Monthly Archives: July 2014

What you need to know about the Government’s Pregnancy and Return to Work Report

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In our April blog Stand up Australia – Our working mums and dads deserve better we brought you the preliminary findings of the Government’s National Review into discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work after parental leave. The landmark Human Rights Commission study found 50% of women experience discrimination during this period. Just as astounding is the fact that this figure has barely changed in 20 years according to the Commission. It’s not just a woman’s issue – over a quarter of men also face discrimination on return from parental leave.

Now, the Commission has released its full report with recommendations for Government and employers on how to help fix this problem, a problem that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says would boost Australia’s economy. She told ABC News: “What we do know is that men’s workforce participation rate is about 12% above women’s. If we could close that gap by lifting women’s participation just 6%, we would add around $25 billion annually to Australia’s GDP. This has got significant productivity benefits for Australia.”

From our perspective the report is thorough and includes 4 outstanding principles that if implemented successfully will change the shameful affairs of pregnancy and return to work discrimination in Australian workplaces.

Below we highlight:

  • What employers need to know
  • Best strategies to combat discrimination
  • The Commission’s recommendations – 4 key principles
  • A brief overview by the Human Rights commission including first hand accounts of pregnancy and return to work discrimination

What employers need to know 

Best strategies to combat discrimination

The strategy with the highest impact in reducing discrimination in this area is to address the gap that currently exists between the law and its proper implementation within organisations.

Complementary strategies and actions to address this gap include:

  • Ensuring employers and employees gain an increased understanding of the legislative framework
  • Improving the clarity and dissemination of information
  • Conducting effective training
  • Changing workplace cultures to remove harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours
  • Monitoring the implementation of policies.
  • Strong leadership within organisations will support reforms that shape more supportive and successful workplaces

The Commission’s recommendations – 4 key principles 

Principle 1: Understanding rights and obligations is the starting point. Employers and employees need clear, comprehensive and consistent information that will assist them to increase and enhance their understanding of their obligations and their rights and how they should be applied in the workplace.

Other measures can include:

  • Developing and implementing policies and programs to support pregnant employees and working parents
  • Ensuring good communication and information sharing between management and employees throughout the continuum of pregnancy, parental leave and on return from parental leave
  • Promoting flexible work opportunities, and
  • Identifying and measuring key metrics, such as return to work rates and promotion rates for flexible workers.

Principle 2: Dismantling harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours about pregnant women and working parents is critical to eliminating discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

Identifying and ‘calling-out’ the harmful stereotypes in operation within a workplace is the first step to dismantling them. The second critical step is to expose and remove the stereotypes and unconscious bias underlying an organisation’s policies and practices for leave, flexible work, and promotion and performance indicators. 

Principle 3: Strong standards and improved implementation drives change and helps to create productive workplaces. 

There is therefore a need to focus on strategies that bridge the gap between law and practice.

Points relevant to employers include:

  • Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to include a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate the needs of workers who are pregnant and/or have family responsibilities.
  • Strengthening the ‘right to request’ provisions introducing a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate a request for flexible working arrangements.

The Federal Government has already committed to providing $150,000 to support resources about the rights and obligations of both employers and workers. 

Principle 4: Ongoing monitoring, evaluation and research will help to shape effective action.

As a priority, further research is needed to identify the most effective mechanism for reducing the level of vulnerability to redundancy and job loss of pregnant women, employees on parental leave and working parents. It has been recommended that the Government allocate funding to conduct a regular national prevalence survey.

A brief overview including first hand accounts of pregnancy and return to work discrimination 

Report: pregnancy and return to work discrimination costs everyone 

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark report for its Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, released today, has found that little has changed in the 15 years since its first Inquiry into this subject. Australian workplaces still overwhelmingly view working while pregnant as a privilege, not a right.

“Our Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and a national prevalence survey, which Australia is one of the few countries to have undertaken,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick said. “It provides indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost – not just to women, working parents and their families – but also to workplaces and the national economy.”

The Review found that one in two (49%) mothers and over a quarter (27%) of the fathers and partners surveyed reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. Women and men spoke of the devastating impacts such discrimination can have on a person’s health, on their economic security and on their family.  In the words of one woman:

I would describe my experiences during pregnancy, whilst on parental leave and on returning to work as harrowing, disappointing and probably the worst experience of my life. I spent much of my pregnancy feeling anxious (and sometimes in tears), despite being thrilled about the pregnancy and being physically well. I felt powerless, vulnerable and fearful about my job security and couldn’t understand why I was being treated so badly, especially given my unquestionable commitment to the organisation over the previous seven years.

“The existence of these forms of workplace discrimination is also limiting women’s participation in paid work as well as the productivity of businesses and other organisations,” said Ms Broderick. “Addressing it is not only a human rights imperative, but also an organisational priority. It is critical to the growth of both a strong economy and a cohesive society.”

Commissioner Broderick emphasised that some employers found managing these issues difficult, particularly the uncertainty surrounding pregnancy and return to work. In the words of an employer:

The first thing is that you try to be very excited on behalf of the person who’s telling you. Secretly what you’re [thinking] is how the hell am I going to replace this person for the next year? With the best intentions in the world not to discriminate in any way, how can you avoid being concerned: how am I going to run this company and meet my objectives in the next year or two?

Despite this, the Review found many were putting dynamic and leading strategies in place to overcome these barriers and support their employees.  The Report highlights these leading practices.

The recommendations in the Report are directed towards government, workplaces and the wider Australian community, all of whom have an interest in increasing women’s participation in the workforce and creating supportive workplaces.

“While there are a few areas where the laws can be strengthened, our recommendations are directed towards a much better implementation of legal obligations through greater provision of information about employee rights and employer obligations,” Ms Broderick said. “This is an approach intended to help plug the gap that allows this discrimination to take place – the gap between the legal framework and the implementation of the law.”

The recommendations also emphasise the need for strategies and approaches designed to help dismantle stereotypes and drive cultural change within workplaces, as well as the importance of further monitoring, evaluation and research to shape effective action.

“Research and modelling shows that if businesses and other employers are able to retain women and men who are becoming new parents by eradicating pregnancy/ return to work discrimination, there will be a considerable economic dividend to both them and the wider economy,” said Ms Broderick. “It’s a human issue first. Workplace discrimination has a damaging impact on the lives of parents. But by working together, we can achieve positive results for all.”

The Commission welcomes the Federal Government’s response to the findings of the National Review with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minster for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, today announcing funding of $150,000 for the Commission to develop resources for employers on how to best manage and support working parents through pregnancy, parental leave, and on return to work.

For the full report (including the more digestible Community Guide) visit the Human Rights Commission website.

First published: 25 July 2014

Source: Human Rights Commission.

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How many parents plan childcare around work rather than the other way around? Very few. Latest Government report gives working parents hope.

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The Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said: “there needs to be greater choice in child care options for parents. Australian families should be able to plan child care around their work life, not their work life around child care”[1]. Here, here!

There’s been a 150% rise in Australian childcare costs in just one decade. One. The estimated cost of full-time childcare for one Australian child is estimated at $31,000/year.[2] The new Government report on our childcare system is a welcome one especially to those working parents struggling with access and cost of childcare in both urban and rural areas across the country.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning recommends the system be made simpler and broader. One of its key recommendations is to introduce a single subsidy, scrapping the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. The overarching aim is to make childcare more affordable, shorten waiting lists and offer greater flexibility as well as make childcare more financially sustainable for tax payers. The roll on effect would be increased participation of women in the workforce, more full time workers and less financial pressure for those parents who are chronically stretched.

The Commission’s recommendations:

  • Provide a subsidy that is means and activity tested for up to 100 hours a fortnight.  Families with a combined income of $60,000 or less would have 90% of costs subsidised, whilst those with over $300,000 would get a maximum 30%.
  • The subsidy should go direct to a parent’s approved provider be that a centre or nanny so long as they have the required certificate that meets the appropriate National Quality Standards.
  • Au pairs would not be eligible for the subsidy. However, visa requirements would be changed to extend the amount of time they spend with a family to 12 months (rather than the current 6)
  • Remove restrictions on the number of childcare places for occasional care and the hours that centres have to be open in order to receive Government subsidies.
  • Make school principals responsible for ensuring schools offer before and after school care, including care for pre-schoolers.
  • ‘Top up’ subsidies should be offered for children with disabilities, while viability assistance should be provided to regional, rural and remote areas with fluctuating child populations.

Is it all pretty? Some things to think about…

  • Currently parents who don’t work or study can get up to 24hours/week of childcare subsidised. Would this be cut and how would this impact stay-at-home mums?
  • Either/or. Funding the subsidy may mean diverting funds ($1.5 billion is recommended) from the proposed Paid Parental Leave Scheme reducing parental leave contributions for some.

In her article Parental leave a distraction that will hurt childcare Women’s Agenda editor, Angela Priestley, encourages us to think long term and focus on what we really need and want as working parents

“Based on my own conversations with new mothers on this very topic, I’m not convinced beefing up our existing paid parental leave scheme will help. It’s not the amount of maternity leave a new mother gets that helps in her ‘decision’ to return to work (although some employers do request those who take such leave return for a period in order to ‘pay it back’) but rather her ability to access childcare once she’s ready to return to work, along with flexible working arrangements that suit her changed circumstances.”
Angela Priestley, Women’s Agenda.

The Commission has estimated that the proposed changes could boost workforce participation by 2.7% contributing to over 46,000 more full-time workers. It also estimated that it could boost GDP by $5.5 billion.

It seems there are more significant additional benefits to the broader community to reforming our childcare system as opposed to the Paid Parent Leave scheme, which seems to benefit few beyond those directly receiving it.

What’s more, Grattan Institute research shows that the two major factors influencing female workforce participation are marginal tax rates and the net costs of childcare. It found that ”government support for childcare has about double the impact of spending on parental leave” in influencing women’s workforce participation.

So if it is an either/or scenario wouldn’t it be nice if working parents were the ones that got to choose?

What do you want from our childcare system? Though we shouldn’t have to decide, if it came to an either/or scenario between the proposed Paid Parental Leave Scheme and Childcare Reform what would you choose and why?

You have a chance to take part in the discussion. This was only the draft report and the Productivity Commission is inviting the public to respond to its ideas. Click here to have your say.  You have until September.

“Two decades ago debate raged about how much women should work and if child care was bad for kids. Now we discuss how to boost women’s participation in the workplace, the quality of care, trying to get it and how much it costs.”
Sarah MacDonald, The Drum – ABC.

Thankfully things have changed. Let’s keep the evolution rolling!

For a simple explanation of the reports findings listen Commissioner Wendy Craik talk about the key recommendations from the draft report into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning in this video.



[1] Sussan Ley, media release, viewed 28.7.14,

[2] SwitchedOnWomen, The Woman’s Economy, viewed 25.7.14

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Why parents make good managers

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Mothers might not make good minions for capitalist exploitation, but they are adept time managers, skilled negotiators and ultimately assets in the workplace, writes Jenny Ostini.

Dear women who are writing about how mothers should give up trying to be supermums and stop competing with those twenty-somethings with the perky boobs,

While I always enjoy reading gross generalisations about other people (who doesn’t?), due to my personal dislike of anecdotal social commentary, I am simply going to tell you why I, as a forty-something mother-of-three, still have something to contribute to my workplace.

I remember a time before hashtags, when I too may have had perky boobs. I did not have any experience of life. I believed that I could change the world by educating people into the right way to do things, that knowledge and my personal effort would set people free.

Now I know that I may prepare the perfect nutritionally balanced meal, bring my family around the table to eat it, and have someone fall asleep in their highchair or simply refuse because, “Today is a peanut butter day.”

Translated to social policy, this means that I may develop an evidence-based policy using the latest in “nudgenomics” and people just might not go along with it. They may have other things on their minds or simply not be in a place where they can make rational decisions about their futures. I understand that and try to develop ideas and policies that work within the parameters of people’s real lives and experiences.

I have dealt with the lack of out-of-hours doctors when a child fell sick on a Friday night of a long weekend. I have waited in hospital emergency rooms. I have navigated state schools and the quirks of private schools. I have had people dependent on me for every need, and I have learnt how to trust that my children will make good decisions as they become independent human beings.

These are the skills of a good manager. To teach, supervise and then let people do their work. To be in the background, ready to step up if needed. To not panic if something goes horribly wrong, because it will and it can probably be resolved.

I will not mother you in the workplace but if you ask nicely I will probably be carrying Band-aids, painkillers and a supply of tissues.

I do not have all the answers but I am not afraid to say that I don’t know something. I will find it out. I understand that life is not fair, and in fact, should not be fair; that different people will have different needs at different times. I understand the need to share and not to be competitive.

I also can run a meeting efficiently. I don’t have time to mess around. I have faced down more skilled negotiators than you. I know that every battle does not need to be won. Sometimes Johnnie from accounting needs to be allowed to talk about travel forms just like my child may need to sometimes go out looking like a bag lady. It’s not the end of the world.

On the other hand, I do not expect anyone to stay up all night finishing a report. Working hours are working hours for a reason. Focus in the office and your home time is your own. I will not call you at home, although I may occasionally email you at 4am because I am up making sure that one of my kids gets off to sports training. I do not expect you to answer that email immediately.

Because I do remember a time before hashtags, I have had experience of a number of technologies. I know that what matters is having the literacies to learn new technology and the content knowledge to use these technological tools to actually do something in the world. I know that a hashtag can be used to draw attention to issues and create momentum around change, but that it doesn’t change anything in itself.

I work because I have a wealth of knowledge and experience that I can bring to an organisation. I work because I spent 10 years at university training to be able to make a contribution to society. I work to show my children that getting up out of bed and going to work is a commitment and a reward in itself. I feel bad when my son whispers in my ear “Can’t you just stay home today Mum?” but I know that I will come home and cook dinner, play games and read with him. I feel a twinge of guilt when I realise that the damp laundry may have been in the washing machine for three days but this doesn’t diminish me as a person. I also sometimes feel bad when I leave the office at 4.30pm to go to a parent-teacher meeting. But I also know that I will be sending emails at 4am (see earlier).

I also don’t judge you if you have made a different decision about parenting and working. I have been a stay-at home mum, a part-time employee and a full-time worker. I have cycled through these roles and may well do so again. Feminism is about women having the right to choose what works for them and for their families. Make that decision for yourself, with your partner, for your family and your situation.

I think that what these recent articles are trying to say is that mothers are not good minions: that by having life experiences, other priorities and people dependent on them, they no longer fully buy into the tenets of capitalism. They are expensive workers because they know what they are entitled to and that they need to demand it because it is not going to be given to them “just because”. And I think that is a good thing.

Warm regards,

A working mum

By: Jenny Ostini

First published: 15th July 2014

Source: The Drum

Jenny Ostini is a qualitative social scientist who has worked in academia and in the not-for-profit sector for a number of years. She is a community correspondent for 612 ABC Brisbane and tweets @follysantidote. View her full profile here.



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Why companies should focus on working parents, not just mums

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Working parents are like plate spinners at a carnival: They juggle their children’s school schedules and activities while balancing their own work deadlines, attending conferences, and sneaking in the occasional shower.

In 2013, 88.2 percent of families with children under 18 had at least one parent in the workforce, which means that employers seeking to recruit and retain top talent must start catering to families engaged in this balancing act.

Focusing on the working parent with benefits such as flexible work arrangements and paid parental leave helps all parents achieve a better work-life balance and keep employees happier and more engaged at work.

It’s not just about mum

Although workplace flexibility started as a solution for working mothers, it’s an issue that affects all your employees. In fact, positioning a flexible work schedule as an exclusive perk for mums can actually backfire and cause resentment among other employees. They may think flexible work arrangements mean different things to different people or that certain employees get preferential treatment because they have families.

Instead of singling out working mums in your company, consider how a flexible workplace can benefit other employees.

The division of household labor has changed a lot in the last few decades, with many fathers taking on the primary caregiver role for their children. In a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 50 percent of fathers said they find it difficult to juggle work responsibilities and family life, so make sure you’re sending the message that your company values all working parents.

Flexibility is important for employees without children, too. Those who wish to observe religious or cultural holidays or get more involved in activities outside the office — such as volunteer work, sports, or community events — will also appreciate the ability to work during the hours that fit their schedules best.

Tips for creating a flexible culture for all

It’s one thing to put flexible work policies in place, but you also have to create a culture that values a healthy work-life balance and makes working mums and dads feel comfortable taking time to care for their kids.

  • Focus on the family. Encourage flexible work arrangements, and offer parental leave that includes maternal, paternal, and adoption leave.
  • Lift the stigma. As long as employees are producing results, they should be trusted to manage their time. Encourage employees to use their flextime so working parents don’t feel guilty taking the afternoon off to volunteer at school or take their children to doctors’ appointments.
  • Invest in wellness programs. Provide a comprehensive health plan and corporate gym membership, hold classes on fitness or stress reduction, and organize health days with free flu shots, vaccinations, and preventive exams.
  • Provide employee assistance programs. Include childcare services, adoption assistance, and personal finance resources.
  • Keep it inclusive. Make an effort to create perks and resources for employees who are not eligible to use maternity leave or other parental benefits. Provide coupons for restaurants or movie theaters, or give employees an allowance for health or educational pursuits.

The rewards of flexibility

Offering parent-friendly perks doesn’t just benefit your employees and their families. There’s a slew of evidence to suggest that flexible work arrangements alsoincrease employee retention and end up paying for themselves in the long run.

Our company employs a great blend of working parents and individuals without children, and we’ve worked to develop a culture that supports a healthy work-life balance for all. Working mums and dads are encouraged to attend their kids’ events using flextime. Some of our working parents opt to start and end their workday two hours early, which allows them to be home with their kids after school. One of our employees without children also starts her workday early so she can get home in time to walk her dog before dark.

This type of flexible, inclusive culture is incredibly rewarding. When you acknowledge the importance of your employees’ personal lives, they feel valued and understood. And knowing that the company supports their family keeps them productive and focused on giving their best effort while they’re at work.

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

By Zeynep Ilgaz

Originally published: 30th June 2014

Source: Forbes

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“Not man enough”: male caregivers suffer at work. What can organisations do?

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Men who care for their families, women without children – one would expect the world to be accepting of people making decisions that suit their lifestyles and aspirations. Unfortunately it seems many social groups are still unaccepting of those choosing non-traditional roles.

A series of studies from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found women without children and men who take on caregiving roles are treated worse at work than individuals who conform to those expectations.

From teasing that male workers were “not man enough” to social exclusion, general putdowns and questioning of work competence and ability, men and women who challenged social expectations suffered at work. This was true even at female-lead organisations.

“It is disturbing because it’s discouraging workers from using leaves and flexible work policies if they’re worried their status in the workplace is going to suffer as a result,” lead author Jennifer Berdahl said. “This kind of behaviour leads to discouragement at work, stress brought into the home and sometimes mental health problems and depressions if it gets bad enough.”

Women without children suffered the most mistreatment, followed by men who take on caregiving roles and women who played non-traditional roles in the home.

“This kind of treatment shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace,” Berdahl said. “We need to be aware that guys are getting teased and harassed when they’re active caregivers at home and social and economic realities often make it so both parents need to be actively involved in caring for their kids.”

What can organisations do?

Be aware
Observe those around you and see where this kind of mistreatment is happening. If a man leaves an event early to relieve his spouse, or has to take a morning off to care for a sick child, is he teased? Are women without children excluded from events or dismissed with comments like “You can’t understand stress until you’ve had children.”? Know when and where the problems occur so you can address it appropriately.

Model good behaviour

First ensure none of these attitudes filter upwards to management. Is it easier for women to get family care leave than men? Are line managers more supportive of one group than the other? Is childcare considered more important than eldercare? The process should be the same for all individuals.

Communicate expectations
Make sure all employees understand their rights to leave and support, and know that management is available to discuss their needs. If specific individuals are making the bulk of comments consider talking to them one on one about their behaviour.


By: Caitlin Nobes

First published: 7th July 2014

Source: HC Online

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Why it might be time for a career coach

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Stuck in a career rut? Lacking confidence to ask for a promotion or pay rise? Want some guidance on preparing for parental leave or managing a family with work? Feel like taking your career in a new direction?

Re-entering the workplace, negotiating flexible work arrangements, changing jobs and learning ways to deal with the conflicting demands of work and home are some of the things many women need a little extra support with. Apart from struggling to manage the whole work-life balance thing it’s not uncommon to feel directionless and unsure about your career goals at some point in time, particularly if confidence is low or access to support isn’t immediately obvious. This is where a professional career coach or counselor may help.

What is a career coach and why use one?

Career coaches are specialist human resource and career management practitioners. They often have HR, psychology, counselling or life coaching related backgrounds and qualifications.

Career coaches help you understand your needs and wants related to work-life decisions or issues. They can help you set goals, organise, problem-solve, find purpose and direction as well as the strategies and guidance to help you get there. They not only help you access information but also facilitate confidence building to ensure you can successfully navigate the changes you want to make (be that a parental leave transition, change of career etc.).

If you’re already in a role it can also help you take greater ownership and responsibility, develop self-awareness and more effectively correct performance difficulties.

“[Career] coaching is a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and more fulfilled so that they are more able to contribute to their organisations and find meaning in what they are doing.” James Flaherty, Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others 2005.

What will a career coach talk about?

The role of a career coach is to clarify your needs and goals then work with you to identify and agree on specific outcomes for the coaching. A great coach also recognises that every individual has different work and family needs and that each work role and experience is unique.

One thing, however, we’ve all experienced at work is fear (will I be sidelined for a promotion whilst on parental leave?) and anxiety (am I good enough to ask for a pay increase or apply for that new job I’d love). The fears and anxieties may feel like a small nag or it may be overwhelming and debilitating – either way at the end of the day the only purpose they have is to hold you back. A career coach will talk you through these feelings, help you rationalise them (whether they’re real or perceived), and come up with strategies to minimise or extinguish them.

Some other key topics you can talk about with a career coach are:

  • Short and long term career planning
  • Managing and maintaining work relationships
  • Getting ready for parental leave
  • How to stay connected with work whilst on leave
  • Returning to work
  • Negotiating flexible work
  • Work-life balance
  • Caring and parenting support

What does a GREAT career coach do?

If you are a woman in a leadership position and want to get on more boards and extend your skills further afield you may look for a coach who has worked with top female executives and specialises in gender equality issues. If you’re a working parent you may want someone who understands where you’re coming from in your home life as well as career. So a career coach who is also a working parent may be a top pre-requisite for you.

But your search shouldn’t stop there. Look for a coach that offers professional and personalised support. This means they:

  • Are attentive and flexible to meeting your needs
  • Ask questions and coach through decision-making processes
  • Support and guide you on what you may need to do to help yourself and build confidence
  • Connect you with useful information
  • Discuss the realities of life as a working parent
  • Help you plan and prepare you and your family for your career change and/or return to work
  • Maintain confidentiality and privacy at all times

Some questions to get you thinking pre-coaching session

What would you like to gain from your job, return to work or new career pursuit?

How do you see family fitting in?

What interests you?

What do you see yourself doing more or less of in the future?

It’s your life, how do you want to spend it?

Final tips

Take courage, ask for support if you need it, put your best foot forward.

The reality is if you don’t have confidence in your own potential and capability, it’s hard to expect others to have belief. Similarly, if you lack career direction you can’t expect your manager or others to create it for you. In other words, no one can give you confidence or develop your career for you. Sometimes you just need to take the bold step through the fear and be courageous enough to pursue your goals.

The beauty of a career coach is that they guide you through this process; walking beside you as you overcome insecurities so that you feel confident putting your best foot forward.

What is your experience using a career coach? Did you find them useful? If so, how?

By Emma Walsh, parents@work

First published: 4.7.2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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Are you doing the right things to keep your top performers? More flexibility and career management will help

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Special programs aimed at retaining top performers could be obsolete, according to a study of more than 3000 exit interviews, which found these employees leave mostly for the same reasons as everybody else.

Seven of the top 10 reasons for leaving were the same for “top performers” when compared with “the rest”, research by The Interview Group found.

The main reasons for leaving, cited by both groups, included “no appropriate opportunities available for career advancement”, “inadequate fixed pay or performance bonuses” and “not enough challenge or stretch in the job”.

Top performers, however, were around half as likely to leave due to poor management or leadership, while excessive commute time and inadequate flexibility were among the reasons they more commonly gave for leaving, the report says. 

This was possibly because around 43 per cent of top performers worked between 50 and 60 hours per week, compared to 24 per cent of others.

“It is possible that commute times exacerbate the issue of long working hours for these people,” according to the research report Top performers. “Related to this, they are also more likely to leave due to a lack of flexibility in hours or location of work.”

Recognising your best

The Interview Group’s research paper compared top performing employees to average employees using 3623 exit interviews conducted mostly in Australia over a five-year period (2009-2014) across a range of industries.

The employees were rated according to the rating scales used in each organisation, with top performers making up two per cent of the total sample.

Top performers were seen as valuable, difficult to replace and harder working. Past research by McKinsey & Co. has found managers believe they contribute anywhere from 40 per cent to 69 per cent more to a business than average performers, the report notes. More recent research has found the top five per cent of performers produce 26 per cent of total output.

Along the same lines, The Interview Group’s research found they were more likely than average performers to be in high-impact roles, roles that were difficult to fill, or be considered key individuals.

They were also the easiest to lose. Even in tough economic times they found it easier than others to secure new work. In the Interview Group’s research, top-performer departures were always initiated by the employee.

Top performers were also much more likely to be approached directly by their new employer, and less likely to use online recruitment sites, the report says. However recruiters didn’t appear to recognise their potential, as they were equally likely to be approached by a recruiter when compared to others.

Employees hired through a graduate program were much less likely to be top performers, as only four per cent of top performers were hired this way versus 14 per cent of others.

Fewer top performers were on formal performance management (2.5 per cent versus 6.5 per cent of others) although the report noted it was interesting top performers were in these programs at all.

“This possibly reflects a common pattern of classifying as Top Performers those who perform well on task-related KPIs, despite poor performance on people or culture related factors,” the report’s author Lenore Lambert says. “Increasingly organisations are holding people to account for both.”

Gender did not affect the likelihood of being a top performer, and there was no evidence of cultural bias. The study also found no correlation between top performers and internal versus external hires.

Flight risk

The report identified two groups of high performers most commonly leaving their employers. Top performers with two-to-three years’ tenure in their current role, and those between the ages of 31 and 40, were much more likely to depart than other workers in the same situation.

Conversely, there were no departing top performers aged 46-50, suggesting this age group turns over relatively rarely.

Top performers were much more likely to resign while on parental leave, leave of absence or secondment, and they were twice as likely to leave to start their own business, and twice as likely to leave for full-time parenthood, the report says. 

But they were much less likely than the rest to leave without another job to go to (1.3% compared to 14%) and were half as likely to leave for full-time study.

They were half as likely to leave due to poor management or leadership by a direct manager or indirect manager, and tended to rate their direct manager more highly on every single competency.

“These differences suggest that either managers are putting more effort into managing Top Performers well, or Top Performers are easier to manage, requiring less skill on the part of managers,” Lambert says.

Employers appeared not to be adequately recognising their strengths. Top performers were no more likely than others to go to a more senior role. They were less likely to receive more money in their new role and more likely to receive the same or less in their new role when compared to average performers.

They were also often not considered high-potential employees, with 16 per cent of top performers considered to have “medium” potential.

But the report says the most surprising finding was how similar departure reasons were between top performers and the rest. 

“This suggests that special programs for Top Performers are unnecessary,” Lambert says. “Employers simply need to execute well the processes that matter, such as career management, competitive merit based pay systems and effective recruitment processes.” 

Convincing them to stay

Among the top performers, 85 per cent reported receiving some effort to get them to stay before they resigned, compared to 57 per cent of the others.

But the report says employers don’t seem to realise there is still an opportunity to get them back on board after they have resigned, with 27 per cent indicating they could have been convinced to stay after resignation, compared to 13 per cent before resignation. 

“It is possible that they want to avoid being seen as a ‘squeaky wheel’ or as a ‘high maintenance’ employee and would rather use their very real employment-market attractiveness as the catalyst for discussion with their employer,” the report says. “This approach is also more likely to lead to immediate action rather than having to rely on promises for the future.”

Request the research paper here.


First published: 19th June 2014

Source: HR Daily

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