Unfulfilled by your early career? Ask yourself four questions

You’re working your first or second job. Broadly, it’s okay. The salary is lower than you hoped, particularly considering the amount you pay on rent. The tasks have some purpose, though they are fairly monotonous and not quite making the most of your abilities or education. Progression opportunities are unclear. You are frustrated but don’t want to complain too much because you know plenty of other people who are trying desperately to catch their first break.

Does this sound familiar?

For many of us starting our careers, we have often had to overcome the grueling process of multiple job applications and assessments for months on end. Now that we have our ‘in’, we hope that through hard work and effort we can rise through the ranks and gain ever-greater responsibility. Unfortunately, the world of work is much more murky than we expect, and we quickly become disillusioned at the lack of opportunity. We then look for our next job, hoping for some improvement and greater responsibility. We find a similar role at slightly-better pay, and slightly-better responsibility. Unfortunately, this does not solve the underlying issue. Over time you resign yourself to understanding this as the world of work.

If this is something similar to what you are currently experiencing, Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Were the expectations you had on the working world real?

Before starting our first job, we did a day or two of work experience and looked at the cool offices and think how exciting and fun this stuff must be. Before graduating, we red job adverts talking about jobs that are ‘dynamic’, ‘exciting’, with accompanying descriptions of glorious colleagues who you bond with over ping-pong tables and after-work socials.

We saw our parents, working in one job and slowly moving up the organisation through loyalty. We also studied, and studied to further honours than our parents and grandparents. We are often told that we will be the next Prime Minister or CEO. This does not consider that 42% of the working age population is a graduate in the UK.

All these experiences shape our expectations of work. In reality, the world of work is often an ongoing execution of tasks, week in, week out. At times it can be fun, but mostly it is rigid, boring and far less exciting than any job adviser will ever tell you. Whilst we expect that the world of work is meritocratic, it is often anything but. office politics, weird working cultures and dubious practices can be a real shock to the system, particularly when we work twice as hard as the person who gets that promotion.

The expectations that we had of the world of work were extremely different to the reality. It’s okay to be shocked by this. Give yourself time to reassess.

  • What do you enjoy?

We start our job, wanting to impress. We take on whatever task we can to demonstrate our worth, no matter how menial. We hope that by showing our ability to deliver we will be given more responsibility. In reality, we soon become known as ‘printer-guy’ and look enviously at our more experienced colleague who has learnt to keep their head down when any new ‘opportunity’ comes up. We slowly learn to follow their lead.

Have you stopped to ask yourself what you actually enjoy? Perhaps there was that day the person in HR was sick so you had to handle the records. As it turned out you liked it much more than you expected. However, they returned a week later so in your job you’ll probably not get that opportunity again. Have you spent time exploring why you enjoyed it, and what this could mean for you and your career?

Give yourself time to genuinely reflect on the things you have enjoyed within work, even if it was different from what you expected before starting. For me, before starting my job the idea of HR sounded very boring, in the end I’ve gotten further involved and passionate about Diversity and Inclusion as I understood the importance of it to an organisation.

Remember, finding a job that you enjoy matters. For your own success and happiness.

  • What do you really want to be doing?

Remember your conversation with your school or university job adviser? Back then, you perhaps dreamed of lofty jobs at the top of organisations,. Naturally your priorities have shifted since then, and the realities of the workplace are now pressing heavily upon you. Nonetheless, when was the last time you revisited what you truly wanted to do?

Remember that you are gathering really key data for yourself about the world of work which you did not have before. Having worked in a job, you may realise you don’t actually particularly like it, or more likely you may have found a new area of interest that you never heard of before.

Remember to regularly revisit what you want to be doing, and it is okay if this changes. In fact it probably will.Adapting your aims and ambitions to the reality of the workplace is the only way it can be realistic, and it is often what more and more people end up doing. For some, this means slightly tweaking their specialisation (e.g. moving from sales to marketing), for others it could be as grand as realising they much prefer helping people and running workshops, so they end up leaving their office job to become a yoga teacher. For the latter person, this certainly was not part of their conversation with their career counselor at school, however they are now much happier than in their office job

  • What is actually most important to you?

We hold degrees at great expense, along with continuous messaging about ‘making a difference in the world’. Naturally, we expect our careers to be a crucial aspect to our lives. We presume we need to move to the big city, leave behind friends and family and put up with lower living standards to make it happen. Perhaps this leads us to take up a tiring job with a long commute, and we are often tired to meet with friends after work. We haven’t been to the gym in weeks.

Our lives are one big opportunity-cost. By pouring your effort particularly into your career, you are reducing your chance to put your energy into other things you enjoy. Some are willing to make the large sacrifice of career above all else. But for many, there are things that are more important than the job. Your task is to figure out what really is your priority in life. It is for you to figure this out, and no one can decide this for you.

You are not going to get everything you want in life, so it is better to put your efforts into the things that are most important for you, and live without the things that are less important.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope this article helps you.

Top Books for self-development

I previously wrote about how books can be a great way to learn as a cost-effective and time-saving measure. This got me thinking of what books I would recommend. So without further ado, here is my list:

  1. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverence by Angela Duckworth

This book is excellent for better understanding what it takes to ‘make it’, setting out that one of the real key criterion for success is not being the smartest, but being the most committed. If you can continue with your goal when the chips are down, you are more likely to be successful (compared to your contemporaries who give up when the ‘going gets tough’). I would recommend this book for anyone, but especially those just starting out in their careers to help get to where they want to be.

2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us by Daniel Pink

As a recent first-time manager, this book was an absolute gold-mine to better understand how to motivate my employees. However, it was also a great way to learn about myself and my own motivations. Pink sets out the importance of internal or intrinsic motivators, which in reality are far more valuable than external motivators (e.g. rewards, punishment). As part of these internal motivators, Pink sets out that people strive for three things especially: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

3. Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Speaking by Susan Cain

As an introvert myself (one that enjoys the company of people, until I get tired!) this book is revelatory in highlighting the importance of skills that introverts bring to the table. In a world where often leaders are assumed to need to be extroverted to be ‘charismatic’, this book dispels that myth by highlighting that actually a large amount of senior leaders are actually introverts who adapt. This is a great book if you are someone who is seen as a ‘bit quiet’ or naturally more reflective in nature, as it brings to the fore your true worth in the modern world.

There are other influential books such as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman which bring revolutionary concepts into the modern world on thinking and intelligence. A word of note though that these two books are more dense so will require more time investment than the others I’ve listed above.

You can find all the rest of my articles at https://tahmidchowdhury.co.uk/blog/. Sign up to my mailing list if you would like to receive them on a weekly basis to ensure you don’t miss them!

Tips to create an inclusive workplace culture – part two

Following on from yesterday’s blog, here are my remaining tips to create an inclusive workplace culture:

  1. Where appropriate, be naturally curious about other people’s backgrounds and take an interest in what other people do outside of work. This does not mean going out and putting people on the spot about race, disability or sexuality – e.g. many LGBT+ may feel uncomfortable being asked about their background and personal circumstances. Ensure that any questions are respectful and done in a positive spirit, respecting your colleague’s response.
  2. If you are not sure on how to refer to someone, ask them how they would like to be referred to. There are many ways individuals can identify themselves, and it is worth remembering that ‘BAME’, ‘LGBT+’, ‘disabled’ etc. is a very wide umbrella – with many not being fond of the term ‘BAME’ or ‘LGBT+’: often people may prefer to be referred to as ‘Black’, ‘Queer’ ‘Asian’, ‘neurodiverse’ etc. As there is no size fits all, the best way to do this is to ask, though ensure you do so in a sensitive manner without putting employees on the spot. 
  3. Ensure you are following the basics of line management: scheduling regular one-to-one conversations, Performance Development Meetings and allotting sufficient time where possible. Ensure you are being fair and consistent in the amount of time and attention you give to your different staff – whilst this sounds obvious, in a study, research demonstrated only 20% of women BAME respondents below senior management stated they received help from their line managers. In stark contrast, 75% of white women stated their continued growth was due to having a supervisor, champion, mentor or coach. 
  4. Encourage team members to become Reverse Mentors, and for your seniors to sign up to be reverse mentored. If you feel comfortable to do so, gently remind your seniors to fulfil any objectives they have relating to Diversity and Inclusion or wellbeing.
  5. Sign up to your organisation’s staff networks (sometimes referred to as Employee Resource Groups). Join as many network’s as you’d like, even if you do not come from the characteristic of the group in question! It is important that the networks gain a wide membership to ensure their reach is across the organisation so don’t feel afraid to join! If you don’t have a staff network, why not create one?

Hope these are useful!

Tips to create an inclusive workplace culture

An inclusive culture is where all people can feel comfortable to discuss issues outside of the work context should they choose to. In my department, I previously worked with Staff Networks and HR to come up with a set of ‘top tips’ to help foster an inclusive workplace culture, here are some of the highlights:

  1. Set out a team code of conduct which demonstrates a common level of respect for all individuals, no matter their background.
  2. Role model positive behaviour and openness to discussions about backgrounds – it makes conversations much easier if leaders and managers are open about their own background before asking about it from their employees; moreover, it can help disarm the more threatening elements of questions (‘where are you from’?)
  3. Create safe spaces to discuss backgrounds and open up the conversations. For example, some teams hold lunch’n’learns where individuals can talk about their backgrounds in an open, curious and non-judgemental manner.
  4. Create an environment where employees with disabilities and long term health conditions feel able to come forward and discuss their disability, and any reasonable adjustments that they might need. Avoid making assumptions about their condition and ask them to explain how they experience it and what support, or reasonable adjustments they need.
  5. Ensure that conversations and social activities are inclusive as far as reasonably possible. E.g. holding ‘breakfasts’ as well as the usual pub gathering to capture parents. Ensure you include everyone as much as possible in work related discussions and avoid ‘water-cooler’ decision making.
  6. Create clear mechanisms to deal with discrimination, and/or Bullying and Harassment within your team. Ensure that such mechanisms are used properly and aren’t simply viewed as a ‘tick-box’ exercise. This can be through effective use of countersigning mechanisms or an anonymous ‘agony aunt’ style point of contact to raise issues within the team.

How do you foster a warm, inclusive workplace environment within your team?

How to get ahead of your peers? Read!

Have you been looking for the next course, Forbes article or nugget of info to improve yourself and get that extra 5 percent out of yourself at your job? You’re probably not the only one, and learning and development is being valued now more than ever within organisations. However, an easy way to improve yourself substantially is to read. And when I say read, I mean read books!

Books are fantastic avenues for information and guidance when you are facing a problem. Now I realise that sounds quite obvious, but in the modern day we often talk about ‘not having time’ to read books because they are quite lengthy. The idea of reading may harbour images of having to gruel your way through a 600 page academic text book and send shivers down your spine. (For me it reminds me of my history undergrad reading Annales history where they wrote about everything that happened, including detailing the adjacent trees…!)

Fortunately, lots of excellent, valuable and easy-to-read books are available at a click of a button. Better yet, they can be an extremely cost-effective way of learning, and in the long run will save you time by teaching you before you make those mistakes! Plenty of books written by subject matter experts such as in psychology and business now realise that the key to their book sales is not to build more jargon and awkward unintelligible theoretical concepts, but rather make it reader-friendly and useful for the general-interest reader.

When looking at your personal development you may have eyed up some great sounding courses, only to note the eye-watering costs that are four and even five digit figures, particularly from renowned figures. However, those figures often release their own books which detail the same information (and often more!) which can be accessed for £10-20. Granted, workshops are a great experience and there are things you will gain from them that you won’t get from a book, but often the main crux or learning point will be the same. And often, the workshop will point you towards the book as additional learning anyway.

Better yet, in the era of e-books and self publishing it is easier than ever to find a book that can greatly help you with issues you are facing. For example, are you a new manager? There are hundreds of great, short e-books that give you a fantastic crash-course on good management and bad management (that’s how I certainly learnt my chops!) More recently, I’ve wanted to learn a bit about website design and digital marketing. Rather than spending countless hours or so in trial and error to figure this out, I bought a few easy to read e-books to quickly understand the main things I needed to. Whilst the £20 or so was a bit of an investment, the accumulative knowledge I gained probably saved me 50+hours of time!

So what are you going to go read? It would be great to know about some of the books you have read that have helped drive forward your career!

What Makes a Good Public Speaker? My top tips

Public speaking is regularly highlighted as a key skill in the modern workplace. However, many people naturally find the whole prospect scary: what if you embarrass yourself in front of everyone including your boss in the front row!?

Throughout my university years I spent a long time practising public speaking through Model United Nations debates. This really helped with my own public speaking as it allowed me to practice and understand my own style. I remember when I first started, nervous to speak in front of a handful of people (I must confess I resorted to fairly cookie-cutter jokes with mediocre results!), though in the last few years I’ve been more than happy to crack jokes in front of a crowd of more than 1000. So how do you get from being worried to speak in front of a few to being the charming whizz at your all staff meeting?

Follow the basics

There are some basics that any good public speaker does need to adhere to no matter what their style. Rhythm is important, speaking fast can mean people can’t follow, speaking too slow can make people lose interest. Think about what the audience is interested in hearing and build your content from there. Also, keep an eye on the time, you’re probably not the only one speaking and going twenty minutes over is usually not looked upon too fondly! This may feel like quite a few things to keep in mind, but remember that you do all these things when you chat with anyone outside of a public-speaking context!

Public Speaking is a skill, and like any skill you will get better with practice

No one was born able to ride a bicycle perfectly, and likewise no one learnt to speak publicly instantly either. Public speaking is a skill, and like most skills you only get good at them if you practice. So take the opportunity to practice where you can, even by starting small. Here are some simple ways you can practice speaking before jumping into the real thing:

 • Practice in front of a mirror, or in front of close friends

 • Imitate standing at the front of a room with your notes the day before and visualise how you will be speaking to the audience in front of you

 • Start small, e.g. presenting at your mini team meeting or huddle.

 • Attend public speaking workshops to practice

Starting small can allow you to improve bit by bit. Remember, those people giving Ted Talks weren’t magically born with the gift of public speaking, rather they got their by practice.  

Bring your own personality and style into what you do, rather than looking for a template to imitate.

Whilst there are many useful tips that can be learnt by watching others, remember it’s you speaking not them. in a world where expressing yourself and your own individuality is being valued more than ever, you will get limited value emulating the first video you find of a tall guy with glasses and a neutral accent if that doesn’t really fit your description.

Instead, look at what your strengths are when speaking more broadly – are you quick on your feet and good at moving around the conversation or are you more thoughtful and deliberate when you speak? Use these strengths and build on them. To me, public speaking is about taking what you normally do, and refine it for a crowd. It is not about suddenly speaking the Queen’s English and waving your hands around because that’s what other people do. Understand your own way of speaking and make small tweaks. Don’t start from scratch.

Public speaking as a chance to express yourself and give your opinion

The idea that the spotlight is on you can be daunting. Instead, think of this being the chance for you to express yourself, and give your own opinion on the matter. In my mind, public speaking is responding to ‘what do you think?’, so take the opportunity to give your thoughts!

People don’t remember so much as what you said, rather they remember how you made them feel. This is your opportunity to give your own point of view based upon your own feeling and emotions, and by doing so making your audience feel something: are you looking to inspire, excite, sadden, shock? Emotions are more memorable than a long list of bullet points.  

These are my top tips, do you agree with them?

Remote management during COVID: what are the main principles?

Shifting to remote working has been a real change in the way a lot of us work. For me as a manager, it made me worry about whether I was managing effectively – was I meant to be doing something totally different?

So, what does the era of remote working during COVID (and perhaps beyond) mean for your management responsibilities? Here are my reflections from being thrusted into remote management since lockdown:

1. Remote management is not that different to normal management

Shifting to remote working made me concerned about whether I should be re-evaluating my wider ‘how’ when it comes to management. Fortunately it became obvious quite quickly that just because we were distant, this didn’t actually change the fundamentals – indeed a whole lot of the same practices still worked. As long as my staff had clear objectives and expectations, none of this was seemed that big of an issue. 

If anything, wider anecdotal evidence seems to suggest the management basics are more important during remote working. Simple things like catch-ups, setting clear instructions and giving clear roles and responsibilities are now probably more vital than ever. If your management relies on telling people who happen to be right in front of you what to do, or that you need to physically check up upon them, this will likely cause some bumps on the road. However, if that is the case, it’s probably your management style that’s the issue!  Technological advances have demonstrated that one-to-one meetings and performance reviews can easily be replicated online, and there is no real reason for anyone to be skimping out on managerial responsibilities or feeling the need to enforce ‘oversight’ based on the idea that management equates to control.

2. connections that would have happened in the office need to be made more deliberately

Remote working does shift the dynamic between how you interact with one another. Unlike when everyone is in the office, people cannot simply get together to chat, or have a quick catch up via the water cooler. As such, having things like informal online chats and where appropriate, more team check-in via web calls may be a useful way to ensure people are working with one another across the whole team. Similarly in larger organisations it becomes trickier to highlight who does what in outside teams, so it is worth making extra efforts to invite other colleagues into your team meetings or encouraging internal coffee connects to build connections outside of your immediate team.

3. Remote working is one thing, remote working during covid is another

Whilst working remotely has worked better than probably many of us expected, there are still additional issues we should consider in the wider context of COVID-19. I particularly relate this to the additional element of your pastoral care of your staff . The additional stress on parents having to home school their children has already been visible, and weighing this up with work responsibilities has personally been a challenge when managing my staff.

However, you should also take the time to speak with your staff on how they are feeling even if they aren’t parents. In particular, carers and BAME staff are likely to feel additional strain due to the higher vulnerability rate they have. It can also be tricky for each of us as individuals in different ways (e.g. someone religious who enjoys going to church may have found it difficult to no longer be able to do so) so it is important to ensure wellbeing of your staff (and yourself!) is a regular topic of conversation. So do remember to be compassionate with your staff, and continue to do so even as the lockdown continues!

If you are someone who has been shifted into managing remotely, how have you found it, and what are the tips you would share?

Three tips on how to influence seniors

Have you wanted to press ahead on a certain project or direction? In the modern workplace, you often don’t get very far unless you get agreement from your seniors. We have all experienced the disappointment of having that ‘great idea’ only to not get it passed our seniors. So how can we learn from this experience to get a more optimal outcome? As a D&I lead I regularly work with senior leaders to positively influence change, however I don’t get very far unless I make my work relevant to them! Here are some of my top tips:

1. Understand what your senior leadership priorities are, and learn to fit your projects within them.

You work within a team where your manager, or manager’s manager has wider oversight. That means they should have an understanding of what you do and how it ties into the wider picture, right?

Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple. Senior leaders have to balance different priorities, so whilst something may seem very important to you, this might be far lower down in the priority list for them. For example, you may want to get a quick HR decision agreed to set how you or your team is organised, however they may be in the midst of agreeing the details of a key priority project whilst balancing this with wider team expectations. As such, your request will probably not be the most urgent.

So rather than going all guns blazing when they have plenty on their plate, consider waiting for an optimal time to pose the question, or better yet, frame this in terms of their wider priorities – have they previously committed to inclusive practices? Set out your ask within the wider decisions that they have previously made to make the decision far easier for them and more relevant to their wider decision making.

2. Demonstrate your competence and establish trust in your ability to deliver

The higher you go up the leadership chain, the higher importance on your senior leaders ability to successfully delegate. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to agree with your recommendations that they can be confident are well-judged.

So how do you get to the point where you are trusted by your seniors? By demonstrating your value. Ensure you are doing work to a good quality and showing your positive impact where possible. Better yet, demonstrate that you have done the hard graft and used evidence to come to a proposed solution (showing numbers always helps convince people!). Doing this makes a big difference compared to coming to your senior leaders asking what to do. This will set a positive dynamic where they can take your advice rather than feeling they need to direct you.

3. Remember that senior leaders are humans too!

We often exalt senior leaders as mythical beings that are beyond us mere mortals. In reality, seniors live and breath just as we do. It’s important to remember that, particularly if you feel a bit nervous pitching something to them! As such, wider communication and influencing basics like establishing rapport still apply. Like any human, seniors respond positively to someone who is pleasant – there is no harm and saying hello and asking how they are to establish rapport.

Don’t forget, your senior leader will have their own individual interests that you can use to tie into and build a connection. For example, does your boss have a technology background and is enthused by innovation? Try tying in these elements when speaking with them to get yourself some additional brownie points. Like any human being, building a connection with your seniors will make them more favourable to your views.

These are the three points I abide by when working with senior stakeholders. What are yours?