Christmas Office Parties; Career Stopper or What?

The reporter from “The Advertiser” rang to ask what advice I might have about Christmas office parties. In short, they can be a big negative or a big plus.

On the negative side, the combination of a festive spirit, coupled with the expectation of holidays, along with alcohol (and possibly recreational drugs) all caught up in a party scene means that inhibitions are thrown to the wind and people behave and say things that ordinarily they wouldn’t do. Yes, such actions are career limiting. Don’t for a moment believe that your bosses aren’t making mental notes of your behaviour.

On the positive side, it is a great occasion to network and meet others in your company or group that typically, you may not have had the opportunity to do so. One of the hallmarks of those who are successful are that they know a lot of people, and are well connected, which means that they can get things done and done quicker. So, this Christmas, just don’t hang out with those you work with, move around the group and enlarge your contacts. One day, you may be very grateful that you did just that.


Cyberbullying is on the rise and out of control.

This is the reason why I originally created a special website called “Cyber-safety Doctor”which seeks to bring the whole community together to fight this growing and insidious assault. The site provides a course for students, parents and teachers. Together we can make a difference.

There have been several cases where teenagers were driven to committing suicide because of cyberbullying. The case of 14-year-old Megan Meiers made headlines worldwide because it was found that she was being tormented by her adult neighbor, the neighbor’s daughter, and an employee of the neighbor, who spread a cruel online hoax about her. A 13-year-old boy Ryan Halligan from Rhode Island in the USA was tormented for months and called gay until he committed suicide. A mother from Melbourne, Karen Rae, blames cyberbullies for her 14-year-old daughter’s suicide.

But one case is already one too many. Perhaps the measure of this alarming trend is the fact that this phenomenon now has an unofficial name: cyberbullycide.


When I travel, I get to think…all the new experiences.

It triggers in me the thought that we tend to live life often as though we are “unconscious” when one of the secrets seems to be to allow ourselves to be fully alive to the experiences we have; all the “hullo’s” and all the “goodbye’s”. Frequently we tend to get caught up in the routine of life and when we do have those hullos and goodbyes (which we actually have on a daily basis), we struggle or perhaps fight them rather than perhaps really learning to live them.

What would it take to really live life, to be fully alive and conscious and aware?

Boys will be Boys & Girls will be Girls

It’s not new and it comes as no surprise. I first saw the research back in the 1970s and it’s reappeared again. Psychologists Brenda Todd and Sara Amalie O’Toole from City University in London carried out an experiment on 90 infants aged nine months to three years.

What did they find? Surprise, surprise. These young children and babies chose stereotypical toys for their gender. In other words, boys went for the toy cars and girls went for the dolls.

Now some will argue that the childen had already (somehow) been “brainwashed,” while others will conclude that this is a appalling and a “win” (somehow) for the dominant male sex or that this was a slap in the face for the equality or equity movement. There may be other conclusions as well. Some however, will simply say, “so what’s new?” “How come we needed researchers to tell us that?!”

Surely though, the real question is that irrespective of our gender, how can we be the best that we can be? Without trying to prove that one gender is better than another or in contrast, that we are all “equal,” how can we personally use our talents and gifts to the best of our ability? What would it take for us to step up and reach for our potential? We owe it to ourselves to be the best that we can be.

Social Media Bite

It had to happen. It’s also a lesson in life. It’s just that the medium is different.

The newspaper article cited that an Adelaide supermarket supervisor has been sacked after she posted on Facebook a “heat of the moment” comment about another worker.

Perhaps because we’re not face-to-face, we sometimes lose perspective and don’t always stop and think. It’s an age-old lesson though. It comes in various forms such as, “Count to 10 before you answer,” “bite your tongue” and so on.

It doesn’t matter if its email, Facebook, hi5, My Space or Twitter for example or…in a shopping cue or driving on a highway, it’s about stopping before you say something stupid or act the same way.

It’s just that we now have social media as as additional tool to verbalise what we feel and think, but the lesson is the same. Stop and think first….it could cost you your job not to mention irretrievably sabotaging relationships.

Boss’ Beware

At the recent 2nd Australian Positive Psychology & Well-being Conference that I attended in Melbourne, it was stated that 80% of people leave their workplace because of their boss or supervisor. Now it may well be that some of these staff had personal issues anyway that caused them to resign, but irrespective, what we do know is that it can’t be argued that 80% of staff left simply because of their own personal problems!

There is a huge loss to the employment sector not only in terms of intellectual capital walking out the door, but in actual dollars in relation to the cost of re-hiring and training new recruits (15-25% of salary?).

Where are the management and leadership courses? What are industries doing to train the next set of leaders in effective leadership practices? When are we going to get serious about leadership and how it impacts on any team (large or small).

It cannot just be assumed that everyone is a born leader. It’s a skill that needs to be trained — just like any other skill. Failure to do so simply means that we continue to lose money and expertise in an industry — and do you know any industries that can afford to lose both of these major ingredients?

Your Body Remembers Not Just Your Brain

David Waters is a fortunate young man. At 24 years, he had only months to live, but received the heart of a 17 year old teenager Kaden Delaney who died in a car crash. A life-saving gesture of kindness. (Reported in the “Sunday Mail,” Dec 27, page 13.)

However, straight after the transplant, David Waters reported a desire for Burger Rings. “That’s all I seemed to want to eat after my surgery” he said. “I never used to eat them before.”

Six months after the operation, the Delaney family made contact with David who asked if the donor Kaden had ever liked Burger Rings. The response from the family was that Kaden “loved” Burger Rings.

Scientists have long theorised that the brain is not the only organ to store memories or personality traits, and that memory can be stored in other parts of the body such as the heart. This has been termed “cellular memory.”

For the record, David’s craving for Burger Rings lasted about three weeks before slowly disappearing.

But don’t be fooled, you have memory in parts of your body you never dreamed of!

Career Guidance Failure

It was only a small heading in “The Advertiser” and the column that went with it was short, but it came as no surprise to that group of us who are organisational psychologists and career guidance counsellors. The heading read, “Drop out rate shock.” It went on to say that one in three university students considered leaving their course before graduation.

Although the attrition rate is actually somewhere around 20%, this statistic belies the fact that a significant proportion of university students, as well as those in TAFE colleges and vocational or training institutes, are dissatisfied and de-motivated. Maybe they did actually complete their course for a degree, a diploma or a certificate, but they end up just turning up and finishing it for the sake of doing so. What a waste of human potential.

In our so-called “clever” country, we are NOT clever when it comes to providing career guidance to our secondary and tertiary students.

How is it that we are so good at providing courses and educating young people, but so woeful at providing direction for their actual career goals and pathways?

Office Open Plan is Non-Productive

When the “Herald-Sun” from Sydney asked me what I thought about office open plan, it was a request too good to refuse. For years now, I have considered that office open plan that came in about 15 years ago (as I recall) was not in employees’ best interests, but was really about the company both cutting its bottom line (it’s cheaper with less internal infra-structure and we can herd more people into less space) together with an element of being able to “watch” everyone.

Why doesn’t open space work? We get distracted and are more easily interrupted (both visual and auditory) which affects productivity, and we also lack privacy, as well as the fact that we like to have our own space or territory, all of which ultimately affects morale. Doctor John Medina in his brilliant book, “Brain Rules” says quite clearly that our brains are not wired to do multi-tasking ie., paying attention to more than one thing at a time (I know that one radio commentator said to me today that woman are very good at multi-tasking, but for the record, Doctor Medina says that they actually have good working memories capable of paying attention to several inputs at one time.) For most of us though, we have difficulty focusing on more than one thing. That’s why we say when we’ve been interrupted and we need to get back to it, something like, “Now where was I?”

But here’s the kicker re open plan offices. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50% more errors.

On top of that is the “Hot desk” where staff are not allocated a permanent spot to work and need to take whatever is available. All the issues with open plan are only accentuated with this notion. What on earth are managers thinking?

Still, it is trendy to have open plan offices. Let’s see how long it will take for the wheel to finally turn back to closed offices.

Where are all the Leaders?

What we do know is that by about 2018, half of the current of the current workforce would have disappeared.

The Babyboomers will be retiring in droves (and probably we would have already seen a decided trend in this direction if the Global Financial Crisis had not occurred where the Boomers have now had to remain longer in the workforce to boost their savings and help their retirement funds). Remember that the first Boomers turned 60 in 2006.

Now, as it happens, most of the leadership positions in the public service and in commercial enterprise including small business, are held by the Boomers. To make matters worse, there seems to be a total lack of leadership training within organisations. Once in our nation’s history there used to be a federal government initiative called the “training levy” where organisations were compelled to spend 10% of their budget on training and they frequently did so by grooming young people for leadership. Gone are those days….long gone.

So where are our leaders going to come from? We are undoubtedly going to have a crisis of leadership in the next decade.

I am encouraged by a small minority of companies such as AG Coombs in Melbourne who have recognised the problem and have undertaken a leadership program for 36 of their staff. They need to be congratulated. Heartily so.

The rest of the nation had better wake up. If we really want to be the clever country, we’d better do something about our leadership. And now, before it is too late.