26 July 2023
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a wish for small talk, an important note on inclusion and a text message rejection.
I’ve been an executive assistant to the same chief executive for seven years. They have never asked how my weekend was, made small talk or checked how I’m feeling after taking medical leave. I’m looking for a new role, but I wonder why someone I work so closely with doesn’t seem to care for my wellbeing.
It’s impossible for me to know what is going on for your CEO. From what you describe, they appear to be lacking in basic social skills in their relationship with you and I can imagine how, after seven years, it might start to impact your enjoyment of work. If we approach this with curiosity and empathy, perhaps there’s something going on with your CEO you’re not aware of?
I wonder what your CEO’s life is like. Perhaps they were taught, early in their career, not to talk about social things at work. Perhaps their own private life is damaged, traumatic or non-existent, and they want to avoid entering into any conversations that might take them into that space at work. Perhaps they suffer from social anxiety and just want focus on the areas they feel capable.
Whatever the reason, it sounds like you have had enough. Hopefully, your relationship with your new boss will be one that is more aligned with the way you like to operate at work.
My workplace has decided to give an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of each meeting, which I find tokenistic and shallow. To my knowledge, nobody in the meetings I attend is Indigenous. I am not racist. If I’m asked to give the Acknowledgement, can I refuse? If so, what reason could I give?
I really don’t know how you could position a respectful refusal to give an Acknowledgement of Country, if you are asked. The Acknowledgement is an opportunity for people to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country. It is done whether Indigenous people are present or not, as it’s an opportunity to encourage reflection and education about historical and ongoing injustices.
Diversity Council Australia’s most recent Inclusion@Work Index shows that Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island people are the most marginalised group in the Australian workforce, with 50 per cent reporting they had experienced discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace. As you say, you are not racist, so you would understand there can be no true inclusion unless we are all actively working to improve outcomes for Indigenous people.
I encourage you to read more about the purpose of the Acknowledgement of Country. The First Nations not-for-profit group Common Ground has an excellent explainer. You or your organisation can also reach out to Reconciliation Australia to discuss developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, if your organisation doesn’t already have one, to ensure the Acknowledgement is used as intended.
I received a text message two months after an interview, advising I had been unsuccessful for the role. Is it a new trend to text candidates who’ve been interviewed to tell them they didn’t get the job?
If you have gone to the trouble of applying for a role, then preparing and attending an interview, the very least you deserve is a timely response (preferably with feedback) within a few days of the interview. A text on its own is bad enough, but for it to arrive two months later is not OK and reflects poorly on the recruiter. If they treated you like this in the interview process, you should feel lucky you didn’t get the job.
To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit kirstinferguson.com/ask (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).