Monthly Archives: August 2007

the gift of fear

View The Gift of Fear details at AmazonI’ve been writing here recently about the vampires in the workplace – the workplace bullies that wreck havoc with the lives of individuals and their whanau, and in the process negatively affect the image and profitability of a business. Even if your business is a ‘not-for-profit’ there are few enterprises that run without money – if that money comes from the government rather than from sales it doesn’t really make that much difference – a good, robust public image – a positive reputation never goes astray.

I’ve written previously that the issue is lax HR processes invites the vampires in – the standard questions at interview time coupled with a strong self image serve to cloak the vampire; in particular when the kinds of attributes a vampire has are also the kind of attributes often seen as desirable in sales and management fields. In Gavin De Becker’s ‘The Gift of Fear’ he includes a number of questions that help reveal potential employee’s negative attitudes, and may help shine a light on vampires as well. De Becker specialises in personal security – when Beatle George Harrison was stabbed by a stalker it was ‘family friend’ Gavin De Becker who made the public statements. The copy of ‘The Gift of Fear’ I read (available from many libraries) said on the cover something to the effect of ‘Once you pick this book up you won’t put it down until you’ve read the whole book’. I thought, ‘yeah, right’, but a few hours later I had to agree.

Ok, so the kinds of questions. Typically the vampire has a really strong sense of their own worth, and it’s worth asking a few questions that probe just a notch further. The following are some of the questions – the interpretation of the answers is outlined in the book.

Describe the best boss you ever had.
Describe the worst boss you ever had.
Tell me about a failure in your life and tell me why it occurred.
What are some of the things your last employer could have done to be more successful?
Did you ever tell your previous employer any of your thoughts on ways they could improve?
What are some of the things your last employer could have done to keep you?
How do you go about solving problems at work?
Describe a problem you had in your life where someone else’s help was very important to you.
Who is your best friend and how would you describe your friendship?

De Becker states the goal is to disqualify poor applicants rather than to qualify good applicants. Those who are good will qualify themselves.

So what if the interview takes more than an hour. Or you have to have more than one. Interview on a weekend when you’re down to the last two. You’re going to spend 40 hours a week for the next 10 – 20 years with this person, why not spend a few extra minutes making sure this is someone everyone can get along with, PLUS will be acting safely with their colleagues and the business itself. Once you’ve got a vampire or two getting rid of them isn’t that easy. Take care, be safe.

smirting like a cheshire cat

I don’t understand why it has become socially acceptable to punish addicts in New Zealand. In a nation I used to think of as fair, and indeed, supportive of the underdog, I find it horrid that we not only blame the victim, but we punish them relentlessly.

What I’m writing about is the banishment of smokers to the great outdoors. I really don’t have any problem with that. I don’t smoke, and I don’t want people smoking in the same air space I’m trying to work in. I have spent plenty of time as a passive smoker, and have no desire to repeat the experience. I wish people who smoke could give up and indulge in a safer activity. Nevertheless, it does seem strange to me that companies and organisations can’t find a budget to set up somewhere slightly more pleasant for their staff to have a cigarette. A seat. Shelter from the wind and rain. Instead I see staff standing out in the worst weather, dealing with their addiction as best they can. Don’t forget that – smoking is addictive – we know this, and what we do is force the victims of this addiction into cold and unpleasant environments in order to participate.

I guess the theory is that if it’s unpleasant enough people will stop smoking. In much the same way that the same approach to drinking helped stop alcoholism in days of six o’clock closing. New Zealand invented the bar leaner and the ability to dispense a vast amount of beer in a very short time. Seating was not used and the general approach was to make the drinking experience as unpleasant as possible. And what a royal success that turned out to be.

One of the interesting side effects of sending out small groups of people – a tiny clan of like-minded people – to face adversities like bad weather – is that they stand around talking to each other. Back in the day when I worked with helping to get people into work I used to recommend smokers identify where they wanted to work, get well presented, and then go network with smokers from that company. Build some relationships, and then use the relationships to explore employment options – the theory being you’re more likely to get work with someone you know than strangers. And, as a smoker you’ve already got something in common. And now there’s a word for the next step – smirting. Flirting while smoking. And of course, smexting – texting while smoking. There’s something bizarre, and yet encouragingly resistant, about the human drive to communicate, interact, and yes, flirt – to socialise when engaged in what is seen to be anti-social behaviour.

workplace bullying: the stakes are raised

A few days ago I wrote here and here about workplace bullying, and how I believe it is rife, if not in New Zealand, then certainly it’s alive and thriving here in Wellington. When I first wrote about the workplace bully as a vampire, I described some of their psychopathic behaviours and modus operandi. Allow me to recap: they can be male or female, usually have an education or are well equipped with native cunning, and they’re well up (and continuing to work their way up) the totem pole. Apart from the stench of the undead, you’ll be able to identify a nest of vampires by all or all of the following signs: a high staff turnover, a climate of change, changing (unfair) work conditions and environments, workers are stressed, and the vampires inevitably surround themselves with a clan of cronies.

Today I came across a story online from Patrick Crewdson – The Dominion Post – today, Monday, 27 August 2007. I’m going to excerpt it heavily, as their archive system is a bit uneven, not as some sort of plagiarism. This is a story that should be preserved. It’s about vampires; see if you can recognise any of the spoor.

The scene opens:

The case of Stuart Selwood v Queen Margaret College pitted the school against itself and exposed a serious rift between teachers and the management.

Before the Employment Relations Authority, current and former staff of the school lined up with the Selwood family against the school’s hierarchy – principal Carol Craymer, deputy principal Rosey Mabin, bursar Annette Lendrum, year 13 dean Milada Pivac and others.

Located in Thorndon, Queen Margaret College an independent Presbyterian girls’ school, prides itself on being one of the premier schools for girls in Wellington, if not New Zealand. The school motto is ‘Luce Veritatis – By the light of truth‘, and their marketing line is ‘Passionate learners, resilient women, future leaders‘.

Most striking among his (Dr Selwood’s) list of complaints was the charge that the stress he suffered at the school masked the symptoms of his bowel cancer till it spread to his lungs and became terminal.

He claimed to have been bullied, pressured, and mistreated – forced to accept a revised job description under threat of redundancy; made to work out of a “storeroom”; victimised after an altercation over a pupil’s iPod; denied a support person at meetings with management; and marginalised by an audit of the school’s IT operations.

He claimed the school downgraded his responsibilities, threatened him with redundancy if he did not accept the changes, and moved him to an office “unfit for human habitation”.

Originally, he sought $74,000 compensation – as well as for the school to cover his legal and medical costs – but he reduced that to $59,000 as the hearing closed. In the end, the authority awarded him $5000.

Oncologist Peter Dady told the authority Dr Selwood’s life expectancy was one to two years. Stress would not have caused the cancer, but it could have cloaked the symptoms till it was too late, he said.

What does the Board have to say about this?

“The board has unqualified confidence in Ms Craymer and her leadership team and is offended by the allegations and inferences made about Carol and her team.”

Criticising Dr Selwood for taking the dispute “into the public arena”, he said the school had “a very disciplined strategy” for dealing with media coverage and anyone approached should direct inquiries to him.

This is from Board of governors chairman Allan Freeth. Hmmm, now there’s a name that sounds familiar.

So, what about the parents and other staff? Well, it seems in the ancient tradition of vampires, a conspiracy of silence prevails.

Other members of the school community agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, afraid being seen to criticise senior management could damage their future at the college.

One mother told The Dominion Post that since her daughter had been at the school, she believed it had changed from a “vibrant, warm and nurturing” environment to somewhere with the atmosphere of “a fridge”.

As staff left, Ms Craymer had surrounded herself with a coterie of “scrubbed, ponytailed Brunnhildes”, she said.

“Factions developed, with the principal apparently gathering about her a closed senior management team and sending out messages about loyalty at all costs.”

I can only hope the Brunnhilde reference is to the Wagnerian Valkyrie, and not to the more frightening Brunhilda of Austrasia. But you couldn’t rule it out. Ok, so what about the vampire evidence?

Much of the most damning criticism of the school came in briefs of evidence submitted to the authority.

Part-time IT teacher John Barrow said unhappy teachers referred to the senior management team as “the enemy”. He has since resigned, after deputy principal Rosey Mabin told him his testimony at the initial hearing left him in an “untenable position”.

Former teacher Virginia Horrocks said teachers felt they “were being subjected to a regime of divide and rule” – under an autocratic system that even banned personal mugs from the staffroom.

Since Ms Craymer took over as principal in January 2004, 14 teachers had left to take up similar or lower- level jobs at other schools, with three department heads leaving to return to the classroom, she said.

The authority also saw a May 2006 letter from members of the private school teachers’ union to the board of governors that read: “Over the last two years we have seen substantial change to the college resulting in a falling roll, extraordinary staff turnover and minimal value placed on the professional skills and the goodwill of the teaching and support staff.”

According to a document available on the Queen Margaret College web site, there are, in 2007, 65 teaching staff, including some on maternity leave. If it is correct that 14 staff had left, that’s be something like the 25% – a substantial turnover it seems, for somewhere as caring and nurturing as suggested by the web site. I can’t help wondering why would somebody find it necessary or desirable to go to the effort of setting up a Googlepage dedicated to commentary on the bullying at Queen Margaret College? Slightly more than someone with a bit of a grudge it seems.

Vampires. In the school. It’s a disgrace. My heart goes out to Stuart and Sally Selwood, their family, and the other victims. Somehow I don’t imagine the $5,000 the Selwoods were awarded will offer much in the way of comfort. If (IF) the predictions are true and Dr Selwood doesn’t see out the decade, I can image the management team’s angst as to whether they should send flowers, or attend the funeral, or both. The hollow words at the school assembly, perhaps even a minute or two of silence. One thing’s for sure – QMC’s web site’s promise of a ‘professional and supportive staff and a warm, caring and friendly atmosphere‘ isn’t immediately obvious. It doesn’t matter if the Employment Relations Authority found the school management were only guilty to the extent of $5,000 – I would’ve expected any good vampire would’ve covered their tracks just as thoroughly. What does matter is Dr Selwood, and apparently others, did feel bullied and the school authorities have been unable to respond and communicate the sincere support and aroha that the victims might reasonably expect to experience in a workplace that so strongly identifies with Christian beliefs.

seventh son – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I finally finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) this evening. It was good, way good. A vast improvement in writing and editing over the drudgery of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5). I can see this book will be the movie to end movies – it really seems just begging for the matinée crowd who’ll just lap up yaying the goodies, booing the baddies (and those eeuuw kissy kissy scenes). An action packed romp that left me, for once, wanting more.

I realised later that J.K. Rowling is one of the few fiction authors I’ve read more than five of their books – she joins a select group that includes (in no particular order) Alexander Mccall Smith, Joanne Harris, Douglas Adams, H.G. Wells, Ursula Le Guin, Richard Bach, Stephen R. Donaldson, Terry Pratchett, William Gibson, and John Wyndham. I guess that must make her one of my favorite authors, but I wouldn’t ever have said/thought that. And none of them New Zealand authors. Speaks volumes about me and about the state of publishing/writing here. Perhaps kiwis don’t write in the genres I like – they probably do, but, I’m not a big fiction reader at the best of times.

How to Succeed at Psychometric Tests

Quite a while ago I wrote a quick draft over at wikihow about how to succeed at psychometric testing. It needs editing. Why not take a swing at it?

Psychometric testing is a commonly used method of assessing prospective employees. With preparation it is possible to improve your test scores. Psychometric tests focus on certain aspects of your knowledge, typically aptitude things like number or spelling aptitude, things that are easily answered in a ‘yes/no, black and white’ kind of way. And this is why they’re frequently administered from a computer. Personality questionnaires also form part of the psychometric testing world.

While some people think psychometric testing is rubbish, more than a few companies invest a lot of money in buying it – so, love it or loathe it, there’s a chance you’ll have to undertake the tests at some stage.

Steps:

  1. If you’ve been away from formal education for a while, (or your education wasn’t that formal in the first place) get some practice at doing tests. The tests you set yourself up with for starters could be as simple as the surveys you find in popular magazines. The personality psychometric tests are not vastly different, so start there.
  2. Psychometric tests are always timed – so there’s a pressure to get answers down and move on to the next question. If you are using the ‘Word Power’ test found in Reader’s Digest (as an example), set a timer (or have someone time you) to allow for about 20 seconds per question. Don’t worry if you don’t get the test done within the time. What you are trying to do is a) get used to the stress of doing short tests under time pressure, and b) expand your vocabulary.
  3. If you find magazines that have surveys that tell you your personality, do those as well; again, set up a timer for 15-20 seconds per question. The kinds of questions asked in the personality psychometric tests are about as complex. Things like ‘I would like to be a fighter pilot’ – yes / no. Usually the personality tests are not timed, but there are a couple of hundred questions – it’s about sufficiency of evidence in this case. The timer part of this step is, again, about helping you get used to reading quickly, and to give you some time pressure.
  4. Finding puzzles where there are simple graphics – pick the odd one out, or ‘if this is to this, then that is to …?’ type questions are the kinds of tests that look at your reasoning and spatial abilities. Find them, time them, do them. Sudoko helps you look at patterns, add a timer to spur you on.
  5. Maths – these usually take the form of problem, with five or six possible answers. If you’ve slipped away from percentages, fractions, decimals, proportions, ratios, and relationships – it’s time to return to those kinds of answers.
  6. Use any online word-of-the-day type services, along with crosswords, hangman, word match, and other sorts of word puzzles – try at www.thefreedictionary.com for starters. Keep doing them with a timer, and try to get faster, and of course, accuracy is the name of the game. Challenge colleagues, friends and family.
  7. Any sort of IQ test, visual puzzles, trivial pursuit – the name of the game is to buff up your mental maths, reading, and comprehension skills. Oh, and get used to doing tests in short time frames.
  8. Ok – test time. If you don’t feel 100%, reschedule if possible. Don’t feel pressured – the object of the exercise is to get in, do the tests, get on with life. Ask for clear information about the time required – the tests might be 10 minutes, but there’s always a bit of delay before and afterwards. Slipping in during a lunch break might not put you in the best frame of mind if you’re suddenly starting to run out of time.
  9. Usually there’s a few sample questions to warm up with. Work through them calmly, check your answers, get a feeling for the layout and style of the questions. The timing doesn’t start until you start the test, so spend a few moments relaxing and getting yourself ready for action.
  10. Get the best answer down and move on. Trust yourself. You get a better chance to find questions you can answer if you move on rather than spend two minutes grinding away on a problem. That would waste the opportunity of another 6 questions @ 20 seconds each.

Tips:

  • Don’t panic if you don’t finish the tests – they’re designed to give results even if you don’t answer every question.
  • Don’t waste time or energy getting angry with what might appear to be dumb or repetitive questions. If you don’t know the answer, or can’t it work out; don’t get mad, don’t get frustrated – go for your best guess, and move on to the next question. The more answers you get through, the better your chances are. Like in so many things in life, a good attitude will help.
  • Maths – if this hasn’t been your strong point, relax and keep it simple. Try to pick up tips, tricks, and shortcuts eg if you add two even numbers the answer has to be an even number. Two odd numbers add up to an even number. An odd and an even number add up to an odd number. So, even if you can’t figure out the answer, it’s possible you can find the answer by deduction and eliminating the wrong answers. It’s ok to count on your fingers, make notes on paper and come up with something like it: the answer has to be bigger than that and that, and it has to end in an even number because the problem added two numbers that ended in odd numbers…
  • Ultimately, relax. Psychometric testing is an indication, it’s not YOU. If you are a creative, artistic person, it is very possible that the maths and writing tests are not going to show all of your best sides. If, as a result, you miss the job, you should probably thank your lucky stars while you are running like the wind – you don’t want to work for a company like that anyway.
  • If you’re chasing a job, you can’t control the interviewer or how they ask the questions, you can’t read the minds of the interview panel or know how they’ll read your resume/cv. One thing you can do is get proactive and do some practice and preparation for the test. Good luck. Oh, and don’t forget, even if you don’t get the job, and you don’t bedazzle the testers, there’s a very good chance many of the successful people throughout history would’ve also flopped at this kind of testing process. You’re probably in good company. Take some heart that odds are the company have short-listed you enough to offer you the test in the first place.

Warnings:

  • If the tests are in English, and it’s not your first language, you really need to practice. The language used can be quite complex and full of confusing double negatives. Practice, baby, practice.
  • If the tests are using USA or UK questions (and you’re not from there) the wording or the cultural content can be a little strange. Remember, in the case of maths, it’s about the numbers – don’t be put off by pounds (or dollars).

from dusk ’til dawn II

We were chatting about the idea of the workplace vampires, and I mentioned I’d forgotten to mention one of the other effective ways the vampires can get in amongst their victims. It’s simple. It’s elegant. Simply load up the victim’s work level, and then when it comes time for professional development, there’s no time for it – even if there’s money for it. Which of course is an ideal way of holding a victim back, and makes it harder for them to get a different job, because they’re not current.

The simple solution for victims of this kind of workplace bullying is to take charge of your own professional development – in most towns there are some sort of free or attractively priced classes, courses, or workshops. It doesn’t have to be on a subject directly related to your job – that’s be a bonus – but learning something new, and making a new circle of friends (rare to find a vampire there) will be a very good thing. Not only will it help sustain you through the bad times, a new circle might know of some job openings and an opportunity for a fresh start.

My keyhole blows a gale

Stunned in their voiceless way to be alive
That neither the motionless farm couple trudging
But when, on the timepieces that we call
And he is swathed in ever-petrified dread;
Down the long course of the gray slush of things
whose soft bristles graze the top-racks.
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
The paths of childhood.
Of Boyg of Normandy . . .
they sit with their wives all day in the sun,
Between the vertex that the far-lit gray
Lucky the bell—still full and deep of throat,
Where lamps are lit: these, too,
Against this sky no longer of our world.
Dismal, endless plain—
Is the moon to grow
Blurring the terrain,
XV. The International Circumpolar Stations: The Greely Expedition
My keyhole blows a gale

[recent spam harvest reinvented as random poetry]

from dusk ’til dawn…

Wellington, as a concept, makes an effort to attract the creative talent, along the lines described by Richard Florida. And while that’s a good thing, I’ve noticed a rather disturbing pattern here – that is, how common the bullying of staff is. I have no figures to compare to elsewhere in NZ, or indeed, the world; but it is rife here. I usually go for a walk at lunch time and a couple of times recently I’ve overheard distraught people telling friends as they walk about their latest horror. I don’t mean vague ‘I hate my job, it sux’, kind of thing, I mean very stressed people telling tales of abusive treatment. Outside my office recently I encountered a colleague who was so angry and upset that they were unable to weep, but clearly they wanted to calm down to the extent that that was an option. It seems so stupid and unproductive to me – how on earth was this person going to go back to their desk and in any way be productive for the rest of the day? This bullying – this abuse – not only is destructive to the person, it must have a lasting effect on the profit and productivity of a workplace, simply because the time is lost, quite apart from how the worker responds over the next few hours, days and weeks.

So where does it come from? I’ve had many jobs, many work places, worked with and for many different people. And I’ve struck a few nasty people in my time. And then there are people out the other side of nasty. They are psychopaths. I call them vampires. They are devoid of any empathy, their emotion is carefully engineered for their benefit, and they have no compunction about doing whatever is required to suit their own ends. Their ruthless manipulations generate some sort of pleasure reward, in much the same way that rape is not about sex, rather it is about power and domination. They’re not common – predators never are – but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Think: vampires. There can’t be lots of them because they’d run of out prey quickly. Same with your typical workplace psychopath – if the entire office was full of them there’d be no-one for them to prey on. My unscientific guess is 1 in 100 people has the goods – the fangs, if you will. Oh, and just like the Dracula movie, the vampires can be just as easily be female as male.

Like vampires, they have to have been invited over the threshold into the workplace, usually by inept HR processes, and, like vampires, once installed, they’re not easy to get rid of by the victims; nor by the other victims, the company itself who can see (hopefully, eventually) that previously good staff are starting to turn over. Typically however it’s not that easy – first the vampire will be quicker than that – there’ll be a seemingly valid reason why the staff turnover is going up, and no matter what, it’ll have nothing to do with the vampire. I have worked in places with a greater than 33% staff turnover – in other words, within three years 100% of the institution knowledge has walked out the door – not that there was that much in the first instance. I do not know why senior management compensation is not tied to turnover figures. I do not know what HR insist on inane questions at interviews along the lines of tell me when you succeeded at something, as if that’s really going to identify any aberrant behaviour. See the problem is, some of the vampire behaviours are desirable when you’re looking to recruit for sales or executive type roles – someone ambitious and charming, focussed and driven etc. What needs to be considered (apart from a thorough follow up on reference checking) is the emotional responses – along the lines of Dekkard checking for replicants in Blade Runner. I’ve yet to see any HR process that in any way genuinely looks at weeding out vampire applicants. And turbulent times – restructures etc is the exact environment to attract vampires. People are unsettled, they come in looking like leaders and champions, they’re sweet talking, and you look like fresh meat. The greater the staff turn over, the greater opportunity for vampires. They’re thrilled by change. Just like in the vampire movies – Drac wafts in when the wheel falls off and there’s a storm brewing.

The perfect murder
According to Dr John Clarke, Sydney based author of ‘Working with Monsters‘, people who have been ruthlessly bullied have sought escape from the depression and fear by taking their own lives. In that case, I believe the management of a company should be charged as being accessories to murder. And the vampire him/her-self be charged accordingly. The colleague I met outside was obviously highly stressed, and had finished a second cigarette. Killing – murder – takes many forms. A death resulting from these things would not be attributed back to the vampire (and they would not feel any remorse), but the end result is the same.

On becoming a vampire slayer
OK – so you think your boss is a vampire. What do you do? You’ve probably become aware of the worsening of the situation between you. You’re probably blaming yourself, or wondering what’s happening to you. Heads up – you’re not going mad, you’ve got a vampire there. The situation is exactly the same as in the Dracula movies. You have to get away from the vampire, or get rid of the vampire. There’s a good chance the vampire will have reinforced their position with some other people – so keep a look out for favorites, buddy-buds, shared in-jokes – that kind of thing – they will build their power base. Just like the bullies in the school yard – just like the movies – the children of the night, and the lurking manservant. J.K.Rowling summed the cronies nicely in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

They were a motley collection; a collection of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish, gravitating towards a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty.

Look also for cover-ups, incompetence, and blame. Look for rules being changed arbitrarily, unfairness, inconsistency, and things that were acceptable before are now no longer so. You’ll know, because you’ll be baring the brunt of it. Don’t feel completely bad, you’re not mad, you’re not alone and you’re not the first – have a quick check of an online survey that’s about as authoritative as the HR babel. Don’t take it too seriously, but it’s an indicator.

Do a bit of a reality check – have you actually become crap at your job because something else has happened outside – are you studying on the side, started a new relationship, got into debt etc – these kinds of things, coupled by not getting enough sleep can affect your performance at work. So, be honest and look at yourself in an honest way, and, rather than reach for your stakes and garlic, make absolutely sure your performance is outstanding. I know it was once, is it still the same? Don’t be holding grudges because a person older or younger, male or female, straight or gay or whatever has got the role you wanted and now you’re jealous. Once you’ve cleared that up, go back over the points of complaint, and see what was wrong. If you genuinely stuffed up, sort it, learn from it, and move on.

Having done that, the vampire’s still there? Ok, sounds like you might have a live one. You’ve got two options. Get out, or get the vampire out. Usually the vampire is further up the totem pole than you, so, getting out is the straight forward option. Dust of your resume/cv – and get yourself gussied up ready for the next role by dropping your cv off to agencies and other employers. What you’ll gain is a feeling of being in some control, and jobs don’t seem so bad if you know there’s a back door somewhere. Don’t pretend it’ll get better, or you love your job. Stop making excuses, get out while you’re alive. Stress is a killer, and you and yours don’t need it. And the vampire will simply move on to the next victim – they are ruthless and relentless, and they won’t stop with you. If you stay you might just as well offer your naked throat to Hannibal Lecter. Other defenses include networking with friends and letting everyone know you’re in the market for a new role. Also, make an effort to build up some cash reserves – ideally 6 months worth of pay – so if all else fails you can simply leave. Get out of debt. If you let it slip that you need your job because of some financial horror you have just entirely put yourself at their mercy. And they have none. Remember, this is not the school bully (although they probably started there) the work place vampire has a control on your income, and there is no big teacher to come and sort it out. The HR team have their hands tied, and the vampire will typically have sorted them first, and besides, if the HR processes were any good there wouldn’t be a vampire here in the first instance.

Disclosure. Do not disclose anything that in some way can be twisted by the vampire. They will, and will use it against you. I’ve mentioned the being in debt thing. Do not disclose any weakness at all. Keep your private stuff to yourself. I’ve seen guys present their necks at those matey drinking sessions. That vampire is not as drunk as you think. They are taking it all in, and it will be used. If you are good, and you intend hunting the vampire (careful, they are very, very dangerous), you might avail yourself of any information, but remember to triangulate evidence – they are are glib and convincing liars. Check out Gormenghast’s Steerpike as a classic example of a workplace vampire. Absolutely do not whine to HR or a more senior manager about the vampire, until you have got overwhelming, triangulated, documented evidence (and that you are free of all spatters). They cannot get rid of a person because you’re petty and don’t like them. The vampire will make it seem like that, and then you’ve shown your hand, and there will be no protection for you at all. A vampire will see your emotions very clearly, and they will manipulate them to their best advantage. Do not apply your value set to the vampire. They don’t have it, it is irrelevant. At best you can be thought of as a lamb for the slaughter.

Document. Get yourself a diary, (pay for it yourself so that doesn’t trigger any possible attack) and make detailed notes of everything. What time you start, take breaks, finish. Every phone conversation for work, stop using the phone for social purposes. Back up email etc. Take your own minutes of every meeting. That would be EVERY meeting. I use bigger postits and leave notes to myself as I go – along the lines of – I filed this here, here and here, because this may be needed for this, this, and this. They’re generic so other people finding them simply think I’m being helpful, but before today a note from two years previously has been the garlic to fend off the vampire. Some might call it covering your butt, I think of it as garlic on my throat. Document, document, document. And stop doing anything that provides a chink in your armor. Stop taking coffee breaks that are longer than allotted, leave the private photocopying to others, stop doing anything other than being an exemplary employee. Become the model employee. Sure, I know, you are now. What I’m writing about is closing off all opportunity for the vampire to strike, don’t quibble over a paper clip. Make a big effort to connect to your job – take every opportunity to get into every nook and cranny – learn all there is to know – knowledge is power, and besides, when you get the new role elsewhere you’re even more valuable.

In terms of fighting back, as an underling your options are limited. If your vampire is any good your access to the information and knowledge will be being limited, the rules will be being changed, and if they’re doing their job properly, they’ll have a group of people who’re rewarded for knifing you. Perhaps not overtly in either case, but that changes nothing. Your only hope is as per the villagers in the Dracula movies, group together with people who you know and trust, bide your time and strike a blow. Bare in mind it will be an all or nothing blow, if you fail to have the vampire removed you will have no backstop. I have heard of staking vampires being achieved with a successful (and valid) sexual harassment claim. Documented evidence, or be gone. By the way, if you see one of your colleagues being treated badly and unfairly (is there a difference?) then you should step in and offer support. Remember, you could be next…

If you are a more senior manager than the vampire, then it behooves you to get off your arse and do something for the health, not only of your employees, but also that of the company. Employment laws make it difficult to dismiss an employee – the vampire – unless there’s a clear reason for doing so. So you have to use some things that you should’ve had in place in the first instance. You, by the way, are responsible for the vampire being there in the first instance, so you should thank your lucky stars the workers aren’t chasing you with pitchforks and firebrands. First, why not start with a fairly simple test something like this one from FastCompany. It’s aimed at employees, but using your common sense you can see patterns of behaviours that your could verify by talking to the line workers. And there’s another hint. Why don’t you talk to your line workers? Management by walking around. It’s an exciting new business concept.

Dr Clarke’s book has some solutions – one was quite elaborate that took the vampire off to manage a company that the home company set up, and then left in the ownership of the vampire. It was elaborate and beautiful, and I can imagine volunteering to be one of the ‘victims’ if I got a chance to stake a vampire like that. But simpler would be simply tie employee turn over to the vampire’s performance criteria. If staff turn over is above industry average, you’re paying out more for induction and training than is necessary. Why are you so determined to squander investor profits? Another figure to look at is employee absences. Is there a pattern – is one employee absent every Monday? Why is that? Why haven’t you got employee absences tied into the vampire’s performance agreement? Personally, if I saw that the same employee was absent on the same day of the week twice in a month I’d want to know why, from the employee themselves – not in a vindictive way, but in a ‘how can we help?’ way. You haven’t got time for this? So why do you pay HR as though that’s some sort of added value to the business, when all you really need is a pay clerk?

Another solution that I’ve never ever seen implemented is generally the vampire controls the employee’s performance management and their word decides what the line worker’s income will be. The vampire gets to comment on the employee’s work, attitude, and performance. Why isn’t it back the other way as well. Why doesn’t the management value the opinions of the line workers? You do? How would I, as a consultant vampire slayer, be able to measure this? What are you afraid of? Being charged if an employee suicides as a result of being bullied by the vampire you hired? Of the highlighted loss of profit because of the staff turn over? I can see no reason why all employees shouldn’t also respond on the performance of their manager. It should be anonymous. If a single person has a trivial gripe it’ll show as being what it is. If more than one person comments perhaps there’s a pattern there worthy of further investigation. The basic perspective is to drive fear (and vampires) out of your work place. This is not to say that your workers will necessarily love every decision made – if you think of the great leaders (and I bet you can’t name a single great manager in history), leaders such as Shackleton, they made decisions that were not universally popular, however they remained respected leaders in the face of genuine adversity.

You have to get rid of the vampires. They have to go. You cannot retrain or therapy them. All you will achieve there is retrain them how to be more manipulative, more successful at the evil they do. Drive evil out by bringing light and communication in. That’s how it’s been done since the days of Vlad the Impaler. Be brave, take action. Save your good employees, save your company.

sharing and caring

You can tell a lot about a society by how they treat their aged and their dead. When I’ve travelled into other countries I often like to see what are the cemeteries like – how are old people looked after. I’m afraid – I’m ashamed – I’m disgusted – that New Zealand doesn’t have a very good treatment of the aged. If you’re planning on moving here because you’re a smart you thing and you figure retirement is forever away, and we’re really nice people; hello – after all, Lord of the Rings… make sure you find somewhere else to spend your dotage.

Recently my Mum had a slight fall, and had required some extra care to help her recover. She’s 90, things don’t heal as fast when you’re older. Mum’s very sharp, but she needs some help to recover physically. So, staying in the hospital is out of the question, they can’t deal with any long term stayers. So mum is moved off to a rest home for respite care. This costs $770 per week (that’s $40,000 per year), plus expenses. In New Zealand we have a compulsory tax/insurance – we call it Accident Compensation. Mum has run a business for years, and paid into to this tax system. She’s also on an age benefit – a pension – as you do when you’re 90. Because Mum cannot continue with her business we’ve wrapped it up for her. Oh, the compensation she gets for the respite care? $14/day – this is what she would receive given the extent of her injury if she was at home and someone came in to give her a shower or wash the dishes. $98/week. As Mum is still mentally alert (merely immobilised by her injury) she’s unable to get any further assistance, and so the balance of the weekly fee must be found by her – or, in this case, by us. As it happens, we don’t have a spare $670/week in our budget.

Doctors cut, burn, and torture the sick, and then demand of them an undeserved fee for such services.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 535–475 BCE)

On the other side of town, it was announced recently that it costs $90,000 to keep someone in prison for a year. I know that the prison residents are able to enjoy television, heating and cooling, and three meals a day – much the same as Mum is able to. The big difference is I imagine the relatives are not expected to front up with the money to pay for that. I expect they don’t have to sell the family home to pay for the services.

Based on recent exploits by people now in prison, it is clear that as soon as a person starts to feel the need for some residential care they should rape and kill, or perhaps shoot and kill someone, get hit in the knee by a police marksman, and then go to jail for the rest of their natural. One of the bonuses is they can expect ACC will give them a pay out for the injury achieved.

If you don’t find the idea of doing a crime appealing, please immediately start saving $770 a week to start paying for your retirement/rest home. You must have that amount to pay for each week you intend to stay in a rest home, not allowing for inflation. Plan B is to turn into a vegetable, then the state will pay. Somehow this information doesn’t seem to be included on the kiwisaver web site. Instead the pretense is that the 4% you save now will do it. Ok, cool. To receive $770 (based on 4%) you need to have $19,250 invested. Ah, but there’s 52 weeks in the year, so, in this case you need to have invested $1 million at say 5%, ($50,000) – gives you some pocket money, and of course, the state will still continue to tax you – if you’re luck that’ll be limited to 20%. You can make up the shortfall perhaps with a cleaning job, serving at a fast food place or something. And, of course, if you have a partner, you better make sure they’ve got the same – the mill, and a job on the side, because if you have a fantasy that the rest homes do a bulk rate because “you’re special” you should probably get over that fairly soon.

It’s grim living in New Zealand if you’re elderly and don’t have a cool million up your sleeve.

Improved social outcomes are important because they improve the quality of life of individuals, families and communities and build the foundation for economic growth and national identity. Families and communities play a critical role in improving the wellbeing of individuals. Government’s activities affect how well families and communities function. If we continue to improve what we do in social areas then we should see improvement in New Zealanders’ wellbeing.

Families – young and old focuses on providing all families with the support and choices they need to be safe and secure, and for each member to reach their full potential. Achieving this priority requires close involvement with the communities that support strong families and are in turn enriched by them.

The Ministry’s policy, research, and services for children, families, communities, and older people all contribute towards the priority of families – young and old. We provide quality services to all families, including families experiencing particular difficulties; lead government work to reduce and prevent family violence; fund and support the community organisations that provide local services; and work across government to ensure that all the policies that affect families, like health, education, and positive ageing, work well together.

Our leadership of projects like The Social Report and Opportunity for All New Zealanders, and of the Health, Education, Social Development and Justice Chief Executives Group, helps to achieve the Government goal for cross-agency action that ensures all families, young and old, can reach their potential.

Ministry of Social Development

Yeah, right. You can tell a lot about a society, not by how they talk about it, but by how they actually treat their aged.

the landscape of dreams…

The other night after I’d been skyping with Marcel and discussing our respective views on architecture and houses in particular, I had a very clear dream about a very specific view of landscape. I’ll make a drawing of it over the next day or so – perhaps someone will recognise it and tell me where it is. I’m very interested, because this was where we’re going to build the house. And, if you can identify the property, you’ll get a very personal invite to the house warming (like global warming, the el niño of the 21st century, but with better drinks). Be assured, our parties are legendary.

The land is this wonderful grassy field, and it slopes gently before dropping slightly more sharply into a bay with boulders. The waves cause a particular roar with boulders, different to the sound of the ocean on a sandy beach. Around the curve of the bay and past the headland is the township – although we’re near a town, there are no other houses apparent.

It’s a beautiful place and I feel challenged by the site to design a house that really captures the spirit of the place; not to hold, but to release it to fly to even greater heights.

I dream about landscapes quite often, there have been three that have been frequent enough to become familiar – I know what is where, and what to expect next, and even which is the easiest way to get up a hill in one landscape. I’m not convinced about previous lives, or whether these are simply smudged memories from my childhood, or a composite of memories, wishful thinking, and photographs; but it’s nice to feel at home, even if it’s in my dreams. I’ll probably be able to afford the real estate in my dreams…perhaps.