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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.

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Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

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No, it’s not yet Christmas. And no, it’s not my birthday (but that’s in about three weeks, in case you were wondering) but it is one of my favourite celebrations ever – April’s Fool Day.

Now, if you haven’t gotten anything planned for Sunday, I reckon it’s still all right to pull off a prank at work on Monday (let’s keep the party going). But although all work and no play made Jack a dull boy, I would still be careful planning that next big prank.

There are a couple of points you need to think through before deciding what prank you’re going to pull. Is your company culture fun and open to a shenanigan every now and then, or is your boss someone who likens the office to a military boot camp? Also, make sure you choose your prankee carefully. And be sure to at least be clear on your company’s code of conduct. While some may be all right with you shrink-wrapping someone’s desk (been there, done that), others may not be too thrilled if you decide to hack into someone’s email or change their PC passwords.

While doing research for this post (and getting ideas for my prank next week. I’m thrown between putting sticky tape under everyone’s optical mouse or recording a kitten’s mew, hiding the recorder in a drawer, and setting the thing to loop all day long), I came across a pretty interesting article about how pulling a prank can display your strengths.

But just to be safe, here are a couple more things to take note of:

And if you’re on the management team, remember not to take things too seriously. Most pranks are going to either happen today on Friday or next Monday, and it’s never a bad idea to end or start a week with a couple of laughs.

As long as rules aren’t broken, dignities are left intact, and office property isn’t destroyed, there’s really no need to get uptight about April’s Fools Day.

You know what? I don’t think I’ll get up to mischief this year. Instead, I’m going to sit at my desk, smile sweetly at everyone, keep glancing at my watch and make everyone think I’m up to something. Maybe I’ll throw in a couple of warning comments like, “Hey, you haven’t already gone into the store room today, have you?” or “You might want to get that” every time a phone rings. I might even sit up a little straighter every time someone opens a cabinet or drawer.

It’d be fun watching them squirm.

Let me know if you’ve got any memorable office pranks to share and maybe it’ll help me start planning next year’s joke. It’s never too early. After all, I do want to show my bosses I’m committed to long-term projects (might help me score my next promotion). Have a good one everybody!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

March 30, 2012 at 10:39 am

Sleeping at work? A dream comes true!

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They have always said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten, and one of the biggest things I took away from my pre-school education was the need for afternoon naps.

So when I came across an online article while doing some research (read: taking a break and checking Facebook – yes, I’m back on that bandwagon) that said naps at work not only boost productivity but also reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems, I was thrilled.

Win-win!

There is actual science behind this. When a person is tired, neurons in the brain shut off, which essentially means that while your body is awake, your brain is fast asleep. Taking a quick 15-minute nap helps you recharge and get those neurons up and running again.

In fact, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley confirmed in 2010 that napping also improves the brain’s ability to retain information. They added that mid-day naps “not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neuro-cognitive level, moves you beyond where you were before”.

But isn’t it bad enough that employees are already taking breaks for coffee and cigarettes? Will bosses really be okay with workers disappearing for 15 minutes at a time to catch up on some sleep?

Thankfully, I have friends in high places and decided to give them a call to get their take on what I hope will be the next great office fad.

Douglas Gan, founder and chief executive officer of location-based service provider ShowNearby, tells me he doesn’t mind his employees sleeping at work. The last time I visited their office for lunch, Douglas even pointed out the couch in one of the bigger offices and proudly told me, “That’s where some of the guys take naps”.

What’s more, he doesn’t limit how long they can nap for and even encourages his staff to work from home if they’re too tired to come into the office. No wonder ShowNearby was one of the recipients of Asia’s Best Employer Brand Awards this year.

“Naps can help them get rid of a tired mind and move forward,” Douglas says. “Also, I think because they appreciate the fact that they can nap, they tend to work better when they’re awake.”

However, not everyone is onboard with the idea of napping at work. Edvarcl Heng, social media manager at MediaCom, says instead of naps, his employees are allowed to take breaks as often as they like, as long as productivity isn’t affected.

“They are also equipped with Nerf guns (a type of toy gun which shoots foam bullets) and games on their Macs as an explicit nod from management that we will not frown upon fun,” Ed says.

On top of the fun and games, employees are also allowed to go out to buy titbits (another one of my favourite break-time activities), surf the Internet and play games with each other. “A worker is not an automaton. They need rest to boost their productivity,” Ed says.

While writing this blog entry, I was also multi-tasking (talking to my best friend) and found out that the only reason he hadn’t replied my messages the past hour was because he was – you guessed it – taking a nap at work. He claims to even have a sleeping bag in the office, but that’s information I’ll take with a grain of salt.

“The trick is to get the duration just right. 15 minutes to half an hour tops,” he advises, sounding like a professional nap-taker. “Anything less won’t help and too long will make you groggy when you wake up.”

But does it really help with his productivity for the rest of the day? “Yeah, definitely!” he says. “How else do you think I get through the day?”

Well, I guess it all comes down to the industry and nature of the business you are in.

Let me know which side of the fence you’re on by leaving a comment or sending me a message on Twitter (@theofficesnitch).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to have a quick talk with my bosses on setting up a designated nap area in our new office.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 2, 2011 at 11:23 am

HRTV: Staying effective with social media

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Singapore – HR leaders can utilise technology and social media networks as an internal collaboration tool to become even more effective in their jobs.

Ram Menon, executive vice president for worldwide marketing at TIBCO, said that HR professionals would typically use social media to communicate with third parties such as potential job candidates, vendors and recruiters.

However, Menon suggested that a savvy HR practitioner can use social media to improve internal communications, as well as increase collaboration between different departments. He added that having an effective social media strategy can help connect diverse business divisions in a global company, especially if they are located around the world.

“HR is the primary lifeline through which an organisation communicates its vision, the way in which they hire and retain employees, or career development opportunities,” Menon said.

If adopted properly, social media can streamline the information sent out to different stakeholders without spamming everyone. “Technology eases the flow of communication and filters outs what is irrelevant to you.”

For example, Menon said a healthcare package for eye insurance can be programmed to be disseminated through social media groups to those with eye problems within the organisation. This helps employees manage the information they receive regularly and ensures important data is not lost in the mix.

To find out more about how technology can improve the HR landscape, click here:

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Written by Human Resources

August 31, 2011 at 10:31 am

Small Talk on smartphone addiction and respecting employees

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Singapore – While smartphones are helping people stay connected 24/7, the mobile devices may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to productivity.

A survey from the UK revealed that two-fifths of respondents admitted to using their mobile phones to text, email and take calls when in a face-to-face meeting. Employees who are constantly glued to their mobile devices are also more likely to be distracted by work, even during weekends or when on vacation.

While some may argue the dependency on smartphones helps them stay connected, the survey reported that 36% of employees found the distractions made it harder for them to complete work. Another 22% said they suffered from information overload and more than a fifth are unable to think creatively.

Small Talk this week also discusses why respecting your employees and peers can lead to higher retention rates. A new report by Regus showed 72% of Singaporeans believed a good working environment stemmed from managers showing respect to their employees.

But managers have to be aware of why certain staff will still choose to leave a job. The latest Kelly Global Workplace Index 2011 showed that Singaporeans listed career changes, evolving personal interests and better work-life balance as the top reasons to jump ship.

While on the topic of career progression, Small Talk reports how having good presentation skills can improve your chances of getting a promotion. Employees who show confidence when presenting are more likely to be “visible” to the top level management, said Hazriq Idrus, a corporate trainer with Firefly Horizon.

Additionally, Small Talk explores how an open office concept is actually distracting employees from their work and how more local companies are moving into the suburbs to cut cost.

With office rents skyrocketing in prime areas such as Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place, more companies are heading towards locations such as One@Changi City, Changi Business Park and Mapletree Business City.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

HRTV: Happy managers boost staff productivity

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Singapore – Organisations that can promote positivity in the workplace will find an increase in staff productivity levels, especially if every employee is moving towards the same objectives.

Aneta Tunariu, consultant and principal lecturer at the University of East London, sat down with HRTV at the recent Innerpositiveness Leadership Conference to discuss how productive working relationships involved optimistic leaders.

“Good working relationships stems from clarity of working towards a common goal,” Tunariu said.

However, the onus is on leaders to set a safe platform from which team members can engage each other and share their views about the project they are working on. Tunariu said, “It is more than just teamwork, it is also about having a forum of open discussion where the task at hand can be approached with curiosity and positivity.”

Tunariu said the key to increasing personal positivity at work was to address each employee’s basic needs such as the desire to belong, to be understood, and to have trust between their peers and managers.

According to Tunariu, when employees feel their personal needs are taken care of, they can interact with their colleagues better and focus on producing results for the company.

“The employee will then have more motivation to effortlessly maximise their skills and join in on [achieving] the common goal,” Tunariu said.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 3, 2011 at 10:52 am

Small Talk on racist staff and Gen Y’s expectations

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Singapore – Employees in Indian call centres have been told it was okay to hang up on “dumb” Australian clients while senior leaders in Singapore worry over their Gen Ys’ high expectations.

One trainer at the call centre even went so far to tell staff that Australians are racist towards Indians and did not begin attending college until recently. These demeaning stereotypes were brought to light after a journalist from news magazine Mother Jones underwent a three-week training course at the Delhi Call Centre last year.

This week, Small Talk discusses the irony of that story, as well as how employers can manage the expectations of their Generation Y (Gen Y) employees. According to Richard Lai, chief executive officer and managing director of logistics company Mapletree, younger staff want more money and opportunities but also a good work-life balance.

Lai said employees have to be more realistic in order to be happier at work. “At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to find their own level of contentment in their jobs.”

Also, find out more about how getting a team to cook together can help with bonding as HRTV heads down to The Sentosa Resort and Spa for a first-hand look at a new “Iron Chef” team building programme.

“It takes a break from the normal corporate retreats which usually involves teams being in seminars all day and talking business,” Ryan Sonson, the hotel’s executive chef, said.

Additionally, learn how companies are supporting older workers, along with their concern over rising wages as Singaporeans become increasingly pessimistic about their job opportunities.