“Take Good Care of Yourself”

Well, 2016 is with us and in addition to my usual list of resolutions there is a pressing one relating to furthering my career. As I scooted round all manner of recruitment sites I landed on Gary Chaplin’s site. Gary is an executive headhunter based in Cheshire and  his website is well worth a look if you are in the market  – or if you like gin. Seriously!

One of his blog posts  Too Fat To Get A Job struck a chord as it will with others who are combining general new year self-improvement objectives with a fresh professional challenge. It’s a thought-provoking read, with some useful stats and his own valuable views on how one might be perceived when being considered for a role.

He makes an effective point when comparing the general landscape of increased obesity with the body shape and innate perception of many leaders’ svelte and trim figures. How many CEO’s, how many heads of state, how many public figures are ‘stout’? And I am now squirming a little  uncomfortably in my seat. He’s right! Of course there is no law against being ‘well padded’ but first impressions matter and if the person hiring happens to conclude that a visible lack of personal pride and care is likely to carry over into a view of how much care and attention you will put into the job, then maybe you are heading for trouble.

Of course, not everyone aspires to be a  ‘C-level candidate’, so does that mean most of us can switch off from the issue and order another Latte and muffin, or habitually neck half a bottle of wine a night with dinner?

None of us are getting any younger. And it is likely our working lives will be longer than before. Things happen as we get older. Metabolisms change, muscle mass deteriorates, bones lose their density and maybe become more brittle. And statistically it is increasingly likely we could experience serious or chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems etc. Some are down to bad luck and genetics, some are down to poor lifestyle choices. In an age where manual labour has often been replaced with a sedentary desk-bound job, we’ve not always been quick enough to recognise that the body needs fuelling and maintaining differently. Medical progress is often regarded as a safety net or a get-out-of jail card for lifestyles that have refused to adapt to the very different way many of us now live. And that’s just the physical side. What about the various mental health issues of stress, depression and dementia?

We are living longer, marrying later, having children later, and expecting a long retirement. This shifts the focus of our prime years further down the line. But what physical state will we be in when we get there?  We need to weigh up quantity AND quality of life.

So, my message this week is to take a little time to look beyond the usual  new year’s resolution mantras, and think a little more about long term health planning, asking: how long do I want to live? How long do I want to work? What sort of shape do I want to be in when grandchildren come along? How much of a burden do I want to be on my husband/wife/ children etc? We mostly have sufficient wealth to control these choices for good or bad. And if we take control and adopt an active rather than passive  approach, then along the way we will enjoy all aspects of our life more and might also end up getting that dream job.

A Happy (and healthy) New Year

“To compliment, or not to compliment: that is the question…’

…might write a 21st century Shakespeare on the ongoing war about workplace compliments between genders.

A little while back I somehow managed to read Lucy Kellaway’s 13 October FT column   “How to sidestep unwelcome…’ (compliments  etc.,) although the difficulty of referencing FT articles means you’ll have to bear with while I paraphrase from memory.

The article was spawned from a question to her by a professional woman  about how to deal with ‘unwanted’ compliments. Kellaway’s reply incorporated a comment made to her by another female professional who had confided that she had dealt with a man complimenting on her outfit along the lines of ” yes I return your compliment but I hope there will soon be a time when we don’t have to have these conversations”. Hopefully I have presented the gist faithfully.

There was plenty of comment on Ms Kellaway’s twitter feed and some of this in turn referred to the infamous Charlotte Proudman/Alexander Carter-Silk episode in September 2015 (for those who missed it, here is the  The Guardian’s coverage).

It is a minefield and feelings quickly run high.So will the time come when workplace compliments are a thing of the past? I hope not.

I am internet dating at the moment, and two observations have quickly surfaced: firstly  there are many parallels between selling yourself personally  (for love, companionship or whatever else you want out of it),  and selling yourself for work. Secondly, the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in that environment are also relevant to the workplace. I’ve been giving these some thought.

Employment tribunals have long been a happy hunting ground for media coverage on workplace culture and sexism in particular. There is little doubt that some workplaces are controlled by knuckle-dragging bullies who tolerate women around the office as eye candy and gofers rather than colleagues. I’ve never worked in such a culture but I’m sure it’s there. And for women it must be yet another challenge to deal with whilst just trying to get on with building a career. How do you function and prosper within – never mind change and eradicate – such cultures? As always a large part of the answer lies in the individual deciding how much they want to bite off and chew: is it about self-preservation or being a figurehead for wider change?

I’m not talking here about the complex issue of women’s career progression in general -although in time I might. For now I am focussing on why ‘simple’ intra-gender courtesies, many of them instilled in men as part of their upbringing as a kind, generous, observant and supportive male, could end up being dismantled.

Where I have worked there has been a fairly even split between the sexes. Admittedly it moves out of balance higher up the tree (which is another thorny issue), but the workplace has been genuinely diverse in terms of gender split at most levels. There are the usual HR codes and they are taken seriously and enforced. Like school, I believe that this has to be the way. We are equal.

And yet we are also men and women. Men like and appreciate the presence of women, and vice versa. That’s life. And most people I work with take care and pride in their appearance: some because they know it is part of the business credo to demonstrate self-worth and possibly status, others do it because on a personal level they like looking good.

Do women really go to all that trouble to then conspicuously resent being complimented on their efforts?  Of course, the compliment has to be delivered at the right time, for the right reasons and in the right way. Mr Carter-Silk was rather clumsy, to say the least. But should such faux pas really lead to compliments being banished from the workplace?

Over the years I have complimented female colleagues on their (new) hairstyle, their clothing (in terms of colour, overall effect), and  shoes. I always thought carefully about delivery, and maybe I got the tone right or wrong. But as far as I know,  no-one ever took exception. Quite the opposite. It was taken graciously – as compliments are intended to be.

Similarly, over the years I have been complimented on my suit, my tie, and even on a particularly loud pair of socks I had only earlier that day decided were destined for the bin (the compliment saved them. Indeed I went and bought some more!).  All from women. but I have also complimented men on their sartorial style, as they have me. And men have also been ever ready to be objective about each others’ dress sense too. Especially on ‘dress-down Friday’.

And on every occasion, no-one has taken umbrage and HR have been left in peace. Indeed, it has contributed as much as anything else to the bonding and mutual respect needed in the workplace.

So forgive me if I wonder what the world of work is coming to? Why do women walk into the lion’s den? Why do they put up with it? Why do they feel they get so little support from male colleagues who have wives and daughters potentially subjected to the same ‘banter’?  And why do I not encounter this?

I’m simply putting the other side of the argument. And I am genuinely interested to know if, amongst other fashion crimes I have committed, I have worn the rose-tinted spectacles for too long. Comments welcome.