Category Archives: Career and employment

What’s behind a name?

I facilitate an English roundtable in Luxembourg every Friday, and we discuss professional, social and personal-interest topics. Last month, it was about names; one of the participants mentioned a girl initially called Nutella, a popular hazelnut chocolate spread. I checked it out and came across a Guardian’s article about a couple from Valenciennes in northern France who registered their daughter Nutella ( https://www.theguardian .com/world/2015/jan/26/french-couple-name-girl-nutella seen on 04/052021). The registrar alerted the local prosecutor, who referred the case to a family court judge. The court ruled that Nutella is a commercial brand and such a name was against the girl’s interests as it would cause “mockery or disobliging remarks”. The couple had to rename her Ella, which means a pleasant young woman.

According to Ms Catharine Smith (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/baby-named-facebook-egypt_n_825934 seen 04/05/21), an Egyptian father, Jamal Ibrahim, named his daughter “Facebook” to honour the social media site’s role in Egypt’s revolution. Ms Smith quoted this from TechCrunch newspaper: “A young man in his twenties wanted to express his gratitude about the victories the youth of 25th of January have achieved and chose to express it in the form of naming his firstborn girl “Facebook”. 

In Marcio’s Italian family, all the children’s names start with the letter M.  According to Marie-Pierre, her name’s male version is Pierre-Marie. The Arabic name Shadi means happiness. Do names reflect an individual’s personality? There are studies that show names make a difference in professional, social and financial standing.

My late uncle was Silverio Carangan, Sr. My cousins’ legal names are Silverio Carangan 1st, Silverio Carangan 2nd, and Silverio Caranagan 3rd; to everyone, they’re Ono, Dos, Tres.  I was already eight months pregnant, and my hubby and I couldn’t agree on a name for our firstborn. We decided to play chess; I won two out of three games and had the privilege of naming him Sidney, which is easy to pronounce in almost all languages.

My late parents, Roberto and Adela, named their first daughter Rodela; from this, they came up with four other names by rearranging the letters, and mine was one of them. If you know of another person with the same name as mine, please notify me. So far, the closest is Rolande and Rolanda, which are both of Latin origin and mean “known in the land”. My French acquaintances call me “Rolad” (/ruːˈlɑːd), as the last vowel is not pronounced in the French language. They also have a dish roulade (/ruːˈlɑːd) de boeuf“, which is a filled rolled meat.

S.J. Velasquez’s 2018 write-up spoke about nominative determinism, a theory that people are drawn to jobs matching their names, e.g. Baker for a pastry chef and Dennis or Denise for dentists (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180404-do-our-names-push-us-toward-certain-jobs). Two weeks ago, I grinned watching the French television station TF1’s interview of a restaurateur Didier Desert (“Desert” is pronounced by English speakers as ‘dɪˈzəːt’ (dessert – a sweet course eaten at the end of the main meal, e.g. cheesecake or chocolate mousse).

If you had a funny, weird or embarrassing name, would you change it? If your family name was Head, would you keep your first name Dick knowing that dickhead means a stupid or ridiculous man? You are probably one of those who would go through all the legal fuss to do so.  Many people, however, never change their names. Are there names that employers find, either subconsciously or sentimentally, attractive or ugly?

Ms Stéphanie Thomson’s article revealed the Canadian Ryerson University and University of Toronto’s finding that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to get job interviews than the fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when they had the same qualifications (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/job-applications-resume-cv-name-descrimination/). Ms Thomson also mentioned a French government’s conclusion that employers were less likely to interview candidates with North African-sounding names. Likewise, in the UK, “an all-parliamentary group study from 2012 found that women who ‘whitened’ their names or made them sound more British had to send only half as many applications before being invited to interview as those who sounded foreign”, she wrote. 

Has our society progressed in terms of addressing bias and discrimination associated with names? Have you had a good or bad experience because of your name? What’s behind your name?

Training and Learning at Home

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King (1925-2015, American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer).

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented teleworking, including banks that used to disallow this for security reasons. In-person staff development training programme came to a halt for a while, then picked up virtually.

Staff development training is still arguably necessary in today’s world because competitiveness and changes are our society’s norms. Therefore, employers should continue providing this even during a lockdown or when their employees work from home. Governments in developed nations subsidise and consider such expense tax-deductible, which is an additional enticement. Though online training may not be cheaper as companies expect and more manageable as learners or participants like it to be, it is worthwhile.

Online training requires at least as much effort and time, and sometimes even more. Trainers need to buy or update their equipment, adjust their practices and style, and deal with disturbances from students’ family situations and technological hiccups. I have heard stories of participants cooking, texting, and feeding cats while on language training. It’s not the moment to multitask! I must admit that I cut my nails and did aerobics during boring webinars that did not allow participants to ask questions (guilty as charged!).

Virtual training can mirror only some face-to-face interactions (i.e. trainers going around the classroom and having water cooler conversation during breaks are impossible to reproduce).

How can teleworkers make the most of their online staff development training? My answer is WALPAH:

W –     Working technology – A (hu) “man is only as good as his tools” is especially true when you are training online: high-speed internet connection, a computer or modern laptop, camera, microphone headset, mouse, etc. (Do you say “I’ve two mouses or two mice? I.T. specialists seem to prefer the former, but the latter is correct, even if this sounds like you’ve pets instead of handheld devices on a flat surface in front of your computer).

A –      Avoid absences and late attendance (However, better late than never).

L –      Learning space should be quiet and tidy.

P –      Participate – ask questions and make comments to the trainer and other participants.

A –      Adapt your learning style – take notes, listen to everyone, read shared messages, and discuss personal views.

H –     Have fun – smile, share appropriate jokes and anecdotes.

How about trainers’ best practice? (I couldn’t come up with an acronym; perhaps you can help me with this).

1. Know and prepare your technology – Ensure a stable Internet connection, clean monitor, working camera and microphone, and mobile and laptop ready on the side in case the main computer fails.

2. Conduct the training in a quiet, disturbance-free and professional-looking environment.

3. Choose a platform that allows for interactivity – Use whiteboard annotations, chat and breakout groups (dividing learners into small groups of two or three).

4. Start the training by welcoming the participants, then providing them with a clear understanding of the session’s scope and content.

5. Meaningful experience – Call participants by their names. When the training is finished, encourage them to share contact information and continue improving their knowledge and skills.

Involve everyone throughout the training by prompting them to ask questions and share anecdotes and knowledge related to the activity.

6. Stick to the schedule – Your participants are professionals who have work and family commitments; therefore, start and end the session on time.

“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790, stateman – helped draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution)

Succeeding in a multidisciplinary workplace

My Aussie relative, a business and marketing professional by training and experience, asked recently my significant other how he could succeed in his new job working with engineers. As an engineer, he answered: “Those who have chosen technical studies/professions are more project/object-oriented than those who work in the arts/humanities/social/business fields. Often, but not always, technical people are not at ease communicating, are more or less introverted, and do not like human interaction too much. But, one should not generalise”. He advised him to “get quickly to speed on technical knowledge because “E/engineers” do not like to waste their time with those who are unfamiliar with what they do.

Is it true that engineers are experts in their field of interest, and that’s it? Articles on this subject agree with my significant other. They are good critical thinkers but often lack communication and interpersonal skills, which are generally possessed by those in the social sciences. It’s not their fault; it can be attributed to the lack of importance given to these soft skills during their engineering education. So, what will you do if you belong to the humanities/social science domain and have to work with those in the other group or vice versa?

Does the stereotyping of professions help?

Stereotyping is a cognitive process that involves associating a character trait with a group of individuals. It is about making sense of the insufficient knowledge we have about people based on what we have read, heard or seen.  For instance, artists are free-spirited, intelligent, passionate, and un-pragmatic. Bankers are super rich and do not like paying taxes. Businesspeople are charismatic but ruthless when it comes to sales and profit. Public servants are cool because of their job security. Programmers and IT personnel wear eyeglasses and are poorly dressed.  Scientists are like Albert Einstein; they are brilliant but lack social and practical skills.

Personality experts and psychologists tell us that we use stereotypes to deal with situations without much thinking and to fit our social world, such as when we meet or work with a new person. Not all stereotypes are harmful, but they are always an incomplete picture of reality. Therefore, it should be taken with a grain of salt. (The same as “a pinch of salt” – accepting it with scepticism about its truth).

When you regard colleagues solely by the stereotype attached to their professions, you defraud them of other aspects of their individuality. Whatever profession you have and that of your workmates, what is needed is to supplant stereotype with a sense of conscientiousness. Psychology Today has this to say about conscientiousness: “comprises self-control, industriousness, responsibility, and reliability. A conscientious person is good at self-regulation and impulse control. This trait influences whether you will set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices, behave cautiously or impulsively, and take obligations to others seriously”. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/conscientiousness seen on 28/02/21). The article further says that consciousness is not only an essential ingredient for success in the workplace, but it is also a significant predictor of health, well-being, and longevity.

Conscientiousness, however, is just one part of our overall personality. Irrespective of our occupation, we should have a positive attitude, self-confidence, humility, and self-awareness (knowing our strengths and weaknesses). 

Passion and hobby aren’t the same but both spice life and employment

Being paid for doing something that you enjoy is one of the most satisfying experiences.  However, not all jobs offer this opportunity and many people earn a living from performing tasks they are not over the moon with.

Passion often comes up when it comes to job happiness and fulfilment. Being passionate at work enhances the pursuit of excellence and increases commitment and performance. Passion can either flourish, diminish or disappear when put in certain work environments. Employers and companies that provide conducive work milieu and implement management practices that respect, motivate and reward fairly unlock employees’ passion for performing well.

Since not everyone has a passion for their profession, pursuing it outside work can also improve one’s job satisfaction and well-being. Passions are not precisely the same as with hobbies. Passion is doing something you enjoy and have an overwhelming feeling of devotion even when it is difficult and stressful, but the result is worth the effort. Whereas, a hobby is something you do when you have free time, are feeling bored, or want to relax. 

Engaging in activities with passion or having a hobby can reduce stress, provide opportunities to socialise, improve skill and confidence, and increase the level of alertness and creativity. As we have to juggle home, work and passion or hobby, we multi-task; therefore, we become skilled in organising priorities. In the process, we also develop our analytical and decision-making ability.

Passion plus hard work goes farther than natural talent. My passion is storytelling in the written form.  During the COVID-19 lockdown, I finished my novel “The Whisper of Regrets”, which explores real societal and relationship issues and is written in plain English. I have an inconsiderably slim chance of winning this August’s Amazon story competition, but as Alfred Lord Tennyson had said, “It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried.” A little help goes a long way; so, I hope you’ll check it out.

Whereas, my acquaintance and fellow chess player (Said), who has postgraduate degrees in physics and engineering and works in these domains, has become a pundit on plants in Kabylia, Algeria. Likewise, my Aussie friend Loida spends nights and days drawing, painting, and taking panoramic photographs with joy and patience.

It is idealistic to say “have a passion” or “follow your passion”. The truth is that those who have a passion to follow are not numerous. Some people do not wish to have one because they have witnessed passionate people sacrificing their time and money to keep doing it with little or no visible short-term return. I believe it is easier to have a hobby than forced yourself to have a passion. Of course, a hobby can turn into a passion.

According to Good.CoTeam (https://good.co/blog/top-hobbies-boost-employability-skills/seen on 01/08/20), the top 8 hobbies that boost employability are 1. Endurance sports, e.g. running and swimming; 2. High-risk pursuits, e.g. mountain climbing and sky diving; 3. Creative hobbies tasks, e. g. cooking and photography; 4.Team sports, e.g. football and softball; 5. Strategic mind games, e.g. chess and Sudoku; 6. Creative writing, e.g. poetry, short stories or a personal blog; 7. Reading, museums, libraries; and 8. Community group involvement. These hobbies suggest that you are comfortable collaborating with others. As well, you could be seen as a particularly good personality fit for managerial roles. The caveat is that fabricating an interest in certain activities backfires. For instance, you have written ‘playing foosball’ as a hobby in your resume; when asked to join a team to compete in an inter-company tournament, you refused because you could hardly hit the ball.

It is worthwhile to discover, rediscover or harness our passion and hobby to live and work satisfyingly. These are some of the hobbies that do not cost money: aerobics or fitness exercise at home, bird watching, gardening (for yourself, neighbours and community), reading, running, stargazing, volunteering, walking, watching documentaries, and writing. 

Meanwhile, the world’s unemployment rate is alarming. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported on 09/06/2020 that the number of unemployed people in the OECD countries alone increased by 18.4 million to 55 million last April (https://www.oecd.org /newsroom/ unemployment-rates-oecd-update-june-2020.htm).  Moreover, to feed and shelter their families, millions of women and men have accepted jobs they are overqualified to do or in workplaces where they are undervalued. The passion for their career has long evaporated into thin air due to circumstances beyond their control. Also, some have their passions and hobbies constrained by time, as they have to look for work, do shifts, or take care of their children and elderly family members.

Passion can be an act of kindness; hobby can be skyping, zooming, facetiming, whatsapping or telephoning friends and relatives who live alone.