Monday, June 17, 2013

Making a difference in the slums of India

It never ceases to amaze me how and where people find charitable causes to support.  Some people donate time, others donate money, and some even donate blood!

Recently I attended a networking lunch and was inspired by a woman’s story about how she contributes her charitable dollars. A few years back, Cathy taught English in a slum in New Delhi for two years. She found this experience and the students she met inspiring. Most of these students paid for their own education while working seven days a week at low-paid night jobs like security guards and factory hands. But when they completed their education, they struggled to find work, since being slum-dwellers meant that employers just assumed that they were lazy and drunkards. Cathy was convinced that if they could get their first jobs, they’d be able to prove to employers that being poor didn’t make them worthless.

So Cathy arranged to get an accounting job for one of them, by paying his salary to his new employer for the first year. For about $800 she guaranteed him a job, giving him experience and training, and starting him on the path to a secure future. This was so successful that a year later he moved onto another job without her help and he is now earning a good income to support his family.

Cathy then repeated this with another former student who graduated as a qualified teacher but because of his slum background, couldn’t get work. So she paid his salary to a small school for a year.

Neither of these young men is aware that Cathy paid their salaries to their employers, although they know that she arranged their placements.

All of Cathy’s former students in the Delhi slum have access to Facebook on cheap mobile phones. She is able to chat with them a few times a week, to see how they are going, find out what they are learning, and to ensure that they are not being exploited by their bosses. She is delighted to see the progress they are making. 

Paying for a first job is such a great way to make a difference to someone’s life that she plans to continue doing it. Cathy has a pipeline of students to tap into as they complete their education and start to look for opportunities in the workforce.

Cathy knows that she can’t help every slum-dweller in India, but her small contribution can make a big difference to a small number.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What is it with older workers?

For the life of me, I just don’t understand the discrimination of older workers. This is based on my healthy respect of anyone older than me and my willingness to learn from them. I also hope that I won’t be discriminated against once I reach 50 and over!

Last year, the Federal Government offered $1,000 to employers if they hired anyone over 50 years of age. Apart from it being an insult and a disgrace, $1,000 hardly covers the cost of bringing on a new employee.
So what are some of the typical negative perceptions of older workers?
  • They have limited IT knowledge;
  • They are generally unwilling to accept direction from younger managers;
  • They have an inability to take a company to ‘the next level’ because they are no longer hungry for success.
Really? I come across candidates in their twenties that fit this description.

It may surprise you that older workers are computer savvy, don’t always want to be the leaders anymore, and have so much life and work experience that could be utilised in your growing business.

As a business owner, it is important for you to understand the labour market issues that may impact on your hiring strategy and may encourage you to start hiring more older workers:
  • Australia is getting older. In four years, 20 per cent of Australia’s population will be over age 65. The 2010 Intergenerational Report estimates 8.1 million Australians (around 26% of our population) will be over age 65 by 2050, pushing the ratio of working Australians to retirees down to just 2.7 to 1.
  • Labour force participation tends to drop off as people near retirement age. In the 60-64 age group, half of women and one-third of men are not working. Over the past 5 years though, this trend has been changing due to the global financial crisis and peoples’ superannuation balances declining - more retirees are heading back to work to make up for the losses in their superannuation funds.
  • Australians are living longer. Our superannuation must last for a longer period of time so people are cautious about leaving the workplace too early. Baby boomers who were 65 in 2010, can expect to live another 18.7 years (the female baby boomers are even better placed – they can expect another 21.8 years). So baby boomers who retire at 65 can expect to spend 21% of their life in retirement.
  • According to Deloitte Access Economics’ “Where is your next worker” report, older Australians have the lowest turnover, the least number of sick days and the best safety record.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Are you a cranky boss?

Do you have employees that are naturally bad mannered, rude or oblivious when it comes to human emotions? Or does that sound like you?

A few weeks ago, I was tasked to recruit an administrative person for a client. The brief was reasonably straight forward. Well, sort of. The challenge was finding a suitable candidate that was going to handle one of the managers that this role reports into to. The successful candidate needed to be ‘thick-skinned’ and able to ‘cop the odd rude comment without taking offence’.

There were two things I found interesting about this brief:

  • That the company puts up with the behaviour of this manager time and time again without taking action, and they have never initiated a  conflict management or ‘how to be  great team leader’ course for this person.
  • I was going to have to politely let candidates know that one of their direct reports can be a bit abrasive at times. Not often a good seeling point when talking to good candidates!

The end result is that I found someone who passed the personality test and could do the job as well.

Winner: cranky boss!

Unfortunately for this employer, the culture of tolerating badly behaved people in management positions will continue to cause staffing issues.  So what are some suggestions to improve workplace culture?
  • Buy your staff lunch, sit around the table, and talk about the type of working culture they want. If it is driven by your employees, they will own it more vigorously.
  • Then put something in writing to make it official. It may be a code of conduct that sets the standards of behaviour or appearance in your workplace.  It can include how you interact with people (with respect and politeness), how to handle an issue with someone.
  • Post it on the wall of your office so everyone has access to your personalised code of conduct every day.

Another great behavioural model to show-case around the office is ‘Above the line thinking’. This feeds into the expectations of behaviour in your office.

It goes like this:

What matters is how we respond to events. We can operate at a level of thinking that is either ‘above’ or ‘below’ the line.

Taking ownership of my response to, or my part in, this situation 
Acceptance of the aspects of this that are outside my control 
Taking responsibility for my previous and future actions
Casting blame externally: ‘It’s not my fault...’ 
Making excuses: ‘I couldn’t do it differently because...’ 
Staying in denial: ‘There’s nothing I could change...’

The more time you spend above the line, the better your behaviour and treatment of others.