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Mentoring: Put in the time to make it work

November 25, 2009

I was reading somewhere that mentor-mentee relationships usually only provide value once they pass the 6 month stage. Three months into my mentor-mentee relationship (with me being the mentee), I have already learned a lot and gotten a lot of value out of our discussions. It has been great to have someone to explore and field ideas with and it has definitely helped me to develop, even in such a brief amount of time.

To ensure we got the most out of the relationship, my mentor asked me to think about what my expectations were and exactly what I wanted to achieve. I wrote up some goals then used them to map out topics to set the tone of what I wanted to cover. After some initial discussion, we set up a regular, fortnightly meeting. We usually let what is going on in either of our roles dictate what we talk about, unless it is a topic one of us needs to prepare for. In our catch ups, I try to ask as many questions as I can. My favourite question is “why?” – simple, to the point and it always guarantees different answers. After each catch up, I spend time writing about what I have learnt – a ‘mentoring diary’ of sorts so I have some notes to refer back to when thinking about our discussions.

Although the primary point of a mentoring relationship is the development of the less experienced person (in this case, me), I would like to think that our relationship is, to an extent, based on reciprocal knowledge sharing, and that we both benefit from the discussions we have. It was great to hear that after one of our catch ups and a question of “What are you doing about it?” from me, my mentor had spent some time thinking about the problem, annoyed that they hadn’t had any examples, then thought up an action and set things in motion to get it resolved. Likewise, I always leave our meetings feeling really inspired and with a head full of ideas that I try to work into actions. I learn a lot.

A few of the things I feel have helped this become valuable are the goals and my ‘mentoring diary’. The diary has helped to capture what I have learnt and helps me prepare before our catch ups. In our first meeting we also agreed to be honest with each other and maintaining confidentiality which helped set the boundaries.

There is huge value in having a mentor and I strongly suggest that if you don’t have one, you ask someone now and really invest time into making it work. If you need some encouragement, there is a great blog post written by Melissa Prusher on Steve Boese’s experiences with mentoring relationships suitably titled “Need a mentor? Just ask!”

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A tired relationship? Australia and overtime

November 19, 2009

The results are in. Earlier this week, The Australia Institute published the full results of their nation-wide survey on unpaid overtime in Australia (mentioned in my post ‘Is there such a thing as ‘work/life balance’?’).

Things I found particularly interesting:

  • 45% of Australian workers work more hours than they are paid for per day
  • Unpaid overtime is more common than paid overtime
  • The amount of unpaid overtime increases, the higher the income
  • Across the Australian workforce (full-time and otherwise), Australians put in overtime equivalent to 1.16 million full-time jobs
  • Full-time employees work 70 minutes per day of unpaid overtime. Interesting then that if you total the annual overtime figure, it amounts to 6.5 standard working weeks – a significant chunk more than a full-time employee’s annual leave entitlement of 4 weeks per year. Perhaps doubly concerning then that Australians do not take their annual leave, with 1 in 4 accruing 5+ weeks of annual leave per year
  • When the survey respondents were asked “If you didn’t work extra hours without pay, which of these do you think would happen?” (question 7, for those playing at home), 63.4% responded “The work wouldn’t get done.” The second most common response was that they felt their career opportunities would be impaired at 12.7%Most of these figures blew me away – these are big numbers. People spending this much time at work, and away from family and friends collectively has huge societal, cultural and economic impacts on our country, and not to mention on an individual’s personal non-work life. The survey results go into much greater detail on this, so it is definitely worth a read.

    So, looking at these results, what’s an employee to do? Volunteer to be a guinea pig for human cloning? Chat to your boss about resourcing? Or think twice about how much time you spend inside and outside the office? A small step might be to sign up for the Go Home On Time Day on next Wednesday, 25 November. I have my leave pass, do you?

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    Jump on the ferris wheel at the HR Carnival

    November 14, 2009

    HR Carnival Logo
    Wondering what others in the HR blog space are yapping about? Hop on over to the latest HR Carnival being hosted by ringleader, Ben Eubanks of Upstart HR. Ben’s selected a bunch of 25 great posts to showcase on topics such as talent management (Diddy-style), coaching, recruitment and a major recruitment hiccup. Talentary’s first post even gets a mention (thanks Ben!).

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    Is there such a thing as ‘work/life balance’?

    November 11, 2009

    I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘work/life balance’ recently, its use, connotations and definition. I believe overall there are some fundamental flaws with the concept, and that a more inclusive and positive term would be better suited.

    It’s hard to think positive thoughts when the term work/life balance seems to imply that work and life are two distinctly separate things – as though work is not a part of life (something that may play on your mind if you’re spending 40 hours+ per week at work). There seems to be the entrenched belief that individuals do not really own or enjoy the time they spend at work, with the majority working for an employer, reporting into someone else calling the shots.

    Surely it’s healthier to develop more positive connotations toward work by first accepting that individuals have the power to make decisions about life and that it is up to each to make choices consistent with their values, so that they are working in a profession, industry and organisation that is most closely aligned to theirs.

    The term work/life balance also implies that a balance can exist between the two various aspects of an individual’s life – ‘work’ and ‘life’. Practically, I think managing work(life), and life (outside of work) is more like a juggling act, and that a balance simply can’t exist given time constraints.

    Think of it this way:

    • There are 168 hours in a full week
    • A full-time employee is employed to work work 38-40 hours of the week
    • A typical Australian full-time employee works 5 hours+ of overtime per week (Go Home On Time Day, 2009)
    • If you commute to work, chances are you spend 1-2 hours per day travelling to/from home to work – that’s 10 hours total per week
    • The doctors of the world recommend you should get 56 hours of shut-eye per week

    Total this all up, and you’re left with roughly 55 hours (or 32% of the full week) for personal life. Doesn’t sound like much of a balance now, does it? On top of this, Aussies work the longest hours in the developed world with 1 in 4 Australian full-time employees accruing 5+ weeks of annual leave (Tourism Australia, 2009).

    Following the results of their research findings (PDF file – definitely worth a read), Tourism Australia recently launched the No Leave, No Life campaign with the tagline, ‘Win the work/life battle’. Though the tagline is in the same vein as ‘work/life balance’, I do support what they are trying to do. It’s so important to squeeze in some downtime to relax, clear your mind and enjoy some time away from work to help preserve your mental health and spend time with family and friends (and if you take Tourism Australia’s word, it also gives you the perfect opportunity to organise a domestic holiday – ka-ching!).

    Tourism Australia have also put together a good range of planning resources for employees and employers alike to help make the lead up to a work break more organised and less stressful.

    Another organisation, The Australia Institute, are also running an initiative aimed at getting Australians to think about how much time they spend at work with their ‘Go Home on Time Day’ because:

    Overwork can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health, your relationships with loved ones and your sense of what is important in life.

    The idea is to encourage Australians to leave work on time on the 25th of November, and to increase awareness of the nature of overtime and long work hours in Australia, and to highlight the “important industrial, health and social consequences it often has”. The website encourages you to sign up to go home on time – all it takes is a few simple details – easy! Once you sign up, you’re sent a custom Leave Pass to serve as a reminder of your commitment, and a polite email reminding you to keep the date in mind.

    Go Home on Time Day - Leave Pass

    So, what do you think? What does the term work/life balance mean to you? Do you think a true balance can exist? How do you juggle your personal, after hours life with your professional, work life? Can the two co-exist?