Monday, 5 December 2011

How to reduce your stress levels in 2012

Now Christmas is approaching, have a think about how 2011 has been for you.

Has work been stressful?

Have you been worried about something?

How many times have you apologised to someone for not contacting them sooner because you have been too busy?

We commonly lead very busy lives.  We are always rushing around, travelling and working.  We are also overwhelmed by technology spending a large amount of time checking phones, updating our lives on Facebook, following twitter or searching for answers on the internet.  It seems that every minute of every day is taken up by some form of activity. 

When do you find time to relax?

Looking back over 2011 was relaxation ever part of your life or did you find that there were not enough hours in the day?

Failing to find time to relax each day can increase stress.  Yes, a little amount of stress can be good and help maintain motivation.  However, too much of it can lead to poor performance at work as well as have a negative effect on your life out of work, particularly on your health. 

This is not a cheery thought as we approach Christmas, so perhaps use the Christmas break as an opportunity to build relaxation into your day so that it can become part of your life in 2012.  Think of all the benefits of building just 15 minutes into your day to relax.  Just to name a few - you will have more energy, better health and control of your emotions.   You will also be more efficient at everything you do and may then develop an even better work-life balance.  Is there anything to lose?

Sometimes we can’t control the busy nature of everyday life but you can control your time for relaxation.

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How you can be the best lawyer without giving up everything else

When I work with lawyers, I initially ask them to evaluate all areas of their life, not just their career.  The reason for this is because a career does not exist in isolation.  It affects all areas of life such as health, relationships and hobbies.  Think about it:

How many times have you cancelled a social engagement because you have had to work late?

How often do you feel tired and stressed out of work because you have too much work to do or are not enjoying work?

From carrying out this evaluation, it is often discovered that the individual’s work-life balance is very much focused on work and there is little focus on anything else.   Furthermore, despite wanting more time to keep in contact with friends and family, to pursue interests left behind at the beginning of their training contract or to feel less stressed out of work, the individual can’t see how this can be achieved.   There is so much pressure to work long hours, get everything right and be the best at what they do, how can lawyers possibly have time for anything else?

You want to be the best lawyer.

The work of a lawyer can therefore dominate an individual’s life causing their work-life balance to suffer.  Without realising it, they start giving up everything else to be the best.

What now?

Feelings of stress and unhappiness are commonly experienced by lawyers when they are dissatisfied with their work-life balance and these feelings can eventually have a knock-on effect on their productivity and performance in work.

Are you now the best lawyer?

Allowing your work-life balance to suffer therefore does not necessarily make you the best lawyer.

If you feel you have given up everything to be the best at what you do and are feeling the strain, start making some changes.  Build things into your life from areas other than work and start making other commitments.  Do some exercise, pursue a hobby and arrange to meet friends.    Think how much more motivated you will be at work when you know you have other things to look forward to in your day.

Also, perhaps review your working day and start making changes to enhance your performance and productivity.  For example, how much time do you spend worrying about a difficult meeting with a client?  Can this time have been spent doing something else or seeking advice from acolleague on how to tackle the meeting?

Take one step at a time until you have a work-life balance that suits you. 

 If you are happy out of work, you will be even better in work.




Monday, 7 November 2011

Are you a working parent unhappy with your work-life balance?

Are you one of the 60% of working parents unhappy with their work-life balance due to your current working pattern?

I recently read the Working Parents and Carers Flexible Working Survey 2011 by My Family Care and was interested to discover that the findings of the survey revealed that 60% of working parents and carers are not happy with their work-life balance based on their current working pattern.  Flexible working was identified as a key issue within the survey, positively linking with work-life balance happiness, loyalty and productivity. 

The survey goes on to provide insights for employers on how to get it right when dealing with the challenges, needs and wants of those who combine work and family.  However, what can you do if this relates to you as a working parent?

As a working parent, achieving the best work-life balance for you can be extremely difficult.  It can be stressful and place a lot of pressure on your time and energy.  If this sounds familiar, start reviewing your existing work-life balance and what you would like to achieve using the following headings to guide you in your thinking:

1.     Childcare arrangements – what are the options available to you and how much will it cost? 

2.    Responsibility – how are you and your partner going to divide your responsibilities?

3.     Working hours – what do you consider to be realistic working hours for you?

4.     Money – how much do you and your partner need to earn?

5.     Work – how will any change in your working pattern affect your finances and career progression?  Within My Family Care’s survey, concerns were raised that flexibility may negatively affect career progression so this is an important factor to consider. 

6.     Career – are you in the right job for you?  Think about what you would like to achieve within your career path. Are there any other options you would like to consider such as a career change or pursuing self-employment?  Feel free to have a look at my free resources to help you.   

Once you have considered the best work-life balance for you and your family, work out your next steps for achieving this and start taking action.  You may find further assistance from the Working Families website as well as my factsheet setting out my top tips for achieving a work-life balance. 

Be one of the 40% of working parents happy with their work-life balance!

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Monday, 24 October 2011

The portfolio career – a career change option

Imagine a career that you can actively control and combines your skills and interests.....

Now think of everything you want from life:  

-       A fulfilling and enjoyable career path

-       An exciting career change

-       Control of your working hours

-       Fulfilling relationships with friends and family

-       Time for volunteering and pursuing interests and hobbies

-       A work-life balance

Is it possible for you to achieve all of this?  Would you like it to be possible?  How can you make it possible?

You may find the solution in the creation of the increasingly popular portfolio career.

A portfolio career may be the answer

A portfolio career consists of a variety of jobs including self-employment, fixed-term contracts, part-time jobs and freelancing.  It can offer career flexibility and variety enabling you to maintain more control over your career allowing you to fulfil the work-life balance you want.

An example is a marketing expert who has two part-time jobs.  One of her jobs is working for a big corporate company and the other is teaching at a local university.   She also spends time working in a self employed capacity providing marketing advice to SMEs.   Furthermore, she is a charity trustee and governor of a local school.

Is this sounding like an attractive option for you?

As with all decisions you make, you will need to look at the benefits as well as the challenges in pursuing a portfolio career.   For example, there will be an element of risk-taking involved as well as a requirement for self marketing and networking.  You will be taking sole responsibility for your career - you won't have a boss to fall back on.  On the other hand, you will gain some freedom in being able to control how you live your life and different career options can open up for you.

If you believe you may be suited to a portfolio career, start reviewing your career history and past experiences.  Then decide what you would like to achieve in your career and what interests and skills you would like to be using.  Be organised in your approach and start networking to find out if a portfolio career is the right option for you and how it can be achieved.

As you move forward in your investigations, remind yourself of this quote - it may help!

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. (T.S. Eliot)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Are your stress levels at work increasing?

According to the 2011 CIPD/Simplyhealth absence report, stress is now the biggest cause of long-term absence from work.  
 
This news comes as no surprise when we are repeatedly being exposed to negativity, directly or indirectly through our employer or the media, threatening our job security.  Consider just a small selection of recent headlines:





...and perhaps the icing on the cake is this week’s headline, The UK seeing a big rise in poverty.

Unfortunately, these headlines do not paint a very happy picture. 

Repeated threats to our job security, cost of living and income can significantly increase stress levels and it is these stress levels that need to be managed effectively to avoid long term absence from work.

Stress Management

There is certainly a call for companies and organisations to address the issue of stress management and do all they can to maintain staff morale.  However, it is also important for individuals to take some control over their situation to avoid placing total reliance on their employer. 

If this relates to you, recognise when your stress levels are increasing and start taking small steps towards alleviating the stress you are feeling.  

In times like this it is really important to give yourself space to introduce some positive elements to your working week.

Free Resources: Have a read of my 10 tips on what to do if you are made redundant

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What do I do if I am made redundant?

Redundancy is hitting the headlines again.  Over the past couple of weeks we have heard about BAE and The Royal Navy, as well as many more companies and organisations, launching a new round of redundancies.

It is true to say that 1000s of people will be affected directly by the recent headlines.  Furthermore, even those who are not directly affected may now be questioning their future job security and wondering if they will be faced with similar headlines threatening redundancy over the next year.  Whatever your circumstances, it can be a gloomy and worrying time.

If you are being made redundant, you will have many questions spinning around in your head at the moment: 

Where is the money going to come from?  What shall I do for a job?  How long will it take to find a job?  How will this affect my career progression?  Is this the time to think about a career change? How can I regain my confidence? 

You want answers to these questions and this is where I hope I can help you formulate some plans for the future. 

The best thing to do now is to take some time to plan your next steps.  The next few weeks or months may seem overwhelming and it is important that you move forward in the best way possible and limit the stress you may feel.  Here are a few areas to consider when preparing your plan:

1.     Give yourself time and space

Allow yourself time to get used to the idea.  Your job is likely to have been a large part of your life and you now have to face some changes ahead.  Use your friends and family for support.

2.     Review your finances 

What is your redundancy package?  How much money do you need to meet your outgoings?    Can you cut back on your monthly outgoings?

3.     Consider your career options

Perhaps you have been thinking about pursuing a career change or career break for a while.  Can this be the opportunity you were looking for?

4.     Update your CV

Review your key qualities, skills and recent achievements and ensure they are included on your CV.  Have a read of my blog on writing a successful CV here.

5.     Use your networks

This is the time to start touching base with all your contacts.  Consider who you know from previous jobs, training and courses as well as through your friendship group.

6.     Contact 2 or 3 recruitment consultants

Register with a couple of recruitment agencies to increase your job search.

7.     Make speculative approaches

Make some speculative approaches to organisations of interest to gain accurate information about your job market.  

8.     Career Coaching

This may be a good option to help you move forward.

9.     Relax

Allow yourself time every day to relax and to do something you enjoy. 
 
Finally, for some light reading, grab a coffee and have a read about the possible UK launch of job loss cards, as used in the USA,  here?!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Writing a successful CV

How many times have you put off writing your CV? It is a task few people enjoy. There are so many better things to be doing with your spare time such as watching TV, going to the pub or perhaps you have recently discovered a new love for skydiving! Whatever your reason, finding time is often half the battle in creating a good CV.

It will come as no surprise to you when I now say that putting time aside to enable the creation of a brilliant CV is essential. Your CV is often the first impression a prospective employer will have of you and whilst they are wading through a huge pile of CVs, you want the one with your name on it to really stand out.

I am sure you may now be thinking that I am pointing out the obvious and, yes, of course we all know the importance of preparing a good CV. However, it can still be so easy to leave it to the last minute which is often when mistakes are made.

What can you do now?

Start by putting some time aside over the forthcoming days/weeks to work on your CV. Ensuring you have the time and space to complete your CV will enable you to give it the focus required.

Also, use your time wisely. When you are working on your CV, have a think about what you want to achieve.

If you are applying for a specific job, individually tailor it to the job specification so you demonstrate that you have the qualities they are looking for and are the best candidate for the job. If your CV simply needs updating, consider what you have achieved since you last updated it. What really singles you out? This is not a time to be modest! Perhaps show your CV to a trusted person and ask for feedback.

Remember your time is a considerable resource when writing your CV. If you use it to your advantage, you are likely to find that you still have time for the TV, the pub and a new hobby!

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Monday, 5 September 2011

Work and Life - Getting the balance right

Did you know that we work longer hours than almost any other country in Europe?

Do you work more hours than you are paid for?

Last week, ITV’s Tonight programme explored why and how work is dominating our lives in the 21st Century. Having carried out a survey asking 2000 full time employees about their working lives, they discovered some gloomy results:

• 70 % said they are spending most of their lives working
• Over 50% work more hours than they are paid for
• 32% thought that working too hard had made them ill
• 74% suffer what they believe is work related stress
• 1 in 5 admitted to spending only 20 minutes a day with their children

I have written previous blogs on maintaining a good work-life balance and the findings in this programme simply emphasise the importance of ensuring you look after yourself at work and at home. 

One of the case studies in the programme revealed a working Mum who suffered a breakdown due to trying to juggle extreme responsibilities at home and at work.  Having recovered, she returned to work and set up her own PR business which is based on flexible family friendly working hours.  She is now able to balance her work and her personal life and has recruited working mothers into her team who are able to do the same. 

So.......

Don’t be within the 74% who suffer what they believe is work related stress or the 32% who thought that working too hard had made them ill. Try not to convince yourself that by working longer hours, the more productive you will be – in fact the opposite is true. 

Ensure you allow yourself the opportunity to be a happy and healthy person.  Be honest with yourself and decide what you need to do about it...and then do it!

Click here to watch the programme on ITV player and here for my factsheet on achieving a work-life balance.

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Lawyers - are you having to work late again?

How many times have you had to cancel a social arrangement because you had to work late?  How often do you wish you had more time to devote to keeping fit?   How often do you leave doing the things you enjoy out of work to another day when you have more time?

By the way, how is your work-life balance?

Managing time can be one of the most difficult tasks for a lawyer during their career.  There are days when everything is urgent and there are times when the phone does not stop ringing.  What do you do in these situations?  Do you find your stress levels increase as you realise it will be yet another late night for you at the office? 

Working late is the only way you will get everything finished.......isn’t it?

Not always.  Yes there are times when working late will be necessary but there will also be times when it is not necessary and it may be a simple matter of reviewing how you manage your time.

Here are 5 simple time management techniques to assist: 

1.     Every morning make a list of the tasks you must complete that day and a separate list of tasks that you would like to complete if you had time.

2.     Do the thing you least want to do first.  You will be so pleased when you have achieved it and feel motivated for the rest of the day.  As Mark Twain said, ‘If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of the day will be wonderful’. 

3.     Eliminate all distractions when working on a large piece of work.  For instance, divert your phone to voicemail (or to your secretary if you are lucky enough to have assistance) and close your emails. 

4.     Focus on one thing at a time.  For example, allocate part of the day to making telephone calls and another part to responding to emails and clearing your inbox.

6.     Do you need to work late every day? Ensuring you leave work on time at least once or twice a week will free up time for your personal life.

Often the smallest and simplest alteration to a lawyer’s working day can make the biggest difference in enabling them to work more quickly and efficiently.  It can ease feelings of stress and enable the discovery of a work-life balance too!

For more tips see my article on overcoming the biggest challenges lawyers face at work here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Returning to work: Making a smooth transition

Do you absolutely love returning to work after a break?

I am assuming not!

The holiday season is almost over and many of us are now returning to work after a well deserved break in the sun.  However, there are very few people who would choose their desk, chair and computer over the sun, sea and sand and so returning to work after a holiday is rarely an enjoyable experience and it inevitably takes a little time to readjust. 

How would you feel about returning to work after an even longer period of time away?

This can be much more challenging.     

Perhaps you have been on maternity leave, taking a career break or have been unwell.  Whatever the reason, returning to work after a long period of time can be difficult and it is certainly not uncommon to feel overwhelmed when making the transition from home life to the workplace.  It can be daunting and trigger feelings of guilt, nervousness or anxiety.

How to make the transition from home life to the work place

There are things you can do to make the transition as smooth as possible and so if are about to return to work after a long break, spend some time now to work out what you can do.  Here are some tips to assist:

·         Give yourself time to prepare for your return.  Don’t leave everything to the last minute.

·         If you are feeling anxious, focus on the positives and remind yourself of what you are good at.

·         Set yourself realistic goals and seek help where necessary.  Remember, you don’t have to do it alone.

For some more guidance, do have a read of my fact sheet ‘6 tips on how to make a smooth transition when returning to work after time away’.

Make returning to work an enjoyable experience!

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Monday, 15 August 2011

Did you know that most jobs are obtained through networking?

What would you think if I told you that approximately 7 out of 10 jobs are obtained through networking? 

For some of you, the word ‘networking’ sends shivers up your spine.  Just thinking about making small talk, the feelings of intimidation and the dreaded sales pitch is simply too much.  Networking can be considered a chore and I am sure many of you are thinking that you have better things to do with your time than to put yourselves through this ordeal.   

However, it's true.  Approximately 7 out of 10 jobs are obtained through networking and you are more likely to find career opportunities and roles through networking than any other job search approach.  Think about it for a minute – who would you choose if you were recruiting for an additional member of your team?  Would you choose the individual who had developed a trustworthy relationship with you through networking or the complete stranger who applied for the position through a job advertisement?  I know which option I would choose and I am sure you do too!

What should you do now?

If you are looking for a new job or a career change, make networking a key part of your job search.  This does not mean you have to approach all your contacts and beg for a job!  It is about meeting people who may be able to provide you with useful information to progress your job search as well as further contacts.    

If you are considering a career change, use networking to broaden your awareness of your marketability for alternative employment by asking for other people's opinions.  If you are looking for a new job, networking may uncover a suitable vacancy that hadn’t even been advertised.  Just remember, avoid feeling frustrated if you do not get any immediate results.  The results of networking can take time to appear but it will be worth it in the end! 

(My networking factsheet on how to succeed at networking events may also assist.) 

www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

How to handle a difficult boss

Have you seen the new film out at the moment called ‘Horrible Bosses’?  The main plot follows three friends who devise a plan to get rid of their respective overbearing, abusive bosses who they believe are standing in the way of their happiness. 

Having a horrible boss is something almost everyone has experienced during their career path.  Your experience may not be as dramatic as those in the film but it is likely to have affected your career development in some way.  Your morale at work may have dropped significantly, your performance may have decreased or it may have even resulted in your resignation.   It can ultimately lead you to feeling very stressed at work.

If your boss is making you feel stressed, consider your options and try to find a strategy to help relieve this stress before you become extremely frustrated and it has an impact on both your work and life.

When working out your strategy, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that you only have two options: to put up with it or resign.  However, there are other options....

You may be able to resolve the problem using alternative methods of working.  If you are stuck for ideas, consider if there is anyone else you trust at work who may be experiencing the same issue and ask how they are dealing with it.  You could even seek the help of a career coach who would help you to come up with solutions.   Career and performance coaching has the benefits of being objective and confidential.

Also consider talking to your boss about it.  Plan the conversation beforehand so that you are able to speak confidently and professionally.  During the meeting ensure you find out what their expectations are of you and how they think you are doing in terms of meeting those expectations.  You may discover that your boss does not even realise there is a problem.  See if you can come up with a solution which will benefit both you and your boss.

Finally, remember not to burn any bridges.  You never know who knows who!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Pursuing a career change without retraining

People often say to me that they would like to change career but they can’t afford the cost or time of retraining.  Perhaps they have already invested a lot of time and money in their career or they have other financial commitments which take priority such as looking after their family.  They therefore assume that a career change will not be possible.

Does a career change always involve retraining?

It is important not to make any assumptions as a career change does not always involve retraining.  There are many alternative routes into different careers paths and so it is important not to dismiss the idea of a career change without doing some investigations first.  Here are some suggested steps to help you:

1.     Research your chosen profession/industry thoroughly

2.     Identify your transferable skills – you may already have many skills required for the job.  Start making connections between what you can do and what you want to do.

3.     Talk to people within your chosen profession/industry – find out about the various entry routes and whether a qualification is necessary.

4.     You can even seek the help of a career coach!

If you discover that you do require a qualification, ensure you do some work experience to confirm your interest in the area prior to making any financial commitment.  Alternatively, investigate complementary careers for which retraining will not be necessary.

If you discover you don’t require a qualification, keep networking and applying for jobs!  A door will open for you.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Is there more to life than your career?

At a wedding I attended a while ago, I started chatting to a lady during the reception.  Having introduced myself to her, I asked:

‘What do you do?’ 

She looked slightly embarrassed and said that she didn't do anything.

Baffled by her response, I continued chatting with her and through our conversation I discovered that she of course did do something.  She was a mother of two children, a housewife, volunteered a lot of her time to her local community and enjoyed walking.  She did a lot of things.  However, none of these things were associated with a defined job or career which in her mind meant she did nothing.    

How would you answer this question?

Do you also feel your answer should be related to your career or job?  Many of us do, don’t we?  We commonly define who we are by what we do in our working lives but what about all the other aspects of our lives?

Are you a parent, a sibling or a friend?  Do you volunteer your time?  Do you have a hobby? 

Have a think about what you do in your personal life.  What else defines your identity?  Think about all the different roles you have and now answer this question again:

 ‘What do you do?’ 

I am sure your answer has now expanded a little and it may have even prompted you to think more about your work-life balance which is an area often considered during career coaching.  What you do does not have to be limited to your career.  There are many other roles you have that can be just as important in defining who you are and what you do.

For more help on achieving a good work-life balance have a read of my fact sheet here.