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A short guide to better career health – in 7 resolutions

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It’s that time of year when many of us make – often shortlived – commitments to reduce our intake of carbs and other things that might not be good for us, or to do more exercise. But what about in the workplace? What can we cut out or do more of for our career health and to get more out of our jobs?

The Civil Service blog team offer some ideas - think of them as an alternative set of New Year’s resolutions - on what you can do to turn the January blues into sunshine hues!

  1. Be selfish

Be honest with yourself: did you get your 5-days-a-year training in 2014/15? If not, why not? Learning and development  is a perennial issue that we often push to the side to focus on our day-to-day roles. But if you aren’t sometimes selfish about ensuring this happens, you are only punishing yourself. It can be difficult, but with proper planning we can all afford to take our L&D allowance. Have a think today about what you can do before the end-of-year review.

  1. Don’t hide from new ways of working

There are so many new things out there, it can be intimidating to start thinking about changing how you work. Just picking out and learning one new technique could really help you work in a simpler and more effective way. There are digital opportunities with Twitter, or project management tool Trello, or using Google Docs to collaborate, to name just a few. Or you may be considering a jobshare, working with an apprentice, or finding a mentor (see Resolution No. 5).

  1. Speak with clarity - don’t talk in acronyms

Acronyms and jargon are one of the banes of the Civil Service - and countless other organisations. We can all be guilty of slipping into work-speak. And we have all probably been in meetings where what was being discussed was completely lost on us, as the conversation was peppered with apparently randomly assembled groups of letters. Although they are meant to make things easier and quicker, acronyms and initialisations can cause confusion. Perhaps we can allow a few of the more commonly understood ones to pass (NATO, DEFRA, UK, EU?). But challenge yourself to go through a meeting/phone call without subjecting the person on the other side of the table, or the other end of the line, to death by a thousand acronyms.

  1. Love your neighbour

More and more of us are sharing buildings with other departments or organisations. Civil Service Local have networks connecting civil servants across the regions but have you made the most of this yet? It can feel strange linking up with someone from another organisation, but there are many benefits to be had in understanding and learning from those working in a different field and how they do things. Go on, try it. You may be shocked to find that you are not so different, after all!

Many departments also run randomised ‘coffee’ trials, giving you the chance to chew the fat, network with and bounce ideas off colleagues you wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with otherwise. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...

  1. Mentor someone, get yourself a mentor, or both!

Getting a mentor can be the perfect way to kick-start your development or to focus your thoughts on your future career direction. Failing that, why not consider becoming a mentor to someone yourself. You don’t have to be a senior leader to be a mentor. There are many new starters, apprentices or junior staff from under-represented groups who are looking for support or direction when joining the Civil Service

  1. Be honest with your leaders

The Leadership Statement was launched a year ago and was aimed at improving leadership in the Civil Service, but it was also about improving our ability to question those above us. We can all sometimes feel that something isn’t being done right, or that we are restricted by unnecessary or over-complicated processes, so take a stand! It isn’t easy to ‘speak truth unto power’, but in the long run it can help how an office functions for the better.

  1. Don’t ignore your objectives until the last possible minute

It doesn’t matter where you work, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t let out a little grumble when end-of-year reviews come around and we need to dust off our objectives. The solution? Turn your objectives into something that is actually useful for you. Give yourself a challenge, set some ambitious targets and go back to them once a month and see how you are measuring up against them. If they are just something you do to satisfy your managers, they will always be a pain and, what’s more, they won’t demonstrate what you’re really capable of, and could hold you back. So, do them for yourself and don’t dread the EOYR – sorry, end-of-year review (see Resolution No. 3).

As ever, we want your views. Have you made any career resolutions for 2016? Or are there any ingenious tips that you could share with colleagues seeking inspiration?

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Number 8 should be to ensure that ALL Staff are able to achieve a good level of a work / life balance. Staff who find themeselves "stretched" are at risk of burn out and may end up having to take off time from work. Such a situation can impact on the ability of staff to delivery high quality work, as well as put at risk the reputation of Departments. It can also have financial impact for the Civil Service in terms of the absenteeism of staff.

  2. Comment by ANNON - NW posted on

    What a shame you've all taken time out to comment on this blog because no-one in a senior position with the authority to make changes will actually read it. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in my views on the complexity of objectives. It's actually a senior management task to make them complex and train managers to explain them to the majority who don't understand the long winded terminology. My stress levels hit a maximum high in March / April every year as I try to prepare for an end of year review and deliver excellent customer service at the same time. It's far more straight forward in the private sector where training and staff management are actually designed to help staff to deliver the right level of service rather than tick boxes.

  3. Comment by another Terry posted on

    "I ask all Civil Servants that have the PIP quota with similar annual report to the MoD PADR - does anyone like it and think it works?"

    Given the worrying trend that some demographics ( BAME, men, part-timers, older people and disabled people) are consistently and more significantly likely to get PPIs and less likely to get performance pay, the answer for anyone who believes in workplace equality would have to be no and no.

  4. Comment by Julie Anderson posted on

    Oh! And I must ask: are any of our comments read, digested and considered by the 'powers that be'? I really hope the 'comments' aren't just paid lip service...

    • Replies to Julie Anderson>

      Comment by Blog team posted on

      Hi Julie, thanks for your comments.
      Since we launched the blog in 2014, and even more so since we added the CS Leaders' category, we've worked hard to make sure the comments are sent on to the relevant authors, and we encourage them to respond where they can.

      In this case we wrote this post, but there's nothing here that we could respond to. This was just a few thoughts we had around refreshing our CPD plans that we thought we'd share. Hopefully they're useful and we appreciate some people will be trying similar things.

    • Replies to Julie Anderson>

      Comment by William (MoD) posted on

      I think it would be nice if the PADR system did exactly what you said.
      However, it is utterly devisive.

      I had one member of my small team that meet their targets but, due to several reasons (including others overmarking), ended up with a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
      They saw it as personal criticism and their personal issues have got much worse.

      I ask all Civil Servants that have the PIP quota with similar annual report to the MoD PADR - does anyone like it and think it works?

      • Replies to William (MoD)>

        Comment by Julian Assange posted on


        During my previous adventures working in the private sector, I was subjected to a PIP by my borderline-sociopathic "manager"; it was forced onto me because management decided one day that, as I had been in the department for the longest time (about 1 year more than the next colleague), I needed to perform at exactly 50% higher by volume of output (e.g. calls answered, complaints resolved, etc) than my colleagues but with exactly the same resources and time that others had; needless to say, this was impossible and hey presto, PIP time!

        Over the next 6 months, my morale dissipated, my attitude to my work became noticeably negative and I lost all respect for both the company and its management. I eventually left.

        PIPs are, in my experience, tools of oppression and used by ineffective managers to victimise and harass employees. I have never heard of anything positive around this topic.

        I haven't been with the CS long but should I myself encounter any of the depressing but predictable behavior mentioned by others on this blog without just cause, I will move on and take my skills with me.

  5. Comment by Julie Anderson posted on

    I agree with the majority of comments here: particularly Andy S' comments about team members competing. Mid & end year reviews should be about whether the individual has simply been: reliable; hard-working; met targets (where reasonable); had a 'can-do' attitude; remained professional, polite and supportive of other team members & the manager. You can't have every single person in the office being ambitious - that's not team oriented - you always need those in a team who are happy to get the job done, and do it well, and support the management to meet the objectives. The current 'ratings' system is geared to undermining colleagues confidence and basic human requirements - being valued, recognised as doing a decent job, and having a work/life balance - all the things we're also told should be taken into account. Blue sky thinking never bloody goes away! Can we just get realistic, please?

  6. Comment by Fed up in IT posted on

    Nice idea on L & D, but having the bean counters come back on a business case with "Could one person do the course and train the others?". Erm, no. How about next time I go and do a first aid course and then teach you how do CPR without any medical or training qualifications! There are so many blocks on training if if costs money, that in the end staff give up fighting and just plod on unskilled and untrained.....

  7. Comment by Susan Chan posted on

    Three cheers for promoting randomised coffee trials (item 4). Civil servants urgently need more conversation, especially with people to whom we have not yet been introduced - both inside and outside the civil service. We all have something to learn and to share and this is by far the simplest and cheapest way to share knowledge. If we took the time to listen to each other, you'd find that the civil service already has access to an immense range skills and connections. And it's fun too.

    • Replies to Susan Chan>

      Comment by Down South! posted on

      YEAH! Totally agree Susan!
      too much working at your own desk with your head down!
      Private industry know the importance of networking internally and externally.
      Although we are CS we are still businesses and between us we can connect with other departments and work towards a better, more productive and connected CS!

  8. Comment by Down South! posted on

    Good lord there is so much negativity here!

    If you don't want to go up the frame work - Develop for your own sake, learn new skills, new systems that might be useful at home!

    If you don't want to advance and do more difficult work then WHY SHOULD you get a pay rise?

    If you wish to make you better, your team better, the CS better, then we should all be looking for way to be better!
    Yes a lot of the digital tool mentioned above are as of yet, unavailable...but there is so much on offer here FAR MORE than the private sector, that you need to take advantage of it an STOP MOANING!

    Chin up and all that! 🙂 Happy new year! I am going to take everything I can get!

  9. Comment by Matt posted on

    Not very many positive comments here which is clearly concerning as it reduces the likelihood that we are simply reading the opinion of an ill-informed minority. On the balance of probabilities these comments represent views held by a reasonable proportion of our staff, are valid comments and deserve to be addressed.
    The only positive comment I can add is that item 6 is fully supported in my office (but by referring to it as item 6 and failing to explain the context or give any examples of how this has been supported you can see that I need to pay more attention to item 3).
    Given the safe environment of my own office I have to say I am confident that no one would receive a "must improve" for highlighting issues which could potentially be impacting the service we provide.

  10. Comment by Si posted on

    Hold on, hold on. I'm not a policy maker, however my job does involve implementing and advising on "our" policies, and I love something that helps me do my job more easily! So how does using Trello fit with the Security and Information Management principles defined in the JSP's. From the Trello Privacy Policy "If you are outside the United States, you should know that any personally identifiable information you enter into the Services will be transferred out of your country and into the United States, and possibly to other countries." Er...

  11. Comment by Andy S posted on

    It's some time since I was a manager but I have to say that a team of 10 people all trying to do something extra and to outshine the others so as not to be the one to fill the "must Improve" quota on the team would be a nightmare. The ideal team to achieve good to excellent results would be two striving to get on and eight happy to do a solid days work. Unfortunately, PMR is trying to get us to nightmare!

    • Replies to Andy S>

      Comment by RM posted on

      Andy S - just think in that team of 10 people they might not just be trying to do something extra or outshine the others but trying to undermine or 'get one over' of their colleagues to ensure they're not the one in the bottom 10%. The PMR system encourages the opposite of good team working and sharing best practise.

  12. Comment by S posted on

    Good to have it reminded that the 5-days-a-year is about YOUR OWN personal development, i.e. intended career direction, and not the day to day role. Too many managers these days are trying to bundle all mandatory on the job training caused by procedural changes into the 5-a-year, meaning that people are left with little time to use it what it was meant for i.e.true development on one's own intended career direction.

  13. Comment by Susan posted on

    Here, here. Somebody please listen to this woman. I've been saying this for years ... but no-one's listening to me!

  14. Comment by Dee posted on

    Item 6 interests me as this appears to be a recipe for ensuring one receives a 'Needs Improvement' (e.g. bottom 10%) marking at the end of the year, based on negativity.....or is it just me?

  15. Comment by Ruth Ashton-Ward posted on

    why the obsession and drive for challenge and development? We all need to recognise that we are different character types and function differently. SOme people are constantly striving to develop and move about, and thats fine for that character type. But what happens if you like your job, you are good at it, you get a buzz out of 'doing what you do?' (which means you unconsciously learn anyway!) and you enjoy your subject matter? Certain character types are content and happy with that, why constantly the guilt and pressure and push to make people feel inadequate because they are 'just doing their job', and have not develeped in the set narrow defined way that the CS defines (evidence based). What about whole person, life, holistic development (just generally growing older and wiser!), that is a positive but how is it measurable? I think we need to appreciate diversity of character and what makes individuals tick.

    • Replies to Ruth Ashton-Ward>

      Comment by Paw posted on

      I wish this could be put as a sticky at the top of the comments. I've been doing my job for over a decade. I think if I wasn't doing it well enough something would have been done long ago. I enjoy my work and have no real desire to climb the greasy pole. I may be forced to though, as it seems that's the only way to get any sort of pay increase. I'm on the maximum so not even a 1% increase for me in future. In fact, realistically, it'll be a pay cut. Each year is a struggle to find something I can to put on the form as a development, and the chances of getting an exceeded are remote, so the incentive to chase after it is negligible.

    • Replies to Ruth Ashton-Ward>

      Comment by Chris posted on

      Agree with Rush 100%

  16. Comment by J posted on

    This is really helpful!

  17. Comment by Davo posted on

    Its a pasta me by, roll on Christmas

  18. Comment by annonymous posted on

    end of year no one in this office completes one to one's but then automatically decides your rating at mid year and end of year, the leaders in this office have no people skills it is more like a dictatorship.

  19. Comment by Paul Harcombe posted on

    someone has far too much time on their hands, the rest of us are swamped with doing the actual day job with less people around us to help get it done ...

  20. Comment by Heather posted on

    I agree with all of the above! The sentiments of this article are great in an ideal world, however, Justine is right re carbs and who in their right mind will try and tell our leaders where they are going wrong, after all if you have been in the dept for a long time, you will have already tried this and will well know that it all falls on deaf ears! Just look at the outcomes from the Staff Engagement Survey!!

  21. Comment by James Stevens posted on

    Not one mention of the Delivery which is surely the most important Resolution?

    Point 6 - Most Civil Servants have - the dreaded bureaucratic pointless PMR system - the ultimate over complicated process facing us all today.

  22. Comment by Bill posted on

    If there wasn't a glass ceiling unless you are a chosen one, and can only live and breathe the stupidity of the civil services ways of working, this would be relevant.

    Unfortunately I live in the real world, not the fantasy world of the senior leaders, who either choose to ignore the truth, if anyone dares to tell them it, or more likely, are only told what they want to hear.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  23. Comment by glen posted on

    Soungs great...............Just need the Leaders to act on it. I'm expected to improve and take on more responsibility, when in the end I will be doing the same job for the same pay with no chance of progression. It doesn’t encourage me when i have people around me doing less and being paid more.

  24. Comment by Jayne posted on

    Resolution 7 is very interesting, almost an acknowledgment that the PMR process is not fit for purpose. The current over long, wordy objectives does not support staff and mangers in delivering objectives - business or developmental. The PMR document should be a live document, used by staff and mangers to check what has to be delivered each month, clear, specific and relevant, it should inspire and be the tool used to manage delivery. Not something that is a burden and that you "dust off" at the end of the year. Everyone should own their own PMR - it has to be agreed so take ownership, make it real to you.

    • Replies to Jayne>

      Comment by S posted on

      In many areas I have worked in, the objectives are standard across a team and are "SET" not "AGREED".

  25. Comment by Anthony posted on

    How about our Leaders being honest with us
    & how can we use Twiter, when it's barred bt DII(F)?

  26. Comment by Justine posted on

    "carbs and other things that might not be good for us"...

    This implies carbs are not good for us.
    Over eating the wrong carbs (sweets, crisps, biscuits) is not good for us. Eating the right carbs (pasta, rice, potato) are good.

  27. Comment by Iffyminty posted on

    Ah yes the mad obsession with 'development' continues anew! I won't saw anything else as our leaders take no notice anyway.

  28. Comment by Ruel Cole posted on

    It's a New Year, we can all close our eyes and dream, and take a stand when we know that something isn’t being done right in our working environment by our leaders!!