Retirement, redundancy, parenthood – big changes require awareness and self-reflection, especially at a time when wellbeing is being tested. Three ICAS members reveal how they managed their own career transitions
After a year of economic turmoil and the introduction of the word “furlough” into our collective lexicon, the news of small increases in numbers of payroll employees in the three months to February 2021 offered some reason to be cheerful. Despite the less-than-rosy year-on-year figures: in February 2021, there were 693,000 fewer payroll employees in the UK than in February 2020.
Keeping the country in work during economically, socially and politically more stable times has never been without its challenges. But now? Navigating the relentless uncertainties of daily life during a pandemic – healthcare, childcare, homeworking, home-schooling – can seem like a full-time job in itself. Thinking about your career path, nurturing your network and planning your next steps can take a backseat simply to maintaining your status quo – never mind having the energy and clarity of mind to spot and take advantage of an opportunity or try something new.
Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, which examined the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing at work, uncovered some concerning patterns just six months into the crisis. Key findings included increased burnout, significantly more meetings and emails, and fewer boundaries. And while the temporary pause in commuting raised a cheer from millions, many remote workers reported that the lack of separation between work and life had negatively affected their wellbeing. Turns out bookending the workday with “uninterrupted time to mentally transition to and from work” provided some much-needed routine for adjusting mindsets. Throw a career change into the mix and the importance of wellbeing becomes an even greater priority.
For risk-aware financial professionals, career moves and transitions need to stack up, not just practically but emotionally too, especially in riskier times. Some changes in circumstance can be planned for, but no one anticipates retirement, redundancy or a return to work to be played out entirely on a screen and without the water-cooler support of colleagues. For three ICAS members, successfully navigating major change has meant adopting a flexible attitude, understanding values and priorities, and leaning on a career’s worth of professional and personal networking.
Aisha Ghani CA
Finance Business Partner, Sue Ryder
“My plan was to return to work when my youngest child reached the age of five,” says Aisha Ghani CA. But when her personal circumstances unexpectedly changed, and she became the sole carer for her children, Ghani had to accelerate her re-entry into paid employment. In the eight years since the start of her career break, the world of work had changed completely. And so had her priorities.
Of the UK’s 1.8 million lone parents with dependent children, around 75% are in employment, with almost half working full time. That’s a balancing act with enough challenges in “normal” times, let alone over successive periods of lockdown and home-schooling. Flexibility would be key for Ghani’s return to full-time work while looking after and financially providing for three young children on her own.
A six-month contract opportunity came up at Sue Ryder, the palliative care and bereavement support charity. Having held senior and leadership positions in the private sector, Ghani admits to some preconceptions about working for a charity.
“It’s been a much more challenging return to work than anticipated. Sue Ryder is a deceptively complex organisation, spanning end-of-life hospice care to specialist neurological centres and a bereavement service. Limited government funding means it relies on its shops and fundraising teams to plug the gap. For many retailers, a network of over 400 high street shops would be their main business, but for Sue Ryder it’s a huge operation being managed on the side so that we can raise those vital funds to deliver the charity’s mission to ‘be there when it matters most’. It’s like marrying up your local NHS hospital accounts with M&S!”
Ghani, who was asked to stay on with Sue Ryder after her six months were up, points out that charities employ a high proportion of women because they have typically offered the flexibility that attracts working mothers. “Now we see that flexibility across the board thanks to remote working – that will help other sectors to attract and retain talent,” she says. She also credits Sue Ryder’s CEO and senior directors – predominantly women – with facilitating a flexible and empathetic culture.
For others re-focusing on a return to work after any kind of career break, Ghani advocates making a conscious effort to look after your own wellbeing. At Sue Ryder, this has been supported by open conversations about mental health and ensuring managers are equipped with relevant training and toolkits.
“Working for an organisation that shares similar values and ethos also helps,” she says. “Everyone has those days when they wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing. But when you’re working for a purpose-driven organisation, you know you’re having a positive impact on people’s lives.”
Jamie Mumford-Raine CA
M&A Manager, Baker Hughes
In October 2020, an Acas-commissioned YouGov survey found six in 10 large businesses said they were “likely to make redundancies in the next three months”. Between November 2020 and January 2021, the redundancy rate in the UK was the highest it had been since 2008. For Jamie Mumford-Raine CA, who had been in continuous employment with the same company for 15 years, the prospect of redundancy was both daunting and exciting.
When BP, where Mumford-Raine worked from 2006, announced 10,000 job cuts in 2020, voluntary redundancy meant an opportunity to step out of a comfort zone and re-examine priorities. “I have a lot of respect and love for BP – they were good to me for 15 years. I did traditional accounting roles, strategy, business development in vehicle electrification, a host of international M&A with loads of variety. But the redundancy offer meant a one-off opportunity to take what I’d learned and pursue an exciting new career move.”
Now M&A Manager at energy technology company Baker Hughes, Mumford-Raine confesses his natural risk aversion almost stopped him from applying for redundancy without having another job lined up: “It’s a big decision to leave an organisation you have spent your whole career in. But there was a risk, if I stayed, as part of the reorganisation I might have been posted to a role I didn’t want. After speaking to recruiters, friends, mentors, and with the support of my wife, I made that jump and it has really paid off. No one can tell you the right answer but sounding out your network is really helpful. You just have to trust your instincts and go for it.”
Mumford-Raine took the plunge and left BP at the end of 2020. Within three months he not only got to grips with home-schooling his five-year-old while looking after his toddler but also decided to move house from Greenwich to the more spacious surrounds and gentler pace of Surrey. He counts himself lucky in his “three months of unemployment” when he recalls the stress of the first UK lockdown. “My wife and I were both working full-time and we were very stressed, really struggling. There was no school, no nursery, no grandparents able to come over to help out.”
As well as discovering the benefits of the Headspace meditation and mindfulness app, he reports a life-changing learning from that stressful time – the importance of empathy, of sharing experiences and asking for help when you need it. The pandemic also highlighted the criticality of mental health: “If you’re considering a change, or if one is forced on you, consider the impact on your wellbeing and be very clear about what does or doesn’t work for you. Anything can happen to the company you work for. So what works for you? What drives you? Knowing yourself and questioning your priorities is very liberating.
“When I eventually made that decision [to take redundancy], I then found it easier to make other big decisions, like moving home, changing our kids’ schools – and I’m so pleased I did.”
David Nicol CA
Chairman, Federated Hermes Property Unit Trust and Multrees Investor Services
Is 70 the new 65 for the generation in or approaching retirement? The Office for National Statistics says people can expect to live longer, healthier lives, with 70-year-olds typically able to expect a decade or more of further life . “Official retirement age” is a thing of the past and the number of over-70s still in work in the UK more than doubled between 2009 and 2019.
At 65, David Nicol CA isn’t ready to kick back into a stereotypical retirement of holidays, gardening and golf. He qualified as a CA in 1980 and, among various audit, leadership and board roles in financial services firms, including a stint in Hong Kong, spent 27 years at Morgan Stanley before transitioning into what some might describe as a second-wave portfolio career.
When he left Morgan Stanley, aged 55, Nicol briefly considered retiring. “A lot of people I knew at that age were,” he says. “We had been financially well looked after and didn’t really need to be working. But I found that transition to be quite a difficult one. I’d been a Managing Director at a US investment bank, and when I woke up on 1 January 2011 I was just David Nicol. That year I took some holidays with my adult children – skiing, golf trips – then that summer I met Anton Colella [former CEO of ICAS] and in 2012 he asked me to join the ICAS Council, where I was a member for six years.”
This and other pro bono projects kept Nicol reasonably busy, but it wasn’t enough; he knew he needed to do something else. Tapping into his broad network, he became a Special Adviser at KPMG in 2011, advising on transformation strategies for investment banks. But being effectively self-employed was no substitute for the camaraderie and daily engagement of a company.
“I wasn’t a partner, I wasn’t signing stuff off,” he says. “I just wasn’t part of a community like I had been before and I found it quite isolating.”
Fast forward to 2013 and Nicol returned to full-time employment as CEO of Brewin Dolphin, where he spent seven years before retiring – over Zoom – in June 2020. After a long and lauded career, a socially distanced retirement was a bit anti-climactic: “I was just David Nicol again.” As had been the case a decade earlier, Nicol knew that a “retirement lifestyle” wouldn’t satisfy his need to stay physically and mentally fit. Covid-19 made it difficult to make plans he could commit to, but Nicol continued his non-exec roles at the Urology Foundation charity and Federated Hermes Property Unit Trust and has since taken on two more NED positions, both in the financial services sector.
For others in the “rest less” phase of their later careers, Nicol offers some simple advice: be true to yourself and don’t rush into anything. “If at age 64 or 62 or 58 you still feel fresh and want to do something else, then do it,” he says. “Don’t listen to people who say you don’t have to work because you’re financially secure. Age has nothing to do with it. And I’m fortunate in that, yes, I am financially secure. I’m doing these jobs to stimulate the muscle in my head.”
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