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Career Services head walks the talk

2 September 2006

Career Services head walks the talk

Career Services’ Chief Executive Lester Oakes says winning the 2006 Walk the Talk award is a highlight of more than 20 years in the public sector.

“It means a great deal to me personally and professionally because the award celebrates a principle I try to live and work by – making sure that work fits into my broader life, never assuming that work automatically comes first,” says Lester Oakes. “That’s a principle we have embedded in the Career Services work ethic and the advice we offer to clients.”

Lester Oakes received the Walk the Talk award, one of five Work and Life awards administered by the EEO Trust, at a ceremony in Auckland on Thursday night.

“Career Services assists more than half a million New Zealanders every year, and we are increasingly advising people to think about ‘work in life’ – helping people to seek work that matches the way they want to live their lives. Work can be just one part of a balanced life, not necessarily the dominant factor,” says Lester Oakes.

Lester Oakes and Career Services practise what they preach. The idea of entering Lester Oakes for the award came from the staff at Career Services, and the nominating document was peppered with attestations from staff at all levels.

Lester Oakes leads an expanding government agency with 170 staff in 15 locations nationwide, and he has a significant international role in the careers profession as Vice President of the International Association of Education and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG). Yet over his eight years as chief executive of Career Services, Lester Oakes has established an exemplary balance in his own life and encourages the same philosophy among his staff.

Lester Oakes says he copes with the pressures of major organisational growth and innovation by maintaining balance in his own life and embedding a work-life balance culture in the organisation.

Lester Oakes performed in the recent touring production of The Mikado, the latest in a string of stage appearances. He arrives in the city on public transport and then walks to work. He walks and plays golf for exercise, cooks, has regular therapeutic massage and most of all is a devoted family man.

At Career Services, people and their wellbeing come first. Lester Oakes stresses that this is not a ‘soft’ approach to human resources.

“It’s a matter of recognising each employee as a unique person and making provision for their diverse needs. And any experienced manager will tell you that valued, happy people living balanced lives are more likely to produce the goods,” says Lester Oakes.

Lester Oakes says encouraging a work-life balance requires more than just having the right policies and systems in place.

“All good workplaces have policies and systems that provide for part-time work, flexible hours, sympathetic leave provisions and the like. But there’s more to it than that. It’s about how we work together from day to day. It’s about what I call ‘integrity of action’. A workplace should be the kind of place where you feel comfortable about spending a substantial part of your life. It’s about how you are treated as a person,” says Lester Oakes.

“The Walk the Talk award celebrates this principle. It’s a crucial issue for the personal and economic wellbeing of the whole country,” says Lester Oakes.


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