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Four things I learnt when I quit my job

The view from the Carrick-a-Rede National Trust Park, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

As I type this, I’m officially unemployed. I finished working as media and communications manager at Northwards Housing two weeks ago. I start my new job at Wigan Council tomorrow. For two weeks, I’ve not had a job to think about, no emails to check. No work to do whatsoever. It’s been fabulous and has given me a totally new perspective on things. I thought it would be interesting to share the four most important things I’ve learnt in those two weeks.

1. Take the long view

In my last two or three weeks at Northwards, I was doing a bit of prep for my handover to the next person to fill my shoes (if you are reading this, successful candidate, then I’ve done you a fabulous PDF full of fun things…)

I really wanted to make life easier for the team so I was working all hours to get the job done (see item 3 on resting below). One of the ways I tried to do this was by clearing out some space on our shared drive, so that the next person didn’t have to navigate my less-than-advanced filing system. 

Sometimes, life in communications can feel like wading through treacle. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, another hurdle presents itself. So it’s hard to take the long view. But what was great about doing a handover is that you get to honestly and fairly document your own performance. This is where we were, this is where we are now. I’d found notes from conferences when we first floated the idea of behaviour change – it’s now a central tenet of the job. Or things I wanted to look into which ended up getting done. And getting done well.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to honestly appraise what you’ve accomplished, with the help of an amazing team. I’m going to try really hard to make a point of taking time out once a month to evaluate what has been achieved. 

2. Human interactions matter

Every day, I drove to work via the same route – from Salford to north Manchester via a road with many Jewish primary schools dotted along its edges. A female security guard was stationed outside one of those schools (the fact that Jewish schools need security guards is shocking and scary and probably something for another post…). Anyway, as I drove past on my journey, the lady would always give me a smile and a wave.

It was such a small thing. But that wave always made me feel better. If I’d been stuck in traffic or was tired after a late night, it would lift my spirits. It meant something to me and I always waved back. On my penultimate day, I realised I wouldn’t see that lady again – my new job takes me to a totally different part of Greater Manchester. So I bought her a small box of chocolates to say thanks. In turn, the lady was really grateful to me for saying thanks, and we ended up in a virtuous circle of gratitude.

What that experience taught me is that human interactions matter. When we are all captivated by our phones and our digital worlds, we risk forgetting to look up and see real people. A smile on the way to the coffee machine, a kind word to break the awkward silence in the lift. We might never know how important those things are to those around us. I’ve always tried to be friendly and warm but this experience strengthened my resolve to make human interactions count.

3. Rest is super important for battery recharging

As I was on my way to my work leaving do, I deleted my Northwards email account from my phone. What I experienced next was a clusterf**k of emotions (who knew the power of an email account…). First, I felt completely liberated, two stone lighter, immediately relieved of any responsibility. No emails to check, no social media feeds to monitor. No work to do. 

Then the reality of that hits. ‘No work to do?!’ How the hell am I going to cope for two whole weeks?! I didn’t even have two weeks off for my honeymoon!’

I first started working when I was 13. I had a job as a Saturday girl in a local department store. I’ve been employed pretty much ever since. I’ve had some good jobs (working part time in Waterstones) and some terrible jobs (my two weeks as a chugger were not my finest) but I’ve always worked. And in recent years, I’ve been extremely lucky to have jobs that I’ve absolutely loved. That’s been brilliant, but it’s also been hard to step away. Between the love of the job and the easy access to it that technology can bring, I’ve found it really hard to switch off.

That’s why this break was so important. I’ve had such a wonderful two weeks. I’ve been all over the UK and Ireland, spending time with my closest friends and family members. I’ve had important, life-affirming chats. My friends have provided much-needed counsel and above all, laughter. I marvelled at beautiful landscapes, walked along miles of coastline, ate and drank far too much. I did some exercise too, read books, had little afternoon kips.

And now I’m ready to start my next challenge. I’m glad I took those two weeks off, I feel energised and ready to go. I’m always going to work hard – I get a buzz from achievement and I love what I do. But I’m going to try to remember that when I’m not working, I’ll feel better by spending time with the people I love.

4. You are better than you think you are

I’ve made no secret that I’ve been afflicted by anxiety for some years. I’ve done a lot and achieved a lot, but somehow I always end up criticising myself for not being good enough. Some might call that Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know if my version of it has a name and I’m uncomfortable trying to put it in a box with a label. But there are times when it can feel scary and overwhelming.

What’s interesting about leaving a job is that you get to see yourself how others see you. As I said above, you get to evaluate what you’ve achieved. In four years at Northwards, we achieved a lot and I’m proud of my part in that. I’m proud that I helped develop our team; I’m proud of the connections I made; I’m proud that I made a difference. I wish I’d felt like that more often, instead of getting cross with myself for not ticking every item off my to-do list on any given day. 

I worried for so long that I wasn’t doing it right. And actually, I was doing a pretty good job. 

And when I left, lots of people said some really nice things.  Admittedly, it was unlikely anyone would write ‘Good riddance’ on my leaving card. But people were really nice about me and said they would miss me. I saw myself through their eyes – a smiling, friendly, steely presence. And it felt nice.

So one of things I’m going to try to do in my new job is leave some of that baggage behind and start afresh.

Here’s to new beginnings

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HACK TIP: How to write for the web… even if you used to be a journalist

I’m clearing out my email inbox in readiness for my departure from Northwards next week. This still rings true and is worth a read.

Dan Slee

4751731545_1ecb77d188_oJust because you used to be a journalist doesn’t mean you can write for the web.

There. I’ve said it.

Several times of late I’ve had the same conversation.

Firstly, a confession. I was a journalist for 12-years and a public sector comms person for eight. Much of my work was crafted to be cut and pasted into newspapers either through a news story or a press release.

But those skills that work to create a punchy frontpage lead or impress a news editor doesn’t always work on the web. They are two different things.

And by the way, writing for the web isn’t the same as writing for social media. Writing for the web is writing for a webpage. Social media very often should be informal and conversational. But that’s for another blog post.

What does transfer

Brevity. Getting to the point. Paper shortages during World War Two meant…

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Communications

Do you want my job?

After four happy years, I’m leaving Northwards Housing. I’m so sad to leave behind the many friends I’ve made, but I know it’s the right decision for me. I’m off to lead the PR team at Wigan Council – a big new job that’s scary and exciting in equal measure.

But before I get my head down in my new role, I really want to hand the baton on to someone who is passionate and excited by the task ahead here at Northwards.

My boss has asked me to help recruit the right person for the role, so I’ve penned a short but honest, warts-and-all letter to my successor.

If you think this job might be for you and you want an informal chat, just email me or call me any time on 07906255962.

Dear New Media and Communications Manager at Northwards Housing,

You are going to have a blast. You are going to walk into this job and have the best time. No day is ever boring at Northwards. You’ll go home every night exhilarated by the wide variety of tasks you’ll do every day.

Some of the work that you’ll do will be traditional public relations. You’ll write some press releases, though not as many as when I started. You’ll develop relationships with trade press and regional journalists and you’ll be prepared to answer press queries on short deadlines. You’ll enjoy the adrenaline of this and will get a wee thrill when a journalist gives you a call. But traditional media skills will only be a small part of the job. Your attentions will be turned to social media – not just bunging on a post or two here and there but cultivating messages to the right audience. You’ll make good videos on a shoestring and you’ll be proud of what you produce.

You’ll work on communicating all the key messages in our communications plan – it’s a skill to be able to spin lots of different plates and sometimes you might drop them.  Making mistakes is ok at Northwards, as long as you respond well and put it right. You’ll learn how to prioritise in the face of lots of different demands.

You are going to learn so much. You’ll find yourself in the pub with your friends, chilling out with a pint, waxing lyrical about the bedroom tax or the Housing Bill. You’ll surprise yourself and your friends by driving up the motorway, spotting different road signs and exclaiming: “That’s Nudge Theory in action!”(Yes, that’s actually happened to me.) You’ll develop an interest in psychology and graphic design. But it’s ok if you don’t have that yet, you’ll pick it up if you are eager to develop new skills and don’t mind learning from others.

The communications that you’ll develop will be targeted and you’ll learn to evaluate them to make sure they are doing their job. You’ll learn skills in customer insight and by the end of your time here, you’ll have developed an insanely geeky but limitless love of data analysis.

You’ll help write our business plan and you’ll sit with senior managers and directors to understand where the organisation is going. You’ll write the annual report and you’ll be comfortable reporting to the board, as well as giving the chief executive advice.

There are so many different things you’ll do and you’ll thrive on the variety of that.

Will there be frustrations? Of course there will. Will you become acquainted with a wide range of new and interesting swear words? I f*cking hope so. Because there will be days that you’ll be annoyed by the slow pace of change. Or you’ll find it difficult to convince people of the value of getting comms involved early, where you’ll have the most impact. Or maybe you’ll have to compromise on something, knowing that there’s more that could be done to communicate well with our tenants. It’s also tough working in a public sector environment, where money is tight and there aren’t huge comms budgets. You’ll sometimes feel restricted by that.

But those days will be rare and they’ll be far outnumbered by the days when you know you’ve made a difference. And during those tough times, you’ll be buoyed by a team who know just the right things to say to lift your spirits, who bring sweets and doughnuts and make you laugh.

Your team will inspire your creativity and challenge you to think differently. You’ll learn a lot, every single day. Your boss will challenge you and he’ll ask you to do things that are new. But you’ll be supported every step of the way and you’ll be so chuffed with yourself when you’ve accomplished your tasks.

I’ve kept the most important thing to the end. Because the biggest skill you’ll have will be the skill to get on with people from all walks of life. You’ll be comfortable out on our estates, speaking to tenants and getting case studies. You’ll know how to work hard to get people to trust you, both inside and outside the organisation. You’ll know how to win people over, armed only with a charming smile and a packet of Chocolate Hobnobs (aside here – you’ll need to be good at exercising, because you will eat a LOT OF BISCUITS).

You’ll be empathetic – you won’t get far without that skill here. You’ll be able to feel what other people feel – whether that’s tenants who are struggling to make ends meet or those who are suffering anti-social behaviour. You’ll watch our estates blossom and thrive and you’ll feel the pride of the employees who are making that happen. You’ll leave your desk at the end of the day in the knowledge that you are working in a sector that really truly matters. What’s more important to people than the roof over their head? Our homes are the sanctuaries we make for ourselves and you’ll see how important that is.

And that pride will influence how you communicate. You’ll write better, you’ll work harder. Because you know that it’s worth something – to your colleagues and to the tenants in north Manchester.

This job is a brilliant job. Please apply for it.