Sunday, 29 May 2016

Star Gazing

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
An apt observation, made by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American philosophical writer.

Work is frequently demanding and can be stressful. However, in my experience, things can usually be made easier through the support and understanding of others. If you raise your head from the silo in which you operate, try to put yourself in colleagues’ shoes (in particular make the effort to consider the struggle of those who work in different areas), and offer to help, you and they are likely to benefit. In the organisation I joined near the end of last year, we are going through a period of significant change and this has to be achieved at pace. During the past six months (that’s how long I’ve been there now) we have designed and run our first employee survey (with a 76% response rate - not bad when most people had been discouraged in the past from voicing their opinions). We wanted to determine the main areas of concern across the business (as well as raising awareness of the good things we need to celebrate and share – we had some world-leading results, for example 83% for being a friendly place to work).
Friendship is important; it has the ability to enhance health and wellbeing – research has shown that being in a strained relationship can extend the time it takes for physical wounds to heal and it can also have an impact on a business’ bottom line - Gallup research shows that employee engagement can be increased by up to 50% when people have a close friend at work, with those individuals with a “best friend” at work being seven times more likely to engage fully in their role, responsibilities and broader environment. 
In January we held a two-day Group conference, open to anyone who wanted to attend, to discuss matters raised and to ask people to become actively involved in enhancing our business and our clients’ experience. Nearly 20% of the company have put themselves forward, to play a role in addition to their day jobs. Each volunteer has stated the areas of required change in which they are interested. The table debate facilitators from the conferences have been brought together as team coordinators and given training in how to project manage, interact with stakeholders, build enthusiasm and maintain their personal resilience. Each change theme has an executive team sponsor (and the sponsor is responsible for an area that is NOT their usual day job – so, for example, the executive championing Reward and Recognition is usually busy with asset management). The executive top team came to meet with their core support groups on the second day of the training and one executive commented to me afterwards that “it was marvellous” but that he felt like he had “entered a parallel universe”. He was energised by their enthusiasm (being honest, much of his and my current day job is grinding hard work) and it gave him greater optimism for the future. He should not have been so surprised. People are social and, provided that they feel supported, they will want to work together to build a better future. Who goes to work with the intention of doing a bad job or wishing to be unhappy?
As some of you know, I am finding life challenging at the moment, and I am happy to confess that it is my friends who are making it bearable. They are my stars. Over the past few weeks, a cherished few have made regular contact with me to check that I’m OK. Their concern and thoughtfulness has humbled me. They haven’t sought me out because they have to, they’ve done it because they care and that is the sign of true friendship. They know that I am juggling difficult things in my home-life, as well as a demanding new job. They have offered to help and to carry some of the load. They can’t cure my mother; support my autistic or troubled sisters; enable my father to recover; be a mother to my sons sitting life-changing exams; mend my car and hold my home together, but they can help me remain resilient and give me advice and encouragement. 
There is truth to the statement “A friend in need is a friend in deed” (please note that it is “in deed” and not “indeed” – a true friend is one who is prepared to act to show it). Some of my friends significantly have gone the extra mile (in one case soon-to-be literally) and offered to put themselves personally out for me – for example, I have pledged to go to Uganda in September as part of Connect HR Africa, but, at present, due to needing physically to care for a number of close relatives scattered across the UK, and hence spending my non-work hours fully utilised, I am failing to find time to fundraise – Doug Shaw, who is neither a confident nor a regular swimmer, has volunteered to undertake a sponsored 2000 metre (so just over a mile) swim at the start of July. Doug, who made friends with me shortly after the death of his father, really appreciates the value of family and empathises with my current struggle. His offer to secure funding for Retrak on my behalf (more details to follow) is extraordinary. Another cherished friend has offered to auction himself (or rather his skills) as a way of raising funds – I am amazed at their generosity.
I am equally amazed, but delighted at the generosity of strangers (and probably some friends) who nominated me for the People Management Power List – the HR Top 20 on social media. The final list was determined from nominees proposed by members of the public from around the world. Over the years that I have been active on social media, I have got to know most of the people on the list and I am honoured, and a little surprised, to be there with them. I am extremely grateful to those who put my name forward, but I am not very comfortable with being seen as a peer of the others on the list – they are an inspirational collection of people and I encourage you to follow them. Each has at some stage over the years inspired, advised or encouraged me. I assure you that my comments are not false modesty (and I am aware of Imposter Syndrome), but I know too well my own frailty and limitations. Perhaps that is where friends come back into this
“We always see our worst selves. Our most vulnerable selves. We need someone else to tell us we’re wrong. Someone we trust.”
David Levithan - author
 Social media has, for many, myself included, provided a route to new friendships. We do not choose our work colleagues; they, like us, are there to do a job. Nor do we choose our family. We cannot choose our followers on social media, but we can select those with whom we wish to connect and communicate. I have a treasured collection of contacts all of whom I know I can call on and whose judgement and advice I trust. It works and, just like in the off-line world, that is because we are prepared to make time for each other. Humans are social creatures and, as Robert Frost’s poem “A Time to Talk” (published in 1920) shows, friendship demands time, respect and the ability to take advantage of moments when offered: 
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
If you make time for friends (both on and offline) then they will make time for you and they will be there when you need them. This post is my way of saying “thank you” to some special people – you know who you are. Just knowing that you are there is making all the difference. You are my stars.
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”
Helen Keller (American deaf & blind humanitarian, author and political activist.)

(At present I am driving 3 hours to and from my mother at least one night each week to take food and provisions, as she cannot cope with on-line deliveries. Each time I stop near her house and gaze at the Milky Way and thank my lucky stars.)

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