Inclusive workplaces: Everybody is welcome!

In the fight against discrimination, companies are increasingly taking measures to create accepting cultures and foster diversity. It turns out that what is good for the human soul is good for the business, too.

Money and location have traditionally been the top reasons for people to change jobs. However, company culture has recently emerged as an umbrella term for all the other factors they consider or realize they should have considered when signing a new work contract.

As a part of that company culture, recent years have seen a rise in the awareness of being inclusive. When the working community values individual and group diversity and acts accordingly, it fulfils the criteria of an inclusive workplace. Sharing information equally, presenting equal opportunities and assigning similar responsibilities to everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or disability, are the most prominent examples.

But why is it important?

For an employee, the number one reason is human nature. They are predominantly hired for their professional capabilities, yet every employee has both the need to be accepted as a human being and to feel they belong in their (working) community. In practice, this includes being invited to lunch or birthday parties, having support during family emergencies, or merely experiencing no hidden rules of behaviour.

For a company, the inclusive nature of the workplace is a case for increased engagement and productivity. If workers feel accepted, they will be engaged in the company goals and want to give back. An engaged employee is also a productive employee: one survey finds businesses that care about engagement are 17% more productive than the others. Research from Deloitte states that inclusive workplaces are “twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. Not to mention employee turnover.”

What if job candidates could know about the level of inclusivity in a workplace before they walk in on their first day? Well, they actually can. Now, with the availability of employer-rating sites such as Glassdoor, they can check reviews by former or current employees. They can also find out whether a company has made any top lists for inclusivity. It is also increasingly common to ask related questions at an interview.

The 2019 Diversity and Inclusion study of Glassdoor, however, found that half of the employees in the US, UK, France, and Germany think there’s still not enough inclusion in their workplaces. So here is your to-do list as an employer:

  • Train your leaders. Make them aware of everyday biases and give them the tools to overcome them.
  • Give equal access to resources. Whether it is about preparing for a meeting or applying for training or advancement, make sure everybody has the same amount of information and equal chances to succeed.
  • Promote diversity of thought. Create opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard and value diverse opinions. Ensure that the workplace is a safe place to express concerns and set a good example.
  • Celebrate the differences. Find out which unique qualities and personalities contribute to a healthy working environment and give them credit for it.

By consistently applying the above guidelines, you will find that your company is becoming a pleasant place to work for everyone. It will create a sense of belonging and a reason for workers to go the extra mile for your business.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Is the future of work remote?

I started as a journalist where flexibility was a given. With the aid of technology, work was only starting to become more flexible and (at least partly) remote work just about made sense. If you think about it, press conferences rarely happen in the editorial offices. On the other hand, deadlines ensured I had to burn the midnight oil at home at one point or the other.

So I can only embrace the fact that technology made it possible for other professions to break free from their offices, too. This movement dates back to the 1980s and IBM allowing their employees to work from home.

The internet then accelerated the trend so much that, according to a Swiss study from 2018, 70% of full-time employees globally worked remotely at least on one day of the week. So what can we expect in the long term? Is the future of work remote?

Of course, its supporters answer with a resounding yes. Owl Labs’ 2019 report that surveyed 1,200 US employees concluded that remote work makes people happier and more loyal to their employer, to the extent that these people are willing to work more hours, as a way of thanking their employer for a better work-life balance, less stress, and no commuting times.

Companies that support such a set-up also enjoy benefits: they see an increase in employee productivity as well as a decrease in overhead costs: as much as $10,000 per employee a year in terms of real estate costs. Furthermore, less stress and more commitment mean fewer sick days and lower recruiting costs for the employer.

But not everyone supports this remote working trend to the same extent. IBM was again the first to make headlines two years ago by calling tens of thousands of employees back to the office. Others, like Bank of America or Yahoo, have quickly followed suit. Their most important argument? Facilitating collaboration and innovation, the success factors of our current times. Less cited, but identifying performance with time spent in the office (see incompetent management) still remains a benchmark for some employers.

I also have my share of personal experience that echoes those concerns. I have seen people being confused or lost working from home or showing weaker work ethics. I have seen bosses who are essentially control freaks. These groups are bound to fail in remote working environments. So who’s guaranteed to succeed?

Successful remote workers share traits such as self-discipline, self-motivation, advanced (digital) communication skills, general tech-savviness, and the mental strength to cope with loneliness. They fit best in companies with a culture of inclusion and transparent policies of equal treatment. In workplaces where communication channels favour neither in-house nor remote employees. Where individual responsibility for your work is just as important a requirement as being a good team player.

After all, despite the occasional hiccoughs, remote working is here to stay, and it is still not too late for it to find its place in your workflows.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Eco-friendly transportation: what are the options?

Greta Thunberg has crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-carbon emissions boat to arrive at the UN climate summit in New York in order to direct attention to the atmospheric carbon pollution of planes. But what options do we have if we want to choose an eco-friendly form of transport in our daily life?

Generally speaking, public transport is the most efficient and greenest way of transport, as it can carry a large number of people with no significant time loss compared to cars – in some cases it can be even faster due to dedicated lanes and right-of-way tracks. Rail transport, including trains, trams and light rail/metros, is the winner in this category, as it is extremely energy-efficient and has a large capacity, but it requires a proper infrastructure. Buses have a slightly higher level of emissions of greenhouse gases but they are cheap, and require little modification to existing infrastructure (e.g. creation of bus lanes in the city centre) while providing the benefit of carrying a large number of travellers. A well-established public transport system can provide a real and most definitely a greener alternative for cars. Planes are more fuel intensive but their large capacity somewhat balances out this factor, and, while for large distances it is the most time-efficient mode of transportation, there are initiatives to choose buses or trains instead of planes for travel within the borders of a country or for short distance journeys.

While public transport is a great way to get around whether you are a tourist or on business, it is limited by its infrastructure (or the lack thereof), its timetable, or its capacity problems. Thus, there are times when we have to choose a mode of transport that gives us more freedom to move around.

Of course, one of the most immediate modes of transportation is walking – it has practically no environmental impact, it’s free of any infrastructural requirements, and it’s a healthy option. However, it’s a relatively slow form of transport and is mostly applicable for short distances. Bikes are as good for you as walking, with a bit more physical effort. And although it can cover longer distances, it’s not exactly the method one would choose to go to a meeting. Surprisingly, motorbikes can still be considered as an eco-friendly transport option, even though these can be dangerous in heavy traffic. Cars are considered to be the worst offender in this regard; carpooling and carsharing can mitigate their negative effects. There are several apps and initiatives that help people travelling in the same direction to share their cars and carpooling is seen by more and more companies as an efficient alternative for the transport of their employees, providing subsidies and other benefits in exchange.

There is a new trend on the rise: electric scooters provide a quick and fast option for short distance transport. However, there are some uncertainties around these. Their use is not properly regulated, in many places it is undecided about whether they can be used on pavements or only on the road/in bike lanes; and their proper placement is yet to be resolved – now people simply leave them when they get off them, which is not an appealing sight in the cityscape. There are some further environmental issues, for example with the recycling of their batteries or the fact that the scooters left on the streets are collected by cars.

Either way, transport affects the environment, and we cannot always use the most environmentally friendly option. But – as with other forms of environmental protection – being conscious and aware of the problems and trying our best to eliminate or overcome them is a huge step forward, while new technologies and infrastructural developments can also help our collective efforts to save our planet, while not giving up on effective transportation.

Written by Zsolt Beke

Interpretation in politics

In our present era of globalism, politics has also become a multifaceted domain that tries to overcome the language and political barriers between countries (e.g. the United Nations or the European Union) while, at the same time, it is constantly hindered by this. Therefore, language mediation is an intricate and delicate issue that covers many forms of communication, from private meetings to international conferences.

While political translation can also pose some challenges, it is interpretation where these abovementioned features are more immediate – mostly because, as the interpreter does not have the necessary timeframe to consider the cultural and contextual differences, the mediation has to happen promptly. As a consequence, an interpreter who wishes to work in the field of politics has to have many skills.

First of all, they have to be familiar with not just the subject matter of the event, but also its reception and appreciation in the political atmosphere of both the source and the target. They have to be aware of all the cultural issues that might surround the subject matter and the narrower and broader vocabulary that this entails. In addition, linguistic sensitivity is required. Figures of speech – like euphemisms, metaphors or intertextuality – are often used, and while one can prepare for such instances, e.g. if they receive the text of a speech or the outline of a presentation, comments and observations often arrive from out of the blue. Another situation to consider is the recognition of non-verbal codes where such simple gestures as nodding can have opposite meanings. The interpreter should also be knowledgeable about the diverse forms of interpretation (e.g. simultaneous, consecutive or chuchotage), as different settings and situations – maybe even at the same event – require different techniques. The final skill that is necessary – and I think it is among the most difficult aspects – is to interpret impartially. While of course, in theory, interpretation is perfectly devoid of personal matters, in a real situation it is quite a feat to continuously override one’s own bias and opinion.

A politician who speaks reliably and confidently in a given foreign language might deem their language knowledge solid enough to decide against using an interpreter. This might be a proper solution in events with an informal atmosphere or in smaller-scale discussions where the topic, the language used, and possibly the interlocutors, are familiar to the politician. However, in the case of larger conventions and symposia, an interpreter can support a politician in many ways. On the one hand to express him/herself without bearing the burden of the language barrier that is present even when someone is close to native level speaker; and, on the other hand, to understand the point of view of others without decoding the text by their own.

To sum up, interpretation in the political field is an area where the skilful nuances of the profession are amplified and emphasised, which requires endurance and a high level of cultural and linguistic sensitivity. On the other hand, a skilled interpreter can facilitate the exchange of ideas and can also overcome even the most demanding linguistic difficulties.

Written by Zsolt Beke


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Chemical footprint: the next level in sustainability

Since 2012, when the concept of ecological footprints was born, we have been accustomed to hearing about our carbon emissions. However, the footprint family incorporates more than that, with the chemical footprint also being a part of it. What is that, and why should we care?

The chemical footprint is an indicator of how much “chemicals of high concern” (COHC) a company is using during production or is selling as a retailer. There are over 10,000 different chemicals used every day in the world, and by now, the connection between some of these and environmental or health damage is apparent.

So benchmarking and measurements, such as the Chemical Footprint Project, gives an overview of the efforts businesses make to commit to a more sustainable way of chemical use. The project evaluates companies in four areas: management strategy, chemical inventory, footprint measurement (as reduction goals), and public disclosure and verification.

Producers of chemicals are obvious targets for such expectations. On the other hand, businesses in different industries are also responsible for unwanted emissions. Manufacturers of clothing, including the likes of Adidas, C&A, Levi’s, or Puma, have already joined the voluntary initiative, the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme, and committed to the zero discharge of dangerous substances. Production of building materials and furniture, cleaning supplies, medical devices, hardware, or toys are also called out. They should take part in monitoring their supply chains and help to minimise damage from chemicals — and do it all transparently.

Going downstream, non-industrial players such as smaller retailers and service providers can also put their two cents in. A hairdressing salon that sources products with only safe chemicals. A food delivery service that uses paper products instead of plastic. A school that cleans with green supplies. It is a new field to explore and being proactive in finding sustainable ways of doing business is crucial.

There are also measures you can take in your own household to reduce chemical damage. Using less of everything is the first step and one where a little goes a long way. From washing to cleaning and grooming, make educated choices about the products you use. There are guidelines to follow when reading product labels and looking for possibly harmful ingredients. You can also try and make products at home that contain only additives you trust. Cleaning promises especially good returns on your efforts if you make use of lemon, vinegar, and washing soda.

Individual efforts add up to a healthier environment, but country policies increasingly back this up. For example, chemical regulatory landscapes have been changing in national economies and even on a broader scale. In Europe, the emission of potentially hazardous chemicals amounts to 200 million tonnes a year with associated health damage, and 120 million tonnes that is possibly harming the environment. So, the EU is working on new measures to calculate the chemical footprint of products and businesses in its Member States. It uses data from REACH and EFSA, and communicates the findings to help consumers navigate the risks. Chemical management at all levels of the society is moving up the agenda and is triggering a set of measures that will, hopefully, make life healthier for generations to come.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

We are family ⁠— but are we business?

Families are the smallest units in our societies, but, if they engage in business, these units provide stable economic power based on personal relations. Let’s see whether this is a recipe for success!

Families that made business history

When mum and dad decide to open a little corner shop or cousins embark on a startup adventure developing software in a garage, they share this journey with many ventures. Family businesses are the backbone of the global economy, with two-thirds generating around 70-90% of global GDP, according to 2017 data from the Family Firm Institute.

Some of the newcomers will also share the humble beginnings with many top global enterprises of today. US discount chain Walmart, a steady leader of all business lists, was founded by the Walton brothers in 1945 and now has a revenue of USD 514bn. Europe is not far behind with Germany’s Volkswagen, of the Porsche and Piech families, with a revenue of EUR 235bn. Other well-known brands like Novartis, Dell or Aldi, also trace their origins back to families like Sandoz, Dell and Albrecht.

Some essential advice

When it comes to founding a new business, doing so with family members seems like a safe bet to ensure a high level of trust and commitment and achieve a lower level of costs. Some are even fascinated by the idea that their family name might someday become famous and make history.

That hasn’t changed with the coming of the startup age. Meanwhile, a family venture has always come with its specific challenges. But how do you avoid the pitfalls and make the venture a success?

  • Business is business: Set clear limits about where family life ends and business begins. Determine roles, communication, and pay according to market standards and not personal feelings. The best thing is to put everything in writing. Seeking outside advice might help in more problematic cases.
  • Define your family values and stick to them: PwC’s Family Business Survey says that clear values are the best way to overcome today’s challenges of digital disruption. A commitment to your values helps to focus your activities, navigate complex decision-making situations and wins the trust of your customers.
  • Plan for succession: If you have a vision of growth, you must plan for the times when decisions will not be made by you and your first partner(s) alone. Very few family businesses make it through the third generation, and the main reason for that is poor planning, according to EY and University of St. Gallen’s Family Business Index. A governance framework established early is a tool to prevent the breakdown of relationships and secure a stable background for future generations.

If you and your family members have equal understanding of your goals and how you want to achieve them, starting a business with family can be a good idea and the beginning of a rewarding journey.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Climate leave – bringing “eco” into the workplace

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It has a major impact on every aspect of our existence, and we are yet to learn to what extent it will transform our daily lives, not to mention the environment that surrounds us. There are many negative effects of climate change: extreme heat and serious natural disasters pose new challenges for companies and employees alike.

When the damage is done

One of the first companies to respond to this challenge is the US tech company Fog Creek (now known as Glitch), which, following the increasingly violent storms of the hurricane season, decided to provide five days of paid leave to their employees in case weather conditions or emergency measures (e.g. evacuation) make it difficult or impossible for them to work. They explained their decision by emphasising that the safety of their workforce is of primary concern and these few days – which can be extended in the case of a state emergency – can help staff to ensure their own and their families’ safety.

While climate leave is a desirable step in order to lessen the negative impact of climate change on workers, it is only a sensible decision if it is part of a “green” work package that also facilitates the creation and maintenance of a sustainable and environmentally friendly office: the option of climate leave can be supplemented by providing platforms for remote working, allowing colleagues to work flexitime or encouraging the use of public transport and/or carpooling among colleagues.

A problem shared

Nicolas Vallat from Denmark has a different concept of Climate Leave: he believes climate leave should work in the same way as parental leave. You take time off work to do something that benefits everyone.

Inspired by a young Swedish woman, Bodil Palmberg, who recently quit a successful job to dedicate herself as a volunteer to promote the sharing economy and a more collaborative lifestyle which involves community gardens, swapping and sharing, gift circles, upcycling and so on, Nicolas prepared a simple one-page Climate Leave Agreement for his own boss. He initially asked for a three-month unpaid leave of absence. Unpaid because Nicolas saw this as his way of showing his commitment to the project. “I knew exactly what I would spend my time on while on leave: taking part in projects to create a more environment-friendly, collaborative economy,” he said.

The future beckons for employers who support their staff by allowing them to take time off from work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis in order to participate in social and environmental projects at a whole new level. This is something that gives both employer and employee a sense of recognition and fulfilment. And the biggest winner of all is our planet.

How to take your part in reducing food waste

How did we get from the post-war scarce food resources to dumping one-third of the production a year? The first world is wasted right now but is there a chance to make it better? Can we keep living a good life and still not lose so much?

Trashcan overload

According to United Nations estimates, about 1.3 billion tons, one-third of the total produced globally ends up in the trash. Do you know what’s even more shocking? That I am (and you are, too) responsible for more than 100 kilograms of food waste a year, while third-world citizens only throw away 6-11 kg.

Our carelessness is a result of both producing and buying more than necessary, as we mostly eliminated non-intentional waste during harvest, processing, and distribution. It doesn’t help that agricultural producers and retailers know we don’t like “ugly” veggies and expired dairy. Summer makes food go bad sooner and safety hysteria even worse – some of us already wonder if is it necessary though?

Awakening of groceries

Luckily, many organizations have already taken action. All along the food value chain, there are relevant initiatives that aim to tackle the problem of food waste and offer solutions for it.

Volunteers revive the tradition of gleaning, so collect produce that’s left on the site after harvest. They also collaborate with food banks for distribution.

Grocery stores are motivated by expensive waste management to support unsparing shopping. Supermarket chains like Rewe in Germany or Walmart in the US have long been donating to food banks.

Many stores collaborate with food-saving startups such as Olio from England, Instock from the Netherlands, Wasteless from Israel or Karma from Sweden for redistributing or merely cooking the leftovers. Others, like Tesco in the UK, is removing ‘best before’ labels claiming it makes its clients throw away still edible food.

Apps to the rescue

Nevertheless, the key to reducing waste even more is to change our behaviour. Luckily, hundreds of smart apps are available to support us in this mission. Here’s what you can do to reduce food waste:

  • Plan your meals and go shopping with a list. Say no to bulk offers and aim lower with the quantities of fresh produce. Apps: AnyList, Out of Milk, Avocadolist
  • Don’t buy food by the looks. “Ugly” veggies and fruits taste just as good. Apps: Hungry Harvest, Imperfect Produce
  • When it comes to takeaway, see if there are discounted offers in your area. Many restaurants or bakeries offer their remaining stock for a lower price at the end of the day.   Apps: TooGoodToGo, FoodOverFlow
  • Share what you cook too much of – give for takeaway or host neighbourhood dinners. Apps: Shmeal, Chachi’s, EatWith
  • Share what you have in excess – when you realize your pantry is full of stuff you’ll never use. Apps: NoWaste, Olio

Deep in our hearts, many of us know it’s not right to abuse the privilege of always having food on the table. Now let’s go for zero-waste shopping and cooking a meal to be shared!

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Speaking the language of sport

For some of us, the relationship between professional sport and the translation industry can be summarised in one scene: after the event, when the player/driver/coach discusses how good or bad the match was and how grateful they are for their supporters, there is an interpreter who interprets these stock sentences, often using consecutive interpretation. However, the world of professional sport is an international environment, and we tend to forget about its complexity concerning language use and linguistic challenges. In this blog entry, we will take a look at some of its more complicated issues.

First of all, professional sport is a diverse undertaking. Players from different nations play in the same team (and not just at club level; sometimes national teams have members who are naturalised citizens). While English as a lingua franca can be used in an everyday situation, language barriers can have a negative effect on the performance and unity of the team. That is where an interpreter can help to bridge the linguistic and cultural gap and create a more inclusive and accepting environment.

In addition, sports translation is just as complex on a technical level as, for example, legal or medical translations. Each and every kind of sport has its own terminology, and often the same term describes different circumstances in different sports (e.g. the situation described by the term offside in many sports). Furthermore, there are sports-related cultural differences as well. One of the best known differences is the word football which has quite different connotations in Europe and in the United States, while sports that are popular in a given geographical area (e.g. cricket in Commonwealth nations or baseball on the American continent) can also complicate a translation or an interpretation assignment.

Finally, in the international world of professional sport, diplomacy is just as important as performance. Huge organisations govern the rules and regulations of the sport and organise international events, and while these organisations often use one or several official languages (for example, French in the IOC or English, French, Spanish and German in FIFA), the largest organisations actually have their own language services department in order to handle the enormous volume of translation and interpretation required. The work does not only cover translating and editing publications, but also entails legal, medical, chemical, financial and creative translations; in many cases, separate text types appear in the same document, so linguists need expertise in different areas, and they often have to juggle short deadlines, too. And the sheer amount of work is extraordinary: FIFA, for example, translates around three million words a year per language.

Even this brief look at the topic shows that linguistic services play a far larger role in the world of professional sport than we might assume. It facilitates communication, promotes accessibility and encourages the feeling of togetherness, which is what sport is really about. Despite their background roles, interpretation and translation are indispensable in the international and multicultural environment of professional sport.

Written by Zsolt Beke

Purging the planet from plastic packaging

Plastic is the new enemy: the effects of its waste is making headlines every day. If you are lucky enough to be in the first world, you might start thinking about reducing your contribution to this global crisis.

The first time my conscience started crying was also the first time when I couldn’t fit my empty mineral water bottles in the recycle bin. It can’t be the right solution, I thought, and soon after switched to a soda machine that I have been using ever since. But nature and our own well-being are asking us more reductions, and there are already alternatives available to ease the pain for all.

No to plastic bottles

The use of plastic bottles is so widespread that it’s obvious we have to do something about it. A complete or partial ban on selling such containers is one of the options used by municipalities all over the world. Others try to find new ways of packaging liquids that do less harm to the environment. In London, March marathon runners got to participate in the largest trial of a new way of hydration. Capsules of seaweed containing sports drink were handed out to participants who could drink and eat the container and, thus, produce no waste whatsoever. Other significant events are following suit in plastic reduction: the Wimbledon tennis tournament introduces a 100% recycled water bottle and refill stations, and Glastonbury festival bans single-use plastic while also rocking a new stage made entirely of recycled plastic waste.

Dropping the bags

The global consumption of about 500 billion single-use plastic bags yearly is like a feature from an eco-horror movie so another favorite target for radical reducing action. Food packaging is also a field where startups pop up and try to offer a viable alternative. Mostly, this alternative is a biodegradable, compostable material that won’t take hundreds of years to disintegrate and not even the smallest chunks of it can cause further problems. Polish MakeGrowLab, for example, makes the packaging out of agricultural waste and claims to be as flexible and water resistant as plastic but it can also be eaten when not used anymore. Potato starches, seeds, and nanosheets of synthetic clay are also investigated as packaging materials that are easier to compost or recycle. Tropical regions have a more accessible and cheaper solution: a Thailand supermarket, Rimping, has already secured itself world fame by using banana leaves as vegetable packaging – just as in the good old markets.

Don’t stop till zero

What’s even better than reusable, recyclable or eatable packaging? Of course, no packaging at all! It might seem like a time travel back to the Middle Ages, but only at first. Small packaging-free shops are not rare in cities already, and now we are seeing some more prominent players join the movement, too. UK stores like Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Tesco are experimenting with packaging-free sales of fresh produce, dry food, and hundreds of other products. Drogerie Markt has put their two cents in by offering package-free liquid cleaning material in their stores in Prague, in the Czech Republic. And if a healthy Earth is not a strong enough motivator, customers can get eco-items 10-20% cheaper as usual. Going green is a bargain!

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Save bees, save the planet

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”

This well-known quotation, attributed – most probably incorrectly – to Albert Einstein, paints a dire vision for our future. Since at least some of the crops we consume are wind pollinated, mass extinction of the human race is not likely even if bees disappeared entirely; however, it would definitely result in wide-scale starvation on a scale never seen before. So the threat is real as bees play a huge role in pollinating plants. In this blog entry, we will look at the causes for the decline in bee populations and what you can do against it.

One of the main culprits for the decline of the bee population – and the insect population in general – is the excessive and intensive agricultural techniques that irreversibly transform the natural habitat. The introduction of monocultures and non-native species destroy the natural harmony of an area, while the uncontrolled and untenable use of pesticides places a heavy chemical burden on flora and fauna. This is aggravated by the effects of climate change: new parasites appear and decimate the native population, while the environmental impact can even affect the orientation sense and rhythm of life of bees.

There are, however, some simple steps you can take in order to save bees. One of the most obvious solutions is to plant small gardens. While the best option would be to plant flowers and trees together, even a small strip of land or a flower box on your balcony will do. You just have to remember a couple of things: at least part of your garden should be in bloom from early spring to late autumn; choose simple herbs and flowers instead of highly cultivated ones; and plant flowers in patches so that bees can focus on one flower type at a time. You can add a small bee bath to your garden as well – just put some pebbles and stones in a shallow bowl and pour some water around it so they will have access to drinking water and a resting place. If you find it necessary to use pesticides, always use them carefully, following the instructions on the package to minimise their negative effects. You should leave a small area undisturbed in your garden where bees can take up residence: while we mostly associate bees with honeybees which live in hives, there are many bee species which lead a solitary life. You can also buy or make “bee condos” for the same reason. And, finally, as with any social or environmental issue, you can become an advocate. Support local beekeepers, support programmes focusing on tree planting and gardening, and be more aware of your environment and how you inhabit it.

While we are still not in a position to assess the long-lasting effects of climate change and over-industrialisation, the worst-case scenario for a dramatic decline in the bee population is quite straightforward: the lack of pollination would result in worldwide starvation with a catastrophic impact on the planet’s ecosystem. So it is increasingly important to take measures against this outcome and, as the few tips listed above show, it does not take much to actively safeguard the bee population.

Written by Zsolt Beke

Chernobyl: A reason to remember, a way to learn

What is a thrilling drama for the Western world, is still a code word for Soviet horror for the successor states in the East. How does a TV-series about Chernobyl manage to equally excite the most diverse audiences and shape public opinion?

I was a second grader at a suburban school in Hungary when a part of the nuclear plant in Chernobyl exploded, on April 26, 1986. For me, that day was nothing special. Nor the weeks immediately following it. While the Financial Times reported about the major disaster a few days after, the news broke in the then Soviet ally states much, much later.

This is how things worked at the time. We knew what “they” wanted us to know, all else could, at any point, be considered rumour. Still, in the summer of 1986, adults were quietly but frequently mulling over “possible polluted” vegetables. A bit later, I overheard conversations about unborn babies because of… “Hush!” Many things have only become clear while writing this post.

Most of the large-scale disasters from the nearest past of humanity have been processed to feature films already. Except for one. Until a screenplay writer, Craig Mazin, decided to explore topics for a new series addressing the “global war on truth.” He ended up crafting a television series about the disaster in Chernobyl, and HBO and Sky signed up for it.

Already the first shows have proved them right. For some, it was the human heroism and tragedy. For others, it is the historically accurate representation of an era. It also certainly helped that the affected generation is still alive: hundreds of survivors told their (and the victims’) stories in thousands of feature articles, news pieces, videos, accompanied by the shocking photos of the past and current landscapes of the area.

This recent realm of proofs has made many realize the scale of the tragedy. And many need tangible proof. Disaster tourism is in full bloom, with about 30% more bookings to the site and the area than a year before. Around 300,000 photos are tagged #chernobyl on Instagram. The Lithuanian city of Vilnius uses the main shooting site for the series in its touristic campaigns.

But have either the tourists or the rest of the world drawn any lessons out of the nuclear disaster? For the energy industry, the lessons were instantly clear: the nuclear plants of today meet the highest security standards and protocols are in place to minimize the chance of human error. The debate over the use and misuse of nuclear power is constantly on the agenda.

For the wider public, there are more abstract lessons as well. Concealing errors, creating the illusion of perfection and collective lies, sacrificing human life in masses to save a few – these phenomena are not gone with the Soviet Union. Our duty is to learn how to resist and protest them and call the attention of others to do the same.

It is important to not only look in the direction of Chernobyl searching for the truth. Instead, let us take a full 360-degree turn around and then inwards. Neither we nor the generation that follows will regret it.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Bilingual parenting: a lifelong gift

Intercultural marriages and the relocation of whole families are typical scenarios that require bilingual parenting. The experience of many confirms it is neither a burden for the child nor an unsurpassable challenge for the parents. On the contrary: it is a special gift with lifelong positive effects.

Defining bilingualism is an ongoing debate; however, for most people, it simply means the ability to speak and understand two languages that derives from a bilingual upbringing and results in native-level language skills. But the exact level depends on the scenario the language learning process: through individual development, family, society, education or a professional career. That implies that one cannot only become bilingual as a child but many times also as an adult.

Due to the increasingly globalized nature of our world, the perception of bilingualism has shifted from a major challenge to a positive property. As it turned out, bilinguals not only possess linguistic skills but also the means to navigate or even bridge two worlds cognitively and culturally. There is research supporting the idea that bilingual kids develop valuable cognitive functions, such as inhibition or longer attention span. Meanwhile, it has also become clear that bilingual upbringing does no harm to children (in fact, their brain is up for such a challenge). The slight disadvantage bilinguals might have is that their vocabulary is a bit weaker than that of monolinguals, and that they might spend more time looking for words when speaking than others.

For the above reasons and sometimes even accidentally, parents around the world are raising bilingual children or want to do so. And they also want to make it right: to have the child learn both languages with equal passion and to an equal level. But how?

Regardless of whether it’s one parent speaking the minority language or two, the following is general advice that benefits the language learning process for their children:

Everyone should speak their native language

In such an emotionally loaded process as parenting, parents sticking to their native languages will be the most authentic and their children will be able to learn the right grammar structures, a great variety of expressions and cultural clues. However, certain situations might require that you speak the other language, and that’s no tragedy, either.

Be consistent

When learning languages, kids quickly make the distinction between the two and know in what language to use with whom. Navigating the different codes doesn’t confuse them but your inconsistency does. If you’re English, speak English with them at all times. Don’t be discouraged if they reply in your spouse’s language, sometimes it’s just a phase that will pass.

Read and make them read

Books are your support, your backup plan, your best investment in bilingualism. You can bond over books with your child, you can let them explore the written form of the language, and you can give them something fun that doesn’t look like study material.

Bilingual parenting is, after all, parenting, and as such, it requires the adults to trust themselves and their children and be patient. You will need both to make it a journey worthwhile for all of your family.

 

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance: a modern challenge

In our ever-demanding work culture, sometimes we overlook the most important element of our work environment: ourselves. Work-related stress is among the most crucial factors that put pressure on our mental health, and while the signs and symptoms are neglected, its effects on our mental and physical wellbeing, as well as our performance at the workplace, are clear-cut. As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we look at the most significant signs of a disrupted work-life balance, and how the situation can be improved.

Lack of satisfaction with your work – that is, burnout – is the most striking symptom of a work-life imbalance. Pressure, stress and continuous overtime can lead to depression and anxiety and the more we work, the more this overloads our thoughts. An enormous workload can lead to neglect of our personal life at every level, from self-care to relationships, which also makes us vulnerable to mental health issues. An interesting aspect of this problem is that women are more prone to this imbalance as they are still more often judged on how well they combine the professional and private sides of their life.

How can you maintain a healthy work-life balance? First and foremost, you must learn to say no, and don’t brush away the feeling when the workload is more than enough. While one busy day might be inspiring and stimulating, the overwhelming amount of assignments only has negative effects in the long run. It also helps if you prioritise your work, starting with the most immediate task, and not allow yourself to get lost in time-consuming duties. It’s also helpful to take at least one longer proper break from your desk: make the most of your lunch break and leave the office for lunch – even a short walk can help you to reduce stress, switch off your thoughts, and move around a bit; this way, you can pump up your concentration level for the afternoon. If you have to take your work home, be sure that your “home office” is clearly isolated from your personal life, either by simply switching off your laptop or mobile device or by using a desk or even a room that can be physically separated from your living environment. Finally – and most importantly – take care of yourself, be aware of the signs when you have to slow down, do some sport or find a hobby that eases your mind, and keep your personal relationships alive so your loved ones can help you survive the toughest days.

As a manager, the most you can do is to be as open about mental health as you can. You should regularly assess the work environment and performance to see whether there are any factors that negatively influence your employees. You should also be available if your colleagues contact you about their workplace difficulties. There is training to spot stress and poor work-life balance and to give immediate help to your co-worker. While it’s practically impossible to create a stress-free work environment, it’s still possible to promote techniques that encourage stress reduction and a positive atmosphere, e.g. proper lunch breaks, smart prioritisation, or counselling opportunities. Last, but not at all least, self-awareness is important for a manager too, as a stressed-out leader can undermine the ambition and spirit of the employees.

To maintain a proper work-life relationship is a serious challenge that not only influences our work performance but also our private life. Even just providing an open and knowledgeable attitude you can ease some of the work-related stress and anxiety. Nevertheless, if you feel you’re not able to find a way out of your dissatisfaction, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.

 

Written by Zsolt Beke

London goes the radical way to fight air pollution

On 8 April 2019, the City of London introduced a new scheme to fight toxic air pollution. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) requires older and more polluting vehicles entering Central London to pay a daily charge, in addition to the existing congestion charge in the same area. The ULEZ is the first of its kind to require 24/7 compliance and it is the only scheme to completely ban pre-2015 diesel vehicles.

Unfortunately, since the introduction of the Congestion Charge Zone in 2003, neither the air quality nor the traffic situation in London has improved enough to prevent a public health emergency. Studies showed the pollution (nitrogen-dioxide and particulate matter) is constantly above the safety limits, having the worst effects in the deprived parts of London and on young children. All that data prompted the city to take action and introduce a much radical scheme.

Transport for London expects that, with ULEZ, about 45% of the toxic emission will be gone by 2021 and, by 2025, the city’s air quality will be within the legal limits. In a public consultation called together by Mayor Sadiq Khan last year, about 60% of the participants were in favour of the scheme. Furthermore, environmental activists and parents, in general, welcome the strict rules. However, there are also protests from small business owners who think the new charge is the straw that breaks the camel’s back – thus puts them out of business.

According to data from the first week of operation, about 30% of the vehicles entering the ultra-low emission zone were not compliant and had to pay the charge. In the running up to the ULEZ, already 27,000 non-compliant cars have been taken out of traffic, according to City Hall figures.

Other data shows the new scheme got people thinking about alternatives: the online car comparison site Carwow registered a 25% increase in searches for plug-in hybrids and a 14% increase in quotes for electric cars in April.

More interestingly, many residents of the bordering area have found a business opportunity in ULEZ. YourParkingSpace said there was a 34% increase in registrations of driveways for rent to those willing to avoid the new charge. But current plans of the City Hall indicate this way of money-making might only be temporary. In 2021, the ULEZ will be extended to the area between the North and South circular zones, to further expand the effect of air cleaning measures.

London is certainly not the only city trying to fight air pollution and looking at (diesel) cars for the solution. Cities around the globe are starting to take mild to drastic measures to protect their residents. Amsterdam was the latest to announce it would completely ban non-electric cars by 2030, while Oslo and Madrid both have “zero zones” in their city centres, with the latter priding itself with 40% NO2 reduction within half year. Whatever path cities are following, experts agree on the ultimate goal: zero emissions.

 

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár