Research shows that freedom and control at work might just save your life.

Autonomy is recognised as one of the core motivations people have in the workplace. With greater freedom and control over the way we perform our work comes higher levels of motivation and commitment. Recent research suggests that greater job control also improves our health and reduces our likelihood of dying over a seven year period. Autonomy isn't just motivating - it might just save your life. 

We've traditionally seen stress as a killer - that high job demands have a negative impact on our health. But this research shows that this isn't always the case. In fact, job demands can sometimes help improve our health. 

Researchers* used a Wisconsin longitudinal study to track people over a seven year period to explore the relationships between job factors and health. They looked at the impact of job demands (including workload and time pressure) and control (the freedom an individual feels they can exert over their job) on health outcomes.

For jobs where people had low control, the research showed that high job demands did negatively impact health outcomes. In fact, the odds of dying over the seven year period increased by 15%. For those who did make it through the seven years, this combination led to an increase in body mass index. In short, a demanding job where you feel little control is bad for your health.

Interestingly, for jobs where people had high control, high job demands were linked to a 34% decrease in the odds of dying over the same period. Higher job demands actually had positive health outcomes provided people had control over their work.

So what does this mean for leaders? Here are two ideas. 

  1. Seek out and provide autonomy: We know that autonomy motivates - people love having freedom and control over their work. Seek out more freedom in your own work. Negotiate greater flexibility and build your sense of control over the work you perform. If you're a leader, provide your team with more freedom. Give them opportunities to vary the way they perform their work. Manage them around the results they produce rather than how they produce results. 
  2. Challenge yourself and others: Seek out greater accountability. Once you have control, it's important to ensure you are stretched and challenged. As a leader, provide your team with greater accountability alongside the greater authority you've granted. Discuss the goals people have, and vary the work to capitalise on what motivates your people. 

Autonomy and challenge aren't just good for business - they're good for our health too!


*Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control with Mortality

Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, Bethany Cockburn 2016 Personnel Psychology

Motivating... on a Budget

Motivating employees on a budget is a key challenge for the Not For Profit sector in Australia. Wage growth is at the lowest level since the Australian Bureau of Statistics started recording data in 1998, with the Wage Price Index currently sitting around 2%. In addition, State, Territory and Federal governments are seeking to reduce expenditure, leading to funding constraints within the sector. With wage growth barely keeping up with consumer price increases, there is a risk that employees are feeling short changed. They’re simply not seeing the salary increases that were available as recently as 2012 when the Wage Price Index was around 4%.

Given that context, here are five ways you can motivate your employees on a limited budget.

1.    Develop a reward strategy
A reward strategy does not need to be complex. At the core of an effective reward strategy are the answers to two questions: “What do we reward?” and “How do we reward?”. Most Boards and CEOs haven't consciously considered what they reward within their organisation. Rather, an informal approach to reward is developed over time. The easiest way to identify what we reward is to look at the organisation’s policies and practices around pay. In many cases organisations primarily reward tenure - the longer you stay with an organisation, the more you get paid. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s also worth considering whether you’d like to reward the performance, capability and contribution of individual employees.  Having a discussion about what we want to reward is a helpful way to ensure your leaders and managers on the same page. This might include agreeing what outstanding performance looks like, and deciding how this should be rewarded.

2.    Review and benchmark remuneration
An important step in making the most of a limited salary budget is to examine the internal consistency and external competitiveness of pay. Internal consistency looks at roles of similar responsibility and complexity to determine how consistently people are rewarded. Salary surveys provide an opportunity to understand how we pay compared to the broader salary market. This provides helpful context for determining any changes that might be required to keep pace with the market within funding constraints.

3.    Build clarity and a feedback culture
People are motivated by a sense of purpose. We long to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to understand how our roles contribute to that broader vision. Goal setting and performance feedback provide a great way of understanding how we are contributing to the success of the organisation. Cloud-based performance management software such as PeopleGoal ( provides a fantastic way to build clarity and a feedback culture by allowing people to link their goals to those of the organisation, gather feedback from various sources and capture the outcomes of performance conversations. Employees can also use the system to recognise each other informally through social recognition. The relatively cheap per-user pricing of such software helps make it accessible to many organisations that would have found traditional performance management systems to be out of their reach. 

4.    Leadership team recognition
Recognition from a leadership team can have a large impact on employee motivation, especially when the reward is unexpected. It can be a very effective way to recognise your most outstanding employees. If you set aside just 0.5% of the salary budget to recognise 10% of staff, it equates to a 5% opportunity for the individual. The leadership team can then decide on a monthly or quarterly basis who the outstanding performers are, and what level of recognition they should receive. The outcome might be a payment, funding conference attendance, or something different altogether.

5.    Manager recognition
Managers have a significant impact on how it feels to work for an organisation. We can help equip managers by providing them with a modest budget for ad hoc recognition of their employees. This could include vouchers, experiences or gifts. While these are typically liable to Fringe Benefits Tax and require some guidance as to appropriate use, a relatively small expenditure can have a significant impact on the individual when combined with positive feedback and appreciation.

Trapped or Loyal? Trust is the Key to True Customer Loyalty.

I recently spoke at the 8th Loyalty Summit in Mumbai which focused mainly on the theme of customer loyalty. My presentation was about the clear links between employee engagement and customer loyalty, and how managers are central to building customer loyalty. Preparing for the conference caused me to reflect on my own experiences of customer loyalty. Were there any particular organisations that I was loyal to as a customer? And, if so, why?

I recalled my first experience of a loyalty program. I remember sitting in a stifling hot Australian classroom as an eight year old, enduring a representative from a bank espousing the benefits of saving and compound interest. It would be fair to say that the bank probably hadn't chosen their best speaker for the task, and the room of children were starting to lose interest. It was at that point that the man from the bank revealed a secret weapon. If we signed up for a savings account, we would receive a money box. Now, as an eight year old a money box is about as exciting as life gets. The loyalty program worked, and I signed up for an account.

Now that could have been the end of the story, but some 34 years later I'm still a customer with the same bank. In fact I do all my banking with that same bank, including for the business and some insurance as well. It's fair to say that the bank recouped the cost of their money box gift many times over. In fact, I found a similar money box in the bedroom of my nine year old son - the strategy hasn't changed!

But am I a loyal customer? On the surface I am. I've been with the bank for a long time. I use a range of products and services. I use these services almost daily. But, to be honest, I feel more 'trapped' than 'loyal'. It has just been too hard to change banks, and the bank hasn't annoyed me enough to force me to change. That doesn't really sound like loyalty. 

I contrasted that with my loyalty to a watch brand - Longines. For a period of time I took to eBay with a singular focus - to buy circa 1950 Longines watches from overseas and resell them locally on eBay. The idea was that I'd add a better description and photos, and make a bit of a profit. Clearly not enough profit to retire, but a bit of fun nonetheless. The challenge was to find out more about the watches I bought to add a more complete description.

Well, I thought, why not try the Longines website. So I simply used the 'contact us' link to ask what they could tell me about a particular watch based on its serial number. I honestly didn't expect any response - perhaps a 'thanks for your query, but we can't help you'. But within a few hours a response came back from a guy named Russell. It turns out that Russell worked for Longines in Switzerland and also quite liked the watches they produced across the 1950s. He had gone into the paper archives (I'm picturing the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark), tracked down the paperwork and emailed me the production date, the sale date and even the name and address of the store that originally sold the watch. Pretty impressive record keeping, but even more impressive service. Over the next year or so Russell and I swapped details of watches, requiring him to take frequent trips into the paper archives. As a result, I would describe myself as a loyal customer of Longines. 

So what was it that made me loyal to Longines but not to my bank? Well, Russell was customer-focused. But importantly that customer-focus came from a genuine passion for the business and its products. He genuinely wanted to help me out, even though his company wasn't making a cent from my trading of second-hand watches. He was a passionate advocate for his business, and clearly engaged with his work. I trusted Russell. He provided good advice rather than trying to flog me a new watch. 

And the research supports this - loyal customers are produced where there is trust, great service, and engaged employees. The trust element is crucial - that's the difference your sales and customer service staff can make. But we also know that sales and customer service staff are typically amongst the least engaged with their work. Our challenge as leaders is to serve these frontline staff well - to ensure they are engaged with their work, aligned with the direction of the business, and committed to customers. That comes back to managers - they're the ones in the box seat to create an environment where trust and engagement flourish.

It turns out that Russell did have a great manager - a manager who presumably trusted that his trips down into the paper archives were worthwhile in furthering customer loyalty. Perhaps if there was a Russell at my bank they would have been able to gain true loyalty from me as a customer. The impact of a person like that trumps any reward points they might throw my way.  

So what about your organisation? Are your customers loyal or trapped? Do your managers inspire your frontline staff to further customer loyalty by building trust? Helping managers to understand the links between management styles, employee engagement and customer loyalty might be just what they need. Every business could do with another Russell. 

One way to stand out from the crowd.

Looking for that next job can be hard. You spend time dressing up your resume and putting together cover letters, but are still not sure if it will be enough to get you through to an interview. And once you do have an interview scheduled, you worry about whether you’ll answer the questions well and say the right things. It can end up feeling like we’re playing a game where we don’t know the rules, or even where the goals are! Thankfully there is one relatively simple principle that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager for the moment. What is it that they want? Obviously they want to hire someone who can do the job well. But how can you prove to them that you’re up to the challenge? Inherent in any recruitment decision is risk - risk that the person isn’t right for the job or can’t actually do what they said they could do. As the candidate, there is an opportunity to help reduce this risk. The more we can provide actual evidence of our capability and experience, the better.

The principle that makes all the difference when reducing risk is “past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour”. It’s hard not to say this without a Dr Phil drawl - it was one of the TV host’s favourite catch phrases. But the principle does ring true. The best predictor of how someone will behave in a particular situation is what they have done in similar situations in the past. Applying this principle to recruitment led to the rise of behavioural interviewing.

You’ve probably been through a behavioural interview before. The interviewer asks you to provide specific examples of how you’ve approached situations in the past. For example “Tell me about a time when you’ve dealt with a difficult customer” would lead you to talk about an actual time when you’ve done just that. The interviewer then explores how you approached the situation and the outcome. As a hiring manager, you’re always going to be more confident in the person who can describe what they have actually done, versus the person who speaks hypothetically about what they would do. Even when an interviewer asks you for a hypothetical example about what you might do in a situation, you’re always going to be more convincing if you provide an actual example of when you’ve done it before. In this way we can help reduce the risk as perceived by the manager who is conducting the interview. So make sure you prepare for an interview by considering relevant examples of where you’ve demonstrated the kinds of capabilities that are required for the role. Having half a dozen examples up your sleeve will help you to demonstrate that you’re up for the challenge of the job.

But providing evidence of our relevant experience and capability doesn’t have to be limited to the interview. Many people make the mistake of using their resume to simply describe the jobs they have had in the past. The resume reads like cut and pasted sections of position descriptions. For a hiring manager, this brings with it a whole lot of risk. How do I know they were any good at that job? Did they ever go beyond what was required? How does this relate to the role I’m hiring for? Applying our principle to resumes means that actual examples are always going to be more compelling than simply listing job responsibilities. You might list some of the successes that you’ve had in each role, or perhaps how you have made an extra contribution to the organisation over and above just doing your job. It is important in this process to always keep the hiring manager in mind. Think about using tailored examples that best relate to the role you’re applying for, rather than simply printing off the same resume for every job. You might also highlight some of the key examples through your cover letter.

Reducing risk for the hiring manager is about using clear and compelling examples of how you’ve already demonstrated the capabilities required for the role. I trust these ideas will help you stand out from the crowd for the next role you apply for.

Staff meetings that work - the cure for performance appraisal phobia!

People hate performance appraisals. Okay, maybe that's a generalisation - there might be 1% of people out there that get excited about sitting down for that typically 6 monthly or 12 monthly review of their performance with their manager. And there's probably 1% of managers who also look forward to conducting performance appraisals with their team members. But performance appraisals are one of those 'must do' activities that both managers and team members tend to dislike.

To counteract this, we often focus on the performance appraisal process and content. Making sure we look not just at results ('what' they achieve), but also 'how' the person approaches their work and interacts with customers and colleagues. We might try to gather feedback from multiple sources. We might try to balance discussions about the year past with time to think about the year ahead. But we still tend to run into these pitfalls:

  • The appraisal is a high stakes 'event' which tends to add pressure to both the manager and team member
  • The manager and team member haven't built a strong relationship, which tends to reduce the quality of feedback and the likelihood of acceptance
  • There's a lack of focus and unclear goals around the job - by the time we discover this during the appraisal it's too late to do anything about the year that has gone by
  • It's a one-way conversation with too much pressure placed on one person - typically (but not always) the manager - to drive the process
  • Feedback isn't balanced - we either focus too much on the positives or on constructive/corrective feedback
I think the answer is actually pretty simple. It's about having 1:1 meeting structures that make performance discussions a more frequent occurrence, and that address the issues above. 

I recommend having monthly 1:1 meetings with team members, along with monthly team meetings as a group (more on the team meetings another time). I scheduled these meetings in our calendars and they took priority over the other day-to-day issues that might come up.

The structure for 1:1 meetings below is what I've found to work with people and teams that I've managed. You might want to vary this structure, but hopefully it will provide some ideas for you to think about.

1:1 Meeting Agenda

  • What you're currently doing well
  • What you think you need to work on

Training and development


Action items
  • Review previous month
  • Any new items

The expectation with this monthly 1:1 meeting format is that both the manager and the team member come to the meeting prepared. Both will think about performance - what's going well, and where the person might need to focus more attention. The meeting provides a chance to discuss these areas. We can also focus on the priorities that we see for the coming month. This often helps to clarify differing expectations. Sometimes the team member might highlight a priority the manager wasn't aware of. Sometimes the manager might be able to clarify a priority that the team member isn't placing enough emphasis on. Each month we can look at training and development - not just formal training, but opportunities to be exposed to new parts of the business or to shadow another team member in their work. 'Other' really covers anything else the manager or team member want to discuss. It might include frustrations or challenges the team member is facing that the manager can help to 'unblock'. It might include updates needed to the position description to reflect changes in the accountabilities of the role. We then discuss any action items noted from the last meeting, or add any new items that the manager or team member need to follow up. 

After each meeting I then typed up some brief notes under each of these areas and shared these with the team member in a document. This document grew across the year, with each meeting as a new page. This document formed the main input into the formal performance appraisal. By doing this, the annual performance appraisal became little more than a confirmation of what had been discussed through the year. Any areas that weren't clear had already been discussed. It reduced the pressure on both me and my team members, and helped us to explore career and development opportunities on a more frequent basis.

I found these monthly 1:1 meetings something to look forward to. They were a great chance to better understand my team members that I relied upon to produce results. I hope you find these ideas helpful in improving your ability to manager performance of your team members across the year.

The best thing about working here? It's the people...

I've been working with employee surveys for nearly 20 years now. If you've been in the workforce for a while, it might feel like you've spent a similar amount of time filling out employee surveys! Thankfully using a more focused approach and better analysis techniques means employee surveys can be a lot shorter than they used to be. One thing that hasn't changed is that most employee surveys include an open-ended question that goes something like this - "What do you see as the best thing about working here?"  

People write about all sorts of things when they are asked to consider that single best thing about working for their organisation. Some say "my manager". Some say "flexibility". It's pretty rare for people to mention "the office layout", "pay" or "meetings". In fact, one of the most frequent answers is "the people". And to be honest that used to frustrate me. After all the effort leaders put in to planning, rewarding, communicating and managing, the best thing you can think of is "the people"?!? I used to think “What can a leader possibly do about that?  Is the takeaway for leaders that they just need to hire nice people?"

But over time I've started to appreciate the business lesson for leaders that sits beneath this response. That perhaps the best thing about working at your organisation being "the people" does serve a purpose, and is something that you as a leader can influence. 

When you talk to employees about why "the people" matter so much, they often talk about the importance of working with "nice" people. People who are friendly and accepting of others. And people who will go out of their way to help you, even when it's not in their job description. In contrast, people will leave an otherwise great organisation where people aren't "nice" - where bad behaviour is tolerated and an individualistic "win at all costs" attitude prevails. 

When you speak to leaders about diversity, everyone knows that the textbook "correct" answer is "the more diversity, the better". Diversity has a lot of benefits for organisations - it helps your organisation to think in new ways, to be able to relate more effectively to a broader range of customers or clients, to be more nimble in responding to change - in short, to produce better results. But, if we're honest, a diverse workforce is much harder to manage than a non-diverse workforce (I'd say "homogeneous" instead of "non-diverse", but it still sounds to me like something you do to milk). 

The key to capitalising on diversity is actually "inclusion" - to what extent does your organisation (and you can substitute "your organisation" with "your people") accept others who are different? You can recruit a diverse workforce, but without inclusion it's a recipe for conflict, distraction and reduced performance. If your organisation and it's people aren't inclusive, you'd likely be better off avoiding diversity at all costs. And "inclusion" isn't a policy or document - it IS your people. It's also not how quickly we can force new people to become like us - it's how quickly the organisation can accept difference and build on the new resources a diverse workforce brings. 

Why is the response of "the people" so important? Why is it the best thing about working here for so many people? It's because the people are supportive and inclusive. They make you feel like you belong. They make you feel like this is a place where you can contribute and make a difference. The benefit for the organisation is actually collaboration. Inclusion and support breaks down the silos in your organisation. It helps to deliver results that the sum of individuals never could.  At our core we are social animals, and the connections we make at work have the potential to motivate us in a way that yet another meeting or presentation never could. 

As a leader there are a few things you might consider:

  • To what extent do we have an inclusive culture? Do we put up with people who don't "play nicely with others" (as a client once described it)? Or is that kind of bad behaviour something that our culture rejects even when the person in question is hitting all their targets?
  • As a leader, what can I do to build a supportive and inclusive culture? What's something practical I can do to model this to my team, and to recognise and reward it in others?
  • Do we really appreciate diversity? If not, what might be the preconceptions and biases amongst our otherwise well-meaning people that are getting in the way?
Recognise that many of your employees will see the best thing about working for your organisation as "the people". Sometimes that means overlooking the slightly longer lunch break, or the bit-too-loud conversation in the kitchen. It might mean considering an idea that initially seems to be too “out there” to be practical. It might even mean dragging yourself along to sing happy birthday around a cake when all you want to do is finish off some work. "The people" matter. Support and inclusion matter. They're not just "nice to haves" - they're core business.  

Retaining Generation Y? Help Build their CV.

Leaders are struggling to retain talented younger employees. Many leaders are quick to decry what they see as Generation Y’s lack of loyalty and commitment. As I’ve noted elsewhere though, generational differences are often overstated and don’t necessarily help in predicting or explaining individual preferences. However it’s easy to see how the corporate downsizing that has impacted family and friends has taught this generation that employee loyalty may not be reciprocated by employers. Add to this Generation Y's high levels of education and mobility, and you have a recipe for high turnover.

So is it all about bean bags, bright colours and free food? Well, making offices more ‘cool’ only goes so far. Some organisations try to take these surface elements (from organisations that are known for their ability to attract and retain Gen Y’s) and inject them into their own offices. Like all transplants though, they’re often rejected. Cool offices are an outworking of the culture of organisations – they’re not the driver of the culture. Likewise pay doesn't guarantee longer tenure – you can read more about why here.

There is a practical way to help retain Generation Y employees. While it sounds counterintuitive, helping workers to grow and build their CV can make them more likely to stay with your organisation. 'Mastery', or developing additional skills and experience, is a major source of workplace motivation (see more here). As a manager, you can consciously help your people to develop skills and experience that matter to them. In addition, you can help employees to recognise the development and progress that they are making.

During your regular meetings with your people, make sure you set aside some time to identify what further development is of interest. Also spend time looking back at the previous month or quarter to identify the new skills and experience that they have gained. Help them to summarise this experience in a way that will fit into a CV or LinkedIn profile.

By highlighting and increasing their employability, you will be able to demonstrate the value staying with the organisation will have on their development. And the approach also works across all employees. For example, as people approach retirement, providing them with skills that will help them to pick up part time roles (if that's what they want) will also be attractive.

Achieving this at an organisational level requires managers who can have skilled discussions with employees. This is likely to involve some investment in skill development for managers as well. But, as we’ve seen, this development may also help to retain your managers.

Best Practice? Here's a Brochure...

So you're thinking about 'best practice' for your organisation, and start looking around. It won't be long before you stumble across brochures from all sorts of consulting firms highlighting their version of 'best practice' and what it could deliver. When thinking about implementing 'best practice' in your organisation (and indeed whether it will be 'best practice' for you), it's helpful to explore the different roles of consultants and academics. It also helps to appreciate that 'best practice' for your organisation is unlikely to be found in a brochure.

Consultants, and the firms they work for, are primarily driven by the pursuit of 'practical benefit' (oh - and money). They therefore invest in developing approaches that help organisations to produce better results - and that's a good thing. Without this investment, a lot of what we know about organisations and how they operate wouldn't exist. These approaches provide practical guidance to leaders in how to achieve results. In order to protect the advantage their approaches provide, consulting firms hide them from competitors and from organisations who aren't willing to pay to use the approach. And, because of the significant investment it takes to come up with a new approach and all the supporting materials, they will only change their approach if they really have to - even maintaining an approach in the face of contrary evidence. And they're also unable to build on the good work that a competitor may have produced.

Academics are driven by pursuit of 'the truth' (oh - and being published, which leads to money). They want to know what best 'explains' or 'predicts' things we can observe in organisations. This approach means that what they develop must be open to scrutiny and to be built on by others. It also means they tend to focus on quite specific issues or questions - something where there can be a clear 'answer'. Academic ideas about 'best practice' will change over time - that's an important part of explaining and predicting. Academics also tend to only tell you when something 'works', but it is possible for others to demonstrate that it doesn't work, or that the idea can be improved. The researchers themselves are inclined to improve their ideas to make sure they're 'correct'. The problem with this level of detail and focus is that it's, well, boring. You can read an article and think 'so what' due to the lack of immediate practical application. The research is still important though, as it may be building towards something that does actually matter in practice, or perhaps it contributes to part of a bigger picture.

So that's great - you want your organisation to improve, and one way to do that is to apply the best thinking to your organisation and its leaders. How can you practically do that without buying into 'fads' and without scaring people off with 'theory'?

Armstrong and Miller give us an insight into this dilemma of explaining and applying scientific theory in this comedy sketch:

Here are some tips for applying 'theory' to your organisation:
  • Start with business priorities first - Is this theory relevant to our business priorities?
  • Ensure there's a demonstrable practical benefit - Will applying this approach actually help?
  • Ensure there's relevance to your people and their work - Will this help address the needs of the 'end users'?
  • Examine other perspectives - What do others think?
  • Create, or build on, a common language - Does this help us to understand and communicate with each other more effectively?
  • Balance 'ours' versus 'best practice' - Are we better to customise this to our organisation, or keep the approach unchanged?
  • Involve leaders early - How can we ensure implementing the change is 'done with' instead of 'done to' leaders?
  • Have the approach 'sold' by leaders who have experienced it - How can our leaders champion the new approach?
So what are the main priorities for leaders in your organisation? What have you read, seen or heard recently that you could apply to help leaders meet this priority?

Why You'll Never Retire...

What if you never retired? No really... forget about retirement for a moment - let's just assume that you'll never retire. What would you do differently? How would you spend your life right now if retirement wasn't guaranteed?

People seem obsessed with working towards retirement, despite it being a relatively recent invention (1880's in Germany in case you were interested, and they set the initial retirement age at 70 years old). And life being a predictably unpredictable thing means that making it to retirement isn't guaranteed. In fact, most retirement ages around the world were set to be a close match to the life expectancy of the time. As life expectancy has dramatically increased, the retirement age has remained largely unchanged.

The concept of retirement comes with some drawbacks. For a start it is expensive. People need to save to fund retirement, so will compromise their current life to provide some 'security' for the future. While this makes sense to a degree from an economic perspective, many end up leading an overly compromised 45 year work life, in the hope of 10-15 years of retirement while they're physically fit enough to enjoy it. 

What about if you worked for 55-60 years instead and didn't retire, but tried to make the most of each year instead? Well, that only makes sense if you enjoy what you're doing. In fact, you wouldn't settle for a job that you didn't find rewarding in a true sense - instead you would seek out (or even create) a career that was truly rewarding. You would find ways to extend your career beyond the typical retirement age. You would identify options for work that would allow for changes in your health and mobility. You would keep on learning and staying up to date to ensure you could continue to be of value to others. You would make a greater effort to stay fit. And I suspect you would be less 'old' in your outlook and ability. In fact, you may not end up being that 'old' at all!

We have three sons aged 9 and under, and so made a conscious decision to have 'outdoor' holidays as much as possible (those with young kids might relate!).  We bought a caravan a few years back because it suited our needs as a young family, and have travelled all over Australia. The other demographic group that enjoys travelling in caravans is retired people. As a result, I've had plenty of opportunities to chat with retired people about their views on life. A regular comment from the retired people I've met is "I wish we had done this when we were your age - I wish we had taken the time to travel and enjoy life more with the kids when we were younger". These conversations have helped shape the way I run my business, the way I work, how I spend my time, and ultimately my desire to never retire (check in with me in 30 years or so!). Instead I've been planned, fortunate and disciplined enough to live a life that I genuinely enjoy, and that I feel I could sustain for a number of decades to come. Sure - that has meant some compromises. I don't have a regular pay cheque (or 'check' for US readers) that turns up each month. But I have quantity time with the ones I love (I don't buy the 'quality time' concept either), and I spend my time doing things that I enjoy and that I find rewarding. That kind of sounds like retirement, eh? And surely where you spend your time is a measure of what's most important to you. 

So maybe that's fine for a 40 year old, but is it really reasonable for those joining the work force to find a job they love? Well, maybe not - at least not straight away. I've had some pretty diverse jobs that weren't always fantastic. But I have learnt a lot through each job. My passion has unfolded over time and with hard work. So don't expect that first job to be perfect (or the second, or the third). Work hard, keep learning and be flexible, and you might just find that perfect job and wonderful career emerges from the most unexpected places. 

So, you might read this and want to examine your priorities and how you spend your time. If so, please email me ( and I will send you a worksheet that will help you to examine your purpose and values. Working through this may assist in clarifying where you want to head. 

In conclusion, a healthy and happy retirement isn't guaranteed, so why live your life as if it is?

Top Six Tips to Improve Any Employee Survey...

It's very easy to run an employee survey. In my opinion, it's far too easy to run an employee survey! Something that used to require a fair degree of technical understanding, planning and investment can now be done on Survey Monkey (or a similar online survey system) in a matter of minutes at almost no direct cost. While this has made surveying far easier, more reliable and more cost effective, many organisations have become overrun by employee surveys ranging from 'great' through to 'destructive' (in fact - that would make a brilliant rating scale - please rate your manager on a scale from 'great' through to 'destructive'). Here are six reminders of ways in which you can improve any employee survey. 

1. Survey what really matters... really.
Employee surveys work best when there's a sponsor who can establish a clear purpose for the survey. Once people hear that you're conducting an employee survey, they will start making requests such as "can you just add a question or two about this" or "great - we can roll in the other survey that we conduct on this". The risk is that the survey blows out and lacks a consistent theme or purpose. Having a clear purpose and defined sponsor enables you to make decisions about what (and what not) to include in the survey. Surveys need to be short and focused. If the survey takes more than 10 minutes to complete, you'll start losing people. And it's always better to have more people complete fewer questions than vice versa.

2. Communicate communicate communicate. And when you're done with that, why not communicate again?
Now you have established a clear purpose for the survey, it's time to start letting people know about it. During the weeks leading up to the survey, it's important to communicate the purpose of the survey (i.e. why I should complete this), the level of commitment to action (i.e. what will be done with the results), and the confidentiality of responses and how this will be assured (i.e. who will see the results, how much detail they will see, and the independence or otherwise of the person conducting the survey). 

3. Survey what you're prepared and able to change.
It's important to only survey about areas that you are genuinely willing and able to change. Once you ask about an area, whether it be as important as the relationship with a manager or as pedestrian as the brand of coffee provided in the staff room, you have raised an expectation that something will change. People naturally equate 'having my say' with 'getting my way'. You need to manage this natural reaction through communication, and by only asking about areas you're willing to address and change.

4. Open ended opportunities.
Open ended or free text questions provide opportunities for people to add any other areas of interest or importance to them. You can never fully anticipate every possible area of interest to employees. Open ended questions can be used to provide helpful suggestions (e.g. What one change would have the most significant impact on your satisfaction?), or allow you to clarify your employee brand (e.g. What's the best part of working for this organisation?).  They also help ensure that people feel they've had every opportunity to express their opinion or bring their perspective. 

5. Start with the final report first.
Survey design typically starts with the proposed survey questions. It's actually better to start with the final report first. What exactly is it that we want to explore? What's the best way of presenting this data?  Starting with the final report helps you to confirm what really matters, and also confirms that your questions will give you the kind of information that you're after.

6. Do something with the results.
When you're conducting an employee survey it's critical that you intend to take action. Link initiatives back to the survey whenever you have the opportunity. Let people know how their opinions are shaping the direction of the organisation and how results are achieved. But most importantly, do something! Even if you don't have all the answers, let people know how you will be exploring potential options or gathering further data. 

Employee surveys can be a powerful vehicle for change in an organisation. Hopefully these tips will help improve your survey. Oh, and as a final point, don't forget that sometimes you just need to go and speak to people! Don't ever let a survey get in the way of genuine communication.