.  Cath’s other roles include Visiting Professor to the Surrey Business School at Surrey University and an Associate with the Leadership Trust and with the performance consultancy ‘Will it Make the Boat Go Faster?’

In this article Cath shares her experiences of how being bold has played a significant role in the paths she has chosen to follow on her impressive career journey to date.

I always find International Women’s Day such a tantalising glimpse of what the world could be like – you wake up to pictures of successful women everywhere you look and listen, on the radio, TV, in magazines, at talks, panel events, and all over social media.  So many different, previously unheard stories which illuminate, enrich and add vast amounts of colour to our world.

I loved the International Women’s Day motto this year – Be Bold for Change.  I was invited to be part of an event co-hosted by Surrey Business School and Surrey Chambers of Commerce and to give a talk around how boldness for change had played out in my two careers as an Olympic sportswoman and senior diplomat specialising in conflict issues.

For me, boldness is not a static thing but a continuum.  My boldness is constantly ebbing and flowing, developing and taking on a new shape, adapting from experience and to new situations. It’s dynamic, personal and complex!

Boldness is about being prepared to challenge the status quo, to stand out from the crowd and say something different, being willing to think in a different way and voice those thoughts – not just about gender inclusion, but about everything that affects the wider organisational culture of ‘how we do things round here’.  It’s also about finding other bold people and using their voice and influence to help you to take new steps.

I would never have taken up rowing if it hadn’t been for the boldness of some fellow students who wanted to rope me into making up numbers in their novice eight so that they could do the races at the end of the first term.  After a non-sporty background at school and dislike of early mornings, it took some persuasion on their part, and also a willingness on my part to listen but not heed the voice in my head that told me ‘Don’t do it, you’ll look silly, it’ll be embarrassing, you’ll be no good’, and to open myself up to the opportunity that lay with the voice in my head that said, ‘What have you got to lose?  Why don’t you give it a try?’  That was the inauspicious beginning to a life-changing encounter with rowing, a sport I fell in love with, and a sport that over time ended up taking me to compete at 3 Olympic Games.

Boldness was part of a daily mindset as an Olympic athlete, boldness to cope with the demanding, high performance environment, boldness to challenge coaches who were set in their ways, boldness to believe that I was good enough to beat the rest of the world when it came to race day.

When I first joined the Olympic rowing team in 1995-6, the women’s team was very amateur – no paid coaches, borrowed equipment, and most of the rowers working part-time in between training to keep their heads above water, though in the process allowing no time for the quality of training and recovery needed.  Our sporting lives and opportunities were transformed by the arrival of the Lottery funding for sport in 1997, a bold political move that changed the game for British athletes to pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.  In particular, a whole generation of female athletes in minority sports, who would never have had sufficient media coverage to gain sponsorship deals, has been able to shine and reach their potential and play a considerable part in sending Great Britain soaring up the medal table.

For me, after 7th place in Atlanta, a devastating 9th place performance in Sydney, I had to dig deep and go against most of the advice of those around me to decide to come back to a third Olympic Games in Athens to try and win a medal.  Having started a diplomatic career with the Foreign Office by that point, it seemed bold, verging on rash to many people to put that on pause to go back to rowing – but in my own mind, I knew I had to have another go to try and show how good I could be on the Olympic world stage.

Within a month of winning a silver medal in Athens, I was immersed in my diplomatic career, completing my immersion language training in the beautiful but tragic town of Mostar, before heading to work in Sarajevo to work within the challenging political framework of post-conflict Bosnia.  A few years later, I found myself situated within a conflict in Basra, living on a military base, surrounded by military colleagues and trying to work with our Iraqi counterparts to stop pursuing goals through violent means and to return to a peaceful political process – words that are easy to write on the page, but much harder to turn into reality.  Boldness was required there to listen amongst the chaos, to think of what we had in common, rather than focus on the all too obvious things that stood between us.  Boldness was required to think of new ways of doing things, when all the old ways led to the same bitter path.  It is the central job of the diplomat to find new ways, a new path forward, and I enjoyed that challenge in the face of at times impossible forces heading in the opposite direction.

I was grateful to colleagues and acquaintances from all sides of the conflict who arrived in entrenched positions but were willing to spend just a moment thinking of how there could be a different way forward that might end the conflict.  There are no simple solutions, and individuals must be prepared to think of the long-term, often without any guarantee it will pay off for them in the short-term and a much greater likelihood it won’t.  It often comes back to that most basic of human psychological paradigms, a key challenge within leadership based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma – whether to cooperate or compete to get the best deal for yourself.  We see that played out in conflict and in peace around the world on an almost daily basis.

And so my journey of boldness continues a few years on, working now in leadership development and consultancy, and learning the boldness required in motherhood, firstly to survive, secondly to start to learn to thrive.  The learning continues apace!

If this article has brought to light any challenges you are facing changing the direction of your career please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin, Executive Coach – christine@griffinity.co.uk  – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk.