Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Calm After the Storm

I don’t quite know how to start with this one, but last week I started my new job (at last) and finally things are starting to settle into some kind of routine. I didn’t really have time to think about or process this upcoming major change over the xmas and new year break at all. It arrived like an unexpected iceberg that I had somehow missed and threatened to derail me unless I GOT A FUCKING GRIP and breathed normally. I think I just about managed to pull it off.

So, with that in mind, I feel I should explain why my brain has been in such a mess of late. I do not believe it has ever been quite as utterly befuddled in such a comprehensive way as it was over Christmas and New Year. I felt as if someone had filled all the gaps with cloudy water so that there was literally no room to think. I am emotionally and mentally recovering from an incredibly intense few weeks, of the kind that nobody who is not a migrant will understand. Indeed some kind of salve was applied when I discussed the experience with a colleague who had been through exactly the same thing over the same period and she told me equally hilarious and unbelievable tales from her version and we were able to laugh hysterically and thank Christ that it really is just normal to feel like this (right?).

What happened to leave me so completely wired and freaked out, you may wonder? Well, my wonderful, inspiring, vivid and funny family came to stay with us over Christmas and New Year, that’s what. All of the above adjectives are absolutely true about my family, however, they could also be ascribed the following: baffling, exhausting, demanding and OBSESSED WITH INTERNET ACCESS. The last point is in capitals for a reason which will later become clear.

Luckily I believe my family are amazing enough that they will be able to read this and empathise with it rather than disowning me and will be able to laugh at some of the shared memories.  I may be wrong on this assumption though, nothing ever surprises me about people I am related to and their inexplicable/impressive ability to hold grudges to an Olympic standard. I also totally appreciate that this ‘holiday’ threw them into situations that they were equally unfamiliar with, in environments where they were, at times, totally out of their comfort zones and it required intense periods of time with people that usually you see for an hour or two at a time. It would test the patience of a tranquilized saint, I shit you not. All of us felt trapped and pissed off with each other at certain moments, I know this to be true. It does not mean we love each other any less, just that we are a thoroughly normal family. My way of coping is to blog it.

Stu and I have, at least, experienced these periods of intense contact a few times now so we know what to expect and how to handle the rollercoaster; living 24 hours flight time away from where you grew up means that you do indeed spend short but bewilderingly intense periods of time with people because its either that or just never see them at all. At times, the latter option seems like a utopian dream but believe me, the moment you have to handle the goodbyes you realise it is not. It makes for an interesting time and proves many old adages are true about how much you flex for family members and blood being thicker than water, and so on. Every time I have to say goodbye to these amazing people who made me who I am, I panic that I may not see them again and I spend the next week or so moping, sad and bereft at the hole they have left in my life. It does not get easier, ever.

I guess the reason this trip put more strain on us than we were used to was that while we had got into a good rhythm with my mom and step dad (with whom we have spent a couple of holidays over the last few years) on this visit we were also joined by my brother, step sister and nephew and believe me, there is a big difference hosting 5 people from hosting 2. There is also a heap more admin and associated stressing required when you are the people who ‘know’ the country and the logistics because it naturally falls to you to do the organising and the associated herding of people around the arrangements in place. That is not to say I would have it any other way, we had a truly awesome few weeks and I feel like I bonded massively with my siblings in a way that we have never had chance to do as adults before, furthermore and especially significant, I feel incredibly close to my 10 year old nephew and was so very lucky to share some of the most amazing moments of his life with him – money cannot buy those memories.

I reckon that all the emotion and adrenaline we have used over those 3 weeks contributes to this feeling of come down, of exhaustion, of total bewilderment and mental fog – because there was simply so much squeezed into the period that even now my memory is still processing it all, trying to take it in, feeling like I just stepped off a rollercoaster. We swam with dolphins, laughed so much we hurt, snorkelled the barrier reef, sky dived, white water rafted, witnessed my parents renew their wedding vows, ate BBQ until we were sick of it, had Christmas together in 35 degree heat, saw so much wildlife it became almost boring, cruised the sea off Mission Beach at sunset on a chartered yacht, kayaked, swam, played on the beach, talked until late, petted kangaroos and held koalas and applied 3 gallons of sunscreen and insect repellent (ineffectively in my case).

And there were niggles too that go with living in a confined space for so long with anyone that is not your long term partner…so here goes with a few just to balance it out:

Noises that defined the duration of the visit – slamming fly screen doors, feet up and down the hall at all hours, the continual pinging of ‘whatsapp’ messages arriving every minute of every day (internet permitting), the locking and unlocking of our bathroom door (not irritating until you hear it 15 times an hour), the sound of the kettle every 20 minutes from 6am onwards, the bizarre commentary on people playing GTA which I did not even know was a ‘thing’ (my nephew watches this on youtube all the time), smokers coughs, the washing machine – which was seemingly in action 24/7 and now needs a lie down as much as we do.

Things that happened which I am still slightly confused about – my mother managed to break the kitchen pedal bin 4 times. FOUR TIMES!!! I still have no idea how this was even possible. Stu has often pondered the question of where my dyspraxia originates, I present the following evidence in association with the above mentioned pedal bin episode; my mother also managed to a) drop the kettle (the actual kettle) on the kitchen floor and b) have the whole family spend 30 mins frantically searching for her brand new eternity ring (at 9pm on NYE I might add) which she had managed to lose after 3 hours of wearing it (it turned up on the bathroom floor behind the bin). I rest my case.

Things that nearly sent me over the edge #1 – being parked outside a tourist information centre and then being asked quite calmly by someone who has just exited that very building “where is the Skyrail round here?” as if I worked in the building that I was parked outside of and that they had just walked out of. *Note* I believe I answered more questions in this 3 week period than I have in the rest of my 36 years on this planet, ranging from the fairly straightforward ones like “what is a Cassowary?” to the somewhat baffling ones like “will this restaurant be open tonight?” (gesturing at random establishment I have never seen before in my life) which assumes I have some kind of omniscient knowledge which covers all public spaces, shops, restaurants, airports and internet providers across the whole of Australia at all times, I felt like a personal – and less patient – version of google some days though I am flattered that my family clearly believe my knowledge of Australia to be greater than that of the internet. 

Things that nearly sent me over the edge #2 – waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for people to stop looking at their phones and actually engage/get ready for dinner/finish a conversation. This is one of those things where we display unusual amounts of patience and tolerance with family which with our friends we would not.

The day that they all went back to the UK Stu and I felt completely bereft. The house goes from being full of noise and life to being quiet and still. You are surrounded by small bits of them (or in the case of my nephew, bless him, LARGE bits of random food in places you would not expect) and things they have left behind and you cannot stop thinking about the fact that as each moment passes they are getting further away. We have stopped doing goodbyes at the airport because it is just too hard – it is still awful saying goodbye from home, but at least you can literally curl up in a ball and wail for a while if you want to afterwards without negotiating a hideous journey home first. I don’t reckon this bit will ever get any easier.  

And then, just like that, it’s a distant memory and life returns to normal and the 10,000 mile gap is resumed and it takes a while to re-establish the routines but you get there. In a way I do believe that these experiences are priceless and it’s a shame we only have them because we are this far away; thank goodness people love us enough to come all the way out here and make amazing memories with us and to see it as an opportunity to do that. Every time my family visit I learn new things about myself and about them, I hope this never changes and I hope that they know that I love them all so very much - even when they are making me swear.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Direct Appointment

Direct appointment, or the decision by a company not to openly recruit a position but to simply move a pre-determined existing employee into it, is seemingly the preferred (and default) route of many employers in Australia. Certainly for private companies anyway (based on research, reading and LinkedIn discussions). I discussed this matter at length with colleagues and with the HR business partner for the firm I was, until recently, employed with (and had been since arriving in Australia) and find that I fundamentally disagree with the stance that it is beneficial for the business. Cautiously, I decided against posting this until I was no longer employed by the company as although this is purely a matter of opinion, I am concious that it could have rocked a number of boats among people who I am genuinely fond of. 

I never quite realised what a driver for me 'fairness' is in relation to progression in the workplace until I saw such a complete farce of a 'promotion' happen within the team I was part of, that I was enraged. For me this was the beginning of the end of my being able to be engaged in this company, it was the start of the rot setting in and my realising that the future, for me, was unlikely to be with them as an employer long term.  

In looking for alternative employment, I do also realise that I am, to some level, privileged by being white, straight and university educated whilst on the other hand also being (potentially) disadvantaged by being female. What I can say with certainty is that every role I have ever taken on I have fought for and won fairly and to me that is important. Also, in defence of the previous employer referred to here, I know that they do also appoint external candidates to roles (I was one) from time to time. Unfortunately, they are not consistent with this approach and a deeply rooted (historical?) belief in direct appointment as a preferred method prevails, especially where positions with any kind of authority come up. 

So - direct appointment. Maybe in one or two instances it might genuinely be the case that there is only one viable candidate for a role and talent retention might encourage such a decision without having any undue (negative) side effects; but in general I believe it is a solution best avoided and one which can be symptomatic of lazy, helicopter management decisions which impact hugely on the culture of a workplace – and not necessarily in any positive way.

I have seen first-hand the disenfranchisement of staff members when they feel that they were passed over, when they are confused and disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to be considered for a position, when they subsequently don’t respect the person appointed because there was, seemingly, no fair and open validation for why the decision was made. I have seen it be the cause of people starting to look elsewhere, I have seen it cause resentment and disengagement.

The consistent response from those not given a chance to apply for a direct appointed post is that they feel devalued.The fact that when management were making such decisions these employees did not even register as a potential contender for a role is disheartening and does make one reflect on whether this is the kind of place where it will ever be your turn, and if not what that means for your career progression (or more pointedly, the lack thereof). 

One of the key arguments that is made in favour of direct appointment is that there is a risk when a post is advertised internally and then some of those candidates are inevitably unsuccessful, that they will naturally immediately seek to leave the company. I say to that, there is always turnover anyway and although when interviewing a number of internal candidates there is unavoidably the risk of ‘losing face’ and therefore coming to the decision that it is time to move on - there are bigger and broader negative effects from not advertising and recruiting in a fair and open manner. 

In any event, if the culture of a workplace is truly positive and encouraging of staff development and continuous learning, then the likelihood of unsuccessful candidates leaving is minimal. The opportunity to try out for a promotion or a change of position can be educational and a positive experience that at least flags openly that an employee is keen to improve, to learn and to grow. The fact that they are invited and encouraged to fully try out for a post is affirmation of their being taken seriously by senior management and a nod to the fact that career progression here is encouraged for all.

If these opportunities are denied then the culture risks becoming such that unless you are singled out for a position you will never get the chance to show you could do it. It kind of makes a farce of the ‘professional development’ that we are repeatedly told that companies encourage and value. 

Personally, I would always feel slightly uneasy if I had been handed a promotion I did not feel I had legitimately tried out for and earned. If the post in question has a number of direct reports into it then it stands to reason that some of those reports may have tried out (or wanted to but not had the chance) for the post. If no actual process has occurred where they got the chance to apply, it is fairly likely that there will be a natural resentment towards the person chosen – and a whole heap of extra legwork that the appointed candidate will need to do to earn the respect of their team as a result. 

Having said this, it is, thankfully, no longer strictly my problem. I feel quite lucky in that I have successfully managed to manoeuvre my way back into the HE sector where fair and open recruitment is practised as standard. Point in case - I interviewed against internal candidates for the post I have just commenced. This enables me to feel highly positive about my new employer in relation to their processes and decisions, I already believe that decisions are made objectively and that is a valuable thing. For the first time in my working life in Australia I feel like I stand a chance of moving forward with my career.