The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

Archive for April 2012

The Office Snitch: Network it, baby!

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I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, just the thought of networking makes me so nervous I’d rather sit in the dentist’s chair on a ship during the perfect storm.

As I’m always dealing with HR practitioners, one question I’m often asked is: “How do HR people fare when it comes to networking?”

I think HR professionals have, over the course of time, been classified as introverted paper-pushers who only step out of their offices to fire someone or rob them of their laptop privileges.

Although I’ll admit HR folks I’ve met are slightly more reserved than the PR, marketing and creative teams I work with on an equally regular basis, calling them introverts is as far from the truth as possible.

HR leaders are networking daily with one of the most important groups of people they work with: the organisation’s employees themselves.

As the HR function continues to take on more strategic and critical roles within businesses, HR leaders find themselves making presentations, presenting cases and implementing policies. On top of that, they’re also dealing with a steady stream of employee queries, and transactional and admin duties. While your corporate comms and PR peers are busy managing relations with the outside world, HR is doing exactly the same with the internal audience.

Now, of course I have had my share of working with the slightly more reserved HR leaders. If you consider yourself one of them, fear not, I can help.

I’ve been a journalist for a while now (well, a year and a half, but if you think about it, that’s about a quarter of my working life), and dare I say I’ve picked up a couple of skills when it comes to the fine art of networking.

I remember the first event I had to cover. There I was, a nervous shell, thrown into the middle of one of the biggest HR summits of the year. All I had was a feeble list of questions, a voice recorder and my name cards.

I approached the first guy I saw standing alone with the cocktail nuts, flashed my biggest smile and said, “Hi, I’m Sabrina from Human Resources magazine. How are you? Is this your first time here? This is my first event and I’m so excited to be here!” all in one breath.

He smiled weakly, muttered something in response about where he worked, and then let the silence hang between us like an elephant suspended Mission Impossible-style from the ceiling.

On hindsight, approaching another introvert was probably not the wisest move. But over the next few months, as my then editor viciously scheduled me for event after event and interview after interview, I started to get the hang of things, and more importantly, I started getting comfortable.

There isn’t really a science to it, but there are a couple of things you can do to make networking less a pain, and more a gain.

Just do it

I’ve learnt the easiest way to get the ball rolling is just to jump right into it. Not quite in the same way I launched into my verbal diarrhoea that first time, but rather, take it a couple of sentences at a time (and remember to breathe).

Start off with a simple introduction, hear what your conversation partner(s) have to say, and then see how it goes from there. It never hurts to read up a little about the event you’re at to throw in a couple of facts to keep the conversation running. But chances are if you’re an introvert, you’re a good listener. Use that to your advantage and ask the other person about his job and what he does. Trust me, three times out of five, people love talking about themselves. Besides, you’ll never know who you’ve got standing in front of you and the opportunities that may arise.

Don’t force it

Unfortunately, there will be occasions where the conversation hits a block. Before you start rambling on about the weather or what you had for lunch (which will only add to the awkwardness, trust me), politely nip the conversation in the bud. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you around” usually does the trick for me. Chances are, you partner has picked up on the lull and is thinking of ways to excuse himself anyway. You tried, but we can’t win them all. Move on to the next one.

Have fun with it

If anything, networking sessions are a great way to get away from the office, have a free cup of coffee and some croissants, while still getting work done. Consider it a casual opportunity to meet people, and don’t take it too seriously. One other thing I’ve learnt is you don’t always have to talk about work. As long as the conversation remains appropriate and professional, no harm’s been done. I’ve found I’m always more comfortable starting a conversation with something unrelated to work. In fact, I’m just as aware of my clients, interviewees and PR contacts’ holidays, children’s schooling, and favourite weekend restaurants as I am of their business initiatives, product launches and policy changes. Making sure your industry peers know you’re not just in it to get something out of them can sometimes get you more out of a meeting than just a dry, run of the mill business check in.

Today, I’m glad to say I’m able to hold my own at meetings big and small. Sure, there are days where I’d rather be in the office or nursing my coffee in a corner with my phone, but I’ve been around long enough (or at least I’d like to think so) to know that getting my hands dirty networking can be one of the most rewarding and informative aspects of the job.

Once you’re comfortable talking to people outside the organisation, getting those important conversations going with your employees and managers should be a breeze. Good luck at your next networking event, and let me know how it goes!

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Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

It’s 6pm? I’m barely getting started

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We’ve all had bosses who would drop the sarcastic “Thanks for dropping by!” when we leave the office at 6pm on the dot.

In the wake of the financial crisis, where layoffs mean more work per employee, people are getting better at doing the jobs of more than one person. But while being able to multi-task well is one thing, managing work-life balance is another.

Unfortunately, a lot of people I speak to still work in an environment where if you’re not at your desk putting in those extra hours, it’s equal to you being an unproductive staff member.

Of course, this isn’t a belief I subscribe to and, thankfully, that mindset is starting to shift; I think a lot of it starts with the big guys at the top. When I popped by PR agency Waggener Edstrom a few weeks back for a catch up, Matt Lackie, the firm’s Singapore general manager, said he actively tries to herd his staff out of the office at six.

“I have two kids. I come in early but I have to leave by six, six-thirty. On my way out the door, I’m always telling people to get moving and wrap it up, because it’s important,” he said.

“We know that if people have a life outside of work, the time they spend in the office will be more productive and they’ll be much happier.”

I was discussing work-life balance with Bruce, an operations executive in Hong Kong, when it suddenly occurred to him he works 14 hours a day on average.

“That’s crazy,” I said, to which he nonchalantly replied, “But it’s normal.”

In doing research for this post, I came across a pretty dated article on the Harvard Business Review blog by Ron Ashkenasm, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting. He wrote the more people extend their normal working hours, the more going home at the usual knock off time seems like under-working.

With technology, it’s become easier to work anywhere and anytime. I’ll confess that if an email comes in from a client in the States at 9pm at night, it takes a bit of willpower to say, “You know what? That can wait until morning”. I’ve been able to respond to emails and even edit articles during commutes, waiting in line for coffee, and while sitting in  the foyer watching birds with my fat cat.

My friend Pam, who works in communications, agreed that my cat is fat and that it can be hard to separate work from life some times.

“I find myself doing a lot of research on weekends or when I am on the bus, thinking up news headlines and constantly conjuring pitch ideas in the middle of a social conversation,” she said.

But this flexibility may be a double-edged sword because being able to work anytime can mean working all the time.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg turned heads earlier this month when she said she leaves the office at 5.30pm everyday. One of the most powerful people in one of the world’s biggest tech set-ups works 9 to 5? Blasphemy, you would say!

Not quite.

However, in reading her interview with Mashable, I found one of her statements slightly discomforting.

“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in the interview.

“I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”

Just the fact that it’s taken her this long to come out and admit to having a work-life balance is upsetting. Some time in the last few years, many corporate ladder-climbing, paper chasing, eager beaver employees have tricked themselves – and probably us in the process – that late hours and little sleep have become badges of honour.

Well, I say it’s time that ends. Structure a realistic to-do list, manage your time, prioritise your responsibilities, delegate, and learn to say, “No, not now”. These are just but a few of the simple things you can do to make sure you’re out that door and on your way out to a healthy social and family life at 6pm.

This weekend, I’m happy to say I’ll be switching off my work PC, and deactivating work emails on my phone. And come next Monday, let’s try and manage work and life a bit better so we can get more out of both worlds. I’m not saying it’s something that will happen overnight, but put in enough effort and the pay offs will be worth it, trust me.

Like Lily Tomlin says, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 20, 2012 at 11:10 am

Best and worst jobs of the year… or are they?

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I always feel a weird kind of excitement when an email pops into my box with the list of the best and worst jobs.

But that excitement quickly turned to outrage when I read that being a reporter ranked 196 out of 200 on CareerCast.com’s latest list. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Anyway, not all news was bad news. HR managers came in at a surprising 3rd – not bad for a profession that wasn’t even on the list last year! Since the results were based in the US, given the number of layoffs and the slightly downcast employment market, I can see why HR slipped into top three. Companies need good talent, and can only do so with good HR managers. Opportunities are aplenty and there’s undeniable demand for HR folk who can not only help make sure an organisation is running like a well-oiled machine, but also filled to the brim with the best employees.

I rang up our April cover boy Hew Evans, regional HR director for Sony Electronics APAC, and asked him what’s the best thing about being a HR head.

“People make the difference in the business, and to get to work with those people every day gives such a great challenge and opportunity for success,” he said. But he’s not disillusioned either. While there are pros to the job, there is also “the frustration of working with people – yes, it is a double edged sword!”

And then he said there’s that misconception that “all we like to talk about is ‘tea and toilets’.” I guess you can’t win them all.

The top job of 2012 is – for the second year running – software engineering. Frankly, I’m not surprised, with this crazy phenomenon of cool apps and technology that seem to be coming at us from all sides, and being bought for billions of dollars.

PK, a software engineer friend, was only too happy to share why he thinks his profession is worthy of the top spot.

“I have a great amount of control over the work I do and I probably earn twice as much as most of my peers,” he said. “With my laptop and internet connection, I can do my work anywhere. That’s means working in bed or 600km away in Thailand.”

As if the high pay and flexibility aren’t enough, PK also waxed lyrical about the intangible benefits of the job.

“There is mainly satisfaction at two levels. The first is similar to the feeling you get when you finally solve that really long maths question and you got the perfect answer. The second is when you know what you made has some real use and value to someone else.”

He added being a software engineer isn’t as geeky and boring as it sounds, and given enough time, he could teach it to anyone with a keen interest. “It’s pretty much like math… just more interactive.”

Now I’m not the biggest fan of math, but if it means working out of a Starbucks on a beach in Thailand while earning twice what I do now, I’m sold. Especially since being a journo ranked all the way down in the bottom five of the list.

Robert, a fellow journo based out of Hong Kong, wasn’t too thrilled when I broke the news to him. “A part of me just died a little. Dishwashers and waiters are ranked above me,” he emailed back.

I asked him why he reckoned being a journo was one of the worst jobs this year. “We don’t meet sales targets or complete projects and assignments – we report news,” he lamented. “Our breathers come when people stop breathing.”

“Hollywood’s fabricated stereotype of hard-nosed, foul-mouthed, truth-twisting bastards adventurously fleeing about with a flask of brandy barely does any justice to the educated, ethical, well-mannered, nervous reality of some who are simply begging for a scoop on the phone,” he added.

“Tinsel Town did get one thing straight though: We aren’t liked.”

Amongst the list’s top ten worst jobs, which included being a butcher, an oil rig farmer and a lumberjack in the top spot, broadcasting came in #10.

“Broadcast journalism certainly is fun and fast-paced but it’s not a flexible industry to work in. Anti-social hours can come hand in hand with the job,” Sarah, a broadcaster working in Singapore, said.

“Plus news never stops, so that means being in the office on bank holidays and having to fight for time off at periods like Christmas and New Year.”

And along with Rob, she added the pay isn’t anything to die for. “I rarely meet rich journalists!”

But I guess at the end of the day, CareerCast.com’s list ranked the jobs using five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. They didn’t measure job satisfaction, professional pride or passion – things that I personally think should count for something too.

In a day and age where work and personal life are so closely intertwined, it’s the personal intangible benefits that go further in keeping someone with a job.

Sure, working on a beach seems super fun, but would I really choose that over the insane satisfaction I get when a feature I’ve worked on for weeks is still talked about by people I meet at events months down the road? Probably not.

Feel free to share your thoughts on why you think your job it’s the best or worst in the world.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 13, 2012 at 11:00 am