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People are striking because they want to do a better job.

It will not have escaped your attention we have an epidemic of strikes.  This last week has seen the largest scale industrial action for over 10 years.  in recent weeks we have seen teachers, train drivers, ambulance staff, NHS, and university staff, the list is long, and getting longer.  Much is being discussed, publicly, professionally, and politically.  We are debating the right to strike or not, the ability of the government to prevent them or not, and the scale of impact of strikes on other sectors.  We are curious about their timing, their aim and purpose, and their effects.  Many have asked ‘why people are taking action?’  I am not sure there is a convincing consensus.  We cannot seem to agree on a consistent conclusion.

What strikes me (pun intended) is that sometimes it is around pay, often terms and conditions, some is around the type of work people are doing, the status of it, its level of recognition, the scale of workload, and working conditions.  There isn’t a single narrative here.  Wage inflation has certainly grown out of step with general inflation, the way in which we work, and want to work, has shifted exponentially over the past generation, the workforce appears smaller in a post Brexit era, the pandemic has rebooted people’s needs and demands, how we work has changed (most likely forever), and the rising costs of living and energy have all created a perfect storm.  

Every day I work with people affected by change.  They are always somewhere on Kubler Ross’ (1969) change curve.  Most frequently stuck in shock, denial, frustration, or depression.  It is my job to help them experiment, make decisions, and integrate change into their personal or professional lives.  To make that happen it is vital we together explore their relationship with change, their response(s) to it, and their ability to work through it alone or with support alongside them. 

The fact remains that all sectors, all professions, have been profoundly affected by change in recent years.  The past three pandemic years haven’t had a monopoly on change, it was certainly omnipresent before then.  But it has ramped things up considerably, if you would please forgive the understatement. 

This is the thing.  Everything has changed, sometimes not enough, sometimes too much, or too slowly or too quickly.  When change happens, we all need to change in response.  Some of it is easier.  We have individual or micro-environmental control of it.  We can change because we have the power, the resources, the choice, and skills to do so.  And we can see the need to change – and we want to do it.  Some, in contrast, is challenging and difficult.  We don’t always have the tools to make it happen.  We may also be resistant to change.  Such resistance can lead to a freeze, to inaction, industrial action in fact, whether that be for a day, a series of days or for extended periods.

The common cause here, seems to me, to be about everyone wanting to do a better job.  To be able to deliver and discharge their roles in meaningful ways, to deliver a quality service that makes a real difference to communities.  And in doing so they want and need recompense and recognition, to not only survive, but to thrive.  That isn’t something that should be ignored or swept under the carpet until later.  It is something that should and could bind us together.  We can have shared ambition and journey through necessary change, if we are prepared to do it together and be equipped to experiment, make decisions, and integrate change for now and the future.

Pack your sun cream AND your CV on your next holiday.

Why you should update your CV whilst you are away from work. 

We should all have a current CV, whether or not we intend to change our jobs, or take on additional roles.  CVs should be an as-live record of you and your career. Updating it is something to be done routinely.  That is something often said, and less frequently achieved.  This is because life and work can get in the way.  Without a fixed deadline, it can be a task all too easily overlooked.  However, it is essential practice to stop for a few moments and to consider what your CV is saying, and what is missing.  But why? 

Reviews give us a reflection opportunity to acknowledge, recognise, and celebrate our achievements, growth, skill development, and workplace-worth.  You never know when you need your CV.  It could be a short notice invitation, or an unexpected job opportunity, or an invite to speak at an event or join a committee, for example.  It would be shame to miss these prospects simply because you don’t have the chance to kick your CV into shape at the time.  If it is done regularly, it shouldn’t take too much time.  A little and often my mum always says. 

So here is an idea.  Take it with you on holiday.  And make sure you don’t return home until you have given it a much-needed polish.  Aren’t holidays supposed to be all about stopping work, and creating distance between you and your desk – you ask?  They are, I agree.  But it is the uniqueness of holidays that perhaps gives us a rare moment of objectivity for looking again at our CVs – and thinking about how we present our own professional ‘shop window’.  It is a time when arguably we are most authentically ‘us’, as a person, an individual, and not flavoured, distracted, or preoccupied by all things ‘work’. 

I say this because I have done just that. At the end of three weeks from work, two of them away, I found myself thinking differently about the core characteristics of what makes ‘me’ at work, including my skills, qualities, experience, and strengths.  The things that might set me apart from others.  I made notes on my ‘phone, editing them when the mood took me.  The outcome was an update that created a new opening summary paragraph for my CV.  And it feels more authentic, different, fresh and contemporary.

There is another good reason.  This helps us prepare for that awkward question: ‘tell me about yourself’.  The question that, without proper preparation, we all usually fluff and waffle through (I have before – trust me).  Which can lead to missing an invaluable and unique chance to sell yourself.  A well thought out opening paragraph of a CV should give you sufficient prompts to do a better job of you.

Fuel your business like a car

Recently, I heard a friend’s business wasn’t too busy and very different alternative work was being urgently sought.  It was a surprise as their services are in demand, and previously workloads were said to be “too busy and demanding”.  I started to consider what may have caused this turn-of-events.  Especially, given how my own business has grown in the past two years. It has not only bounced back from the effects of the pandemic but is breaking records too.  I wondered what was driving the contrasting experiences. 

To start, develop, grow, and sustain a business needs much investment.  Not always financial, but certainly the investment of time, energy, vision, and commitment.  Business leadership also needs us to adapt to internal, external, and local and global change.  That isn’t news.  Everything in this world is linked, even more than ever it was.  Information and economic conditions travel at the speed of light right across the world.  Business leaders must be permanently on the look-out, monitoring the external environment, and anticipating and second-guessing what could or should happen next.  We need to do this as accurately as possible, whilst acknowledging our ‘hit-rate’ may be frequent than we might want it to be.  All our efforts should be preparing ourselves, our colleagues, and our services to be ready to spring into action when such change occurs – or not.

Some of the factors I believe have helped us to grow recently have been our adapting to new ways of working, online working being one of them (we weren’t using online communications at all before).  That is unremarkable and is no different to very many businesses out there.  Not all businesses can deliver their services online, and so there have been other challenges – but they can certainly connect and communicate using this tech.  For us, we are connecting more regularly with our customers, offering open dialogue and discussion, and building a great deal of friendship and community beyond geographical and transport boundaries.  Being online has enabled us to offer lots of opportunities for our market to get involved with discussion about our work – at absolutely no cost to the customer, and minimal outlay for us.  In return, that has manifested reciprocity in spade fulls in the form of loyalty, direct orders, and mutual support and respect.  It is the connection with customers; however it is done, that is the x factor.

Running a business and managing the customer base and relations with it, is a bit like operating a car.  The heartbeat of the business is the fuel tank/electric battery.  And therefore, the levels of ‘fuel’ or energy within it should be constantly observed.  Regular glances down to the fuel gauge when travelling along the road and whilst going about day-to-day activities.  A business’ energy reserves should never fall below being half-full, at which point a top-up is recommended.  It is time to pull into the service station, to plug-in with previous, recent and current customers.  Easier said than done I agree, but it is no good being one of those business leaders or drivers always running on empty, with the red-light flickering on the dashboard.  Customers need regular contact, and a reactive response when they need and want you.  This is where the sensible energy is applied.  Attracting new customers is always needed, but often that is where people focus their attention, frequently to the detriment of existing ones.  To not apply energy in the right places at the right time is a risky business indeed.  Eventually the business (or car) will run out of energy, it will crawl to a halt on the hard shoulder, and you will be left wondering what to do next. 

Photo by Mike B on Pexels.com

Remember, remember the fifth of November

37 years ago, I was a student.  In the November, a university friend took me to Lewes in East Sussex for bonfire night.  The local community paraded through the streets, flaming torches in their hands, exclaiming ‘burn the pope’, watched by hundreds of onlookers.  Their march concluded in the burning of an effigy of a generic Pope atop the huge bonfire.  It felt pagan, slightly shocking, and amusing in equal measure. 

Fast forward to 2022, and since then various public figures have received a similar fate. This week, the Lewes Guy Fawkes celebration set alight a likeness of Liz Truss – the recently ousted Prime Minister (just in case you haven’t been keeping up).  She was represented sawing a Union Jack covered coffin in half.  Truss, the political equivalent of Lady Jane Grey (queen of England for nine days before her execution), was only PM for 45.  Nevertheless, her tenure was arguably divisive and destructive, causing the public much distress in due course. It all ended in her abrupt dismissal to the backbenches and her Norfolk constituency.  And so, Lewes’ choice for 2022’s sacrificial burning was made. It was to be Liz Truss herself.  That’s democracy and that’s politics, I guess.  Some might say it is amusing, satirical and just harmless fun.  I am not so sure.  Let me explain.

First, I ask how short our memories are?  Have we forgotten how in the run up to the EU referendum only six years ago, divisive politics led to the murder of Jo Cox MP?  It was only last year when David Amess MP was killed during his constituency surgery – indeed the anniversary has only just passed. You may not at first easily link this bonfire night prank to that event, or indeed things even more sinister than that, but things can take unexpected and significant turns.  I have been fortunate to travel to many places and on too many occasions have witnessed the aftermaths of man’s inhumanity to man.  I have seen the desolation of Hiroshima, visited the killing fields of Cambodia, and spent time in the bustling and ambitious city of Kigali in Rwanda carrying on life after their genocide in 1994. 

I have been motivated to look at the stages that took seemingly peaceful communities towards horror and genocide.  And what I witnessed in Lewes has the foundation of such a journey into unthinkable and unspeakable behaviours.  People never usually see genocide happening, and as we know, many choose to deny it, often through an inability to accept or to comprehend it would ‘happen around here’ perpetrated by ‘people like us’.  I am not saying that rural England is on such a brink.  But I think there is danger and there is risk. 

These devasting events start with people not respecting differences between people.  This characteristic, I think, is far too abundant in our society at present, a division of ‘us’ and ‘them’ which is discharged through stereotypes or excluding people who are perceived to be different.  This is the fuel of discrimination.  Dominant groups deny basic civil rights or even citizenship to identified groups.  For us, in a time of refugees and population migration, it is all too depressingly common for people in society not to have equal citizenship or employment status. It is a key political issue for us now and for the foreseeable future.  Next, and critically, there is the process of dehumanisation.  Those perceived as ‘different’ are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity.  

This all creates the environment where attacks are encouraged, or at least tolerated through a lack of consequences. During the Genocide in Rwanda, Tutsis were referred to as ‘cockroaches’; the Nazis referred to Jews as ‘vermin’.  Social media is a thriving repository of such unchecked language.  It drives people to think in dehumanising ways.  Then there is the concept of organisation – preparing actions that do all of this.  The Lewes event was not unplanned. No doubt a committee of volunteer organisers considered proposals and agreed to do this and spent many weeks preparing the image to be paraded and burned. 

Polarisation really is an accelerant. We all know the news media is controlled by a small group of individuals, all with their own and deliberate agendas.  Nowadays, the proliferation of social and online media facilitates all sorts of deliberate dialogues.  Social media also promotes and facilitates polarised viewpoints.  There’s little space for evidenced nuance, for being reasonable.  In Twitter, you just don’t have the character count to explain or evidence (it was 140 characters, in 2017 it doubled to 280).  It is impossible to give more than one side of the story, to achieve a reasonable balance. 

In ethics and philosophy, we talk about the importance of non-maleficence, that actions should do no harm, or that we evaluate and reconcile the level of harm or consequences of our actions. What lessons are people learning from such an event, especially the children at this family event, and what fire is being lit in them? I simply ask, how would you feel if this was your image being paraded through the street, to the amusement and entertainment of baying crowds.  How would you feel if this was your partner, daughter, or mother?  Truss is all of these. You may argue that politicians choose their careers and their political actions and should be accountable for them.  Save that for the ballot box and not for such symbolic incineration I say.

Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

Ratio revolution?

Rumour has it the former early years minister, and now prime minister, Liz Truss is considering ditching the recently proposed tweaks to adult: child ratios and axing them altogether.  An article published in The Times (7 October) suggested Truss is up for getting rid of regulations and leaving it up to childcare settings to decide how many staff they need to work with children in their care.  Cue instant, predictable, and justifiable outrage from those working in early years roles, and those speaking on their behalf.  I knew something was going on.  My end of the week inbox was sparking up like the fifth of November, my Twitter feed was pinging like a supermarket checkout.  People started asking me ‘what could we do?’

Now, early years and childcare certainly needs reform.  I have written much about that. We all need to take a good hard look at what we have been doing so far, what we have been asked, nay required, to do, what we need to do now, and what our collective long-term vision is.  And that includes critically reviewing all the anachronisms that govern our work, and the unhelpful incremental conditions placed upon us over the past decades.  We don’t always need to be told what to do, as we know best.  I am convinced of that.

To move forward together necessitates a thorough examination of the literature and research we have amassed in the UK and beyond our borders across the world.  We must use that to have an informed debate, based on all the evidence, and our maturing professional expertise.  That debate also needs to be constructive, respectful, visionary, ambitious, and confident in the knowledge the role of early years has been secured in the public’s, politicians’, and policy-makers’ awareness, value, and expectation – forever.  That is why we launched hey! this summer (Hempsall’s Early Years) and we made it our mission to do what we can to help all our future dreams. 

Many battles have been fought, some have even been won.  But, the war is far from over.  Whilst many are demanding, expecting, and relying upon us for better outcomes and impact, they don’t fully appreciate the inputs and outputs needed to make that happen.  And guess what?  Those with the power won’t just wake up one day and experience a moment of sudden and great revelation of such understanding.  They are more likely to pose more and more random ideas and headline grabbing funding or voucher offers.  Instead, it is our job and solemn responsibility, no duty, to help them realise sense and resource what our profession needs to properly and equally work with our youngest children and their families. 

It will not be easy.  To effectively influence and make the change we need, we must avoid the pitfall of conflict and assemble around the table to build and speak a common language, adopt an informed and evidenced approach, and create sound policy decisions that we can all work within.  For now, for the future, and for the benefit of children and families, and those dedicated and committed to working in early years and childcare.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com