How to buy a house: The Millennial’s Guide

Hey you, under 30? Want to own your own home? Not a trust fund baby? Then read on to find how you can join our great property owning democracy.

Channel your inner Chairman Mao

As the great philosopher Dizzie Rascal said ‘if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true’. But if you don’t have a plan, then all you have is wishful thinking. So lay out a five year plan to save for your deposit. Now I know in an era of Packman video games, BookFace and WhatsUp us millennials are all about that instant gratification #LifeGoals but stick with me on this one. It’s worth it.

Chairman Mao was great at 5 year plans, utter shit at being a good, democratic leader. But at plans, he got his game on tight. So it would be worth following his lead, and if you work hard, keep an eye on your costs and can stack away £250 a month over 5 years you’ll have saved £15,000. Which is great because it means you’ll only be £18,000 short of the average deposit needed for a first time buyer. So whilst you won’t be anywhere near the required target for buying a house. You’ll have managed to see 5 years of your life drag by in the desperate hope of not living under the roof of a landlord who is a complete dick. Or with complete strangers who aren’t complete dicks. Or living with your parents who probably think you’re a complete dick.

Oh yea, that £33,000 figure is the UK average, so if you’re in London it’s nearer the £100,000 mark #SozBoss. The good news is that Chairman Mao had more than one 5 year plan, so you just continue to follow his lead and start another one, or two.

Find a rich old person, hope they die

I’m not going to lie, this one works best if you’re a financial beneficiary of a rich old person. So whilst strictly speaking you can do this with any rich old person, it would be better to be related to the aforementioned cashcow er I mean much loved elderly member of society. Considering we are a generation that may well be worse off than our predecessors, getting a leg up from your dead Nan is probably a good way of avoiding a tricky time to be alive and affording to buy a house. Particularly given that, of the estimated £7 trillion increase in net wealth in the UK since 1995, £5 trillion is related to the increase in the value of dwellings in this fair isle. So whilst 50 Cent had a plan to get rich or die trying. It’s probably best to focus on getting rich by someone else dying.

Read the Runes

Not getting paid enough to keep up with the rising cost of living? You’re a millennial, so you’re probably not, and living in the private rent sector, which is what most of us do, isn’t going to help. Well, there’s a number of ingenious ways you can help keep those pesky bills down. Helpful* souls like Edwina Currie, Strutt and Parker (although their numbers are a tad out there) and Tim Gurner have given really helpful advice on how to make your money go further. Which considering households today can spend like 36% of their income on housing costs is totes helpful.

Well there you have it, a quick and easy guide to getting a home. Good luck on your journey to joining the massive debt mountain that is keeping our crushingly unproductive economy going.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – KJØKKENUTSTYR (2016) Avocado Toast

*Arsewipes

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Do Millennials Dream of Electric Sheep?

Organisations need to be smarter in how they approach general training, personal development and high level talent management if they are to get the best out of their staff.

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

When asked to prioritise what they want millennials tend to want jobs where they can make a difference, have personal development, as well as to be able to work flexibly and attain job fulfilment. Sometimes these are substituted for just being able to have a job. The first three points are consistently given as more important than simply getting a bigger paycheck.  Though on a personal level if you wanna chuck more cash at me, I ain’t gunna bitch about it. Joking aside, this is a change in priorities when compared to previous generations. It is something businesses are yet to fully get to grips with. That is partly down to how they approach personal development, something that needs to be worked on.

Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t believe all the hype. Millennials won’t solve all your organisation’s problems. But neither are they the complete shower that some would like to have you believe. My kith and kin have simply grown up at a time where one’s life goals and career paths have become increasingly fluid. An occurrence born out of necessity as much as design. Because after one of the biggest financial disasters occurs you take whatever work you can get.  This has had knock-on consequences in our outlook on jobs and life more generally.

Tailoring to fit

People may largely want the same thing (to get paid, to develop, to progress) but how that is achieved can vary significantly. For all of the talk of flexible working, and the desire for a job that fulfils malark, even we pesky kids still want steady jobs, regular benefits and paychecks from our employers. Presumably because sweet thoughts, dreams and unicorns don’t pay the exorbitant rent we have to cough up. But more broadly life approaches are different. That nuance is important when designing, delivering &  embedding in training and development programmes.

But all the above is moot if the culture behind the organisation stymies what your employees are learning. Because there is no point sending your staff on expensive training programmes if the culture, politics and environment back in the workplace nullifies any potential benefits/changes in approach at its source. For a case and point check out this article on leadership training and how it fails. It is, illuminating, but also beautifully highlights the point. In short, only when you get your house in order, will your flock, and business, grow.

This Is The End, My Only Friend, The  End

Fundamentally, understanding how your employees tick will enable you to go a long way in getting the best out of them. I’ve used millennials as an example in this blog because I am one, and they’re increasingly making up a significant chunk of our workforce. But the point applies across all your employees. Because, as this excellent blog from Tom Murtha points out, you don’t stop your development upon reaching the loftier levels of an organisation.

Obviously, the type and level of support of 40 year old director needs is very different to an apprentice new on the job. But they are part of the same whole. And in the end it’s just about people, their aspirations, and how that can be tapped into moving the organisation forward.

Photo Credit – Dickson Phua (2017) – The Spiral Into Desolation

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Float On

As a child my ladyfriend was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied matter of factly that she was going to be a lipstick. A response that wins hands down in terms of blue sky thinking. Alas my aspirations were a bit more mundane. If I remember correctly the two main ones were to become a Firefighter or a mechanic. Turns out I’m afraid of heights and crap with tools, so it’s probably a good thing I got into housing.

Who’d have thought that after all, Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all

I’ve never particularly had a plan. Other than I knew I wanted to work in social housing, and even that came quite late, it’s all been a bit fuzzy. As a teenager and in my early 20s I did my fair share of crap jobs. Ones that suck the life out of you. Subsequently my only real guide has been to find jobs that are of interest to me, that challenge me, and hopefully ones that can leave behind some kind of meaningful change. Other than that I’m pretty open to the options out there.

Perhaps that lack of a plan probably wasn’t a bad thing, Chairman Mao-esk 5 yr plans have historically left a lot of people dead, but more importantly priorities change and as Colin Powell noted ‘No plan survives the battlefield’, so why have one? More’s the point, despite what those earnest posts on LinkedIn will have you believe, very few people have set out plans for their career development, let alone a point by point explanation of their daily routine. Weirdos.

If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?

However, not having a plan is not the same as not having an end goal. So if you had asked me 5 years ago where I wanted to end up I’d have probably said as a Chief Executive of a Housing Association. The pay is pretty good (or bad, depending on your point of view) and in being white, middle class and male I figured I was near enough half way there. However, if you asked me now, I’m not sure if I’d still agree with my younger self.

I’ve witnessed one parent suffer a nervous breakdown and battle depression, and saw the other drop dead as their semi-retirement approached. Such events tend to give one pause for thought. Particularly when it comes to how one’s work/life balance is set up. As you get further up the greasy pole that balancing act becomes harder to manage. These days I’m unsure if I’m willing to pay the price to maintain it.

I’ve got mates with kids who hate their jobs, but feel the need to stay in the role because they need the money. For them coming home to their family makes it worthwhile. Whilst I can see that point of view, I don’t think I could stand being in a job that I hated. But who am I to judge? 

I guess that’s the point though, isn’t it? We all make different life choices for different reasons*. A point we’re sometimes too quick to forget, and should try harder to remember. One person’s success is another’s mediocrity. In the end it’s all relative, we’re all just floating along trying to work out what it all means. If you ever find the answer (I hear it’s 42) do let me know.

*For a case and point see this handy guide on how not to be a complete dick when someone tells you they don’t have/aren’t planning on having any kids. 

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Ian Hasley (2012) Tower Block_Jardine Crescent_Coventry_Feb12

A Little Goes A Long Way

As UKHousingFast approaches, it is time for all of us to reflect and consider the world from a different point of view. And maybe, just maybe, start to change the world for the better.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with UKHousingFast for a number of years, it is such a simple, yet rewarding, concept. For one day fast, skip lunch or breakfast, the same way that millions of others do. Some for their religious beliefs, some to lose weight, some because they have no choice but to go hungry. You can take from it what you want, and more importantly give to it what you feel you can give. It is in many ways a personal, but also very connected, form of introspection. One, despite my love of food, I’m happy to take part in. And in supporting the Trussell Trust this year’s event will be helping out a charity that is doing vital work for those at the sharp end.

A Little Story 

I’m one of 4 lads, lads that can eat a lot. We were lucky to grow up in a household where love and, fortunately, food was plentiful. I’ve never had to skip a meal or worry about the electricity getting cut off. Yes hand-me-downs were de-rigour but the only word I would use to describe my upbringing is comfortable. So it was a bit of a shock when shortly after move number 2 (of 4 in a 24 month period) me and the lady-friend came up against the reality of in-work poverty.

Don’t get me wrong, bills were paid, food was eaten but we only had pounds left over at the end of every month (better than some, but not a great state of affairs). For a 6 month period the word most often said to friends was ‘No’ because saying ‘Yes’ meant doing stuff we simply couldn’t afford. At one point, to try to help us budget even more tightly I devised a spreadsheet to cost up all our outgoing and incoming cash. I used to look at that spreadsheet so often the lady-friend would joke that our money problems wouldn’t magically improve simply by looking at it.

A little goes a long way

Despite how tough it was, I remember the kindness of family and friends. My brothers clubbed together to pay for my gym membership for 3 months. For my birthday all my mates surprised me at my home with a party (organised by the lady-friend), the very mates I hadn’t been able to visit for ages. It’s those things that stick with you. That period in our lives serves as a constant reminder for how close things can get to going side-ways out of no fault of one’s own. It is a large part of why I’m more than happy to get involved in UKHousingFast. We were lucky, our problems were temporary, for many they aren’t.

Whatever your own particular reasons for getting involved I hope you get as much out of it as I have. Whether you fast, donate, or simply raise awareness, it all goes to supporting a great charity. Don’t forget to tweet, blog and generally promote the day as much as possible – it’s 14th June 2017. Looking forward to my end of fast meal already.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here. You can find UKHousingFast here and follow them on Twitter here.

 

 

Wherever I May Roam

As work/life balance becomes an increasingly important consideration for employees the role of the traditional office setting is changing. Remote working and flexible working have reduced the need to have an organisation’s workers based in an office. The challenge for organisations is to adapt their culture, as much as their IT infrastructure, to get the best of both worlds.

Most people could work from Timbuktu provided they had a reliable internet connection and a phone with a good international dialling plan

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Step

One of the most significant stumbling blocks regarding remote/flexible working for organisations is not the physical infrastructure, although that can always be improved, but the culture of the business. Far too many see working from home, or at least away from the office, as something to be avoided at all costs. It is reflective of a failure to have a grown up relationship with your staff and the ability to be adaptable in the workplace. Most people could work from Timbuktu provided they had a reliable internet connection and a phone with a good international dialling plan. In all likelihood they’d be doing their job just as well as if they were sat in an office in Milton Keynes.

Personally I’ve always been a fan of treating staff as grown ups until they prove otherwise. Yes there will always be those that take the piss, but a happy workforce is a productive one. And if as an employer you can help ease part of the day to day stress inducing clusterfuck that is life by allowing staff to work from home or pick up their kids from school, why the hell not give it a try? If you’re unsure as to the benefits, here’s a link to a blog I quickly Googled to pad out this paragraph. It’s actually quite useful. Elsewhere here’s a good piece on why offering flexible working also helps.

Getting away from walk-in traffic is occasionally invaluable

A Word of Caution

Working remotely is not all plain sailing. Working from home or in a different office to your usual one will always require a small amount of adjustment. Even if it’s just for basic things like knowing where the non decaf coffee is kept (honestly who drinks coffee without the caffeine content). It is also important not to underestimate the value of relationships built up by face to face contact. Different personality types will cope better than others.

What helped me during the few weeks this year when I had no office to call home (it was undergoing a refurb) was the fact that I’d been working from home 1 day every 1-2 weeks for the last year. Whilst forcing myself to get away from walk-in traffic is occasionally invaluable for ‘admin days’ or mini projects, it also meant there was less of a shock for me on day one as I had already sorted my routine. It meant that my line manager and I also knew what to expect. For every diligent worker there will be one who ends up eating ice-cream in their PJ’s watching Jeremy Kyle rather than working. Easing people into such changes, as well as setting up clear boundaries/expectations, is therefore a must.

That’s a Wrap

As with many aspects of modern work there have been many improvements made to make our jobs easier. As employers it is also important to try and create a working environment that facilitates productive workers. For some this means office based working. For others it means 2 days a week at home so they can pick up the kids on time. Sticking rigidly to one way of working is simply nonsensical, backward and will ultimately have a negative impact on your organisation. Evolve a little, the results may surprise you.

Photo Credit – Michal Scuglik – Abandoned Office (2011)

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

The Dark Side of The Moon

Recent pilots in Sweden on changes to the working week have come to an end, raising interesting debates on the different ways in which organisations structure work. The Housing Sector should take note, and take on board the lessons learned. Particularly as a work-life balance is increasingly important for current and future workers and at a time when productivity is stagnating, why not reinvent the wheel?

Who’s a Good, Productive Little Worker?  Not us Apparently 

In the UK we have a serious issue in relation to productivity growth. In that it’s not really happening. At least not at the rate needed and/or hoped for. We fair particularly poor when compared to the G7. Sitting 18 points (whatever that means) behind that rich block of countries, if one excludes the UK from the count. Germany, quite typical given the subject matter, was top. 

The reasons for stagnating productivity (as with many things in life tend to be) are complex. But part of the picture will inevitably be the working environment for staff, expectations around how they operate and investment in tools for them to do their job. And that is where this blog is largely focused on, conveniently.

Health Warning – the above is based on one particular measure. Full Fact does a good job of explaining the pitfalls here. For more in-depth stuff check out Ha-Joon Chang’s introduction to economics – Economics: The User’s Guide. Or, if you’re a masochist, full on Economics text books, with maths and everything. You monster.

Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close? ‘Round the time the school doors close?

One of the things I’ve found odd for many years is the way in which both the school week, and the working week are constructed. Mostly because they are rooted in such arcane ways of working. Both stem from working patterns introduced as part of the industrial revolution. When it was realised that child workers and stupidly long hours weren’t great ideas in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that our productivity woes will all stem from failure to work 6 hour weeks in places that have ball-pits, free food and a full body massage as part of the working schedule. However, considering the industrial revolution was 200 years ago, should we not revisit how we organise the working day? In so many other ways we have improved ways of working and related inefficiencies. The email has made the fax redundant. The mobile phone and associated tablets have largely made the office irrelevant for many. Video purportedly killed the radio star. Yet we cling on to modes of working that were thought up when King George IV was the monarch, when Germany had barely unified and the height of male fashion had only recently abandoned wigs and make up. More’s the pity.

Sounds Good to Me

One of the most convincing arguments to changing how we work is the fact we’re simply not built for it. People tend to work best in compressed periods of activity followed by rest (mental/physical) and then repeating the process ad nauseam. But not everyone works best the same way and to say it is not an exact science would be an understatement. But it is something that simply isn’t challenged enough. In terms of value, and productivity the best quote I’ve googled quickly seen on the subject is the one below. As an aside I would strongly suggest reading the whole article from which the quote comes it’s by Tony Schwartz and is called For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More. The article is much better than the title suggests, I promise.

The value of those you manage isn’t generated by the number of hours they work, but rather by how much value they produce during the hours we are working.

Making It Relevant, but a note of caution

Many in the sector are talking about channel shift, moving away from cost and labour heavy interactions such as call centres and open offices/receptions. Whether customers want it or not. Yet very few organisations are looking at shifting their work patterns to change when we are available to customers outside the 9-5 or to drive a more flexible approach to patters of work.

There has been some begrudging acceptance of using social media (comms people, I feel your pain here). Certainly, I’ve lost count of the amount of “Hi, my name is [insert instantly forgettable name here] and I’m here until [probably about 6pm, maybe 8pm] to help” that I’ve seen both within and outside the sector. Yet particularly for our back office functions why have such rigid working hours? Who does it help?

Whilst many of the headlines focused on the ‘success’ of the pilots in Sweden only a few bothered to delve deeper and show the many layers of the story. Working 6 hour days does not fit all people and all circumstances and it ain’t cheap. Furthermore a number of other businesses in Sweden who started similar pilots have backed out over negative impacts reported by staff. Interestingly enough a number of employees felt constrained by the condensed working hours and felt they couldn’t deliver what was needed.

Yet at least they gave it a go in Sweden. Something that cannot be said for the many other businesses/Countries, Housing Associations included. What have you got to lose?

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Natesh Ramasamy (2011)- Victorian Houses, Nottingham

 

Culture Shock

More often than not when reading articles on how to engage with, maintain and build a successful business culture with staff it’s written by people who have been so removed from A) Organisational working (as they’re now freelance speakers/consultants) and B) Who haven’t worked on the front-line for the best part of a decade (or two) because when they went solo they were probably at directorate level (at least). That in mind, here’s a heads up from a guy with sod all experience on how to make the most of your organisation.

Just Like the Movies

The other night I was flicking through channels and momentarily stopped to watch Armageddon. A move with a far better sound track than story-line/acting. Near the beginning (the prelude to meeting Bruce Willis and his motley crew), worried scientists, military folks and that guy who was married to Angelina Jolie (not him, the other one), were discussing how to stop an asteroid that was going to smash the Earth into little pieces. After raising the option of sending nuclear missiles to deal with the aforementioned threat, one of the scientists ruined the idea. Highlighting that if one placed a firecracker in their hand you’d burn it.  However, if you held it tight in your hand, “your wife’s gonna be opening your ketchup bottles the rest of your life”. In order to prevent world destruction some folks were going to need to get up close and personal with a really large hunk of space rock.

Whilst hopefully not as explosive a process, when looking to embed cultural change it’s probably worth taking on board the Armageddon analogy. The culture of an organisation is an evolving beast. No big bang or fundamental reset will embed a shared focus and drive amongst staff. It is through hard won trust that an organisation can shift from one way of working to another. Just because you’ve watched a TEDx talk and went weak at the knees doesn’t mean the rest of your staff will follow. Yes, the overall steer needs to come from a strong leadership team with a long term strategic vision. But that needs to tie into the ‘ground floor’ reality of the staff who will be sharing and, ultimately, implementing that vision.

Treat your Staff as People, Invest in them and Reap the Rewards

Staff are more productive when they are well paid/proportionately paid for what they do. It also helps if they are undertaking jobs they find both rewarding and fulfilling. The Richard Branson quote of focusing on your staff and the rest will follow is typically used here. However there is another, more unlikely, source which highlights the value of investing in your staff.

In 2015 Walmart, one of the stingiest business out there, announced it would pay its workers more and revamped its in-house training. But just as crucially it provided more opportunities for career advancement. The end result? Whilst initial investment might have hit the bottom line of the company the overall signs are positive. The change in approach has seen more dedicated, productive staff joining the ranks (something known as the Efficiency Wage). Staff are happier, so are shoppers, stores are cleaner and in many instances are improving in performance. In short, don’t be a dick to your staff and your organisation will probably perform better as a result. Mike Ashley, are you listening, chap?

Look Outside the Traditional Approaches to Working

Be adaptable, learn through failure and don’t be afraid to test new ideas. Getting change in the Housing sector is like trying to turn around an oil tanker, in a typhoon, when the rudder is broken. We are quick to take on new projects but slow to adapt, change and get rid of processes. Even if they are flawed and not efficient. It feels that after so much advancement in technology, reducing so much of the day to day chores in our life we feel the necessity to fill it up with needless bureaucracy. It needs to stop, sharpish. Best put together a working group to ensure it happens, eh?

On the subject of learning through failure if you don’t already check out Paul Taylor’s piece on it. Or for a crash course in how not to do it, simply look at the England National Football Team.

Whilst the likes of Google and Facebook have long been noted for their different approaches to working. Let’s face it, computer geeks can be pretty highly strung and bribing them with easily accessible food and a ball-pit is a decent pay off. Particularly when you’re talking about two of the biggest and most successful tech companies going. For those of us operating in more mundane occupations/organisations, not to mention smaller budgets, challenging the orthodoxy on working hours is just as important as free grub.

In Sweden shorter working hours are again gaining traction. Though more recent pilots have been less conclusive than perhaps hoped, less sick leave and lower levels of stress have been reported. Longer term there’s the potential to not only improve the morale and work-life balance of staff but also productivity. Such moves may be impractical for many in the social housing sector, but more flexible and/or remote working may be just as beneficial. Just make sure staff don’t take the piss on flexi-time.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

*A large part of Walmart’s working practices still suck to the point that neither me nor the ladyfriend shop at Asda, their UK arm, on principle.