UN intern story is a dramatic example, but the organisation should know better



When a story like that of David Hyde gains global coverage; a 22-year-old New Zealand graduate who said he had been living in a tent while on a United Nations internship, the long running debate about the merits of interning reignites.

Unfortunately much of the debate around internships is framed through a lens of ‘black and white’ divisions. The debate is shaped around whether an internship is unpaid (black) or paid (white). That doesn’t take into account the importance of internships as part of today’s HR processes, the complexity of the many structured programmes out there or the many positive internship stories. The fact is that gradireland’s own research of major graduate employers in Ireland shows that 86% of employers offer internships, and 93.5% of them pay. The average rate of payment was between €1,400 and €1,800 per month. Employers value interns greatly as part of their strategic recruitment objectives, as the employability skills learned contribute to their potential as future full term employees.

What this story does show is that the United Nations needs to get its house in order when it comes to how it is running its internship programme. Indeed, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states;”everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration.”

Mr Hyde’s torrid experiences of living in a tent by Lake Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive cities, represents a PR disaster for the UN, but, in his own words – he accepted the job knowing what he wasn’t getting and that his decisions to accept the role, and indeed to subsequently quit, were purely his own decisions. “The UN was clear about their internship policy from the start. No wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance, no health assistance. I understood this, and in that regard I have to take responsibility for accepting the internship in the first place.” It subsequently came to light that he had planned to live in the tent to publicise the situation which UN interns were facing. So while his planned publicity stunt, that was obviously going to precipitate serious financial hardship, does colour the story it doesn’t excuse the UN for operating its internship programmes in such a manner. An organisation such as the UN depends on diversity in order to realise its objectives, under its current modus operandi for interns, it can only really attract affluent students from developed nations. Notoriously slow and bureaucratic, it’s unlikely that Mr Hyde’s story will act as a silver bullet to address this situation. UN officials, responding to the story, said that change to their internship programme would have to be submitted as formal proposal to the General Assembly. They did however say that while the Secretariat in Geneva did not pay anything to interns, other parts of the United Nations did.

The UN, by its very nature, is an idealistic organisation, for all its many faults. In this case, it has displayed itself as faceless, bureaucratic and cold. While Mr Hyde must share a large portion of the blame, it’s not really acceptable for the planet’s only global organisation to reward the enthusiasm of today’s graduates, who want to contribute the organisation, in this manner.

For more on what you should expect as an intern, and how you can make the best of the experience, visit here. It is the policy of gradireland to only advertise paid internship positions.


How to stay motivated at work this summer

Maybe you’re just starting out in your career, maybe you have just changed job or maybe you have just returned to the workplace; whichever it is, remaining focused, motivated and effective is of course central to obtaining your career ambitions. But it’s a reality that it is also very easy to lose focus, and become easily distracted and less productive, so here’s some helpful tips to keeping your workplace edge sharp this summer.

Remember the good stuff

Like the fact that you have a job. Remember the many applications, the increasing pressure and the lack of money that accompanied college life or spending time unemployed. If you’re not walking into your workplace with the same spring in your step, try to remember what made you want to apply for the job in the first place, remember the sense of achievement when you got it and the accomplishments you have made in the work you do. Your work is important, you need to remember that and use it to keep motivated.

Take care of yourself

Work is important, sure, but not as important as you. Spending hours hunched like a contortionist over a keyboard is not going to do anyone any favours, least of all yourself. Spend some time away from the desk, it helps clear the mind, problem solve and reminds you of the wider world. Get some exercise too, whether it’s during your commute to work or something you do after work. And remember to eat well, not just whatever is most convenient. Bringing your own lunch to the office saves a fortune and you’re probably going to be eating healthier too. Also, remember to talk to your colleagues. We are all busy but it’s far more rewarding to share your workplace life with others, where possible and reasonable of course, and it can also remind you that there are people around you who should be willing to help if you’re feeling snowed under. Of course, it helps with your motivation if the people around you are motivated and enthusiastic too. Also, if you have a problem at work, and if you thiink you’re dealing with something, or somebody, that you shouldn’t have to then it’s important you address it right away with your manager or colleagues. Nobody should dread going to work.

Set challenges

Maybe you’re stuck in a rut and your job has just become ‘easy’. It’s important that you challenge yourself. That could be as simple as writing a list of tasks every day and trying to get through them, or else it could mean a chat with your manager and you seeking more responsibilities within the company. Whatever it is, it’s important to seek new challenges. Neither you, or the company, will gain anything long term by you standing still. Another  way to motivate yourself in your career is by setting some goals which are linked to personal ambitions, such as travel. Always keep your goals realistic and ultimately attainable, even if it’s going to take months or even years. Focus on small changes which you can make to your lifestyle which can put you closer to what you want to achieve. If you can transfer this to your work then you’re going be far more rewarded and productive in what you do.

Visit here for information from gradireland on what you can do to make a winning start to to your career.

Ready for work also means being ‘fit for work’

On Friday, 21st November, the ‘Fit for Work’ coalition outlined at a press conference how a coordinated plan by the Government and health and business groups could save the exchequer millions and help many workers dealing with difficult illnesses, which affect all age groups, including graduates, writes Fergal Browne.

The ‘Fit for Work’ coalition has called on the HSE and the Department of Social Protection to work with them to create a national programme for early intervention in combating workplace absence caused by musculoskeletal disease (MSD), warning that such conditions affect people at all stages of their working life.

L-R: Kara McGann (Ibec), Aoife Weller (graduate and rheumatoid arthritis patient), Dr Don Thornhill (Fit for Work Ireland) & Dr John McDermott (GP & Occupational Health Specialist)

L-R: Kara McGann (Ibec), Aoife Weller (graduate and rheumatoid arthritis patient), Dr Don Thornhill (Fit for Work Ireland) & Dr John McDermott (GP & Occupational Health Specialist)

The request came as the working group, which is a coalition of 16 groups including Arthritis Ireland, Ibec and HSE Primary Care, highlighted how the exchequer could save €55 million in reduced absenteeism and decreased illness benefit payments.

Seven million working days are lost a year in Ireland due to absence and ill health because of musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) alone, an umbrella term covering over 200 conditions including arthritis, back pain and tendonitis.

MSDs remain the most commonly reported cause of absence from work in Ireland, costing the state €275 million per year in illness benefit payments alone. MSD problems are common. 50% of all workers experience back pain each year and 80% of all adults will suffer from it at some stage in their lifetime.

Chair of the Fit for Work Ireland Coalition and Chairperson of the National Competitiveness Council, Dr. Don Thornhill, said: “Tackling absenteeism is a no-brainer opportunity for the Government to claw back around €55m in Exchequer savings. The solution is simple – a national early intervention plan needs to be drawn up and implemented to make a 20% saving of the total MSD illness benefit bill.”

It is estimated that as approximately 5% of graduates entering the workforce may be suffering from a musculoskeletal injury, with environments such as those in the IT and finance sectors not as benign as many believe, according to John McDermott, GP and Occupational Health Specialist. “Quite often, the onset of these conditions can be slow and insidious, so it’s important that people are aware of the risks, whether they are a graduate entering the workplace or someone at a later stage of their career.”

Personal experience

Aoife Weller (26) has rheumatoid arthritis, which is when all of your joints from your jaw to your toes become swollen. “Basically, your body just starts attacking yourself”, she says.

The disease developed rapidly when she was just 18, just as she was starting an Arts degree in Maynooth University.

Despite her illness she finished her degree and began an administrative role in a start-up company in Mullingar.

She originally tried to hide the illness from her employer. “It was very difficult to hide it. I found it hard to walk. Even the normal things in the office were difficult, let alone the 40+ hours in the week. It’s hard to keep going at the same level as everyone else.’

She was constantly sick with colds, flu and infections due to her compromised immune system, a result of the medication she was taking for her illness. She lasted nine months before a particularly bad onset of her condition, which meant she was unable to move and in constant pain and she was hospitalised for several weeks. It continues to happen several times a year. “It’s a very, very painful time”, she says.

After she returned to work she admitted her problem to her employer. He was supportive of her situation, moving her shifts to later hours as arthritis is generally worse in the mornings, locating her desk closer to the bathroom, her work station was ergonomically corrected and she was provided with a plug-in radiator beside her desk.

Unfortunately though, as business picked up in the company, so did Aoife’s stress levels. “As anybody with an illness will tell you, stress is very detrimental.”

She made the decision to leave the job after attempts to allow her work from home or part-time proved unviable. “Perhaps with early intervention or seeing an occupational health therapist, there could of being a chance I could have stayed in that job,” says Aoife. 77% of unemployed participants in a recent Arthritis Ireland survey said they lost or had to give up their job due to MSD.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 employers cannot discriminate on the grounds of disability, but they are under no legal obligation to recruit or retain a person who is not fully competent or capable of undertaking the duties attached to a job.  However, they must take appropriate steps to accommodate the needs of employees and prospective employees with disabilities.

At the moment Aoife both volunteers and works with Arthritis Ireland to help other people in a similar situation to her own. She’s looking for other work as well but remains realistic. “It has to be part-time work, because I’d need the time to rest. I know my limitations”, she says.


Arthiritis Ireland have published a free guide to download for employers and for employees on this issue.

Diversity in the workplace

Eimear Noelle O’Reilly, Programme Officer for Diversity Champions at the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), looks at the significant progress made by employers to embrace diversity in the workplace.  


Companies in Ireland are embracing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

“Because of my employer’s positive attitude to diversity, being out as gay opened doors for me that might otherwise have remained closed.”[1]

Equality in the workplace is a critical priority for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Whether you are just starting your career or already working, being part of a company that is inclusive and allows you to be yourself at work means a much more positive workplace experience.

Over the last twenty years in Ireland there has been great progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people including in the workplace. Companies including Accenture, CRH, Dublin Bus, Deutsche Bank, Dublin City University, ESB, EY, IBM and the Irish Prison Service have joined Gay and Lesbian Equality Network’s, (GLEN) Employers Network Diversity Champions. These companies are working with GLEN to ensure their workplaces and businesses embrace LGBT diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the business whether it is recruitment, workplace culture or service delivery.

Today good employers in Ireland are not just saying they are inclusive they are demonstrating it to their employees. Good employers know that the best places to work are those that proactively embrace diversity.  Last year for the first time ever in Ireland, top private and public sector companies committed to LGBT workplace inclusion featured in the first ever national LGBT Graduate Careers Directory by GLEN.

A number of graduate employers who have embraced inclusion and diversity in the workplace will also be recognised at gradireland’s Graduate Recruitment Awards 2014. This years Diversity Recruitment Award will honour a single employer who has demonstrated excellent diversity recruitment practices, campaigns or initiatives. The shortlist of employers nominated for this award can be seen here at gradireland’s Graduate Recruitment Awards 2014 events page.

Knowing that the company you work for reflects and supports the diversity of its staff in its workplace culture, policies and business objectives means that you can give your best to your job.

“Now it is not the same tension on a Monday morning wondering how to navigate those questions about what I did at the weekend.”[2]

All employees benefit from an inclusive environment. Employers who embrace LGBT diversity send a message to all staff that they value their people for who they are and what they can bring to the table. And remember if an employer is committed to an inclusive workplace for LGBT employees, they usually see the value in other types of diversity and are generally more inclusive.

Diversity Champions is GLEN’s network for employers committed to creating inclusive workplaces and businesses for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

You can learn more about LGBT inclusive workplaces at: www.diversitychampions.ie

For more information on equal opportunities in the workplace, please visit http://gradireland.com/careers-advice/equal-opportunities

Eimear O’Reilly, Programme Officer Diversity Champions, GLEN

[1]Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) Diversity Champions 2014 Thought Leadership Research –Working It Out by Brian McIntyre and Elizabeth Nixon

[2]Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) Diversity Champions 2014 Thought Leadership Research –Working It Out by Brian McIntyre and Elizabeth Nixon

Kick starting your career: the importance of diversity

Eimear Noelle O’Reilly, Programme Officer for Diversity Champions at the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), looks at what being an inclusive company really means and how diversity and inclusion can benefit both employees and companies.


Starting your career is an exciting time. The workplace is a new environment for you to develop your potential and take on new challenges. It is where you spend most of your time and where you become financially independent. It makes sense to choose an inclusive employer where you can bring your whole self to work.  When looking for a job, we usually ask ourselves how can I best present my skills and attributes to potential employers and what can I bring to the organisation? But how do good employers present themselves to you?

Today in Ireland, the best employers ensure that their workplaces are diverse and inclusive. But this article isn’t just about diversity and inclusion being ‘the right thing to do’ or a ‘nice-to-have’, this is also the smart thing to do and it makes good business sense. “Staff’s performance and profit was markedly better in offices where employees could be themselves. In fact the profit difference of staff in revenue terms was $100,000 per employee per annum;” that’s according to Liz Bingham,  EY’s Managing Partner for People and Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion UK & Ireland, at the Diversity Champions Seminar on Executive Leaders Supporting LGBT* Inclusion. Employers recognise that a diverse workforce reflects and better understands a diverse customer base. Inclusive companies that value diversity can respond more effectively to the needs and demands of a diverse society.

 How to spot a good employer

Spotting a good employer is easier than you think! An inclusive workplace culture will have a really positive impact on your experience of work and your career. In fact, the ultimate diversity and inclusion litmus test for any company is often whether it has lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity and inclusion as a core part of its organisational and workplace culture. Organisations that are inclusive of their LGBT employees are generally inclusive of everyone. Joining LGBT inclusive companies means working for a company that values the ideas, skills and experiences that come from having a diverse workforce. GLEN’s Diversity Champions programme works with a wide range of employers who are committed to ensuring their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees can be comfortable at work, and are fully valued for their skills and talents. Diversity Champion employers and all good employers distinguish themselves in terms of their values, culture, policies and procedures.  Here are some things to look out for when deciding if your employer or perspective employer is LGBT inclusive.

Policies, practice, culture

Diversity Champions employers don’t just talk the talk, here are some of the concrete things they are doing across their organisations:

  • Inclusive human resource policies.  With the introduction of Civil Partnership pension schemes and partner benefits for opposite sex couples, these must now be offered by law to same-sex couples. Inclusive companies have made the relevant changes to all their policies and communicate these to their employees.  These companies also offer paternity leave to employees who have become non-biological parents.
  • Inclusive companies have visible LGBT employees at all levels of their organisations.  Diversity Champion members use the Diversity Champions logo on their websites and recruitment material to promote their values and culture. Many inclusive employers have senior leaders who have a formal role to lead on LGBT diversity.
  • LGBT diversity events.  More and more employers and trade unions are “coming out” at Pride by showing their support for LGBT equality. Some have been shortlisted in the annual Gala LGBT awards. Others have LGBT events within their own organisations on topics from civil marriage to practical supports for parents of LGBT children.
  • Do they have an LGBT employee network? A growing number of larger employers have LGBT employee networks. Networks organise social events, support employee career development and help companies connect with the LGBT community.
  • Some companies are reaching out to LGBT consumers on commercial grounds to communicate how they value their business and how they understand their needs.  There are plenty of examples in financial services, hotels and catering, car hire and public services.

Take the opportunity during the recruitment process to enquire about the company’s culture and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. It will be interesting to see just how fluently they can communicate their values and culture. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, knowing that an employer takes a supportive and proactive approach towards ensuring the workplace is LGBT inclusive can make a huge difference to your workplace experience and career.  Whether you are a member of the LGBT community or straight, finding a workplace where you can be yourself will hugely benefit your performance and your creativity at work.

Look up LGBT inclusive companies in our Diversity Champions Graduate Careers Guide 2013/2014

Also, visit  www.diversitychampions.glen.ie

For more on the broader issue of workplace diversity and inclusion, read our gradireland article on how importantly KPMG and IBM rate diversity in the workplace.

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender




Zero hour contracts: Fact & fiction

An increasingly common contract for students and job-seeking graduates, the zero hour contract may seem stacked in favour of the employer, but you have more rights than you may think and it’s important that you’re aware of them. 

zero hour

In August this year, the Irish Independent published the experiences of two Irish college graduates working in a global fast food outlet, on what is known as a ‘zero hour’ contract. Both employees said that this method of working, which requires employees to be available for work but are not given guaranteed hours of work, means that the so-called flexibility works vastly in the favour of the employer, with cutbacks in hours allegedly used as a form of punishment. While the current economic climate means that employers often have to change the practicalities of how they work, the increasing prevalence of systems like this mean that a worker, who may need to have employment so they can pay their living expenses while studying, is at the mercy of a contract which guarantees no hours, has no sick pay and limited holiday pay. In the UK it is estimated that as many as one million employees are working on zero hour contracts, many of them college graduates, or students.

But, those subject to zero hour contracts in Ireland have far more backup legally when it comes to what the employer is liable for, should the company be unable to provide the contracted hours. In the UK an employer can ask an employee to make themselves available for work for a determined number of hours but there is no issue from the employer’s point of view if they cannot then provide that number of hours. It is somewhat different in Ireland. The principle remains the same; that an employer can ask the employee to be available for a set number of hours, but if the employer cannot provide those hours, they are required to pay the employee at least 25 per cent of the contracted hours, or else for 15 hours, whichever is the lesser amount.

This requirement is legislated for in Section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.

It’s very important you know what contact you’re working under. The above applies to the zero hours contract, but not to another common practice; the Casual Hours contract. Under this arrangement, hours vary each week according to the needs of the particular business but when no work is available, the employee is effectively laid off on a temporary basis.