This blog reflects on life at work at comments on the latest news that shapes my 9-5 working day in a Corporate Communications consultancy.

About Me

I am a born and bred South African who has always loved to read and write. As a child my mother used to read to me and my siblings, from classics like the “Lord of the Rings” but later also from her own stories. She would write children’s stories and then use us as her test audience, but I loved to hear what she had written long after my siblings had tired of it. So I grew up in an environment of reading and writing, which inspired my love of these things. I hope to write a great book some day, and have learnt first hand the determination and will that it takes. My love of English inspired me to continue my study of it at university. I majored in Law and English in a BA degree at UCT where I found that I took to English much more than law. I enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and the development of our liberal Constitution, which increasingly made me committed to the hope this country has for the future. Ideally, I’d like to find myself in a job where I am able to write; that allows a good mix of time spent with people and being able to work on my own.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A difficult time ... much doom and gloom news

In the past few days more and more companies have followed suit with news of mass retrenchments and reviewing of capex plans. Yesterday Rio Tinto (a major Australian mining company) announced that it would cut 14 000 jobs. Anglo is due to announce its capex review next week. Diamonds are stock piling around the world as companies like De Beers battle to sell the luxury product. On the local front, Lonmin has already announced the retrenchment of 5000 + workers. The price of steel has plummeted, and major steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal South Africa has extended the shutdown of its plants over the holiday period.

A recent survey by KPMG predicted that a third of South African employees will be retrenched next year. Although this year has been difficult, many take the view that we will only really start feeling the affects of the recession next year.

And its not just mining and commodities that are badly affected: a piece from today's Business Day reports on widespread job cuts across the newspaper industry as media houses face pressure to maintain profit levels. As Renee Bonorchis points out, this will result in increasing juniourisation in the industry as companies make shortsighted decisions on whose jobs to cut. For example, Jeremy Gordin, a respected Sunday Independent columnist, was recently retrenched. She sees this as shortsighted as she believes it is quality journalists like Gordin who draw readers to a newspaper. Firing him and keeping more junior writers will ultimately lead to the death of the industry.

On the flip side, this will lead to an increase in new media: blogs, websites and other platforms that are cheaper to run without the costs of printing, delivery, paper etc.

An important part of my job is to keep tabs on the news and what's going on in the world. It's an exciting time to be doing this as things are changing - the credit crisis is forcing people and companies to review their old ways of doing things. Although it all seems to be doom and gloom news at the moment, I also enjoy knowing that I am able to hold an intelligent conversation at a dinner party - I am amazed at how much I've learnt in a year and a half! Our daily morning newspaper sessions during our World of Work course stood me in good stead for the work I'm doing now.

Business Day column below.

The human spirit under fire at the end of a difficult year
Renée Bonorchis
11 Dec 08
THIS is my last column for the year. By the time this column appears again next year, a number of my colleagues at various publishing houses may be out of a job. At Primedia (which owns the likes of 702 Talk Radio and Highveld Stereo) there’s a hiring freeze, no end-of-year parties and little or no bonuses. At Avusa (the company I work for) bonuses have been cut, all entertainment and travel expenses have been wiped out, but as yet there’s no serious talk of retrenchment. But over at Naspers, with publications such as Beeld and Rapport, the letters for voluntary retrenchment have gone out and if 20% or more of the staff don’t take those packages, then some will be getting the chop on January 5. Lovely timing, don’t you think? But the company that really takes the cake has got to be Independent Newspapers. I should declare that I worked for this company for eight years. It runs titles such as the Star, the Cape Times, Business Report and the Pretoria News. Last week it sent out letters offering certain production staff voluntary retrenchment. At the same time the news broke that one of Independent’s best writers, Jeremy Gordin, had been retrenched. Gordin is an experienced political reporter and he writes like a dream. You’d think that he’s just the kind of person you’d want to hold on to in tough times because he’s the kind of writer that keeps readers interested, but no, the talk is he was axed because he’s expensive.This kind of shortsighted thinking on the part of management was evidenced again in the retrenchment letters that Independent sent out to staff across the country. The company wants to amalgamate its production people so that instead of having specialists working on specialist titles such as Business Report, it will have one long production line with financial copy editors struggling with sports articles and senior copy editors being demoted to mere cogs in the wheel.
From those copy editors (also known in SA as sub-editors) Independent wants to get rid of 15 of the most senior of them in Gauteng alone. In Durban and Cape Town, another four or five of the most senior people must go. Junior staff are not up for the chop because they’re cheaper to employ. And Independent’s overabundance of extremely senior staff, who hide in wood-panelled offices up on the top floors and appear to do very little, are certainly not facing retrenchment. The message being sent out is that the quality of the papers is expendable. A newspaper, it would appear, has become a fast-moving consumer good, not much different from a can of baked beans. The old hacks may sneer at my idealism in thinking that a paper is anything more than a consumable, but dammit, why shouldn’t we be idealistic about the press, that vital pillar of our democracy? Why shouldn’t we expect the papers that we read every day to strive to give us the best news, the best writers, the best pictures, the best designs? And why shouldn’t anyone expect that, if you work hard and get to the top of your game and put up with the good and the bad from the company you work for, you’ll be rewarded for it rather than kicked out because you tried too hard to do well? It’s this kind of rubbish that breaks the human spirit. It’s this kind of mismanagement that destroys newspapers and companies and reputations. During the year I have spoken to countless businesses in SA about job losses and how to deal with the economic downturn and there are three main ways that they have viewed the situation. Some have said it’s now that you need to keep your best staff — while others downsize, the bullish types can take market share and be well positioned for the upturn. Option two was to do with allowing natural attrition to slim the head count for at least the past six months and using training programmes to re-skill certain staff and redeploy them into other areas of the business.
Option three was carefully thought through retrenchments that were often started well before December and involved departments that would not impact on the business’s ability to offer customers the best service possible. As you’ll notice, Independent’s strategy doesn’t appear to fall into any of the above categories. Part of the problem may be that Independent answers to bosses in the UK and, with the rand having weakened, those bosses want their returns even if it means hacking the local company to pieces. Independent may be a prime example of how not to run a sustainable business. So this month I’m going to worry about my friends at other publications; I’m going to worry about the future of journalism in SA; I’m going to worry that too many companies have learnt nothing about survival; I’m going to worry that yet again people have become the expendable components in a downturn; I’m going to worry that all the talk about social responsibility and sustainability means nothing when cash flows are tight; I’m going to worry that companies use and abuse their staff and that, even with our progressive labour laws, it never seems to stop; I’m going to worry that despite the world suffering through a tough year together, we’ve come no closer to finding a collective solution that helps people rather than hurts them. On that note I’m not so sure I can wish you a happy holiday. But I do wish you health, wealth and prosperity. Till next time.

Companies should offer internships

Something from today's Business Day on the importance of internships in equipping SA with the skills the country needs.

Companies ‘should offer internships’
Luphert Chilwane
11 Dec 08

SA NEEDED legislation that forced companies to give engineering students the internship-type work placements they needed to obtain their qualifications, said Vaal University of Technology faculty officer of co-operative education, Dutch Matlaletsa, yesterday. Matlaletsa’s comment came after Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena said that each year several thousand students could not graduate because they could not secure internship work placements . Speaking at the Technical Skills Africa conference in Johannesburg, Matlaletsa said that SA’s skills shortage continued to restrict the country’s growth and development. “Companies must refrain from using universities as ATM cash-cows because they are not investing much into students’ skills development,” he said .

For SA to survive, it had to produce at least 1000 engineering graduates annually until 2014. The science and technology department had adopted 18 (two from each province) of the government’s dedicated mathematics and sciences schools, giving them learning materials and support, Mangena said. This was part of the department’s plan to help increase the number of matriculants eligible for entry into science, engineering and technology studies at higher education institutions. The 2008 Scarce Skills Quota list showed that annually SA needed an injection of 1000 civil engineers, 500 aeronautical engineers, 500 electrical and electronic engineers, and 500 specialist pipe engineers, he said. SA’s higher education institutions were not producing the requisite number of engineers to match the growth rates in the South African economy, and students were affected because they could not secure the internship-type work they had to complete to obtain their qualifications, Mangena said.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

How to manage your work life

Hello all, I thought I'd kick off my re entry into the blogging world with some tips on how to manage your work life (and become a star!)

Happy holiday season everyone!

1. Initiative. Blazing trails in the organisational chaos by going above and beyond the accepted job description to offer new, often bold, and value-adding ideas.

2. Networking. Overcoming knowledge blocks in your daily work by plugging into the knowledge net of technical gurus.

3. Self-management. Managing your whole life at work by contributing to the critical path and ensuring high job performance.

4. Perspective. Getting the big picture by learning to see things as your customers, competitors, colleagues, and bosses see them.

5. Followership. Checking your ego at the door to lead in assists while exercising independent, critical thinking on goals, tasks, and methods.

6. Leadership. Doing small “1” leadership in a big “L” world by partnering with colleagues to accomplish important tasks.

7. Teamwork. Becoming a positive contributor to group goals, commitments, work activities, group dynamics, and accomplishments.

8. Organisational savvy. Using street smarts to navigate the organisation’s competing interests, to win others’ help and cooperation, to address conflicts, and to complete tasks.

9. Show-and-tell. Persuading the right audience with the right message in user-friendly format.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Top tips: How to behave when you get your internship

Here are some good tips for the 2008 group on what to do once you have been placed in an internship. I've found it's really important to make sure that you are likeable and are a positive contribution in the workplace: so make sure you are friendly and SMILE, smile, SMILE!

Fiona McDonald may have shared with you that she knew that Celeste (a WOW intern in 2006) would do well on her very first day, when she ensured that she greeted everyone in the building.

The course that you are on now is like a training ground for your future job. Hope you can practice the smile now!

* Make sure everyone knows who you are and why you’re there
* Put in the hours
* Be a help not a hindrance

- Make yourself as indispensable as you can
- Show off what you’re best at – you’ll be hired because you add something no one else can
- Have a sense of humour
- Don’t be annoying
- Listen until your ears bleed – ask questions and remember the answers
- Read people – this is the hardest bit – knowing who to approach and when
- Get on the killer brief, even if it means you beg, borrow, steal and work through the night
- Only present your best work – 10 great ideas is better than 50 OK ideas
- Prepare to make tea and coffee, work late, be poor and do all of that with a smile!

Wednesday, 02 April 2008

Welcome to WOWers 2008!

It was a great pleasure to welcome the new WOWers to the programme on Monday. As I mentioned briefly in the session, it was a nice opportunity to reflect on the process I've been through. I've built a lot of confidence in the last year and learnt a great deal, all of which began with my first day in WOW 2007.

Lesley and Jean, thank you for setting up such a wonderful programme that has helped me in so many ways.

I look forward to reading all the new blogs and also to sharing my thoughts on the blogging process with the new group today.

And a very big WELCOME to you all. I hope you are all looking forward to it!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Brunswick: 9 months on

It’s been almost nine months since I started at Brunswick. What began with an offer of a one month contract was extended to two months, and then for a further six – and at the start of this year the three interns (including me) began on a more formal training course – which gives us all a period to learn in a structured manner.

Our last training session was on the role of an executive (the next step up from an intern). Our role is, essentially, to support the rest of the office. The point that made the biggest impression on me was how to do this more proactively. There are several ways we can be there for our teams:
- if there is a meeting we can offer to take notes and then distribute them
- before an upcoming event we can ask what needs to be done and how we can help
- if we see something important, such as an article that may need urgent attention, we need to take responsibility for making sure the right people have seen it
- in all our work, it’s important to consider what would be most useful to whoever has asked for it – and take care to present it in a way that is accessible to them. For example, during the recent power crisis, I was collecting some news coverage for a client. Rather than sending a mass of news articles only, I highlighted in red what would be relevant for them.
- there are a multitude of smaller things we can do – for example, when we send out news coverage, we can write in the subject of the e mail what the article is about, so that the person reading it can immediately see if it’s relevant.

The bottom line is: how can we work more efficiently and what can we do that will save whoever receives our work their time?

We’ve been encouraged to start working more proactively rather than simply getting bogged down by the volume of work. It’s challenging to think about things in this way; rather than waiting to be asked, to offer instead. This way, we will all feel like we’re making more of a contribution to the team and I think start to learn more and more.

Daniel, our trainer, emphasised that the more efficiently all the teams in the office work, the better the service we give to the client.

So I challenge everyone to think about how they can be more proactive in the workplace - rather than wait for work to come to you.