The greatest gift you can give is time…

vol“You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time…” 

You have all probably heard this famous quote from Rick Warren a well-known philanthropist, but for this article I thought it apt to highlight…

Volunteering is exactly that you see, giving a person or organisation some of your time, with the hope you will in some way make a difference.  What a great gift to give, and one I feel which is hugely underrated!

In recent years, volunteering has been used as a tool for employee engagement and retainment; and a study by Volunteering Australia demonstrated that organisations which have volunteer programmes find it easier to recruit and retain good people, something most People/ HR professionals already know. A You Gov survey published in 2010 showed that managers who supported employee volunteering saw a 55% improvement in their employee retention; the report is backed by the Institute of Directors. You see, having an organisational volunteering program is so much more than just about employee retention… but in a competitive labour market improved employee retention is as good a reason as any for having one…

Increasingly more today than ever before, the younger workforce – the ‘gen Zers’ and millennial’s (I just about make it into this group!) – want their employers to provide workplace environments where they can achieve fulfilment, meaning and purpose.

According to Sage People, the usual perks such as gym memberships, health plans and bonus schemes are apparently not enough for these two generations. They’re looking for a more rewarding, engaging and meaningful workplace experience.  In fact, 53% of under-35s want to volunteer more than they do, with this figure increasing to 60% amongst 18-24-year-olds, according to a recent report by City Philanthropy. ‘

Aside from just being a great perk for colleagues, companies that offer paid time-off for volunteering can attract and retain  top talent, boost productivity, instil a sense of purpose and meaning in employees, and go some way to improving the employee engagement challenge.

What could companies gain from giving employees the gift of time?

1) Improved colleague retention

Research by Great Place to Work looked at thousands of employee surveys from companies on its 50 best Workplaces that Give Back list and revealed that workers at these organisations say they’re more likely to stay with their employer for a long time as a result of the company’s volunteer programs.

2) #LoveWhereYouWork

Employees at firms with volunteer days are proud to tell others where they work.

They’ll tweet, Facebook and also Instagram (other social media platforms are available…) about their paid-time off to volunteer. All of which further enhances the organisation’s perception in the community and raises the profile of the business, particularly amongst prospective employees.  For housing organisations, it also enables colleagues in feeling closer to our communities – the reason we are here and our social purpose.

3) Connected teams (through team days!)

When whole teams participate in a worthwhile activity for a good cause, even just for a day, a sense of teamwork is fostered. Pulling together for a common goal, especially when it’s for a charity or community project, enables employees to bond and support each other. Once built, this sense of teamwork can continue back in the workplace with a renewed sense of commitment to one another.

4) Developing people

Volunteering can enable employees to learn and develop new skills. Off-site projects with community organisations can open up a whole new skill-set for an employee, enabling them to try things they’ve never experienced before.  Learning a new skill adds to a person’s sense of worth, can boost their motivation, make them feel valuable and positively affect their overall wellbeing.

5) Uncovering aspiring leaders

Volunteer programs can be a great way for managers to see which team members might make future business leaders. A team volunteering day can be an ideal environment to discover who has a natural aptitude for leading and should be put on a fast-track for Leadership development.  At Aster, we have developed an element of our programme specifically enabling aspiring leaders to bid to lead community projects – this delivering both business and community impact!

6) Happier, healthier staff

Companies who offer volunteering days or schemes report a reduction in sick leave as employees want to work for a company that values them and gives back. They feel more satisfied, motivated, so staff morale is higher.  We haven’t yet tracked this at Aster but will look at this data and report back at a later date.  Let me know if there are any of you who have already!

So, who’s already doing it well (other than Aster of course)?

Apparently, Salesforce topped the 2017 annual World’s Best Workplaces list, due to cultivating pride in its employees and inspiring them through its ‘relentless commitment to community involvement’.  According to Great Place to Work, who compile the rankings, 97% of employees said they felt proud about the way Salesforce contributes to the community.

What about Aster?

At Aster, we believe in people power and are investing into a volunteering programme which delivers both business and community impact through investing in our communities where they need it the most; this through the Aster Foundation. The programme itself has been built in conjunction with partners across our communities and we are lucky enough to have some larger organisations become corporate partners of the programme.  This means, their employees will be investing their time and effort into improving our communities too – this because our values align.

We really want our people to have a fantastic colleague experience; from looking through the programme and guidance, the support and information given leading up to the volunteering opportunity and also engagement afterwards.  We are clear on how each opportunity drives strategy performance and have a matrix which sits behind the programme that allows us to see how the programme is delivering its impact for our colleagues, the business and our communities.  We launch this on July 30th 2019 and I look forward to sharing the results we collect on the difference we make through investing time into cultivating our people power!



Sources of information:
Great places to work benchmarking survey 






Inclusive Leadership = Awesome


The way we do business is changing, this whilst our customers and employees are also becoming more diverse.

The development of the knowledge economy means moving away from the ‘norm’ and instead working towards flatter, less hierarchical structures within organisations…

Increased agility and strong leadership are the necessary responses to these changes and also the emerging markets, economic downturn and the cultural change inspired by social media and new ways of communicating.

Change and evolution is great, but with leadership being a key enabler in adapting to these changes, we need to ask ourselves whether the current style of leadership in our organisations is enabling us to evolve or actually acting as a blocker in achieving success.

There are so many books, blogs and conversations around leadership styles.  Not only should you find one which works for you and your personality, but also for the period which your organisation finds itself within.  In my opinion, you should really explore inclusive leadership if you want to increase agility and resilience in your organisations.  Inclusive leadership really drives a modern and progressive organisation towards increased levels of success because at its centre, its heart – it’s all about people.

Research has shown that inclusive leadership has what it takes to create the diversity of background and thought, collaboration, performance and innovation to meet today’s business challenges and support business growth. Yet inclusive leadership remains a rare gem in organisations today. 66% of employees in a recent leadership survey reported that, in their experience, less than half of the managers and leaders in their organisation are great inclusive leaders. There is little formal development or motivation driving inclusive leadership in organisations today. This needs to change. Only a proactive approach will enable inclusive leadership to become more widespread across UK business.

I agree…but what actually is it?!

Inclusion happens when leaders value the differences as well as the commonalities of others. Let’s first hone in on what it means to value someone’s differences.

Essentially this is about valuing a team member’s uniqueness, recognising them for what they bring to the table and helping them to stand out from the crowd. So instead of criticising people for being different or having unusual ideas, you’d support them and appreciate them the way they are. This is a need that we all have – being acknowledged for the unique talents that we possess.

Secondly it is about the act of valuing people’s commonalities.

This is about helping team members fulfil another fundamental need: the need to belong to the group and to not stand out too far from the crowd.

Leaders can help individuals to get this need fulfilled by valuing what they have in common with others and by making team members feel that they fit in and belong to the group. Socialising outside of work, celebrating successes, planning collaboratively and asking each team member for their views and opinions are behaviours that support this need. So in summary, you have to foster feelings of uniqueness AND belongingness if you want to become a successful inclusive leader.

Highly inclusive leaders demonstrate six signature traits—in terms of what they think about and what they do—that are reinforcing and interrelated. Collectively, these six traits represent a powerful capability highly adapted to diversity. Embodiment of these traits enables leaders to operate more effectively within diverse markets, better connect with diverse customers, access a more diverse spectrum of ideas, and enable diverse individuals in the workforce to reach their full potential.

Trait 1: Commitment

Highly inclusive leaders are committed to diversity and inclusion because these objectives align with their personal values and because they believe in the business case.

Trait 2: Courage

Highly inclusive leaders speak up and challenge the status quo, and they are humble about their strengths and weaknesses.

Trait 3: Cognisance of bias

Highly inclusive leaders are mindful of personal and organisational blind spots, and self-regulate to help ensure “fair play.”

Trait 4: Curiosity

Highly inclusive leaders have an open mindset, a desire to understand how others view and experience the world, and a tolerance for ambiguity.

Trait 5: Culturally intelligent

Highly inclusive leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions.

Trait 6: Collaborative

Highly inclusive leaders empower individuals as well as create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups.

Don’t despair if you fall within the 66% who feel they don’t see these behaviours within their organisation – as these skills can be built into your organisation through your recruitment process, leadership development and also through your values.  They can be learned. Its genuinely worth the investment of time, as not only will you be able to respond to the ever changing operating environment, the business case for creating an inclusive workforce speaks for itself:

Diverse teams perform better:

Cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people, according to 2017 research published in Harvard Business Review. The researchers noted that, while many organisations might already be cognitively diverse, “people like to fit in, so they are cautious about sticking their necks out. When we have a strong, homogeneous culture, we stifle the natural cognitive diversity in groups through the pressure to conform.”
Meanwhile a 2013 report by Deloitte found that when employees ‘think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included’, their ability to innovate increases by 83%.

Diverse teams have also been found to make decisions 60% faster than non-diverse teams. “Unfortunately, non-inclusive decision-making is all too common,” says report author Erik Larson. “All-male teams make about 38% of the decisions in a typical large company, and the gap is even worse among less diverse firms.

Greater innovation and creativity:

Having a workforce comprised of people with different backgrounds, experiences and skills means the ideas generated by these teams won’t be homogeneous – they’ll be innovative and creative. And this can have a significant impact on an organisation’s bottom line; public companies with a diverse executive board have a 95% higher return on equity than those with non-diverse boards, according to a McKinsey study.

It’ll boost your employer brand:

With larger UK organisations required to publicly disclose their gender pay gaps for the first time in April 2018, there is more public awareness than ever of companies’ DEI initiatives (or lack of them).

In a 2017 survey by PwC, 54% of women and 45% of men surveyed said they researched if a company had DEI policies in place when deciding to accept a position with their most recent employer. A further 61% of women and 48% of men said they assessed the diversity of the company’s leadership team when deciding to accept an offer.

So it makes sense that, according to a recent Glassdoor study, more than a third (35%) of hiring decision-makers at UK organisations expect to increase their investment in DEI. More than half (59%) said that a lack of investment in DEI was a barrier to attracting high-quality candidates, while a fifth (20%) said DEI initiatives were among the most significant factors that influenced a candidate’s decision to join an organisation.







Global warming…it’s one of the biggest challenges of our time and one I feel is somewhat glossed over with how we live our lives.  I was at a conference recently and I heard the most astonishing fact… We only have around 60 harvests left.  That means global warming (as well as other factors) has had such an impact on our top soil, that will in my lifetime mean we aren’t able to harvest crops?!  How did that even happen?  The facts are there and have always been readily available…yet we carry on with our busy lives at such a pace that we don’t realise the impact of our action or non-action until its virtually too late… I for one would like to stop this behaviour.  Sure, life is busy and challenging, but I want to focus on improving the things that really matter.  Things like global warming.  Or even social warming?!  Social warming is the phrase I use to describe our indifference around ignoring social challenges such as loneliness and isolation.  Global warming maybe the biggest environmental challenge of our time, but I believe social warming is one pf the biggest social challenges; and one which is on the increase.

We are all going to age and we are living longer.  Did you know that for those born in 2013 onwards, a third of these will live past 100!!!  There are currently roughly 12 million people in the UK aged 65+ and by 2040, a quarter of our population will be aged 65+.  A third of our older population live alone, this in spite of a quarter of them needing help with at least one activity of daily living such as washing or shopping etc.  This number as we age, is only going to increase…

Loneliness and isolation – although we commonly think of this for our older people, it’s also an issue for our younger people.  In an age where we can connect through the internet at any given second, we still have 10% of people aged 16 – 24 who felt they were always or often lonely – the highest proportion for any age group. Teens can have thousands of friends online and yet feel unsupported and isolated – could technology really be exacerbating social isolation?  We now walk around with our head in our phones, we don’t have time to look up and smile at other people, or to notice things around us.  For some people, chatting at a supermarket checkout had been the social highlight of their week – now even that is changing through automation.  Overall in the UK, 1 in 20 people always or often feel lonely… showing me that there is an increasing issue with people having a regular amount of meaningful contact with others.  The harm loneliness can cause, both physically and mentally, can be devastating to people of all ages.  I recently heard that it can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  If this is so – then where are the hard hitting adverts pushing us to stop social warming?  Can you remember the smoking adverts which compelled people to change their behaviours…where are these for social warming – and why isn’t there a bigger push on ending this challenge?

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there is some great work being done through the ‘Campaign to end loneliness’ and Silver line – also through community groups and charities.  Even some housing associations are doing some really great innovative work such as piloting smart homes.  I however can’t help feeling that we could do so much more through harnessing the special parts of technology and also ourselves as people – so here is my challenge to you…

Firstly, be honest with yourself…have you ever felt lonely or isolated?  How did this make you feel?  I have, and I guess this is why I feel compelled to raise the profile of this issue, because I understand if only briefly the impact of not feeling part of something bigger than myself or my own thoughts.  I believe the only way you can make real social change is by talking openly and honestly about a subject, educating people and inspiring people to make a difference if only small.  For the next week, put your phone in your pocket as you walk around (and leave it there)  instead try engaging with someone with a smile or saying hello.  For 55% of older people who live alone – sometimes their TV is what they rely on for company.  Why don’t you be the one to brighten someone’s day by taking an interest in them and making them feel part of something.  Why not make an effort to chat to the neighbour you see doesn’t have many visitors or even leave a card through their door with your name and details and an offer of a roast dinner on a Sunday.  It’s not rocket science we need, its kindness.  If any of these facts made you want to make a difference, why not take to Twitter or LinkedIn and tell me what you did to make a difference using the hashtag  #socialwarming

I can’t wait to hear from you…go on… make a difference to someone’s life today (and tell me about it)

A world without stairs….

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about my ‘mission’ and also the things I use my voice for.

These thoughts brought on by an event I attended around female empowerment where I was surrounded by some of the most impressive women I have ever met from all around the globe.

I walked into the House of Commons in May and I was excited.  Excited to meet likeminded people and excited to talk about real issues effecting real people – more importantly, how we could work together to create real change.  Helping people to change their lives and live the best version of their life is what makes me get up in the morning you see.

I feel the need to say that within the first 10 minutes of this event, I had forgotten my name and the job that I did and stumbled on these most basic questions when asked…I fear my excitement had turned into being a little overwhelmed and I did even debate going to hide out in the toilets for the rest of the day…because who would know right?!  Well you will be pleased to know that this story doesn’t end with me hiding in a toilet.. the event was an incredible success and for me the most successful part was getting me to really hone in my vision on how I can help to change the world… a big ask isn’t it!  Well, the people crazy enough to think they can change the world usually can and I think we all do in our own way.

Whilst we were talking in our workshops, people were discussing what drives them and all of a sudden, my vision started tumbling out of my mouth into fully formed sentences.  I had remembered my name, my job and most of all, my purpose.  My vision you see, is to create a world without stairs… literally and metaphorically.  The ladies on the table asked me to elaborate so that’s what I will also do for you.

We have roughly *7 million people in the UK (*Scope) who have various mobility impairments which can result in difficulty climbing stairs.  We have an ageing population and with age (for some) comes less mobility and sometimes a difficulty with stairs.  Have you ever stopped in a city and looked at just how many stairs there are??  Well I can tell you that there are hundreds of thousands in London alone.  Did you know that if you walked the stairs for the Hampstead tube station for 100 days it is the equivalent of climbing Everest!!  I have many fascinating stair trivia now, due to researching this blog…which I may add I will not bore you with.  I am now however someone you will want on your pub quiz team for stairs related questions!

Stairs are more economical in cost in comparison to some ramps and we put in stairs, sometimes because of space, but mostly (after speaking with architects) because it’s what we have always done and they look pleasing on the eye in a landscape or property.  So as a society, we put in stairs even though we know a large percentage of the population can’t use them…but don’t despair…because of Equalities legislation and also people recognising people’s needs, we then have some ramps, elevators, chair lifts and also escalators…as well as the stairs.  What an expense.

If we only had ramps or something similarly accessible, everyone could get around well.  No workarounds.

The stairs here are a symbol for the barriers we put in place for our people and communities – sometimes without even realising.  We then try and find a workaround when we understand the barrier and its impact. Thinking in this way is costly and also inefficient, there are also impacts on people whilst they wait for our bright ideas.  Now, I am not saying the answer to all of our problems is a world with ramps! I instead challenge everyone reading this to instead apply the ethos of ‘a world without stairs’ to whatever you are working on.  Let’s not find workarounds anymore or create unintentional unequal playing fields.  Let’s work to have no barriers and also applaud those who actively work to remove the current barriers which exist – that’s what I will be doing with this blog… talking about my new role within Aster in which I will be trying to create a world without stairs on my new adventure as Director of the Aster Foundation.

Now, according to my partner I am passionate about my work but I know myself and I have a tendency to waffle, so I hope you understand the point I am trying to make.  The next time you are out, take 5 minutes and stop and look at the world around you.  The amazing and impressive world/ society that we as human beings created.  Now, think about all of the different people in the world…can you see any barriers?  I challenge you to remove them – let’s start a revolution and be crazy enough to think we can actually change the world… go on, I dare you.

Do what you love, love what you do… which one are you?

pexels-photo-867470.jpegDid you know that since some of the earliest writings from the world’s greatest thought leaders the notion of doing what you love (seeking a career that fills you with passion) has been discussed at length. But with current research showing how many people are disengaged, dissatisfied, and frustrated at work, I wondered is it possible to flip the words—is it possible to simply love what you do—your current job?

Finding a job you love is age-old advice. A well known philosopher (Confucius) said to “do what you love.” His words, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” have been repeated throughout history.  And let’s not forget the thoughts of Maya Angelou who said “…pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

So what about the other approach —telling people to love what they do? You don’t have to look far to find the advice of Steve Jobs who said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”  He was a great guy who seemed to love his work… and was incredibly successful; so is this key component?

Research shows that great work (award-winning work) is produced when people focus on doing something others love, basically asking yourself the question; “What difference could I make that other people would love?”  Or how can I make a positive difference to others?  The point is, loving your job is one thing—the activities and responsibilities you have on a day-to day basis. But loving the impact your job has on someone else is another. If you are not totally happy with what you are doing, try this one little simple activity: Go and see your work being received. See how it impacts someone else, another co-worker, a customer, another team, or whoever benefits from your work.

I work in social housing and every single person in this sector is an important cog in helping us to house our customers and deliver housing and related support services to customers right first time.  You are awesome… so whenever work gets busy or you feel it unmanageable, remember  what you do and the impact of your job on our communities and repeat after me.. “I am awesome because I work in social housing and I love what I do!”

Fix things and make them work…when they are working, support an evolution to match the aspiration!

pexels-photo-209712.jpegIt’s been a while since I have written a blog in which I voice a personal view but I felt the need to with reading a lot of articles about strength or asset based community development of late.

I have a few thoughts on this I wanted to share to see what other people think?

 I have personally worked in the business of creating a society where everyone can be themselves and have the best quality of life possible – this through many guises such as community development, charitable work, coaching and as a diversity and inclusion lead.  Through these roles I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most incredible people; mainly within my time in social housing.  I have met Halina, the Polish paratrooper who took homeless people back to her home (where she lived alone) and she put them back together before delivering them to us as a social landlord to house (amongst other things!)  I have met Dave, the man who turned his own personal challenges into a positive through creating Europe’s biggest disability charity (WDP) which supports people to build and rebuild their lives – this guy is unbelievable. 

I have met *Bill, who has dementia and other personal challenges but gives up his time daily to improve the lives of others through volunteering his time – he even messages to apologise if he can’t make a meeting due to being in hospital because he puts others needs before his own…always.  

I met an 86 year old man who was a medic in the British Army who had lived with alcoholism due to PTSD and now due to understanding this illness – supports others to climb the steps back to their own version of normality.  Then there is me…

…I was a straight A student in school with an amazing mum and fantastic dad.  We lived a normal life on a low income but ridiculously happy because my parents invested more than money into me – they invested their time.  Whether I was cooking with mum or doing forward rolls on a crash mat with Dad (he was a budding martial arts guru… for me, not so much!) … I was happy.

Then mum got cancer, ten times over ten years to be precise.  This was our new normal.  She lost the fight when I was just about to turn 17 and this impacted the straight A student version of me and rocked my whole family, and my whole world – reverberations which we still feel today because we miss the beautiful kind soul who knitted our family together perfectly.  People saw I was faltering and stepped in to put me back together.  Some were family, some were professionals in the educational setting and some complete strangers.  I now have a great career, great outlook on life and have the drive to support others, because I know how someone understanding me at my lowest point actually helped me to become me again. 

What I am trying to say, is that I have met the most incredible people within my career who inspire me to be the best version of myself but one thing which they all have in common… someone supported them to first jump the hurdles life had put in the way.  This by showing them that they had an understanding of where they were in life; and also were they could be in their future. 

For me, this shows me that the best type of community development, one which creates real change in people that carries on for decades…is both asset (or strength) based and at the same time supporting the person to jump those hurdles (I don’t like using the words deficit based!)

Plugging gaps which exist ensures people have the support they may need which could be missing at certain points.  Focus on the strengths and making these stronger.. but also focus on areas which need improving to ensure those who need the most support are not left behind.

So to finish – I believe there  needs to be a layered approach to community evolution but lets start with understanding a communities needs and working with people 121 to really give them the time and space to be the best version of themselves. 

“Fix things and make them work…when they are working, support an evolution to match the aspiration!”

Also – a big thanks to those who have  invested in me – you will never know how grateful I am for being glued back together.  For you in seeing both areas to strengthen and also improve.

Bye for now,