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By Sarah Wilson

Anyone who visited Walt Disney World during the 1980s and 90s likely has a solid memory of the Tomorrowland attraction.

I remember getting onto the ride that took you through history – all the way back to the dinosaurs (the tar pit scene still haunts me) – and then into the future.  It was the near future.  The air smelled cleaner (and faintly of oranges) as if we’d solved ozone layer and global warming issues, people dressed in white, cars flew and there were robots EVERYWHERE. They looked like metal people with blank expressions and they were doing all kinds of tasks – they mowed the lawn, dusted the shelves and took out the trash.

Compare this vision to today. It seems completely in the future, completely out of reach. Cars are still on the ground. I don’t know where you live, but where I live, there is definitely still pollution, carbon fuel, and the air does not smell faintly of oranges.  The people around me are not dressed exclusively in white (aside from the Diner en Blanc annual event). Everything about the vision of Tomorrowland seems like a funny upside-down version of the future.

Nonetheless, there ARE robots EVERYWHERE.  They may not look like a traditional robot stereotype, but they are present in so many parts of my daily routine.  An app tells me the best way to drive into work, my watch tells me when to pause and take a moment to breathe, the fancy coffee maker at my office calculates the water temperature for a perfect cappuccino, and my phone covers everything else I could need in a regular day.

For as long as I have been in this industry, I have heard that recruiters are frustrated about the overwhelming effort needed to find the perfect candidate, that hiring managers are flaky or change their minds too often, and that candidates apply for roles that are not a bad fit.

Recruiters often say they have too many tasks and not enough time, and that the business doesn’t understand what takes them so long. Recruiters say the senior leadership team thinks there are too many recruiters for how few people the company is hiring, and they need technology to make things more efficient and help get end results.

Recruiters say automation is the answer.

As head of people at SmartRecruiters, I responded to recruiters’ need by creating the applicant tracking system – an automation tool that would reduce the likelihood of candidates receiving a personal response to their applications.

When this didn’t solve our time and resourcing issues, we layered in more technology: ‘knock out’ screening questions that stopped an application dead in its tracks; artificial intelligence (AI) that prioritized which candidate to call first, video interviewing that allowed quicker assessments and that saved the precious time the recruiter was spending on the phone with unqualified applicants.

Here’s the thing about super smart computers: they aren’t always right. To be fair, I’m not always right, either. I’ve let my past decisions and their repercussions impact my future decisions. I’ve let my surroundings and mindset cloud my judgment. I’ve learned from my successes and my failures.

These tech-based systems weren’t infallible. That era of recruiting technology made the job search process impersonal, robotic, and lonely for candidates.  Sending out countless resumes in hopes that maybe a human will someday read it is daunting, frustrating and ultimately depressing. The void got wider. We’d arrived at the tar pit for candidates.

So where does this leave us? Emerging technology in the recruiting space seeks to connect candidates to jobs in the most efficient way possible. The best recruiting solutions are talent acquisition suites that encourage the actual hiring managers and executives to get involved directly with applicants – sending messages, reviewing resumes, and providing real feedback (in real-time) about a candidate’s application status.  We are starting to see more and more recruiting teams acting like sales people, building communities of talent and nurturing them so they know exactly who they want to chase when an opening comes up within their companies.

Let’s fast forward to the Tomorrowland of recruiting. The applicant tracking system is replaced by a true talent acquisition suite of tools designed to be inclusive, personal and easy to use.  Candidates will see in real-time whether a recruiter has looked at their resumes, and they can directly interact with a prospective employer to learn more about what it’s really like to work there.

AI is used for candidate discovery and job matching to increase the likelihood that you apply for the right job on the first try. It is also used to rediscover a candidate who may have applied months (or years) ago to another job, but whose profile now perfectly fits with an open position.

Video Interviewing gives candidates a chance to tell companies why they should take a chance and give them a call, and allows them to provide what isn’t on their resumes.

Most importantly, we harness the collective power of our organizations and realize that recruiting really is a team sport.

Hiring managers can contact a candidate directly and they can even (gasp) deliver an offer to someone they want on their teams.

Recruiters can spend time getting to know a candidate on a deeper and more meaningful level because the tools and technology they use will help them with the technical assessments of skill and ability.

Maybe cars don’t yet fly – but we’ve cleared the air.

In a digital world where you can have any piece of information available to you at the swipe of your finger; we need to focus on using technology to help us create more intimate relationships with our candidates – not divide us further.

Here’s the wildest thing about this idea – this future world is here.  These technologies exist and the companies who built them want to help you figure out the best thing for you and for your candidates. The key to remaining human is to use your intuition.  If you think like your applicants for a moment, you can find a way to balance efficiency and intimacy.

Sarah Wilson is speaking at the HR Conference + Tradeshow 2018. Her session, When Robots Descend: Using Technology to Enable White Glove Candidate Experience, is on Wednesday, May 2. For more information on this and other sessions, please visit cphrbc.ca/conference.

Sarah Wilson is the head of people for SmartRecruiters, an HR technology start-up in the Bay Area. After starting her career in contingency search, Sarah’s spent the past 15 years in the Talent acquisition and HR space, consulting for top tier brands on their recruiting and performance management strategies. She has worked in professional services, telecommunications, lending, retail and tech.

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By Ekaterina Grishko

5:30 am. Your alarm goes off. Snooze. 5:40 am. Snooze. 5:50 am. Snooze… Is it winter that makes it so difficult to wake up in the morning? Or is it the lack of motivation for the job that you have to get up for?

What one does for living significantly affects the way they feel about themselves. But, unfortunately, current job market trends do not leave an average person with a lot of professional choices. Often, options are too limited, which forces you to temporally say goodbye to your most ambitious preferences and start with something smaller and less attractive. The biggest mistake that people tend to make in situations like this is to let frustration shape their attitude towards their job.

Nevertheless, in today’s reality having a job you don’t enjoy is better than not having a job at all. Thus, you have to learn to turn your dislikes into likes and to find positive aspects in things you absolutely hate. The tips below might help you.

Dress for success
Dress codes exist for a reason. It is a well-known fact that by putting yourself in certain clothes you automatically put yourself in a particular mood or mentality. Some of us are skeptical about it, but tricking your brain into seeing professionalism and competitiveness in a certain person or environment is a real thing. As a result, it gives you more motivation to perform appropriately and in accordance with what your look conveys.

Communicate with your co-workers more
Your social surroundings can be a great motivator. People naturally tend to come back to places where they feel heard, wanted and understood. It might be hard sometimes to agree with your co-workers on certain things related to your job. But life is not limited by the walls of your office. So, choose topics that will interest you and the people you work with and have nice and refreshing discussions during your coffee breaks or after work. Building healthy relationships this way is not just easy, it is absolutely essential for a positive perception of your workplace. Just a final note here – despite the fact that “I hate my job” type of conversations might attract a lot of supporters, it won’t contribute much into your attempts to get a more positive perception of your job. In fact, it might get you into trouble. So, try to stay away from complaining.

Make a change, small and big
No one is hired for no reason. Your work is always valid and important as long as the company decides to keep you. However, the best strategy for creating a better attitude towards your work is not to think about how the company assesses your contribution, but rather to focus on things that make you feel more important and special within the company. Try to find and do tasks that make you believe in the significance of your contribution – without forgetting about your core responsibilities, of course. It might be as simple as clearing up the storage space or helping a new employee figure things out.

Find ways to learn every day
For obvious reasons, learning opportunities help one’s feeling of self-worth. Learning not only increases your competitiveness; it also brings up your confidence and gives a sense of accomplishment which are incredibly important for any ambitious professional. So, the more opportunities to learn you embrace at your workplace, the more enthusiastic you will feel about your job. In fact, you can learn from every one of your co-workers – it doesn’t matter if you are a part of one team or if you belong to totally different departments. Approach your colleagues, ask them questions, and watch them perform things they are good at. Soon you will start noticing your own professional vision expanding, which will help you see your own obligations and responsibilities differently.

Ask for new duties
Following from the previous point, it is logical that new experiences can easily spark your interest in projects and tasks you have never been involved in. And that’s great! If you feel like your work routine does not make you happy at the end of the day, you might as well try yourself in something different. Be straightforward about it with your management, express your concerns and your desire to test your abilities in another area or task. Additional duties will certainly prevent you from feeling bored or useless; they will give you motivation and make it easier to appreciate your workplace.

It is hard to always find yourself in a happy place. This statement is particularly relevant when we talk about one’s career. The ability to remain grateful and find meaning in every event and situation is a skill. So, don’t ever say “I hate my job” – this phrase alone won’t turn things around and make it attractive. Remember, when you can’t change the environment, you have to change your perception of this environment to make it comfortable for yourself to function within it.

Ekaterina Grishko is a Marketing Coordinator at Ashton College. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has become a national and international force in the field of higher education.

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By Wendy Quan

Mindfulness is offered as a way to ‘be present and non-judgmental’.  Mindfulness is pretty much a household term these days.  It can help us improve our mental well-being.  In this article, I would like to go beyond the typical explanation of how mindfulness can become part of your daily life.

We all have our internal struggles, and sometimes these conflicts feel like a dark cloud that follows us around.

Allow me to share with you a very specific example that may help you as you relate it your own personal struggles.

My colleague, whom I will call ‘Joe’, is a very successful consultant who travels over 50% of the time. The travel is far from ideal as he is a single dad of two teenage children, although he has an excellent caregiving arrangement for his children when he’s away that the children are fine with.  Joe loves his work, which is to help corporate senior leaders develop conscious awareness as they run their organizations.  He says he cannot say ‘no’ to his work as he is making a positive difference in the world.

His struggle is clear:  How does he resolve the disparity of purposeful, fulfilling work with being away from his family so much?   He tried to come up with various solutions, but nothing was viable. If he quit his job, he would feel he was turning his back on his life’s purpose, but if he stayed in his job, the guilt of not being with his family was painful.

Joe is a meditator, and decided to apply the principles of mindfulness in his meditation, which are:

  • Being completely present.
  • Observing his emotions, physical sensations, thoughts and whatever ‘comes up’.
  • Being non-judgmental of whatever arises.

As he sat in mindfulness meditation, he had a revelation.  The revelation was this:  that he can see the conflict and will let it just ‘be’.  In other words, he decided that he did not have to resolve the conflict.  He decided he didn’t have to fix anything. Yes, the conflict is still there, but letting a situation ‘just be’ is an option.  And how liberating that realization has been for him!

This ‘letting it be’ is the practice of observing it, knowing it is there and not judging that it is there. Sometimes the option of just letting it be can be entirely OK.  Now that he has made the decision to let it be, it has provided him with mental freedom.

This is a laser-focused example of mindfulness in action.  If this idea intrigues you, see if it can work for you for some of your inner conflict.  A more peaceful mind may be within reach.

Wendy Quan provides mindfulness meditation facilitator training and certification online courses which are available to CPHR BC & Yukon members at a preferred rate. Find out more. Also, CPHR BC & Yukon members can access her on-demand sessions Mindfulness for Busy HR Professionals and How to Bring Mindfulness into Your Workplace with No Ongoing Operating Costs free!

Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is an industry leader, helping organizations implement mindfulness meditation programs and combining change management techniques to create personal and organizational change resiliency. She trains meditators to become workplace facilitators.

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By Jock Finlayson and Kristin St-Laurent

The 2016 Canadian Census revealed three major population trends in Canada: we are having fewer babies, progressively more boomers are transitioning into retirement, and most people are living longer.  Taken together, these trends point towards a population that is greying faster than at any other time in Canadian history.

Overall, it’s a good news story as it shows that Canadians are generally enjoying longer and healthier lives. However, the data also confirm that our society will soon face a mounting challenge in supporting the swelling ranks of those no longer in the workforce.

Young and Educated
There is one Canadian demographic, however, that remains relatively young: Aboriginal peoples. Since 2006, this cohort has increased in size by a remarkable 43 per cent, outstripping the growth of the non-Aboriginal population nearly four times over. The 2016 census counted 1.67 million Aboriginal people across the country—representing almost five per cent of the population. Among Indigenous communities, natural growth is being fuelled by higher fertility rates, greater life expectancy and an increase in the number of census respondents who self-identify as Aboriginal.

In B.C., the figures broadly mirror the national trends: the province’s non-Aboriginal population expanded by approximately 13 per cent in the past decade, while the Aboriginal population jumped by 38.5 per cent. Of concern, the 2016 data highlights persistent socio-economic gaps between Aboriginals and the rest of the population, including sub-standard housing conditions and rising numbers of children in care. However, time series data also underscores some positive trends – in particular, a better-educated Aboriginal population.

Growing Aboriginal Opportunity
As noted, B.C.’s Aboriginal population is relatively young, with an average age of 33 compared to 42 for the non-Aboriginal population. Even better, a rising proportion of Aboriginal people have some form of post-secondary education—a degree, a college credential or a trades certificate. Among Aboriginal adults under 44 years, in 2011 more than half had some kind of post-secondary qualification. In comparison, among non-Aboriginals under age 45, the share was a bit less than two-thirds.

For the under-45 cohort, post-secondary attainment rates for both trades certificates and college credentials are nearly identical between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Similarly, university credentials short of a bachelor’s degree are also close (4.9 per cent for non-Aboriginals compared to 3.5 per cent for Aboriginals). However, big gaps remain in the completion of a bachelor’s degree and also at the graduate and professional degree level. One in four non-Aboriginals under 45 had a bachelor’s degree or more in 2011, while one in 10 Aboriginals had the same level of education.

Talent is the secret sauce in a knowledge-based economy. As the provincial population grows older, every effort needs to be made to support the development and deepening of skills and talent across all demographic groups. The Aboriginal demographic—young, educated and expanding—is one source of talent that employers can tap. However, there are barriers to success that must be addressed if more Aboriginal peoples are to pursue the full array of opportunities in the economy.

Advancing Reconciliation Through Work
The Business Council of B.C. is committed to achieving reconciliation and providing pathways for full economic participation of Aboriginal peoples. Scaling-up Aboriginal talent in the workforce is an opportunity for employers to develop local talent and improve the well-being of Aboriginal communities.

In September 2016, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) and the Business Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing both organizations to collaborate to build the province’s economy while narrowing (and eventually eliminating) socio-economic gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Our joint initiatives include the Champion’s Table, a group of 22 Chiefs and business leaders working together to advance reconciliation and create more economic partnerships between businesses and First Nations communities.

With the support of Vancouver Island University, the Business Council and the BCAFN have also launched the Indigenous Intern Leadership Program. The program, which includes a two-year paid internship within a BCBC member company, is designed to provide recent graduates with work-integrated learning experience, help develop future business and community leaders, and increase capacity in Aboriginal communities over the medium-term.

Scaling up Talent
A fast-growing Aboriginal cohort is an important source of talent and skills in a province where the overall population is aging and labour force growth rates will soon be in decline. Employers can—and should—be taking steps to leverage the advantages inherent in B.C.’s youngest demographic, while also contributing to the long-term goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president and chief policy officer, and Kristin St-Laurent is a policy analyst, with the Business Council of BC.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2017)

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By Shawnee Love

Do you know the signs of burnout for your employees?

I ask because if my interviews are to be relied upon, burnout seems to happen a lot more now than ever before.

As HR consultants, we get called in to do interviews for a variety of reasons:

  • external recruitment,
  • internal promotion,
  • culture and environment survey,
  • handbook development,
  • exit,
  • performance management,
  • incident investigation,
  • harassment and bullying, and
  • retention.

In the last year or so, I have noticed that almost every set of interviews I do, someone demonstrates symptoms of burnout.

How to Recognize Burnout
You can recognize burnout in behaviours, particularly if you have the context of previous work performance.  For example, you might notice the person isn’t early for work or staying to finish a project anymore.  Perhaps he isn’t taking initiative or helping out colleagues like he used to in the past.  You also might see more sick days, appointments during work hours, or simply more complaints.

Reflect on the person’s emotions as well.  Seeing raised voices, tears, and/or laughter that is disproportionate to the situation could be a sign of burnout.  Getting impatient and sweating “the small stuff” or describing himself as feeling “out of ideas”, “defeated”, “victimized/ attacked”, “stuck” or “helpless” are also burnout indicators worth exploring.

Moreover, pay attention to the words being used .  If you hear “exhausted”, “angry”, “frustrated”, and “overwhelmed”, particularly when the person is discussing their ordinary work, you might have someone experiencing burnout.

What makes burnout difficult to recognize is that it is experienced and demonstrated individually.  i.e., one person’s burnout is another person’s normal conversation and behavior style.

What usually triggers me to the possibility of burnout (rather than the normal range of emotion and behavior) is the intensity and longevity that the person demonstrates the symptoms and how different those behaviours are from the individual’s normal behaviour.

Shawnee Love is speaking at the HR Conference + Tradeshow 2018. Her session, Before Burnout: Self-care Strategies to Keep You at the Top of Your Game, is on Wednesday, May 2. For more information on this and other sessions, please visit cphrbc.ca/conference.

Shawnee founded LoveHR in 2009 and has since worked with 140+ diverse clients including family businesses, first nations, not for profit, and for profit organizations. Prior to founding LoveHR, Shawnee worked in entrepreneurial organizations delivering creative and practical HR solutions. For more information, visit lovehr.ca.

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What does it take to turn the page on corporate culture and drive forward a new chapter of engagement and productivity in the workplace? A good read is great place to start.

The Culture Engine
by S. Chris Edmonds

Author S. Chris Edmonds’ goal in The Culture Engine is to unleash organizational “North Stars” to better codify valued behaviours for top performance. Edmonds promotes the creation of an organizational constitution to create high-performing, values aligned cultures. Replete with practical step-by-step guidance, readers learn how to define their organization’s culture, delineate the behaviours that contribute to greater performance and greater engagement, and draft a document that codifies those behaviours into a constitution that guides behaviour towards an ideal: a safe, inspiring workplace.

The Speed of Trust
By Stephen M.R. Covey

Stephen M.R. Covey shows how trust—and the speed at which it is established with clients and, employees—is essential to a successful organization. For leaders at all levels, The Speed of Trust is anchored by the principle that establishing trust is “the one thing that changes everything” (Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths) in both business and life. As explored by Covey, trust is the fundament of the new global economy, and as that economy thrives on velocity, so too does the speed at which trust is established with clients and employees.

The Best Place to Work
By Ron Friedman

Readers of Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and Steven Levitt will appreciate this captivating and surprising journey through the science of workplace excellence. In The Best Place to Work, award-winning psychologist Ron Friedman, Ph.D. uses the latest research from the fields of motivation, creativity, behavioural economics, neuroscience, and management to reveal what really makes us successful at work. A powerful mix of story and scientific findings, Friedman provides counterintuitive insights while showing leaders how to use scientifically-proven techniques to promote smarter thinking, greater innovation, and stronger performance.

The Vibrant Workplace
By Dr. Paul White

Dr. Paul White knows how deeply work cultures are rooted and recognizes the adversity to change a leader faces whenever they try to implement changes. Why is it that nothing budges when needed most. White wrote The Vibrant Workplace to answer that question and provide leaders a solid rundown on the most common obstacles to changes, along with the know-how to overcome them. Stressing that any workplace can be healthy, he pairs real-life examples with professional advice and research to offer a guide to uprooting negativity and cultivating authentic appreciation and resiliency in the workplace.

The Culture Code
By Daniel Coyle

Culture is not something you are—it’s something you do. The Culture Code puts the power in your hands. Daniel Coyle has followed up his best-seller, The Talent Code, with a book that unlocks the secrets of highly successful groups and provides tomorrow’s leaders with the tools to build a cohesive, motivated culture. In The Culture Code, Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs—and reveals what makes them tick. Coyle demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation, and draws on helpful stories of failure, while combining leading-edge science and on-the-ground insights from world-class leaders.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
By Simon Sinek

In 2009, Simon Sinek started a movement to help people become more inspired at work. Since then, more than 28 million people have watched his TED Talk based on Start With Why—the third most popular TED video of all time. Sinek’s book starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. Sinek shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way—and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. He calls this powerful idea “The Golden Circle,” and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led and people can be inspired.

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By Erin Brandt

Workations as a concept are nothing new. Employees, executives and business owners brought paperwork with them on holiday and maintained remote contact with the office long before we entered the Digital Age. Even the term itself has gone mainstream, as evidenced by its inclusion in the online Urban Dictionary and articles in The Globe and Mail.

Definitions vary, but the two main (and contradictory) understandings of workation seem to be:

  • A vacation in which you bring your work with you and stay connected, digitally or otherwise, to the workplace.
  • Something similar to a staycation, but instead of taking time off and staying home, the person reports to work and goofs off, e.g.by online shopping.

The first definition suggests a work-life balance fail, where rather than taking a true break, employees stay constantly engaged with the workplace. The second is a similar fail, but for opposite (and obvious) reasons.

Is there a middle ground, where a worker blends work and travel for the mutual benefit of employer and employee? We think so – in fact, workations may be one way to help build sustainable employment relationships.

Mutually Beneficial Workations
As we’ve explained elsewhere, a sustainable employment relationship depends on several key factors, including reciprocity, respect, and transparency. With that in mind, here are four tips for creating a mutually beneficial workation:

  1. Communicate clearly and transparently. It’s important to have a direct, open discussion with your employee about your expectations for what and how much work she will do while she is away. You might do this on a one-off basis, or by creating a company-wide policy with your staff’s input.
  1. Collaborate Both you and your employee need to consider and agree on things like cost sharing (i.e. travel, meals, accommodations) and his availability and accessibility during the workation.
  1. Be creative and flexible. Workations can take many forms. An employer might extend an employee’s vacation period with the understanding that the employee spend some of her time away working. Perhaps an out-of-town conference or trade show can be combined with sightseeing or other leisure activities? Or, an office retreat could be expanded to include opportunities for non-work team-building activities.
  1. Set and respect reasonable boundaries. Once you have both agreed on parameters for the workation, you need to stick to them. Like most aspects of a successful working relationship, this responsibility is mutual – just as you will expect your employee to be available to you at certain times while he is out of the office, he has an equal expectation of freedom on the terms you discussed before he left town.

Other Things to Consider
For those of you considering incorporating workations into your company culture, here’s a quick list of additional pros and cons to add to the mix:

Pros

  1. Workplace flexibility, in the form of workations or otherwise, can be a creative way to attract talent.
  2. A workation has the potential to increase engagement as it can help inject some fun and adventure into an employee’s daily work routine.
  3. An employee can take an extended absence from the office environment without the risk of becoming disconnected from his workplace or colleagues.

Cons

  1. Workations will likely not afford employees adequate time to completely refresh and recharge – as such, they should not be seen as a replacement for vacations.
  2. Unforeseen work demands could interfere with the “-ation” aspect of an employee’s trip. Employers need to consider how to deal with the unexpected.
  3. If the workation location is too remote, this could affect the employee’s ability to stay digitally connected. While this may seem obvious, it’s crucial to address “nuts and bolts” issues like wifi and cell coverage before the employee hits the road.

Erin Brandt is a panel speaker at the HR Conference + Tradeshow 2018. Her session, Is This Just a “Gig”? Worker Status in the Shifting Landscape of the Modern Workplace, is on Wednesday, May 2. For more information on this and other sessions, please visit cphrbc.ca/conference.

Erin Brandt of Kent Employment Law is what Malcolm Gladwell calls a connector. Strong community roots, genuine curiosity and a deep caring for others make her a true “people person”. Erin mentors the next generation of lawyers in BC through her role as supervising lawyer at UBC’s Law Students’ Legal Advice Program, and supports the professional development of her own legal peer group by sitting on the executive of both the Employment Law Subsection and Young Lawyers Section of the Canadian Bar Association (BC).. And, as a three-time speaker at Vancouver Startup Week, she is the voice of employment law for local new business.

This is not legal advice. Information made available on the Kent Employment Law website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action, based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. One of our lawyers would be pleased to discuss any specific legal concerns you may have.

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By Paul Godin

Having consulted widely with clients, and having surveyed thousands of people on the question of what they see as the causes of conflict, a number of recurrent themes have emerged over the years. In part one of this feature, we explored three of the six most prevalent contributors to conflict, chiefly identity issues, strong emotions and “what happened” issues.

Here we explore the remaining three—negative history, situational issues and expectations of opposition—and how to manage the broader context of conflict in the workplace:

Negative History
One of the biggest contributors to conflict is the existence of negative history between parties. Negative history can be personal in nature (Raj hates Sue) or organizational (union members distrust management and vice versa). Sometimes, both are present.

History is the lens through which we see the other side. The deeper the bad blood is, the thicker the lens, the greater the likelihood of conflict.

Negative history makes us expect the worst from others, and then we act accordingly (in aggressive or defensive ways). Worse, negative history can make us actively seek to hurt the other side. If we see them as the enemy, we treat them that way. By treating them like the enemy, we make them our enemy. Worse, we confirm their equal and opposite negative view of us, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

People are pre-disposed to distrust and judge their enemies in negative ways. They don’t listen meaningfully to their enemies. They may find that their primary goals are supplanted by secondary ones like retribution, revenge, or wanting to embarrass the other side.

Expectations of Opposition
A similar dynamic is created by another contributor to conflict, the expectation of opposition from the other party, whether real or imagined. Many conflict situations are created when people enter a conversation or engagement expecting a fight. They have pre-judged that they will meet opposition to their goals, so they enter primed for confrontation.

For example, an employee who expects a manager to deny them a promotion may come into the manager’s office with an argumentative tone to make their case, thereby putting the manager on the defensive from the very beginning.

Unfortunately many of us are prone to expecting opposition, so this dynamic is common. Instead, if we enter situations with a more open mind, we might get a much more tolerant and open-minded reaction from the people we deal with. When we see people as barriers, and we treat them that way, as an enemy, we create the very barrier we expected.

Situational Issues
The final contribution to conflict that comes up repeatedly is the existence of situational issues, contributors inherent in the situation. Examples of such issues include process problems like the form of the communication. A tense negotiation may be easier to manage face-to-face than by phone or by a poorly-connected Skype conversation.

Delivering a message in writing may similarly create a very negative response if it lands as insulting or cold, despite a warmer intent. Language differences may make a hard conversation harder, or even create a misunderstanding that gives rise to a dispute.

Pressures from the situation, such as timing limits, can also lead people to communicate in non-optimal ways, or to rush their approach and miss steps that could avoid a conflict. A boss who takes three minutes to fire off an email delivering a difficult message instead of having an hour-long face-to-face conversation to manage the blow may ultimately be worse off.

Conclusions
Once we understand why conflicts happen, how they can escalate, and why some conversations are so much harder to have, we can better strategize how to avoid conflicts. We can also minimize the degree and frequency of such conflicts, and manage those that do arise more effectively.

The six contributors set out above are the most common ones seen again and again, in various forms. They often occur in combinations as well, like an interconnected web of triggers. If someone is your past enemy, and they dispute your view of events, it will trigger an identity issue, leading to a strong defensive emotional reaction. If it was done in public, the situational issue makes it even worse.

Understanding the cause of the problem is the first step to managing such conflicts. If you recognize that someone is being aggressive because they are worried about losing face, calm things down by finding a route allowing them to save face. If strong emotions are derailing a conversation, request a break to allow everyone to calm down. If a conversation is likely to be touchy and you’re not sure how the other party will react, avoid the situational problem by talking face-to-face.

Once we understand where the conflict is rooted, we can start dealing with it appropriately.

Paul Godin is leading a Having Difficult Conversations Successfully webinar on February 27. For more information on this webinar and other professional development opportunities, please visit cphrbc.ca.

Paul Godin is the principal of Katalyst Resolutions, a dispute resolution training and service provider based in BC but operating globally. Formerly a lead trainer and course designer for the Stitt Feld Handy Group, Paul is a world-recognized mediator and trainer and the author of the chapters “A Practical Guide to Conflict Management System Design” and “Principles of Negotiation” in The Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Manual. He can be reached at paul@katalystresolutions.com and www.katalystresolutions.com for more information.

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By Paul Godin

The first step in managing and dealing effectively with conflict in the workplace is to understand what is creating or contributing to the conflict. If we can identify the main contributors that recur again and again, we can strategize appropriate responses.

Having consulted widely with clients, and having surveyed thousands of people on the question of what they see as the causes of conflict, a number of recurrent themes have emerged over the years. Each of them is a primary contributor to conflicts, either creating challenges that make conversations and situations difficult, or making difficult situations much worse. These contributors, all of which can be found in most workplaces, include:

  • Identity Issues
  • Strong Emotions
  • What Happened Issues
  • Negative History
  • Situational Issues
  • Expectations of Opposition

The first three of these themes are ably described in the book, Difficult Conversations, by Stone, et al.,1 and are addressed herein; the latter three are also powerful challenges that commonly arise and are explored in the second part of this feature.

Identity Issues
As Stone et al. point out in their book, many conversations become difficult when someone’s sense of identity is challenged, invoking a range of defensive reactions. People can have their identity—their “face” or “pride”—challenged in a variety of ways.

Everyone has a way that they see themselves (as competent, intelligent, adaptable, honest, loyal, etc.). Everyone also has an internal value system that is the lens through which they see the world, consciously or unconsciously. They may value integrity, tolerance, reliability, competence, etc.

That said, when a person feels that their sense of self is under attack, this can trigger identity issues. Criticism, even perceived criticism, can raise hackles very quickly. A classic example is a performance review, in which the recipient may feel that the review is unfair, inaccurate, even malicious, targeting them personally. Someone who believes they are competent will not like hearing contradictory perspectives.

Another major trigger is when people do not live up to our own values (whether or not we live up to those values ourselves). If I value reliability, and my employee is constantly late for work, it will irk me deeply. If I value fairness, and see my boss favouring their friend who is less deserving, I will be upset.

Typical defensive responses caused by identity issues include aggressive “fight” responses, withdrawal “flight” responses like walking away or going silent, and the debate response when people argue against the attacking perspective. All of those reactions can increase the level of conflict in a team.

People may be in conflict internally as much as they are in conflict externally with other people, torn between their own values. Loyalty to friends and respect for integrity are both commendable values, but they may pull one in different directions.

Strong Emotions
Strong emotions have the power to derail conversations and enflame conflicts. When people are in the grip of a strong emotion, the rational problem-solving part of the brain loses control to the more instinctive side of the brain. That instinctive “lizard” brain is the home of immediate fight/flight responses, which often make matters worse. One strong emotion can provoke another. An angry employee may say things that will never be erased from their co-worker’s memories.

When in an emotional cloud, people are often unable to listen effectively. Emotions like anger and frustration can lead people to say and do things they would likely not otherwise do. Until the emotion subsides, people are less rational, and one person’s emotions may invoke reactionary emotions on the other side.

Emotions are often complex and challenging for others to fully understand. The outside world may see an angry nasty person, but inside may be a maelstrom of emotions such as shame, disappointment and fear.

A fearful employee worried about losing their job might lash out in a performance review,or break down in tears. Emotions are hard to predict and to understand. On the plus side, emotions generally have an honesty to them. People tend not to display emotions publicly until a certain threshold of significance is passed. If we understood those emotions, we could deal with them more effectively.

What Happened Issues
Another major contributor to conflicts occurs when people debate factual and historical questions. They have different perceptions of what is and what was. For example, after a job is botched, an employee and a manager may disagree about what the manager’s instructions were and whose fault it was.

“What Happened” debates can lock people into positional views, polarizing the conversation, but worse, when someone’s view of the facts is rejected and countered, it is tantamount to calling them a liar. That allegation, whether direct or implied, usually triggers a strong defensive identity reaction.

When the perspectives on what led to a dispute are fundamentally opposed, finding a path forward is difficult. As an example, if a manager believes their employee intentionally dropped a ball just to embarrass the manager, whereas their employee feels they were left hanging by the manager to figure things out, sorting out how to deal with the mistake will be a challenge.

In part two of this feature, we will explore the impact of negative history, situational issues and expectations of opposition as they relate to workplace conflict.

Paul Godin is leading a Having Difficult Conversations Successfully webinar on February 27. For more information on this webinar and other professional development opportunities, please visit cphrbc.ca.

1. Douglas Stone et al., 2000. Difficult Conversations, Penguin Books.

Paul Godin is the principal of Katalyst Resolutions, a dispute resolution training and service provider based in BC but operating globally. Formerly a lead trainer and course designer for the Stitt Feld Handy Group, Paul is a world-recognized mediator and trainer and the author of the chapters “A Practical Guide to Conflict Management System Design” and “Principles of Negotiation” in The Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Manual. He can be reached at paul@katalystresolutions.com and www.katalystresolutions.com for more information.

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BC Hydro is owned by the people of British Columbia, and they want their workforce to reflect the diversity of the province. Their employees have expressed that diversity and inclusion are important values to them, and they are proud to support their employees and their families with various accessibility initiatives, including the development and revamp of their Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Program.

BC Hydro supports employees through cost-sharing of the program, and implementing back-to-work supports to ensure a successful transition back into the workforce upon return from the program. This program is aligned with BC Hydro’s safety first policy, as it encourages disclosure, and therefore mitigates safety concerns related to untreated addiction challenges. It is also important in retaining employees post treatment.

OBJECTIVES
In developing their Addiction Recovery Program, BC Hydro’s objectives were to:

  • Ensure that employees were supported to be their best, most productive self.
  • Encourage disclosure from employees facing addiction challenges.
  • Develop a company-wide understanding that addiction challenges are akin to other health and medical challenges in that they require acknowledgement, treatment, and ongoing self- management.
  • Mitigate the safety risks associated with untreated addiction challenges.
  • Retain employees post treatment.

APPROACH
Prior to the revamp and development of the new Addiction Recovery Program, BC Hydro was utilizing a third party service provider to help employees manage challenges and seek treatment options relating to all forms of sick leave, including those involving alcohol and drug addiction challenges. However, upon review of their process, BC Hydro discovered they wanted to be more directly engaged in managing sick leave for staff.

BC Hydro took the following approach:

  • Assessed the potential risks for employees suffering from addiction.
  • Reviewed the return on investment in bringing the program in house.
  • Put a proposal forward to the executive team.
  • Worked with the unions on implementation.
  • Created awareness of the recovery services available.
  • Shared stories from people who had been through the program and successfully returned to work.

Assessing the Potential Risks
BC Hydro’s focus on safety inspired them to assess the potential risks for employees suffering from addiction, if it went untreated. What they discovered is that left untreated, the risk to an employee could be significant and possibly fatal. BC Hydro also came to understand that the particular nature of some of their roles, such as their trades based roles that worked in remote communities across the province, were more at risk for addiction related issues. The increased risk comes from factors such as isolation, or due to the increased risk of injury – pain management can lead to problematic substance use in some cases.

Reviewing the Return on Investment
Bringing the program in house, and running it on a cost share model of 75% BC Hydro, 25% Employee, meant that there were larger short-term costs associated with the program. However, in assessing the ROI, BC Hydro came to the conclusion that the potential catastrophic results of not addressing the challenges of addiction had far more dire consequences, and therefore the cost was well worth the potential outcome to the employee and in growing its safety first culture.

Working with Unions on Implementation
To ensure that employees were fully supported in accessing the addiction recovery program, BC Hydro’s HR team worked with operations management and the unions to ensure referrals were being made to all members experiencing addiction challenges.

Created Awareness
A key part of this initiative continues to be creating awareness of the program and services available with managers, the unions, the HR team and the executive members. Awareness was created by talking about the program in various meetings, as well as highlighting it in all-employee emails. Awareness of the program was also heightened through management training, and by working with the union closely, union counsellors were also well-versed in the program.

Share Success Stories
Recently, the project has evolved and employees who have gone through the program and successfully returned to work are sharing their experiences with others. Employees sharing stories with each other has helped reduce the stigma associated with drug and alcohol addiction, and allow a safe space at work for people to talk about what they are dealing with.

OUTCOMES
The program has continued to evolve since inception and the outcomes that have been realized include:

  • Employees report feeling supported after coming forward and self-disclosing addiction challenges. There is no stigma associated in asking for assistance.
  • 86 individuals over an 11 year period have utilized the program since its development, and 66% of individuals have returned to work and are still employed by BC Hydro. This is consistent with retention statistics for all employees, indicating that this program is successful in maintaining retention rates.
  • Only 10% of those that went through the program left BC Hydro for reasons other than: end of contract, retirement, or resignation.
  • During Mental Health Awareness Week, the CEO, Jessica McDonald, sent an email to all employees acknowledging mental health as an important focus area for BC Hydro. She received an overwhelming response to her email from people sharing their stories. A number of individuals shared that the addiction recovery program changed their life.

 
LESSONS LEARNED
BC Hydro learned a lot during the development and implementation of this program, and a few of the key learnings are listed below:

Personal Readiness for Change
During the phase where BC Hydro was reviewing cases on an individual basis, it became clear that the cost sharing model was key to ensuring there was a personal commitment to the addiction recovery program. BC Hydro continues to pay 75% of the costs associated with program to affirm their commitment to the employee’s recovery.

Prevention Based Approach
By mitigating risks ahead of a crisis occurring, BC Hydro is protecting both the interests of the employee and the business, in a preventative way. Other preventative services include counselling through the employee assistance programs, self-directed risk assessments and tutorials, and coverage for registered clinical councillors through its paramedical benefit.

Dealing with Privacy Based Concerns
While privacy continues to be a focus for BC Hydro during the implementation of this program, privacy concerns need to be balanced with safety concerns for the individual in the program. The manager of the individual in the program needs to be aware of the employee’s reason for absence to ensure the employee’s safety when they return to work.

Return to Work as a Focus
Equally as important as the employee receiving treatment, is ensuring the employee can return to work in a safe and productive way. This might mean placing the employee within a different team in the organization, adjusting working hours or work load, or other accommodations to ensure a smooth transition back to work. BC Hydro also supports post-treatment monitoring for all employees in safety sensitive roles.

Working Collaboratively
For BC Hydro, part of the success of the program is ensuring that the executive team, managers, the HR department and the union are all working together to better serve employees and ensure a cohesive approach to that support.

NEXT STEPS
BC Hydro has seen tremendous success from the implementation of this program and will continue to support employees facing addiction related challenges. Their focus in the next year will be to continue to raise awareness about the program, share success stories of employees who have utilized the services offered, and tie the program into an overall strategy related to mental health.

This case study was provided by the Presidents Group. Find out more at accessibleemployers.ca.

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