Posts Tagged ‘health’

Damon Oldcorn berates the entrenched ageism of the IT industry.
empowerment

The word ’empower’ is used a lot these days to describe a company’s ability to meet change by giving authority to the people at the sharp end. Words like this always seem to be touted around by public relations people, nothing too detailed of course, just some well concocted statements to mark some occasion or other. So the poor workers on the shop floor (as it used to be known) are going to be empowered. I do hope someone has told them about this new era of decision-making and accountability.

As you know, global organisations and our own high technology firms have thinned down their company structures, partly because of economic pressures, partly with the introduction of newer technology. Companies emerge with a streamlined look, not much middle, a flat top and a flat bottom. The idea behind the structure is that the strategic decisions made at the flat top can be whizzed to the troops at the flat bottom for them to implement tactically, making ever more accountable decisions as they go. Great in theory, but not so great in practice if you’re the 45-year-old who had to be removed to make way for this new wave.

Most of the companies I come into contact with, many in the computer and communications industry, have not trained the executives at the flat top in the new-age skills needed to compensate for this rapid change in business strategy. So as you can imagine it is extremely unlikely that they have got round to the training needs of the flat bottom to help them adapt to the new demands of this empowerment process. The question is, can the executives at the flat top grasp the new-age skills for this tremendously taxing change? I mean this change is major league, so not to be treated lightly.

sensitivityTo achieve corporate excellence today, the executive will have to have many facets in their management kit-bag: creative insight, sensitivity, vision, versatility, focus and patience (to mention just a few). Let’s focus on sensitivity for a moment ( a word not often heard in this rough, tough, high technology market). If, in the final analysis, people are an organisation’s greatest asset, then the new type manager must understand how to bind them together in a culture, wherein they feel truly motivated in the pursuit of higher goals. Face to face communication, ongoing training and development, creative incentive programmes and job security all display the sort of sensitivity that nurtures strong cultures.

Every strong culture and in this case the empowered culture derives from management sensitivity. Without it employees feel unmotivated, under-utilised,even exploited. It only takes a flick through the online job bulletin boards to see how we treat our employees. The turnover of staff, both junior and senior, is as fast and furious as ever, and there is a common pattern to people moving on. A majority when asked why they changed companies, would reply that they were not managed or spoken to in a professional manner. What a waste of time and money for all concerned. Let’s see some action to design companies so that empowerment is a balanced reality between decision-making, accountability, training and management support.

jin-tt-vs-nospringchicken-flatTo return to a point I touched on earlier, ageism, there seems to be an unwritten law in this industry that says because we keep inventing shiny, new products and services, that we must always have shiny, new younger staff as well. The number of over-45s who seem to get sidelined is amazing. What happens? Is it self-perpetuating because we have younger senior executives or younger recruitment staff? Are they unsure of their industry skills or even political ground to keep on older and more experienced staff than themselves. The older executive does not lose his or her ability to make decisions, to contribute creatively and energetically. Let’s not keep falling into the trap of discarding experience, if the industry is to mature it needs that stability.

The number of young executives I see looking for answers to basic business questions (on any online industry forum) that got answered  a long time ago concerns me. It’s not their fault, who have they got to learn from if the older mentor figures keep disappearing? There has to be a process of regeneration, a cycle where experienced professionals, grounded in business skills, impart their knowledge to the next set of executives. Who else will do it? The major company training schools seem to have diminished, or if not, focus too often on technology orientated product courses. You can only learn so much from self-help business books or company sponsored MBA courses.

Day to-day business sense has to be learned on the job, from people you respect and want to emulate. You can’t just hand out senior management positions to young executives before they are able to cope with the pressures that surround these demanding roles. So let’s match the investment that is made in the technology with investment in the long-term skills and care of our people at what ever stage of their careers, young or older.

Stress kills both people and productivity

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As a number of you, particularly parents, will be on half-term breaks, two areas of thoughts come to mind. One is work-related stress. The other is holidays, which are supposed to be our way of winding down, enjoying ourselves and of course relieving pressure that results in stress. This entrepreneurial technology world we live in because of the speed of change, instability and pressure to succeed, often breeds stress.

It’s bizarre that many senior people in start-ups and global vendors still boast the fact that they haven’t had a holiday in years. They believe it is a statement of commitment and success. It strikes me as sad that talented people with the drive to succeed don’t have the time, both to gain a different perspective on what they are doing and also to have balance in their lives, to share that success with loved ones.

Stress shows itself at many levels in an organisation, a perfect example being in the holiday periods for the poor sales staff. How many of them are sweating to produce over target performances in a period when increasingly , the corporate decision makers have decided to leave the office? Some deal with it better than others, but all of us can learn to recognise the warning signs. The incidence of stress related illnesses is on the increase. Indeed it probably costs more to companies than industrial disputes these days.

So how do we recognise it? Well tell tale signs include headaches, tension in the neck, back pain, poor circulation, sleeplessness, lethargy, tiredness, extreme working, mistrust of others, fear of death, imagined illnesses. The classic symptoms of course are increased drinking, smoking, drug taking, irritability with colleagues or family, and lack of concentration.

There are a large number of environmental sources of work stress, the characteristics of the job itself, the role of the person in the organisation, interpersonal relationships at work, career development pressures, the climate and culture of an organisation and problems associated with the interface between the organisation and the outside world. Stress can be caused by too much or too little work, time pressures and deadlines, having to make too many decisions, fatigue from the physical strains of the work environment, excessive travel, long hours, having to cope with changes at work and the potential expense (monetary and career) of making mistakes.

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Both qualitative and quantitative overload may produce at least eight different symptoms of psychological and physical strain. Job dissatisfaction, job tension, lower self esteem, threat, embarassment, high cholesterol, increased heart rate and more smoking. An aspect that is particularly pertinent in this decade is career development pressure, lack of job security, fear of redundancy, obsolescence or early retirement and status incongruity (under or over promotion), frustration at having reached one’s career ceiling. Career progression is of overriding importance, especially to managers and professional staff. By promotion they not only earn money but also enhanced status and the new job challenges for which they strive.

Unless individuals adapt their expectations to suit new circumstances, particularly the changing needs of globalisation, career development stress is likely to be prevalent on a massive scale. We all need a modicum of stress to drive the bodily systems (for example it eliminates over toxicity in our body’s chemical systems). However, we also need to be able to cope with the negative effects of stress. Some of the suggested strategies are to increase your exercise levels, to use meditation, mindfulness or relaxation techniques, talk to someone outside your immediate circle, reassess your lifestyle or aspirations, protect your space, set boundaries at home or in the workplace, take a holiday or weekend away, remember the positive pleasant times and allow yourself praise for minor successes.

Other areas readily available today are massage, manipulation, reflexology and aromatherapy. A number of more far sighted companies are now employing freelance therapists to come into the workplace to give what is known as seated, fully clothed massage, which only takes 20-25 minutes of an employee’s time, but gives a great return on the employee’s wellbeing and in company performance. The strategy adopted will vary. For example, if stress comes primarily from poor physical working conditions, we might consider ergonomic solutions. If on the other hand, problems originate from conflicting roles, we might want to utilise techniques such as role playing. If individuals are dissatisfied with the rate of career advancement, relaxation techniques would be of no help, far more useful to do some career planning or train managers in the methods of career development.

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I can think of many people over the years who have been destroyed mentally and physically by the pressures of the modern working environment, at the end of the day some are just not able to cope with it. The increasing pace of technology change over the next ten years will only add to this. The fact that we are constantly bombarded with more data than it is possible to cope with may only be alleviated by AI, machine learning and robots taking over some of our roles.

To return to an earlier point, some of you will be on half-term holiday when you read this, the time thoughts turn to aspects of your life other than work. It’s interesting how difficult it is, though, to wash thoughts of work away from your mind in the first few days of a break, that too may be a sign of stress. Holidays can sometimes even add to the emotional stress. Some believe that a lot of short breaks throughout the year, rather than one long holiday, might be more beneficial. The bottom line is, you’ve only got one life, make the most of it, for your sake and the company’s.

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Don’t ever say I am not in tune with the times after acquiring this elegant fashion item with modern features built in such as air bags for comfort?

Yes you have guessed it … Snapped my Achilles tendon on Fri night at badminton match. Now know what George Best felt like when tackled from behind by Norman Hunter in the 70s. Explosive pain in lower calf then dead foot … Strangely then no pain … Which was something.
So stuck in this contraption with crutches for 8 weeks before any real rehab begins so will be 6 months out before back in big game at least. The good news … no operation needed … This is the way forward. Well I always said I wanted time to write my memoirs … No excuse now.
So as Withnail said “We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

Drug of Choice Pic

Aged nine it did not take a lot of time for boredom to set in when out on a fishing trip on the Lough Mourne with my father. The patience required for the trout to bite alluded me at the time, in what now looking back, was a beautiful wooded setting close to my home town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. I was drawn back to those times recently when out on one of my frequent dog walks. I was watching Briar, my six month old Springer spaniel puppy running free among the woods on the Wiltshire plain set above the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.

I was wondering when was the last time I had felt as energetic and wanting to run at that pace for the sheer joy and hell of it? Then I thought back to those fishing trips where I would disappear away from the water’s edge and head up into the dense woods. Just as Briar the puppy had been doing, inventing games in my head to play on my own. One of them was running full on, as I thought at the time, like Hawkeye in the “Last of the Mohicans”. Full of fun and health, just running and skipping between the trees for the sheer love of it. Lost in a world of my own, seemingly on a different plane, losing contact with the ground at points through the speed and agility of movement.

In my late teens I would feel that lightness and almost floating sensation again when I moved to England to train and play Badminton at a semi- professional International level. That occasional feeling in a game, both of all the long hard hours of training mentally and physically coming together in one sublime set of movement and strokes. That ability to glide across the court, jump to new heights to smash the shuttle with effortless ease, creating an adrenalin buzz that would last many hours and take a long time to come down from.

Fleeting times that these were, I would not have missed them for the world; surely this was a type of drug, not just an endorphin rush, but my own private little narcotic. After sport at that level of fitness as many top class sports people will attest, the drop down after you stop playing at that level can be hard. To substitute that sensation or moment is a challenge and one that most never do replace and have to live with that acceptance. I can see here where the temptation of taking a drug might creep in to sustain that level of feeling and performance for just a little bit longer.

Luckily in my late thirties it came to me again. This time as an entrepreneur, a different type of full on existence, some say 24/7 in the whirl of building a technology start-up in the Dotcom era. Based in Silicon Valley California, seven weeks there and 3 weeks back in the UK for over 2 years, a full on adrenalin spree, pushing what turned out to be a successful company into the global market. Again the theme of competition, but less about fitness and more about resilience of mind and body.  Pushing harder than other killer players to win. When you do, the euphoria engulfs and surrounds you again on a very similar level, that floating feeling comes back.

I say luckily, but as I often say to young entrepreneurs starting out on the start-up path having built five companies myself over 25 years. There is only one certainty, at the end of the run you will be sat in a corner exhausted and in tears. This will be because you have either just sold the company and won the game, or alternatively and more likely have lost the lot. Coming back from both scenarios is equally challenging, just different, surprisingly.

As I enter my sixtieth year, I have returned to the badminton after 22 years retired from playing, never having been on a court in anger in all that time. I was not setting out to recapture that feeling of exhilaration again, that would be foolish. But I had been back to the gym for the best part of two years and strangely as I saw it, was as fit as I probably had been in a decade. I had promised myself I would return to the badminton one day when I could play it socially and not mind losing or at least not mind as much as I used to. I had thought after my sixtieth birthday, having gained my senior railcard would be the considered time. But prompted by my current fitness and also thinking you never know what is round the next corner, I signed up for the winter season.

I was out drinking recently with a friend of mine in London; we were coming up the steep escalator at the Angel Tube station. Now I am giving him ten years but we were both moving at pace and we were chatting away as we do about a range of topical subjects. I enquired about his health, a throwaway line as I make it seem, but I am always keen to know my friends and their families are OK. Especially male friends who as we know rarely visit the doctor until too late and are hesitant about discussing these areas.

Anyway, I think he was surprised, but used the term robust to describe how he felt and I thought yes that is the word, as we get a little further down the track, we need to feel robust and able to deal with the hustle and bustle of today’s fast changing world. Those of us lucky enough to have good health and this does seem to be the luck of the draw, should relish that particular high. I have just been reading “The Triumphs of experience” by George E Vaillant this is the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken. The bottom line there being that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become even more fulfilling than before.

This of course goes against conventional thinking, that in particular, men get set in their ways “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. But this ability to reinvent oneself at any age is there and needed given modern demands of innovation and the technological impact on our lives. Those moments of joy, ecstasies, floating whatever way we wish to describe them, are all possible throughout life. I am certainly looking forward to creating more magic, using my own drug of choice on the next stage of life’s adventure.