Train life: the rules

At the weekend I came across a train etiquette guide. It was, in my opinion, far too brief.  I have therefore compiled my own guide, issued with thoughts and prayers to everyone who has to commute to work via the train.

  1. If you don’t regularly get a train during rush hour, try not to comment incredulously on the state of the railways to more regular commuters. Phrases such as ‘is it always this bad?’ and ‘I couldn’t do this every day’ will not be welcomed.
  2. Always, and I mean always, have your ticket ready to go through the station exit turnstiles. Try not to leave getting it out of your purse as you approach said turnstile when there are 45 other frustrated people behind you.
  3. Don’t speak to fellow commuters unless there is an absolute emergency. In my case, for the avoidance of doubt, this should only be if I am on fire and you are certain that I have not noticed.*
  4. When [insert useless train company of your choice] don’t sent enough carriages and you are forced to stand with your body so uncomfortably close to a total stranger that you can tell what they had for lunch, you will both pretend that this is not happening. There will be absolutely no eye contact.
  5. Take the following items on a train journey: tissues (to blow your nose – no sniffing, ever), headphones* (no, we don’t want to listen to your videos and Facetime calls) and something to read (this also helps with points 3 and 4).
  6. Do not take: smelly food, smelly dogs, smelly feet (retain shoes on feet at ALL times).
  7. If you take a large suitcase with you on your journey, please store this in the appropriate place. The appropriate place can vary from train to train, but is not ever a) on your seat when there are people standing, and b) in the middle of the bloody aisle so no one can get passed it.
  8. Don’t buy the coffee on the train. This has nothing to do with etiquette. It’s just always vile.
  9. Try not to use the toilet. See above.
  10. Wait for people to get off the train BEFORE YOU TRY AND BOARD IT.
  11. Please, oh please, don’t have loud business conversations on the train. If you need to form, norm and storm, sell several tonnes of steel, provide interview feedback or pick some low hanging fruit, do consider doing this somewhere (anywhere) else. It’s both a potential breach of the GDPR and deeply irritating.
  12. If you leave a train part way through its journey, consider taking your rubbish with you and putting it in an actual bin so that another traveller doesn’t have to sit next to your empty cans of Stella.
  13. Aftershave.  Don’t bathe in it before you leave the house for your commute.
  14. TAKE YOUR BAG OFF THE SEAT. Do not wait to be asked. Just do it. Or be aware that I will sit on it.

 

*A colleague gets my train regularly. Most days we then get on the same bus at the other end.  Sometimes we even sit next to each other.  We have never, ever spoken.  This is the British way.

**Headphones can also be utilised as a defence mechanism for people who break rule 3. You don’t even need to be listening to anything.

On Kindness

This is a story about kindness, and the difference that you can make to someone else without even knowing it.

My mum works in a supermarket. Recently while she was at work, a stranger walked up to her and spoke her name, took her hand. ‘I have wanted to see you again for nearly 40 years’ she said.

When I was a young child, my mother had been involved in the local community baby and toddler group. One day they had held a sale of pre-owned children’s clothing.  The woman holding my mum’s hand had been a young, single mum, struggling for money.  This was the late 1970s.  She told my mum how she had often experienced negative reactions to her single mum status.  Judgement and disapproval.  My mum had chatted to her just for a little while, been kind, and given her some of my old baby clothes and didn’t charge her for them.

This woman remembered my name, my mum’s name, every detail of the encounter. She told of how she had wanted to say a proper thank you during all of the years in between.  She had never forgotten a moment of kindness from another mum.  It doesn’t surprise me that my own mum doesn’t remember this particular meeting, because this is just who she is, every day.

We should remember that no act of kindness is ever wasted. People will always remember how you make them feel.  We can make a difference to others as we walk through the world.

Be kind, always.

kind

Employee Engagement: A Rant

I’ve recently been asked to deliver a workshop on employee engagement. It’s been a while since I’ve run a session like this, so I dug out my material and refreshed my thoughts.

And got very grumpy.

Now I know that there are issues with the concept of employee engagement as it is often presented. There are many unanswered questions too.

What do we actually mean by the term?

Exactly what are we asking people to engage with? The job, the company, the mission statement, their profession?

Is employee engagement anything new or is it just re-mixing and updating the old theories about motivation and job satisfaction?

Can we measure it? Especially if we don’t know what it is?

Can a feeling ever be a percentage?

Has Engage 4 Success ever said anything useful?

Is it even a thing, or is it snake oil?

 

But it struck me that there is a bigger, more fundamental question.

However we label it, we know lots and lots of stuff about what people like, want and value about and from work. We also know plenty about what demotivates and disengages people too.

So why don’t we apply it?

I’ve worked in HR for more than twenty years. During that time, in no particular order, here is a list of people related stuff, all of which contributes to creating good work and good workplaces and making people happy that I have seen side-lined, budget removed from, ignored and paid lip service too:

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Flexible Working
  • Learning and Development
  • Leadership development
  • Candidate experience
  • Supporting working families
  • Fair approaches to remuneration
  • Recognition
  • Decent toilets and basic facilities like somewhere to make a nice cup of tea.

If we want employee engagement, job satisfaction, effect employee experience, motivation, self-actualisation, discretionary effort or just simply happy people, we know much of the theory.

So the big question is simply this.

If organisations want employee engagement so badly, why aren’t those same organisations doing the things that we know will get us there?  We can make an industry out of this stuff, make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Or we can get on with it.

 

Here’s a stock image of some people looking really happy at work. Cos, you know, engagement.

engagement

Dad Life

Yesterday new research was published by Deloitte about the millennial father (I am going to forgive the terrible title on the basis that the data is interesting). You can find the report here.

The research looks at the experience of working fathers. Here’s a few points of note from the data that stood out for me.

  • 1/3 of fathers surveyed reported having left a job for one which will allow them to spend more time with their children.
  • Another 1/3 of fathers are currently looking to do just the same.
  • Only 1 in 5 of those who requested flexible working had their request approved.
  • A 1/3 of fathers experience tension when needing time off to attend appointments or illnesses.
  • The tension felt by fathers doesn’t just come from the organisation itself (and its managers) but colleagues too.
  • 37% of fathers say that they have experienced negative impacts on their mental health as a result of trying to balance work and being a parent.
  • Guilt is a prominent emotion for fathers – guilt with line managers, partners, children, colleagues.

This headline findings within this report are loud and clear.

This is a talent issue.

This is a wellbeing issue.

This is a 2019 issue.

I’ve talked to fathers who have been subject to banter, inappropriate pressure and outright discrimination for wanting to work more flexibly, do the school run or take shared parental leave.  The not-so-subtle glance at the watch, the casual ‘part-timer’ comment.

This is Not Good Enough.

Few fathers really want the old model of fatherhood of the semi-absent dad, doing all the long hours and leaving the wife to go the school events. Dads want to be involved in their kids lives – shock.

But the old attitudes within organisations and too many individuals still exist.

Many employees now understand that there’s more to life than work. Now it’s time for employers who haven’t realised this too, to catch up – or lose your talent.

This really isn’t hard unless we make it so.

The report tells us what fathers want. More flexible working, better policies, improved manager attitudes and behaviours, more information on the leave and pay available to them.

Shall we just get on with it?

dad

Reflections on learning

I’m currently studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. It’s been a fascinating course for many reasons, partly for the content but partly because of the delivery and assessment methods the course employs.

I wanted to share a little of my experiences here – and reflect on why it works so well for the learners. It is my full intention to borrow heavily from the approach for learning I’m currently designing for the workplace.

The overall approach is a flipped classroom. Reading, watching and consuming content done in your own time.  The face to face classroom element was about exploration, debate and discussion.  Learning together, not side by side.

For my most recent module, the assignments were submitted in blog form (my joy was unconfined). They were posted over on Medium, tagged to the course.  The reading list for this year’s students included the blogs written by the previous cohort.  Next year’s students will read ours.  We were encouraged to reference and build on the ideas of past learners.  Working out loud for the win.  I wrote about my own approach to open learning and MOOCs.  In the spirit of openness I’ve included the links if you’re interested (they haven’t been marked yet, just so you know).  I’m currently designing some new learning and I’m planning to include this approach as a final reflection piece for the learners. It brings together the benefits of personal reflection and sharing learning experiences and ideas with others.

blog

Much of the pre course reading was provided online via Medium. Instead of doing your pre-reading alone and bringing your notes along to the classroom learners were encouraged to reflect online first, open for all to see.  These ideas where then developed later, together.

There was encouragement to use social media tools to enhance learning. The course used a wide range of tech tools.  Padlet, Popplet, Camtasia, podcasts, video. We were also encouraged to undertake some MOOCs alongside the primary course content,  with specific recommendations made by the course tutors.  There were minimum requirements for the learning, but how much or how little you interacted with outside of these requirements was in the gift of the learner.  There was a great deal of signposting to content – but nothing compulsory.  There were deadlines, but much of the pace of learning was within your control too.

Recognising that most of the learners on the programme had busy day jobs, there was no formal requirement that you would make the face to face lectures. Everything was recorded and available online afterwards.  No fancy film crew required,  most of it was done by simple tech.

Finally, when it comes to assessment, there was plenty of freedom. You could choose to do the standard essay format, or pitch something you felt was more you.  For my first assessment I wrote the first three chapters of an e-book that I intend to complete when the course has finished, which will be made available to new colleagues as part of their induction.  For another module, I submitted a storyboard and a screencast – this is now about to become an in-house MOOC.  The aim was to centre your research and assignments within your own areas of interest and work at the organisation – and then most importantly, do something with it.  We’ve all been on a training course that uses hypothetical case studies that lack context, or established an action learning set that quickly died out.  Letting students direct and focus their learning to their specific interests has led to real action across the cohort – surely the aim of all learning programmes.

I’ve experienced plenty of learning over the years.  I’ve done full time study, part time study and distance learning. I’ve attended lectures, undertaken role plays, completed e-learning and written essays.  In terms of experience, this has been by far the best – and the one where I have most fully transferred the learning into practice. It’s improved the day job – and that should always be our aim.

Learning with the learner at the heart.

 

 

The great homeworking debate

Homeworking is in the news.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows a jump in the numbers of homeworkers over the last ten years. This isn’t all that surprising if we consider how much technology has moved on during the same time frame.

The BBC covered the story here.  It references concerns from Mind about the loneliness and isolation that can result from home or remote working.  The article does the typical thing of finding some people who think working from home is awesome, and some who find it a challenge for a range of reasons.

Here’s the thing.

Wellbeing is individual, personal, contextual, changeable.  We are indeed socially driven, and research from the New Economics Foundation has found that connecting with others is a driver of wellbeing.  But we are all different.  For every one of us that thrives in being around others and engaging, there will be someone else that craves quiet and time to themselves.  One size only fits one.

For me, my regular working from home is a benefit to my wellbeing. My long and stressful commute is challenging, so a day without it is a boost. My office days are usually frantic and coffee fuelled, food grabbed on the go. Working from home gives me time to focus and breathe.  Proximity to the biscuit tin aside, I usually also eat better, and fit in some exercise too.

But that’s me. This is an anecdote, not evidence from which we should draw any wider conclusions.

Instead of trying to decide whether homeworking is good or bad or something in between, instead we need to enable people to work in the way that works best for them; their productivity, their wellbeing, their efficiency and their personal commitments. For some that will be in an office, for others it’s their sofa.

Let’s just focus on adult to adult.

What and how the work is done, not where and when.

home working

Asking better questions

A little while ago I put a call out to HR folks via Twitter, asking them for their best open ended questions for employee surveys.

Now I am something of a cynic when it comes to surveys. I believe in the importance and power of employee voice, I’m just not convinced that a survey every year or two is the best way to get it – or the only way to get it at least.  Voice should be a dialogue.  Surveys have a part to play but organisations have a tendency to over rely on them – and then when it comes to taking action – seriously under deliver.

One of my key issues about surveys is the often used approach of including one or two open form questions at the end. Most organisations use very similar wording.  There will usually be something about the best bit about working at [insert name of organisation] and an opportunity to say something that you think ought to be changed or done differently.  Hardly ground breaking.

I’ve rarely found an organisation that seriously looks at the ‘things I’d change’ text and does anything meaningful with the data. I have however seen shrugs and eye rolls.  Suggestions often get dumped into one of two categories – stuff we know about and can’t / won’t change or stuff that we justify not changing because the employees got it wrong and we know better.

It’s my view that asking people two questions every couple of years with a limited character count ain’t employee voice.

I wanted to take the opportunity to ask some better questions the next time around. So I asked for help and my network delivered.  In the interests of sharing my learning, I’ve detailed them here.  In an example of shocking form I noted the question but not who suggested them and this is now lost forever in my twitter history.  Apologies to you if you gave me one of these cracking questions and I’ve  not give you credit.  Here’s the list:

  • What one thing should we do between now and the next survey to get your score to be significantly higher?
  • What is the one thing we should have asked you but didn’t?
  • What is the best piece of advice you have been given since you started here?  Or, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting here?
  • What gives you joy about working here? (I guess there’s a risk with this one that some people might say ‘going home)
  • What do we do that would help you be awesome at work?
  • How could we better support your career?
  • What is the biggest and smallest thing that we could do better?
  • What is the most challenging thing about working here?
  • What has happened in the last month to make you happy at work?
  • What is it about your job that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
  • What would you do if you were leading the organisation.

My personal favourites are the top two. Questions to get people thinking, not writing the same old stuff that they did last year that you took no notice of.  Of course, a good question and fresh perspectives can’t prevent organisation inaction – but just maybe they will provide you with a whole new set of ideas and challenges.  Just try and do something with the feedback…….

 

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