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To X or not to X, that is the question…

Not so long ago adding a few kisses to a business or work email would have seemed unthinkable. Unless you were particularly close to a colleague or client such an action would suggest at best, you were being overly familiar and at worst, that you were trying to hit on them and could possibly some kind of office pervert.

Yet increasingly people are putting xxx at the end of a business missive. It’s not just people I know either, as often as not it’s complete strangers, both those prospecting for business from me and potential clients getting in touch for the first time.

But is it right? Should we be letting this informality creep into our business lives quite so much? Does it show we’re all human, in it together, more empathetic and willing to help or is it simply muddying the waters and making business more fraught with pitfalls?

XXX, three loaded keystrokes

The trouble with adding a kiss or two to the end of a business communique is it’s totally loaded and creates more questions than it answers. The subtext of those little kisses can speak volumes and on any given day, mean many different things. 

Sometimes I see them and they make me think, “Awww what a lovely caring person, they really value me and what I do.” Other times, I might think far more cynically that such an attempt at overfamiliarity is merely a ploy to get me to off them a better price. And then the narcissistic part of my brain might even think, “Are they trying it on with me?!” 

I also wonder what possesses a person who has never met me, or with whom I might have had a brief two-minute conversation to think they could be familiar enough to put kisses.  And what if they put more than one? Does one signal simple friendliness while two or more hints at a more romantic intention? Or are multiple kisses simply a sign of someone else’s platonic happiness that you’ve really helped them out with their issue?

The trouble with all this second-guessing is you can spend too much time dwelling on the meaning of kisses to the point where your focus is no longer on the job but on what they actually mean by it all!

A more caring workplace

On the other hand, we live in progressive times and thankfully, in a world where people are (hopefully) more understanding of their fellow man. Those lines between professional and personal are blurred more than ever before and the addition of a kiss can create an atmosphere of amity which can actually benefit the business. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt more inclined to help a client out after they signed off an email with a kiss or when a satisfied client had followed their effusive praise with a load of ecstatic xxxxxx.

Anything that fosters understanding and helpfulness, no matter how small, can only be a good thing and I think there has a been a danger in the past to ignore the human aspect of the business, overlooking the psychology behind the way we all interact on a professional level. That’s not to say we should all declare our undying love for a fellow colleague or a new client – you want to close a sale, create a better business relationship, not end up on the end of a sexual harassment charge!

Should we all be adopting a warmer approach

Whether we should all be putting more kisses in our work emails is a matter of personal taste and I think it’s something you have to play by ear. Some of my clients are very friendly, they open up to me. A lot. They have become regular clients and whisper it, some have even become friends. I have no problem using kisses in my emails to them. 

I do tend to stay away from it when people contact me out of the blue and prefer using “best wishes” instead – friendly enough to show I’m engaging with them but not so friendly that they think I‘m trying to be their new bestie.

With other business contacts, it’s again on a case by case basis. There are a few who I am close to and have huge respect for - a kiss or two from me is an acknowledgement of that deep admiration. Then there is the vast majority whom I wouldn’t dream of blowing an electronic kiss to for fear quite frankly of devaluing my professional position. 

At the end of the day, it’s about personal choice and the great thing is we do now have far more freedom to decide how to conduct our business relationships. For now, though, I shall be using my kisses sparingly and saving them for those work occasions when they really can make a difference.

Written by Fay Millar

Chimp and Human

“We all have a Chimp, can you recognise yours?”

Emotions… they keep us company every day. They can be helpful and make us feel great, but they can also cloud rational thinking and take us down a spiral of negative thinking such as worry, fear, anxiety, frustration, stress, anger and so on. 

It can be difficult to manage these unhelpful emotions, but building awareness of why they appear, how they manifest themselves and recognising the triggers is a great starting point. 

To explain, I will use an analogy of a Chimp and Human. 

“Human” lives in the logical and analytical part of the brain. Human is responsible for making decisions, planning, using facts, truths and calculated risks. 

“Chimp” lives in our emotional part of the brain. Chimp is irrational, illogical, instinctive, uses feelings, black and white thinking, it likes to catastrophise. Chimp is 5 times faster and stronger than Human and once it comes out, it is difficult to tame it. Its purpose is survival! 

Chimp is there to protect you and it can be either your best friend ( protecting you from danger ) as well as your worst enemy - protecting you from perceived danger and stopping you from doing the things that matter to you. 

Let’s put that in context… Your boss has asked you if you would like to be involved in delivering a presentation that you know (this is your Human talking) will give you exposure in your company and will raise your profile. The problem is, you are afraid of public speaking, so your Chimp will now work very hard to protect you from what is uncomfortable, unfamiliar and scary. The Amygdala (the defence mechanism that works closely with our Chimp) will activate your fight, flight and freeze response and the Chimp will try to talk you out of delivering that presentation. Maybe you will delay making the decision (freeze) or decide not to take the opportunity at all as it is too scary, so you run away from it (flight). 

There is a constant battle between your Chimp and Human, and they are fighting for your attention. Whichever will gain control of you will win. If our Chimp manages to win, that’s ok, accept it. Once your emotions settle, reflect on it and think how you could have managed your Chimp better so you will be better prepared for it the next time it strikes.  

Written by Roksana Anning, Director of Apex Mindset Ltd

Bereavement and Finding Your Way Back to Work

You're running your own small business; it's ticking along and you're feeling quietly confident that you have control of all aspects of your work: the daily social media management, freelancers, deliveries, meetings, design and artwork, deadlines and even though you and only you are controlling all of these tasks, they will inevitably end up controlling YOU if you don't find the right balance between your work and your life.

Alright so your work/life balance is suffering a bit, okay a lot, but it'll get better right? You work hard to find that 'better' stage that you keep going on about. You keep telling yourself and the people around you, “yes things are going well thank you, I've got this meeting setup, I'm attending that expo, I'm starting a new section of the business to grow that side of things, it's all going to happen this year, I know it”. That famous 'Only Fools and Horses' one-liner then comes to mind, “this time next year Rodney...” and you spout it and make yourself laugh. But in truth, it's a struggle, isn't it? Juggling kids, your partner, work, weekends with the family and ferrying your kids to their school and activity events. You endure and your patience and mental state are put to the test.

I was running my own magazine for close to 3 and a half years, juggling all the duties that came with it but gradually my health and my family life inevitably started to suffer. I made the choice to be self-employed after my son was born so that I could raise him and go to work as well; as so many parents do. But while running my magazine I had no idea until now that while it was growing, it was gradually taking over my whole life - seven days a week. I wasn't sleeping, I had constant chest pains, which led to trips to A&E, caught bug after bug because I was so run-down but still, I kept going. I kept telling myself, it'll pick up soon so that I can take on more freelancers to free up my time to be with my family and take some time to rest from the stress.

But then, suddenly, the worst possible thing that can happen to your family happens... bereavement, followed by grief, pain, lack of motivation, consuming sadness, fear and loss.

I received a call from my partner early one morning asking me to stop my magazine deliveries and get over to my parents’ house as soon as possible. I asked him if everything was okay because I could hear in his voice that something was clearly wrong. I wondered if someone was ill or worse, so I immediately made my way over to my parents’ house where I saw my younger brother's work van parked on their drive and I thought, GREAT I'll see Steve when I go in, haven't seen him in a while, brilliant! Steve worked all the time, another self-employed hero like me, that believed he was untouchable. That's how we were brought up. Work hard, reap the benefits and be successful, done, easy, just like that. But when I went in, I called out as I usually do and asked where Steve was and then my Mum, in a terrible state delivered the news.

My little brother had died. 

My Dad well, I never want to see my Dad in that state ever again. As my Dad held me in his arms he told me that Steve had died the previous night of a heart attack. He was alone when he died and since his tragic death, I now know that he'd actually had enough of working for himself and he'd taken on a new job, just that week in fact, so that he could get away from the stresses of running his own business but sadly he was too late.

It was then that the world changed for me and my family and my work was instantly no longer as important as I believed it to be. After we told my son the awful news, he sat for a moment staring at me and then said “this is a wake-up call for you Mum, I don't want you to end up the same as Uncle Steve” and he burst into tears. My parents agreed and so how could I continue running around like a busy fool trying to maintain a very demanding business that, let's face it, a team of people would usually run?

I took take time out to help my family arrange Steve's funeral and contact everyone concerned to deliver the tragic news. As well as this I had to inform colleagues and customers that my business had to go on hold for the foreseeable future. Well, this is a life lesson isn't it, when bereavement hits your family like Thor's almighty hammer you must stop what you're doing and try your best to put your life back into perspective and realign your priorities. Grief and trauma take a very long time to come to terms with and while you're running your own business it's even harder. That's the time when you pack it in or gather strength from those around you who help and 'muck in' with day to day tasks, even the most simple ones like getting up each morning and getting your kid to school.

Months later I closed the doors on my magazine and I've since gone back to doing what I enjoy, commercial graphic design at a digestible pace, as well as continuing as a Kung Fu Instructor with my partner. Kung Fu, in fact, has helped me calm my mind and focus through the fog of questions. Why didn't Steve get checked by a doctor sooner? Why didn't he slow down? Why didn't he come to us if he needed help? And a million others.

Steve was such a talented mechanical engineer, but what I found out after his death was that he was also, a magnificent artist. He built and made models and structures from stainless steel and other metals. He made a beautiful owl which now lives in my parents’ lounge. He made a replica of Thor's hammer, flowers, bespoke garden heaters, all by welding and shaping metal. We all miss him so much, his friends, family, work colleagues. Everyone was so shocked to hear what had happened. He was only 41 years young.

If you run your own small business and your health starts to deteriorate and your work/life balance is out of sync then take a step back, prioritise. You don't want your family members and friends to be struck by grief. Take some time out and think about what's important for you, for the sake of your health, your state of mind and ultimately your family.

Work will always be there tomorrow; tasks can wait. Life won’t. Time won’t. So don't waste it.

By Samantha Hallam.

Menopause and the Workplace 

The menopause was never a subject talked about when I was growing up. From a personal perspective, I was not living with my mum when she went through the menopause; she says that she went through it relatively unscathed apart from a ‘’thickening around the waist’’. 

The official definition of the menopause is 12 months since your last menstrual period and the perimenopausal definition is the time when women transition to the menopause. Experience of the menopause can vary, with up to 34 potential symptoms.

20% of women will have no symptoms 

60% of women will experience mild to moderate symptoms 

20% of women will have severe symptoms 

‘’The average age of women to experience the menopause is 51 years old when they are in more senior posts and may have more stressful jobs that can be more difficult to juggle around family life, let alone cope with having menopausal symptoms too’’ 

Yet, even though the menopause is natural and will affect every single woman at some stage in their life (statistically for around 4-6 years), this topic is almost taboo. I am passionate about raising awareness in the workplace, I think symptoms should be openly talked about with both women and men. Companies should investigate menopause policies, including having fans, cold water and water sprays commonplace in the offices where women work, demonstrating empathy to their female workforce if they are having a bad day, women being able to talk to their colleagues or managers and feel safe to say I need a few minutes to cool down and go to another room or outside with no judgement. 

‘’With around 3.5 million women aged between 15 and 65 years currently in employment in the UK women now represent nearly half of the UK labour force.  That surely makes menopause mainstream and as important as any other occupational health issue’’ Source –   

But there is also a fine line here that we don’t create a division between men and women, where women can be potentially labelled as/or patronised with ‘’oh she is just menopausal’’.  I am fortunate to have close friends of the same age, embarking on this journey together. There are a variety of reasons for the starting age and physical symptoms. When we meet up, we ask each other ‘’have you felt like this?????? Are you????’ to be greeted with a resounding YESSSS!!! It is so therapeutic to know that we were not going mad or on our own and we don’t have some other condition that we should fret about. 

My first experience of being perimenopausal, was the springtime of last year when I was suddenly struggling to deal with stressful situations at work. My symptoms were: 

• Lack of sleep  

• Very tearful and low in mood 

• Anxious and worried about events that would normally not faze me 

• Lack of confidence 

• Sudden bouts of unreasonable rage and irritability 

• Reluctance to be sociable 

• Poor concentration 

• Forgetfulness 

• Weight gain 

• Headaches/Migraines 

• Hot flushes 

• Night sweats 

I felt out of control and in a very dark space, I didn’t feel like me anymore and that my family would be better off without me.  

I was fortunate to have someone ask me if I was perimenopausal, this was not a phrase that I had heard before or even associated with my age of 49!! So, I went to the doctors due to my extreme low mood and tearfulness, he then prescribed me anti-depressants which I felt reluctant to take but at that time saw no other alternative. By doing some research, I have found that the anti-depressants have different side-effects which can reduce hot flushes and /or night sweats, it is up to the individual to decide the route they want to take. 

• Through talking to other women, I found out that this is a very common scenario, with a reluctance to prescribe HRT. There are a variety of treatments including Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) out there - for more information please see:  

• An award-winning, an independent website providing up to date, accurate information about the menopause, menopausal symptoms and treatment options is -   

• For Menopause in the Workplace please see -

To update you on my situation, I only took the anti-depressants for approximately six weeks, my sleep pattern settled and my fear of becoming dependant overtook the initial need to take them so I stopped (they recommend you do this with medical advice and not just stop taking this type of drug). 

I have self-managed my situation to date, some days are better than others. I still have night sweats and frequent hot flushes, and my sleep pattern can be erratic, I now practice giving myself space and time and understanding. I purchased a Peloton bike back in the Autumn and the sessions have made a huge positive impact on my wellbeing/mental health. I often do about 3-4 sessions a week and I have noticed I am happier and slowly losing weight. I agree with some of my critics that I should be outside or in a group of people exercising at the gym, but my working days are long, and I start early so I don’t always have the time to drive to the gym. The weather is not always conducive to getting outside either, I can jump on my Peloton at 5.30 in the morning for half an hour and then be ready to face the day ahead. I am very fortunate that I run my own company so I can have a fan at my desk and leave when I need to compose myself. 

I still toy with the idea of HRT, watch this space……….                

Written by Sarra Hawes, Director of Hawes Building


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