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  1. Why it’s time to take a holiday

    December 13, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Do you feel like you’re not getting things done in the way you’d like to? Like you can’t come up with creative solutions, or focus your energy on a tough task? It doesn’t even feel like it’s simply the Christmas party hangover or the Kris Kringle list you still have to get round to shopping for. You feel… well, worn out. You could really, really use a holiday about now.

    Science is on your side. Research shows that long periods of work without sufficient time to recharge has a negative effect on thinking. When you are worn out, tasks that you used to do quickly and easily become really hard. The temptation is to tell yourself to press on, whereas really you need to give your brain – and your body – a rest.

    We admire and elevate those who work hard, put in long hours and seem able to juggle a million things. To be able to do so is great, up to a point. Nobody can do it forever, and to keep on keeping on leads to burnout, at the expense of your own career and the business’s wellbeing.

    So if leaving it all behind for a week – or more, if you’re lucky – seems stressful, here are some signs you need to listen to your brain’s signals that you need to check out for a while.

    1. You feel less enthusiastic than usual about your job

    Science shows us that tiredness leads to negative mood.  When you are in a negative mind space, not only will you feel you have lost your joy at work, you will be more critical of others and more irritable. Before you lash out or say something you regret, take some time off. If you can use it to spend time in a different place, so much the better. Plan visits to the beach, the mountains or even a park with the kids. Research shows that spending time in a different environment has measurable benefits.

    1. Everybody else is taking time off

    Practically speaking, it can make sense to be away from your desk when everybody else is. Getting things done is difficult when you keep getting email autoreplies and voicemails from your customers and suppliers. Setting your own out of office message (or at least limiting the time you’ll check and respond to messages to once a day, if you must) can give you the time to recharge and get it all in perspective.

    1. You’re running out of good ideas

    You are taking longer to solve problems and to come up with creative solutions. You can see your productivity is dropping, so why not take some free time to fuel energy, creativity and focus. When you come back relaxed and refreshed, you might well find the tasks that seemed insurmountable are quite easy.

    1. You will have time to socialise and meet new people

    Social experiences can be both motivating and a wonderful way of networking. That guy you meet on the beach, the woman on your mountain trek can spark your curiosity about others and what they do, or even lead you to your next collaboration. Get out there and see what happens.

    1. You will have the opportunity to get back to nature

    Instinctively we know we feel calm when we float in the ocean, look out over a valley still covered in morning cloud or walk in a forest. The science behind this feeling tells us that our blood pressure is lowered, our stress hormones drop and our endorphin levels are higher. Surfer Mick Fanning, who has just spent time in remote Alaska after a tough and tragic year, describes it like this: ‘I felt I’d just run out of fire, like I needed to restock the wood’.

    Fanning describes having no phone calls, Instagram or email, allowing him to live in the moment. Leaving work at work is hard, but if you are thinking about it while you are supposedly taking a holiday, the benefits are lessened considerably. So switch off the work devices to make the most of your time off.

    Studies show that performance increases after any break – a few minutes to make a cup of tea is good; a long holiday after a tough year is great. If you’re still not convinced, consider this: Australians had over 100 million annual leave days accrued in 2016, representing a huge cost on the books of employers. These are like a debt to employers. So a holiday will help balance the books as well as balance your mind.

     


  2. Work–life balance? I’ve forgotten what that is

    October 20, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    The average working Australian spends 50 hours a week at work – excluding the time we spend on our phones and laptops after hours.

    We’ve all heard about work-life balance, and we all think it’s a good idea. But very few of us report having struck the perfect balance between the time and attention we pay to work and to other aspects of our lives.

    Technology and the ‘always on’ world we live in make separating work and the rest of our lives increasingly difficult. We want to be connected, but perhaps not so much when we’re out to dinner, it’s 9 pm and those messages are from the project manager. But this is the reality for globalised enterprise.

    So what can we do to achieve better work-life balance?

    First, policies for mobile phones and other devices need to be clear and understood by all.  Employers and employees share a real concern that too much work will eventually be negative for even the most dedicated workaholic. The workplace needs a strategy for dealing with the intrusion of work into personal time via electronic devices. Agreeing times when employees are available and when they are not is an important first step.

    Other useful ways to keep the balance are:

    Take proper lunch breaks, at least a few days a week. Get out of the office and take a walk, go for a run or organise a team game with colleagues. The benefits of both exercise and sunshine on our mental health are well known.

    Set times away from work when you do not think or talk about it. If you find your mind drifting towards last week’s meeting or the latest targets, gently take your thoughts elsewhere. Engage in an activity that demands your full attention so that you don’t have the mind space for thoughts of work. Engaging a different aspect of your brain is an excellent de-stressor.

    Take holidays. Get away if you can, and if not, spend time at home with friends and family who have no connection to work. A week away can make an enormous difference to your energy levels and help you reconnect with what matters to you.

    Eat well and exercise. It seems obvious, but most of us don’t do enough of it. Regular meals, enough fruit and vegetables and less coffee, alcohol and fatty, sugary mid-afternoon pick-me-ups make us more resistant to stress.

    Do nothing. As well as working long hours, you may be trying to cram too much into your free time. Remember what it feels like to lie on the grass and look at the clouds, or to go for a walk to nowhere in particular.

    Say no. When you are already too busy, the urge to take on more seems irresistible. Recognise when you are becoming stressed, and skip the next thing. Identify people who can help you get things done, and ask them to help out.

    Negotiate time off to reward performance. When a team has put in many extra hours or has achieved a significant goal, an afternoon off tells employees their time is valued and their efforts are worthwhile.

    Try these strategies and see if you feel more balanced. Then let us know.


  3. Work-life balance: Collaboration NOT Separation

    December 9, 2014 by Jenna

    I can remember a time when I lived and breathed work. It wasn’t healthy. I was pulling longer hours out of fear of not looking productive enough, and while I had a passion for that industry I eventually started to resent it. My employer at the time did provide many benefits within the workplace, however, outside of work I may as well have been a ghost to my family and peers.

    For every individual work-life balance is different. Some of us love to work the longer hours because that is the lifestyle that they prefer. Others need to have a more flexible workplace that allows parental care/leave, opportunities to work from home etc.

    The problem that we have with the concept of ‘work-life balance’ however is that we imagine work and life as two separate entities that are not meant to intertwine. Therefore it becomes a constant struggle of which one do I choose as opposed to letting them co-exist.

    I am very fortunate now to work for an employer that provides a very flexible workplace that meets the needs of all staff members. And because of this I was able to achieve some extraordinary goals in my personal life without having to compromise work commitments over my personal goals.

    Both can work together if we let it, it just requires certain changes and planning to make it successful.

    When I was training to trek towards Everest Base Camp, I would often have to do altitude training in Mosman in the mornings, and one night a week I would do endurance training with a woman’s walking group. I would sometimes bring a giant backpack with me to work so that I could go directly to training without worrying about rushing home first and arriving at training late. During down time I could enjoy spending time with friends and family as a reward for getting through the working week and training requirements. It also required discipline to maintain momentum and setting a routine for myself daily to reach those goals.

    Of course there were times when I would need to work back later than expected, or perhaps I would have an off day and sleep in and not go to the gym, after all we are only human! But for the most part I was able to maintain both work and personal success and I kept my workplace informed about my goals and what I was trying to achieve.

    You may not always have an even allocation of time to do everything you want to do, but be realistic with what you are trying to achieve on a daily basis and what it important for your to spend time on. If you are juggling too much or agreeing to take too many things on at the same time, you will burn out and be disappointed in yourself. That is another important piece of advice that I have come to discover about myself over the years is to know your limits. This will help you better establish whether you are capable to put your hand up to take on another assignment or goal, or whether it will be much easier to delegate it to someone who is more than capable and available.

    Working for a job that you love and enjoy is also a key factor in making your work and personal life co-exist. Otherwise if you are working 80% of the time at something you no longer have a passion for, it can affect your mental well-being as well and create a negative mindset. This can therefore effect relationships with those around you. If you love what you do, you will find that your attitude and outlook on life can really make a difference for you in a positive way.

    How do you get your work and lifestyle to collaborate? What steps do you need to take to ensure you get the balance that you need?


  4. Return of the Intergalactic Admin Manager

    September 9, 2014 by Kate Dass

    Several years ago, Challenge Consulting’s Organisational Psychologist Narelle Hess, who happens to be a die-hard NRL fan, took it upon herself to create a NRL staff tipping competition. “YAY” no-one said. But, when the incentives of a Jurlique gift pack for the winner and, even better, an actual wooden spoon for the loser, were dangled in front of us like the proverbial carrot, we were all in.

    Of course, this required selecting tipping comp aliases. I chose the subtle “Intergalactic Admin Manager”. The tipping comp is still going though, I must admit, having only returned to Challenge on a temporary basis after an absence of two and a half years, I am a less-than-enthusiastic participant (or is this just a cunning ploy to get my hands on the until-now elusive wooden spoon?)

    The point in all this is that I am back. Why am I back? How am I back?

    Let’s start at the very beginning.

    People are generally astonished that, until I resigned in late 2011, I was Challenge Consulting’s Administration Manager for 11 years. The common question is: why did I stay that long?

    The co-founder and original Managing Director, Elizabeth Varley, is, quite simply, the number one reason. I worked directly and closely with her, literally and figuratively, and was given more and more professional development opportunities as the years went by. As my skills and competencies expanded, I was challenged to expand them further. I learned how to manage payroll, the company banking, staff superannuation, website management, social media communications. I became a qualified Career Guidance Counsellor and Psychometric Testing Administrator. I ran workshops and wrote business proposals. I was trusted, I was encouraged, I was challenged, I was made to feel like my duties made a genuine difference to the success of the company.

    Another key component was Elizabeth’s uncanny ability to select the right people for her company’s culture. Every time she took even the slightest risk and went against her instincts, the person never lasted long. This rarely occurred, however, and this meant that the team working for her and, crucially, with her, was happy, supportive and willing to work hard and with excellence as its standard.

    Thirdly, Elizabeth’s willingness to be flexible in the working arrangements of her staff members meant that when, in September 2008, I left to have my first baby, she left me in no doubt that there would always be a place for me in the Challenge team, in whatever capacity suited my new responsibilities as a mother. In early 2009, I returned to work first one day per week, then, two, then three. The balance between work and family was perfect. When, in 2011, I discovered that another little person had decided to join our family, Elizabeth was the first person, other than my husband, I told. As her employee, I wanted her to be able to plan for my successor (I did not envision being able to return to work as quickly as the first time, so I made the decision to resign). As her friend, I had no hesitation in sharing my news with her, knowing that she would be nothing less than overjoyed. I left with sadness but no regret in December 2011 and threw myself into mummy-ness once again.

    Now, I adore my children. But, something no-one ever mentions for fear of being placed in front of a firing squad for daring to suggest that motherhood is not always a complete joy, it can be somewhat lacking in intellectual stimulation. Astonishing, I know. What, you mean you can’t understand why changing your seven thousandth nappy and watching In The Night Garden ad infinitum might be, I don’t know, a tad boring?

    I needed to do something. Anything.

    I did bits and pieces of casual work during 2013 and early 2014. And then – the aforementioned Narelle celebrated her 10th Challenge Consulting anniversary in July. Whilst nibbling on a piece of excellent cheese and sipping on a glass of fizzy wine, I silently sidled out of the boardroom and took a wander around memory office. It was all familiar, yet different. It was also somewhat, ahem, disorganised. My reputation as the Office Cleaning Nazi remains to this day. No-one has yet dared to remove my whiteboard reminder, written I don’t know how many years ago. Challenge’s current owner and Managing Director, Stephen Crowe, approached me with, was it fear?, and said, “I bet you hate that state of the office.” I replied, “It didn’t have look like this in my day.”

    The team repaired to a very nice dinner washed down with quantities of wine. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was my innate need to clean and apply order taking control of my brain, but I said to Stephen, “You know, I’d love to come in and sort things out for you.” We met the next week and had a (sober) chat about what I could and would do. Our current Administrator / Social Media Coordinator, Jenna, just happened to be departing for a month in Canada the very next week. And so here I am, just for the time being, looking after things at Challenge Consulting once again, every Tuesday.

    I love it. Things have changed, of course, but I still feel comfortable, welcome, and capable of making a difference, even in a small way.

    Here are some key words and phrases to take away from this personal perspective on staff retention and why people stay, and even return:

    – Professional Development Opportunities

    – Making a Difference

    – Team Spirit

    – Challenged and Trusted

    – Selecting the Right People for the Company Culture

    – Management’s Willingness to be Flexible

    – Facilitating Work/Life Balance

    – Feeling Welcomed, Valued, and Trusted

    [Thank you, Stephen, for this opportunity. I cannot express how much I appreciate it.]




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