October 31, 2011

yes you need a bottle of water on your desk

Yes we've all heard it and YES, we need to hear it again... We need to drink a whole lot of water each day and most of us just don't get around to it. Why? Because we are staring at our computer screens and keeping our hands busy on the keyboard (well I am!) ☺.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, something as simple as regular stretching or deep breathing can really improve your mood and productivity at work. Drinking enough water throughout the day will do exactly the same (and also benefit many other metabolic processes in your body).

So I have put a 1 liter glass bottle on my desk that I vow to fill up every morning when I sit down at my desk. My goal is to empty it by the time I go home, and this way I will have consumed half of what is required by the time I leave the office. I drink a glass first thing in the morning and some more when I'm exercising after work. Not always easy, but having a simple goal is better than having no goal - so far so good!

I found this really fun site with interactive images telling you how much water you should be drinking (based on your gender, age weight and activity level) and also showing the effects a lack of water will have on your body, mood and productivity at work. Also check out this post on the top 11 benefits of drinking water - enjoy!!

October 28, 2011

investing in someone else's success

If you're all about being positive (like I am), you will most likely share my belief that it is very rewarding to give to others. And while there are many ways to give, you can also do it in your professional capacity by sharing whatever knowledge you already have.

We tend to think that we need to be rich first in order to give something to the poor. Similarly, I used to think that I will need to be an expert in my field before I can start mentoring or coaching. But the truth is that whatever I have in my hands, right now, can add great value to someone else's growth.

I have decided to start investing in the success of others, here's how:

  • Mentoring: Even though I am still young, there will always be someone younger an less experienced than me, and I happen to know someone in my community who is currently studying towards an honours degree in Human Resources. I remember all the work-related questions I used to have when I was still studying, and how clueless I felt in my first real job. So (similar to my bi-weekly meetings with my own manager) I offered to check in with this eager newbie once a month for a career chat. Without it being my intention, it has evolved into a mentoring relationship and is proving to be very valuable for both of us. Knowing that I can help someone make informed career decisions is a very rewarding experience, and all I need to do is be available and invest a little bit of time every now and then.
  • Blogging: By writing about the lessons I learn, I can keep track of how I'm progressing and growing, both as a professional and as a person. Some work related lessons can be valuable life lessons (and vice versa), and small changes I make in my career can change my job satisfaction and success in big ways. So by sharing what I learn, hopefully I can also inspire others. I like to compare my learning to a dam, with one stream coming in and another flowing out. If I were to keep everything I learn to myself it would be like closing off the outgoing stream, and the water would become stagnant and just plain smelly ☺.

Have you ever considered mentoring someone even though you might still be at an early stage in your career? For those of you who are in need of someone to invest in your career growth, here's a post on how to find a mentor.

October 26, 2011

building on your strengths

Do you read work-related books or blogs to keep you in the loop of what's relevant in your field? I've started doing this in my free time and it is radically changing the way I view work and my role at my current employer.

I recently did the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment out of curiosity. I majored in Psychometrics, so personality assessments always interest me. This one in particular has taken my career planning to a whole new level.

StrengthsFinder 2.0The assessment is based on Strengths-Based-Psychology, suggesting that we change our way of thinking from "what's wrong with me and how do I fix it?" to "what am I good at and how do I build on that?". Mind-blowing revelation for me, because all this time I have been buying books and reading up on how to fix all of my weaknesses (which is pretty depressing to say the least). Sure, it helps to work on things you want to improve on, but the majority of my energy and time should be going into developing my natural strengths. People pick up very easily when I am trying to be a different version of someone else, when all along I could have been the best version of myself.

I was surprised by a few of my top strengths, because they are different from descriptors typically found in personality assessments. Being "strategic" (for example) is something I've been taking for granted all my life, but now I can look for opportunities at work to exercise this strength, and if my current role doesn't require this skill I can consider choosing a career path that does.

What I also love about the assessment is that it doesn't give you your score per item, and it only identifies your top 5 strengths. I usually look at my lowest scores instead of my highest ones, and beat myself up for not being strong in those areas. So phew... now I don't even know if I scored badly for any specific item.

Odds are, if you are doing what you do well every day, you are bound to be more engaged in your position. So you can get a copy in bookstores or online ( or, and in the book you'll find your password for the online assessment. With your registration also comes a 6 month free subscription to the Gallup Management Journal (FANTASTIC reading!) so you really get great value for money.

Have you read it?? Do you agree with this strengths-based way of thinking??

October 24, 2011

looking the part at the office

I am sure that I'm not alone in this: when I look in the mirror and like what I'm wearing, it doubles my confidence on my way to work that day. Subconsciously it really makes a difference and it makes me feel more competent when I look more professional or put-together.

I have to admit that I'm still putting together the basics of my professional wardrobe, so I'm no expert. There are also so many different dress codes to choose from, that no one rule of thumb applies to all workplaces. So the rule I try to follow is to consider the required dress code, look at what most of my colleagues are wearing and add just a bit of professionalism on top of that. You don't want to overdo it and look like the president's secretary when the dress code at your office is business casual, but you do want to create the impression that you are competent and well put-together.

I work for a company that is not client based, and so we don't need to dress in order to impress outsiders or visitors very often. But I can still create a brand for myself among my co-workers that may add to my career success in the long run. It sends the message that I mean business, and that I take pride in my job. People tend to take you just a little more seriously when you look professional, and customizing your wardrobe is an easy way to achieve this.

I found some cool blogs and sites focusing on dressing for success, enjoy:

October 21, 2011

staying in shape when I spend all day at my desk

I am not crazy about exercise. I always thought that everyone feels like this but I have come to realize that some people really love working out and even crave doing it on a daily basis. Good for them, they don’t need any coaxing or guilt trips to convince them to exercise. But what about the ones like me who need 10 reasons to hit the gym... once!?

To top my frustration, I married one of those sports fanatics. “Man I feel like exercising!” is a phrase I hear from him almost on a daily basis. Imagine the guilt trip that I go on after a comment like that.

But even though I don’t like it much, I have come to acknowledge the benefits that exercise can offer, both short- and long term, so I choose to submit. Here are some things that have made a process a little easier for me:
  • Get into a routine - I have decided how many hours I want to fit into each week, and distributed them into 4 sessions per week. I try to do a class on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and I allow off days in between to make room for my elaborate social life J.
  • Find a gym buddy - Lucky for me I have a 24/7 eager gym buddy who reminds me every day that we need to work out. Having a gym buddy keeps me accountable, and if I skip class I also let my gym buddy down, so I think twice before skipping. I also have a friend and a colleague who joins me for some of the classes I do, so we can give each other a pep talk when the self discipline starts running low.
  • Figure out what you like - I am very interactive by nature, so a group class is more enjoyable to me than a personal gym program I have to follow over by the machines and weights. I also love music, so I prefer the studio classes where we do steps on the beat of a song and memorize patterns or routines. I am not a very competitive person, so I struggle to associate with people in the boot camp class who push themselves to all kinds of physical limits at the blow of the military instructor’s whistle. Other people will love other formats, what are yours?
  • Remember why you’re doing it - When I read up on how much working out will benefit me, the motivation comes much easier. If I think of how I want to have a great posture and unlimited mobility when I’m an old granny someday, it’s much easier to sign up for another gym class. The way it lifts my mood and helps me breathe after a very solitary day at my desk really makes it worth it, and letting out in a kickboxing class will do the trick after a stressful day!

I am no pro, and I started exercising way to late in my life so I’m hoping that what I invest now will still make a difference.

I found this post on working out when days are just too short – enjoy!

October 19, 2011

who are you calling average?

I was doing my daily reading when I came across a post discussing how to manage the average employee.
At first I thought "Wow, I hope I'm never referred to as average", and then I wondered if this post might actually help me to ensure that I'm never categorised in this way.

There have been days when I felt that average was good enough, but the more thought I put into my career planning, the more I realize that being excellent in my position is one of the best ways to advance my career.  High performance from my side translates into good annual reviews, good relationships with my seniors, being recommended for promotions and securing solid references for whenever I may need them in the future. On a more personal note, it provides great job satisfaction to know that my efforts are valuable to the company.

After reading this post on how to be a remarkable employee, I think that sticking to the basics are the way to go for me:
  • Under-promise and over-deliver: Over-promising has gotten me in trouble a few times, so I have stopped "promoting" what I aim to do. People generally don't like when a product doesn't live up to the advertisement, so I try to apply this simple principle at work.
  • Add value: Doing more than what is asked shows that you care and that your mission is to add value to the cause (as opposed to clocking up time in order to get paid). My manager always appreciates it when I deliver an outcome quicker or better than I needed to, and that recognition also motivates me to do it again the next time around.
  • Be honest: In stead of covering it up or blame-shifting when you made an error, do you find it easy to just be honest and own up to it? I'm working on this because I realise that being honest about my mistake tells my employer that I can be trusted. Taking responsibility and finding alternatives to fix the problem also shows that I'm resilient and flexible.

These are pretty basic priciples but surprisingly hard to accomplish, so setting three basic goals (like these) are better than setting no goals and better than being considered "average". What kind of goals would you set to start distinguishing yourself?

October 17, 2011

sitting up straight

Hunching in front of my computer all day is certainly not the reason I chose HR as a career. Am I the only one with neck spasms tense back muscles over here?? I have been craving a massage for weeks!
So there are a number of ways in which I can improve my posture like stretching often and sitting up straight, but the real pain for me is realising that even though I am made for interaction, I am sitting in one place and looking at my computer for the biggest part of my day. So I try to take regular strolls through the office and make use of this time to engage with colleagues and making some eye contact. Not only does it improve blood circulation, but I get a chance to build relationships and get to know my colleagues.
I love to work with people so much, but most of my "working with people" tends to happen via email and phone. Not ideal! This interesting article on what sitting at your desk all day is doing to your body has just reminded me again that this is no laughing matter.
What do you do to take a break from your desk? Or do you enjoy looking at a screen more than connecting with others??

October 14, 2011

yes, I am a recovering perfectionist

I am not obsessive about order or having everything in it's perfect place. I am also not extremely focused on getting every detail of everything I do just right, but I am someone who struggles with allowing myself to make mistakes. So in that sense I feel that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and even though it drives me to do well at work, it can fast-track me to burn-out if I don't manage it well.

I tend to have a lot of grace with others when they make mistakes, but when it comes to MY performance in MY line of work, I often find myself wanting everything to run smoothly without any hiccups or errors. And when I do make a mistake or my project is interrupted by an unexpected turn of events, I tend to feel overly responsible and I expect some sort of punishment for being, well, human ☺.

I decided one day to came clean about this to my manager, as I was really adding unneccesary stress to my work load. As soon as I started talking about it with someone I could start working on reprogramming my thoughts a little.

I also realise that my intentions aren't wrong because I really just want to deliver the best results possible, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'm human (just like everybody else), and that every hiccup or crisis holds great learning opportunities for me.

So I'm learning how to embrace and appreciate failure, and having a mentor at close range is really helping! I iread this interesting post on how healthy/hurtful perfectionism can be, and just reading someone else's experience really encourages me. Reading this post on how to manage a perfectionist has also given me some ideas as to how I can better manage myself.

Can I hear an "amen" from the other perfectionists out there!!?

October 12, 2011

bored at the office?

Servicing employees can be a full time job and most of the time there’s a lot to work on (especially when we’re recruiting for multiple vacancies and the occasional crisis comes along). But there are days (like today) when everyone is happy, we’re not recruiting and we have yet to start with our next special HR project. There is no hovering deadline or serious crisis, my phone doesn’t ring for most of the day and I only have 2 random emails in my inbox. Not the most exciting way to spend time at work!
Lucky for me, this doesn’t happen too often. And I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of being in employee service. It’s a good thing if everyone is OK, and so I can use this time for something else. So instead if feeling frustrated, I try to focus on the following:

  • Filing – Yes, I know, this can be gruelling! But when most days are rushed and jam packed, filing is something that’s easily neglected. And even though it’s no fun, it helps to either organise or “audit” our files to be sure we’re keeping track of everything important. Sometimes it leads me to a crucial oversight or a gap in our paperwork, which means... more work – Yeah!
  • Reading – This can be challenging because it really wears out my eyes to focus on my monitor all day, so I subscribe to a couple of HR magazines and I have a labour law guide or new book to flip through every now and then. Even though some of the info is repetitive, it keeps me aware of what’s happening in our industry and it expands my basic understanding of HR. This means that I can make more valuable contributions or suggestions at work.
  • Connecting – We tend to get a little disconnected by using hi-tech communication to replace real face-to-face interaction. Taking a stroll through the office and having a chat with one or two employees helps me break this barrier. Making some friends or just getting to know your colleagues is a sure way to improve your job satisfaction and engagement.
  • Career planning – Whether it be within my current organisation or a future employer, it’s important for me to set some goals for what I would like to achieve in my career. I can also think of new initiatives, or ideas to improve our current systems. This shows that I’m pro-active and that I want to add value. Also, I don’t EVER want to become too complacent in my current role, so monitoring my skills gaps is a good indicator for which workshops or seminars I might want to attend.  
  • Networking – Referring back to my grad school textbooks might be outdated, but catching up with peers and old classmates really broadens my knowledge of what others are doing in my field. Meeting new people at seminars or workshops can also add to the people I learn from, and you never know when someone might want to consider you for a position because you've gotten to know each other before a position was even advertised.

I found this post on what to do when you’re unstimulated at work – enjoy!

October 10, 2011

reading about management if I'm not a manager?

A reader asks: "Dear Wannabe|Employee, Is it a little over ambitious for me to start reading books on management when I'm still an entry level professional?"

One of the best things (career wise) I've started doing is to read up on management even though I am not a manager myself. I wanted to read a book on this topic in preparation of possibly being a manager in future, but I soon realised that reading up on management can actually help me become a more valuable employee.

Here's why:
  • If I can make my manager's day easier, she will be sure to value me as a team member because I support the team's work load and not only my own. Something any employer will appreciate is when you consider the bigger picture and not only the tiny part you play.
  • If I know what issues my manager may have to face on a daily basis, I can ovoid adding to those frustrations.
  • If I know a thing or two about management before I become one, my chances of being great at it from the start are better than the average Joe's (not disregarding the mistakes I will most definitely make). I will know more about what I can expect, and how NOT to handle sensitive situations.
  • If I read up on management I will most likely understand why my manager acts and makes decisions the way she does. Criticising a manager's decision making without knowing what in entails may come across as being shortsighted and (to be honest) a little foolish.
  • If I have a terrible manager, reading may give me some insight as to how I may want to approach the issue. If I have an awesome manager, I will appreciate her even more.
First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
So, the first book I chose to read on management is First, Break All the Rules (Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman), and I am hooked! It draws a clear distinction between managers and leaders, and how (many times) managers really aren't good leaders. It is helping me distinguish which kind of managers I want to work for, but essentially which type of manager I would like to be later on. I can start being a leader in my position even though my title doesn't say "manager" at the end. The author also focuses on what employees REALLY value in their jobs, and it has given me some food for thought as to what really makes me want to commit to a specific job.

Have you read it? Whatever the line of work you're in, I'm confident that it will benefit your career in a significant way!

October 7, 2011

why can't we all just get along...?

Something I really enjoy about watching employee behaviour is how different things irritate different people. And in the workplace, where we spend big chunks of our time in relatively close proximity to others, there are bound to be a variety of potential triggers.
I was trying to think of a couple of things that get on my nerves from time to time:
  • Rudeness - This really gets me worked up sometimes. I find it hard to keep quiet when I see an employee throwing his/her weight around and disregarding others to feel better about themselves. I know that it's impossible for everyone to like each other, but I believe that liking someone should not determine whether or not we respect them as a person.
  • Office gossip - Being in HR, I’ve noticed some employees who will always try to ask me questions they know they shouldn’t. “But can’t YOU tell us what’s going on with so-and-so? We won’t tell anyone, we just really want to know”. These are also the same employees who take any hint of a rumour and distribute it through the office at record speed. I’m not a fan.
  • Grown-ups behaving like spoiled children - I have to admit, we all may occasionally have one of these moments ☺, but there are days when an employee reminds me again that being older doesn’t necessarily mean you are mature. I’m sure we’ve all encountered one of those... 
These are really personal irritations, but let’s not forget those pet peeves that send blood pressures through the roof sometimes! An employee who always borrows your pen and never returns it, someone who dresses inappropriately, bad lunch manners, or a colleague stepping into your personal space. What are the things that get on your nerves in the office?

October 5, 2011

stressed much?

Statistically we are all bound to have a terrible day at work once in a while (if this is happening very often, you might want to rethink your choice of career or employer - or maybe step up a notch in your commitment J). 
The worst kind of day for me is when I’ve made some kind of small oversight that comes back to bite me in a big way. Or when I’m not sure I handled a sensitive situation right. I also tend to feel overly responsible when anything gets out of hand or a plan backfires. 
I think a job with no stress would be super boring, so I will always prefer a challenging position. But not knowing how to channel your stress can cause even MORE stress, so what to do?
What works for me on a bad day:
  • A good chat with my Talent Manager - I am very privileged to have a manager who is a great listener and allows me to speak my mind.  Talking about my frustrations helps me put things in perspective and understand my own reactions better. She also gives great advice, and hearing her impression of my problem usually changes my approach for the better. A good friend or trustworthy colleague at work will also do the trick.
  • Remind myself that we are all human - As a recovering perfectionist, I have realised that I want things to go according to plan ALL THE TIME. Firstly – not possible. Secondly – not human. In some cases I need to take responsibility for making a mistake and try to fix it or just say I’m sorry, but many times I just need to appreciate the learning involved in failures and challenging situations.
  • Breathe - Remembering to stop thinking for a moment, and just suck in as much oxygen as my lungs can handle for a minute or two, helps me get out of my own head and remember that my crisis may not even really be a crisis. We had a yoga instructor at our latest Wellness Day, who reminded us of the benefits of deep, full and slow breathing and stretching. I know everyone always says it – BUT IT WORKS J.
  • Doing something fun or relaxing in my free time - Going on a date night with my hubby or having a big glass of wine with dinner, a spinning class at the gym or a Pilates session in the quiet of my living room. Anything to remind me that there is more to life than how my day at work has been. 
Here’s a handy blog post I read recently with some more ideas on managing stress and overload at work. What works for you?

October 3, 2011

welcome to my blog!

I am excited about learning to be more than just another average employee, and I will be sharing what I learn along the way. I hope to inspire you to take charge of your career and be a better (more fulfilled) employee tomorrow than the one you are today.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts, questions and experiences!