Food for thought: Lunch matters

How your employees feel about their meal break reflects on your company culture and business performance

It’s easy to chuck the meal break as more suited for the pre-mechanisation era — when workers needed to replenish physically from their labour-intensive jobs. Today, with machines doing most of the heavy lifting, there floats the notion that less rest is needed since most of the work is done with little to no physical exertion.

 

But we also know there’s been endless research and publications that prove this wrong. Most recently, the digital diagnosis from CSIRO’s Workplace Safety Futures and Deloitte Human Capital Trends reported on how the hyper-connected workplace is affecting productivity, resulting in time away from family, as well as an increase in chronic illness among Australians.

 

For most startups, getting the business to take off is hard enough. Harder still is instilling the culture you wish to practice, since company culture evolves and may mean something different for everyone. But if you agree that culture eats strategy for breakfast, then what’s for lunch really matters.

Is a meal break required? Yes and no.

In Australia, many entitlements are insisted upon under the National Employment Standards, but a meal break is not one of them. The requirement provisioned by Modern Awards is a 30-minute unpaid meal break for employees who work more than five hours in a day. In a survey of 500 Australians, this proves prevalent among almost half of the respondents, whilst only 1 in 10 employees gets to enjoy a full hour of respite. 

Are you allowing work to eat your employees’ lunch?

When it comes to how the meal break is spent, the modus operandi for 18 percent of respondents is to eat at their desks or workstations. Sixteen percent opt for the office break room to enjoy their midday nourishment, and 1 in 10 uses this time to socialise with colleagues.

 

One in 10 employees feels the need to work through lunch because of peer pressure, they feel guilty if they don’t or they are doing so to impress the boss. In other words, the assumption of those employees who choose to work through lunch is that it’s an expected practice at their workplace.

 

So how is employee satisfaction? Look in the break room.

Anthropologist Krystal D’Costa believes that the employees’ perception of their lunch break and the office break room can be a gauge for company performance and morale. She observes when things are going well (the kitchen is full and lively) and when things aren’t looking ripper (the break room is quiet and sullen). She recognises there can be other variables on how employees choose to spend their lunch break, but ultimately, what this break looks like is significant. It shows if employees feel empowered to take the break they need and deserve, if they feel connected to their co-workers and whether their employer encourages this kind of socialisation and reprieve.

 

Working smart is not working hard

When Liv Hambrett listened to her friend voicing frustration amidst planning her move back to Australia from Hong Kong, one detail stood out more than others. The moving company the friend was dealing with told her to call back because they were on a lunch break. A global business popping the ‘closed’ sign on the door for lunch? How dare they!

 

As a fellow Australian who’s been living and working in Europe since 2010, it took awhile for Liv to get used to the laidback lifestyle, compared to home, when she first arrived. But when she honed in on some stats, she found how the most productive and wealthiest countries in the world also worked the fewest hours.

 

Failure to lunch? It’s on the employer.

The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia ruled to penalise a South Australian hotel for breaching the applicable Award’s meal breaks clause, following a Fair Work Commission investigation. The FWO acknowledged the employer’s decision to forgo its casual employees’ half-hour break entitlement because the employees themselves preferred to work straight through their shift and not stay the additional 30 minutes. But the FWO reiterated that was not a “good reason for employers to ignore the Legislative provisions”. As an employer, you are ultimately responsible for your employees’ well-being.

 

Want culture? Do lunch.

A meal is often used to celebrate and mark milestones. Nothing signifies unity and connectivity more than breaking bread together. Creating a lunch culture at work can be as simple as designating a space, allowing storage for food (and we don’t mean an esky!) or incentivising with company-wide meals when goals are met. And if it’s time to redefine your company mission or vision, perhaps you should first look at how your employees are spending their meal breaks and see if a lunch manifesto is needed. You’d be surprised at the return on investment on retention, productivity and engagement.

About the Author

Prior to becoming a global copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution for small businesses, Dottie Chong spent 15 years in marketing communications and content management focussed on driving engagement and brand affinity.

Lessons from a Coworking Space

A workplace is a delicate ecosystem where success and culture ebbs and flows with the provision of home-made cake and water cooler chat; even more so in a co-working space.

In a co-working space, you have the same shared bathroom experience, but with the added dynamic of varied companies, agendas and business cultures – all under one roof.

Today marks my final day in such a workspace- a final day, I hasten to add, that has only come about, because of my own logistical challenges (school drop-offs, family time etc) and not at all a result of the experience!

Reflecting on the past few months, here are some lessons learned that I thought I’d share with you*:

1) Headphones are the co-working space equivalent to an office door. If the headphones are on, the door is shut. You can still knock, but the barrier is up. Noteif your co-worker is wearing “cans” consider the door opaque.

2) Ask for help. Seriously, I have been amazed by how ready, willing, and able my co-working space “colleagues” offer up help, advice and support. If you have held back from such an environment because you thought different ventures under one roof would create competitive or guarded space, think again.

3) Introduce yourself. That dreaded moment where the teacher makes you stand up to ‘share a little bit about yourself’ is a recurring nightmare for many, but in a co-working space there’s no dedicated HR rep to walk you around on your first day for a meet and greet; so don’t expect the world to come to you. Say hello. Introduce yourself and enjoy the friendships that you make in an environment where like-minded people have gathered for their own adventure.

4) Introduce others. So while I agree introducing yourself can be a little hard; take a load off your co-working space buddy and make sure you introduce them to the other people you know. Double points if you can give a quick CV; and straight to top of the class if you can find a common area of discussion. This is grassroots networking.

5) Find the quiet achievers. They’re the ones who are head down, working away without anyone ever realising they invested in X, founded company Y or once worked on Z. While the squeaky wheel often gets the attention, not everyone is a natural self-promoter. You never know who is sitting next to you and what invaluable business acumen they actually possess.

6) Garner advice from the non-experts. This one sounds a little odd; but everyone has a story to tell and experience you can learn from. I’ve found that the collective experience of the co-working community is usually a good gauge of a general direction. Thinking about a double sided business model? By the time the seventh person winces, you start to get the idea it might be hard. Live and learn.

7) Pay it forward. Don’t ask what your co-working space can do for you, ask what you can do for your co-working space. But seriously, give first, it might not come back directly, it might not come back at all. But all the old adages come into play here; be nice to the people on your way up, cos you might meet them on your way down; be the co-worker you’d like to have at the desk beside you; and as I find- doing good feels good. A shared experience goes both ways.

8) You are the culture. From friendly colleagues to bounce ideas off; to the celebration of a professional milestone, the people around you make the culture of the place; and you are part of that. Don’t wait for someone to make it happen for you, you get out what you put in – even if you’re a total introvert. Join the morning teas; go for a coffee; chat on slack or leave notes for people. Or if you’re like me, join the Easter egg eating competition and go so hard you feel sick for the rest of the day – that’s just part of being a team player, right?

9) Make up the numbers. If someone is going to host an event, talk, lunch, anything. Don’t leave them talking to a room of three; If you can, go along and show your support. You’ll be helping out a colleague, sharing an experience and who knows you might just learn something! As with the note above, if someone is helping build the community, help them out.

10) Be respectful. You will make your mark, in one way or another, so make it in a positive way. As with roommates; group holidays and traditional office setting s- do your dishes and don’t stink up the office with tuna; keep the music in your headphones and your phone calls to a dull roar. Say good morning; and thank people when they help out. You might not be working for the same company, but you have the same goal= success and productivity in whatever form that happens to work for you. So do unto others and good luck to all.

* The lessons below depict the experiences of the author and may not reflect yours. The author’s personal attributes, both physical and personnel have probably impacted the experience and the results of the egg eating contest.

Hello to my 5am Friends

My wife has a theory about early morning walkers and joggers. It’s dangerous, according to her, because it’s always the 5 am jogger who discovers the grisly murder victims in those ever-popular forensic police shows. Dum dum duuuuuum.

But she’s wrong. And I can prove it, because I have become one of ‘those’ people.

Hello, my 5am friends.

Over a month ago, I accepted the Peak Persona challenge, a lifestyle programme that provides routines, habits, tools and skills to better manage and understand mindset and emotional states for optimal performance.  A way for me to become my best self.

The first step was getting up and at ‘em at 5am. Every day. No excuses.

Now I’ve seen a sunrise or two in my time. I was a keen swimmer until my teens, no stranger to the dawn rise to hit the pool for a quick ** km warm up before high school.

Sometimes I’ve seen the sun peek over the horizon at the end of the night when youth was on my side.

More recently it has been in no way of my own volition, rather more likely when one of my two kids has a pressing demand for food or cartoons. And since having kids I still feel owed for about five years sleep.

As a parent of small people, you play that game where you’re exhausted and should go to bed; but also it’s your chance for freedom! To watch an episode of something that isn’t animated and doesn’t finish with a sing-song morality tale. So argue with the guests of Q&A and Lateline through one half-open eye.

So this is a big change for me. No booze after 8pm. No Netflix bingeing. Screens down. Early to bed, early to rise. Me getting out of bed at 5? AM?

I told my wife.

After she stopped laughing, she said sure go for it. Well after threatening me about waking her…

So it began. Day 1. Dawn. Just me and the local footpath.

Except it wasn’t just me. There’s a whole Lycra army up, seizing the day. And these people are, surprise surprise, very different to the people you might meet when out for a walk late at night.

I don’t know these people by name, but usually their description or (more likely) by their dog. Their faces have become familiar.

Everyone says hello. A couple of people noticed and commented on my improvement. When I hurt my foot and switched to the bike, they waved. I guess it is unlikely that anyone who is angry at the world is getting up at 5 am and going for a walk or run.

But I have felt buoyed by this anonymous community cheering me on with a morning greeting. A new club.

You don’t have to have a dog to join, though I’m trying to convince certain people that’d be a great idea. You don’t have to wear Lycra. Sometimes it’s best not to.

But by getting up and out I’m prioritising my physical and mental health for something I couldn’t find time for before. I’m greeted by my kids, and not the other way around. I chat with them about the day ahead and get them off to school. And I’m my desk early, working on creative meaningful work before the day begins.

Having recently completed all 30 days, and still going, it’s been one of the most uplifting habits to rediscover. And part of my success has been knowing I’m not alone.

4 Reasons why Founding a Startup is like ‘The Lego Movie’

(I have this face 50% of the time running my startup…)

I found myself watching ‘The Lego Movie’ with my kids on the holidays and couldn’t help but notice some key similarities in the storyline with my experience founding my startup, BenchOn. Here are my 4 reasons why:

 

  1. Everything is Awesome! You know the song. The song your kids sing until you lose your sanity… To me, that is the anthem promoted by corporations to remind all of the workers how happy they are following the status quo. I can just see an HR Manager getting staff to sing that in the annual employee engagement seminar before they tick off the box saying that all employees love their job.

    To get back to the story though, our hero, Emmett, tries everything he can to be happy in this status quo world yet no matter how hard he tries, he just doesn’t fit in. He does everything by the book but he just can’t make it work. He intuitively knows something is off about his world yet can’t quite put his finger on it. Until one day he stumbles onto something that breaks all of the rules and he can’t help but go down the rabbit hole to find out where it leads.

    All entrepreneurs will be familiar with this in their lives. We do the right things, go to university, get a job yet we intuitively know there is something else out there for us. Then it hits us, the idea, the holy grail of ideas, the one thing that we have to have a go at otherwise we would never forgive ourselves – and so it begins.

 

  1. Building by instructions VS the Master Builders. In the Lego world that Emmett belongs to, everything is built using instructions (think Processes and Procedures). No deviations from the plan – it must be perfect (Bureaucracy doesn’t support agility or out of the box thinking. Even when they do set up another ‘Innovation Department’). This perfect world is constructed by our villain – the evil Lord Business (they are making this really easy for me!). But Emmett soon learns there is another way – The Master Builder way where you make it up as you go along and build something with nothing else but your imagination and hard work (Let’s call this the ‘Innovation Boom’).

    It sounds easy enough – if you can think it, you can build it. And that is what many of us as entrepreneurs are trying to do. We have lived for so long in the comfort of our employer’s set processes and procedures where all we had to do was follow the bouncing ball, but with a startup, none of that exists! You make it up as you go along and with unlimited configurations and options, it can become extremely overwhelming to deal with (which Emmett found out very quickly). This can lead to conflict, anxiety, feeling lost or not feeling like you are good enough and it was as scary a realisation for me as it was for Emmett.

 

  1. Under constant attack by Big Business. Throughout the movie, Emmett is continually chased, harassed and attacked by Lord Business and his evil Business Bots (Side note: I thought the ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ character was the perfect example of an Executive Assistant – the gatekeeper to Lord Business who can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Ha!). Surely this point doesn’t need much explanation. As a startup, you are constantly looking for competitors and you are continually asked by investors what your plan is to stop other businesses doing what you do. It is a constant battle that plagues you most days and is one of the big reasons why you find yourself awake at 3 am. Unless Batman works for you…

 

  1. Surround yourself with a team who have done this before. Emmett survives the ordeal and achieves ultimate success because he found people along the journey with a variety of skills that helped him through his trials (Batman, Wyldfire, the Wizard etc). Without them, he would have failed or if he chose the wrong companions, he would have failed. He survived because he was mentored, trained, guided and supported by those that know the Master Builder life.

    This too is an obvious comparison to the advisors, mentors and employees that you collect along the way. Choose wisely and use their experience at every opportunity. Choose superstars that believe what you believe and can open your eyes to things you may not have thought of. And trust them! Just because you didn’t think of it yourself, take the time to understand their advice and make your decisions based on all the facts.

 

Never fear though – if Emmett can do it, then there is hope for all of us! Trust your idea, trust your team, work hard and watch the credits roll after you have changed the world.

 

Written by: Tim Walmsley, CEO and Founder of BenchOn

The Introvert’s conference Cheat Sheet

I’m in Startcon.com in Sydney (I live in Brisbane ) and I’ve been really excited.

So what? I hear you say… We’ll I’m an introvert. I work from home and love it. I recharge my batteries in my own head, and the idea of being in a group of five or more people without a structure or discussion topic genuinely strikes fear into my heart.

But Startcon is different. Startcon has structure. Startcon has deliberate topics. And at Startcon, we’re all there for the same reason, more or less. We share a common interest and want to learn.

So as an introvert, I’m going to share a few tips that I’ve found work well for me at large scale networking events where you don’t know many people.

1) Know at least one person. I call my person my conference buddy and I’m pretty upfront. I need this person as my fall back. I might find myself two or three people deep into networking, but when the anxiety strikes, I’m heading back. (Jen- I’m looking at you here).

2) Ask questions and talk about the other person. You’ve got two ears and one mouth, as I often stay to my eight-year-old daughter – or as she has put it ‘smart people ask questions and dumb people talk’. OK, so that overly simplistic but the basic concept holders true, you’ll learn a lot more if you’re listening than talking. As an introvert, this also means you do less of the talking and more of the listening. So when you’re introduced to someone, ask questions, keep them coming and work out what this new person’s interests are and get them talking.

3) Offer to help. When you’re inevitably asked what you do, keep your story short on succinct and then turn it around quickly. For me, I’m a marketing expert so I might say. I’m a marketing consultant with 20 years online marketing experience and three start-ups of my own….. how could I help you with your business?

The trick here is that I’ve now aligned my credentials with the answer to their business issues. If the conversation flows then everyone wins.

4) Oh s&*! , I’m struggling. That moment you realise this networking movement has moved into an awkward position. Enter the business card. When I realise that the conversation has moved into small talk and I’m struggling, I go for the business card ‘get out’. “I’ve actually got to go now but here’s my business card, let’s connect on Linkedin and keep this conversation going.” This isn’t me being rude I swear! I’m just well outside my comfort zone and really need to leave.

5) Self-deprecating humour. I try not to take my self too seriously and find that if you want to break down the communication barriers, removing yours first is a strong first step.

I can talk about my upside down head (my beard stubble compensates for the thinning hear on my head) or that I’m really not in shape. It’s amazing how revealing a vulnerability can be a powerful disarming strategy.

6) Don’t over expend, making one solid connection is worth 10 passing connections. Don’t stress about the number of business cards or LinkedIn connections you make, focus on the quality of those connections.

7) Smartphone crutch – there is always something to do on your phone. You might be in the real world, but when you’re stuck it’s OK to report to the online world and tweet. Taking a break and writing down your thoughts not only gives you a free pass but could potentially lead to new connections.

 

So there are my seven tips for an introvert and a conference. So if you’re reading this, and you meet me this week you might recognise me using one of these seven techniques. It’s not you; it’s me. I’m not trying anything deceptive or calculating; I’m just dealing with a few thousand people and a billion different potential social situations. And, I honestly do want to help you.

Snapchat I just can’t want to

The older I get, the more I fear ‘new’ things, is this why I struggle with Snapchat?

During my first year of University, I’d listen to every new song and laugh at how the older generations had to have radio stations locked into an era long gone, unable to digest any new music.

Now I’m 39-years-old, and while I have heard Tay Tay’s new snake-themed album and I know more than one word in ‘despacito’, this has been driven mostly by my eight-year-old daughter. If left alone, I’d quite happily go back to my musical comfort window of 1994-2004. Grinspoon is still a thing, yeah?

So this brings me to the onslaught of new technologies, I’m well ahead of the curve on most technology, it is my job to be, but…..

“I just can’t want to snapchat.”

Let me explain what I mean.When my son was a little younger he had this great phrase he would use to describe his emotions when faced with a task that he not only didn’t want to do but one that he couldn’t even think about wanting to do… “I just can’t want to”.

Me: “Will, pick up your toys”

Will: “I just can’t want to!”

Cut to the scene of a 3-year-old boy on the ground in floods of tears.

It was a brilliant turn of phrase in its honest and descriptive power. My son wasn’t saying he couldn’t. Just like me, of course I ‘could’ Snapchat, if I wanted to. But I don’t. And I can’t even find a reason to want to.

This is a terrible position for me to take professionally. I’ve been in digital marketing for 20 years now, as in the entire time digital marketing has been a thing – I’ve been there.

I’m across Twitter, I love Linkedin and I obviously blog, but when it comes to Snapchat I just can’t. Or to use or a more grown-up phrase ‘I can’t find a f**k to give’.

And this is why I don’t think Snapchat will win the social communication market. You see, when Facebook launched it was our (the Xennial Generation’s) job to train up our baby boomer parents. But now us Xennials are getting older, we fear the unknown, and so we’re not going to train up our parents on how to ‘snap their chats’.

Snapchat has no onboarding experience. They figure ‘your young, you’ll figure it out’. But I don’t want to. I have other ways of expressing myself in my digital world. Or maybe I’m just bitter cos my stories would all be parenting fails and the confused stare of a balding old man.

Is it that we fear the unknown or do we as humans (just like startups) have a finite number of pivots in our lives? I think there is probably some truth in the latter option but for now, I’m happy just to work with fear.

So I’m calling it – Snapchat will lose out to Facebook, Twitter and the other channels. In tech land, you can’t maintain your bubble like valuations waiting for the millennials to age 50 years and hope that every newborn generation continues to snapchat. You need intergenerational adoption, you need it to happen quickly and you need your early adopters to education the older generation.

So Facebook wins. Facebook is a known entity, and for everyone who was born before 1980 and who is increasingly scared of the unknown, embrace your age and all the rights that brings you and proudly announce to the digital world that you “just can’t want to snapchat !”