Recently, I was on a plane heading back to Vancouver after being in Northern B.C. – the land of Oil & Gas and Site C – and it was hard not to overhear the conversation of the young man in front of me to the passenger beside him.
During his conversation, he touched on a subject many HR professionals encounter all the time: how the demographic gap impacts potential labour shortages in industry – in particular, the trades.
The man described the concerns in terms of “crisis”.
A few seats over, I quietly disagreed.
I say this moment of shortage is an opportunity. I am a labour lawyer and have been for years. My work is almost exclusively focused on workplace investigations. My work gives me a unique perspective on workplaces and what happens in them. I have visited worksites in every corner of this province, and I learn a lot in the interloper role I get paid to play.
So why do I believe a shortage of labour equals opportunity?
I say this because of the #metoo movement and a much-needed change in the journey that takes us through high school on to post-secondary and into the workplace that relates to gender and the trades.
A bit of history may help place my perspective in context. I am a daughter raised by a feminist father before such a thing was defined. My dad told me I should never take a spare in high school and be open to learning trades such as automotive, carpentry and print shop when those opportunities were available.
And I’ve never been able to come up with a reason to disagree with him.
His guidance helped me explore things I never would have without him. Those moments exploring the trades in my adolescence created opportunities to learn in ways previously I had not explored. At its simplest, his, “Why wouldn’t you?” opened my mind.
I am a daughter raised by an automotive teacher who said I could do it all and should try it all. How lucky was I?
Still Stuck In The Stone Age
Juxtapose my 16 year-old self being guided by my father’s progressive ways to the experiences I have had in the last six months working on files involving the trades in B.C.
All had a common thread. All related to complaints of inappropriate conduct in the trades, in particular, the treatment of women – whether it be as students, apprentices, or employees working in industrial environments.
I can’t give details, but I’m speaking truth when I say the behaviour of some people at work would shock you. Most people would not believe the things we learn happen at work can happen in 2019 – but they do and on a daily basis.
What makes the last six months unique for me is not the behaviours per se, but the common response to my questions about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
Most don’t even deny it happening and openly admit to the incidents, using language like, “But, we are the trades” as reason to justify the behaviour.
“But, we are the trades” – it’s a statement of excuse. From a different perspective, it is an opportunity to make significant positive change.
An Opportunity For Reform and Inclusion
There are legitimate concerns about the scarcity of qualified, highly-skilled workers in a number of critical trades, which are needed to ensure projects are completed on time and on budget.
From my vantage point, there is a huge opportunity for women to fill that labour shortage in these vital areas. In order to capitalize on the opportunity, we need to make significant changes within the trades to make this line of work appealing to women.
There are already a number of benefits, including wage rates, the flexibility to make your own schedule if you own your own business and occupations that are currently in high demand, that flow from working in the trades. These types of benefits should appeal to women.
From a culture perspective, being a woman and working within the trades is a less appealing proposition.
To create real change, it will take a concerted effort of many, starting at the high school level and following all the way through to jobsites around the province.
Creating an Environment to Appeal to Women
There are three areas I have identified that need change to create a culture of inclusion in this sector. In theory, these changes should lead to a positive increase in the number of women working within the trades:
Reform at the high school level: Change the way that girls and boys are introduced to various roles – from caregivers to technical trades people. While I’d love those conversations to start in Kindergarten, at the very least we need to think about the high school experience as it relates to gender and stereotypes about certain occupations. Some questions we need to start asking are, how many female shop teachers are there in B.C.? How many girls in high school choose electives that focus on trades? Are schools and parents communicating an archaic perspective that practical education is “less than” academics, and not a great option for girls. We have some serious work to do in education to change these perspectives that either consciously or subconsciously discourage educational journeys based on traditional gender roles. I wish every child could have my father’s perspective on how valuable this education is. “Why wouldn’t you?” is a question worth promoting for all students.
Reform at the post-secondary level: I’ve had too many post-secondary files to not see the challenges and opportunities that exist at this level for a woman who has chosen a learning journey in the trades. I have yet to see a post-secondary institution include workplace behaviour as a meaningful part of their curriculum. Safety, yes, absolutely, that topic is up front for all students. Sexual harassment and/or bullying? Codes of Conduct? If there is any time spent on these important issues, they are limited and not meaningful. Questions post-secondary institutions should explore include, what happens when women go to college and study trades? What does it feel like to be the only woman in a class of men? What does it feel like to have nothing but male instructors as options and limited role models or mentors to guide a young women’s journey? I have heard men tell me that they have deliberately singled out women in the classroom – using sexual humour or degrading comments – in order to prepare them to work in the trades. The right way to prepare all students today is to teach them the baselines for behaviours that are inclusive for all – and do so front and centre at the beginning of their education, just as we do with safety.
Reform on the jobsite: We need to change, “We are the trades” from an excuse to an epithet of pride for any employee who works in the sector. No more “but . . . “ and no more justifications for a different expectation for behaviour. Organizations should be asking, what happens when women get to the worksite? What can they expect in terms of behaviours from their colleagues, supervisors, managers and union representatives? Do they know where they can go for help, and do they trust they will get it? Is the job site an inclusive and respectful place? When we think or say “we are the trades” let’s change what it means to a mantra of inclusion and respect.
The current shortage in skilled trades is not a crisis. Nor is #metoo something to be seen as a problem. These moments come together as an opportunity that has not presented itself before.
Crisis is the wrong lens. Opportunity is the right one.
Lisa Southern is the Founder of Southern & Associates, a legal firm located in North Vancouver that specializes in employment and labour law, especially in the area of workplace investigations. Lisa strongly believes that engaging a reliable and fair Investigator results in a sustainable and acceptable outcome, demonstrates the necessary due diligence, and results in less litigation post-investigation. Lisa’s specialization in workplace investigations is built on her transition through key legal roles that continue to provide her with a unique background and perspective. In 2003, Lisa was appointed to the BC Labour Relations Board, first as vice chair, and then as registrar and vice chair until 2009 when she returned to private practice and started to focus on the important work of investigations and supporting exceptional workplace culture. In addition to her investigation work, Lisa is frequently appointed as a mediator and also arbitrates labour disputes.
Lisa will be speaking at the HR Conference + Tradeshow in Vancouver, B.C. on April 3rd. To register for the conference and see the whole lineup CLICK HERE.
Anchored by the belief that YWCA Metro Vancouver‘s employees are everything to them, Michelle Sing, CPHR has spent the past 26 years elevating and executing the profession of HR.
The past 22 of those years have been committed to YWCA Metro Vancouver, where she provides overarching HR leadership to the executive and 400+ employees spread over 58 locations.
Sing was named the 2018 HR Professional of the Year at last year’s HR Conference + Tradeshow and is currently, VP of Human Resources, Volunteers, Communications & Crabtree Corner Community for the YWCA Metro Vancouver.
Peopletalk caught up with Sing to get her insights on the HR profession.
What guided you towards your career in HR and what maintains your people first inspiration as a leader?
I have always been interested in people and their behaviour—what inspires, motivates and engages them—and equally important to me is the link between people and business impacts.
For example: how do you support employees, so that they can succeed in their roles and, as a result, contribute to the success of the organization? What is the ROI when investing in employees? How does a positive workplace environment impact recruitment and retention? These are all important questions, and we need to think not only in terms of recruitment costs, but also the cost of a new employee having to establish trust and relationships with clients again.
Working at the YWCA continues to inspire me as a leader every day. I have the privilege of seeing how committed staff are to making a difference in the lives of our clients and their children. Their passion and commitment is what drives me to ensure that we, as leaders, are connected with our employees so we can better understand their needs and the challenges they face, ensure they have the necessary supports and nurture their connection to the mission and vision of the YWCA.
What is the greatest opportunity for those seeking to emphasize the fullest value of the HR profession?
Michelle Sing, CPHR
We need to recognize that HR professionals can have a significantly positive influence on the business, workplace culture and employees coming to work every day. And in order for that to happen, we need to understand the business itself: strategic direction, business goals and, ultimately, who our stakeholders are. This will help to shape your workforce, both now and into the future.
As HR professionals, we also have to be continuously curious about why employees are attracted to the organization—what engages and retains them and what challenges they face. We should never assume that we know what they need and once we know it, that it will never change.
We need to understand how we can support managers and leaders so that they are effective in supporting their own employees, ensuring that relationships are built on trust, open communication and that employees clearly understand goals and performance expectations.
All of this will allow us to develop HR strategies that are customized to the needs of organizations and employees.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing HR professionals at present?
One of the immediate challenges HR professionals are facing is workforce planning. This includes challenges with recruitment, retention and retirement and meeting the needs of the younger generations.
Locally there are many factors at play – high job vacancy rates in Vancouver, a disconnect between the skill sets of job seekers and the skills that employers need; boomers retiring and therefore businesses losing their knowledge and expertise; providing younger employees with meaningful leadership opportunities; and the housing affordability crisis. This is a particularly significant challenge, as it will impact their commute time and therefore how much time they spend with their families, or their decision to move away from the Lower Mainland.
We have long recognized these at the YWCA, and thus have had a long-standing commitment to HR initiatives that support the work/life balance for our employees, as well as their professional and leadership development needs. Some of these initiatives include the ability to work remotely, flexible work arrangements and part time hours that are driven by the needs and requests of employees, workplace wellness initiatives, staff mentorship and coaching. We also try to be as creative as possible when it comes to job design—customizing positions based on employees’ strengths while giving them leadership opportunities to develop skills that they may not have had in a more traditional role.
How does a positive workplace experience factor into the bigger picture for your organization?
A positive workplace experience and strong organizational culture is vital. As a not-for-profit, we could not do the work we do in our community without our engaged employees. It is important that YWCA Metro Vancouver invests in our people to better help the women and children who are seeking our programs and services.
You know you have a strong, positive workplace culture when employees have good things to say about the organization (influencers), when employees want to stay with the organization (high retention rate) and when employees strive to do their best work everyday (productivity). High staff retention gives us the ability to focus on serving our clients, instead of constantly training and recruiting. In turn, program participants are seeing our staff members engaged in our own programs and have positive feelings toward our organization.
One of our most important influences of our workplace culture is modelled top-down from our senior management. When our people see that the senior management are making time for frontline staff, literally taking the broom and sweeping floors along with the rest of the team and putting organizational needs first, they are encouraged. And this is reflected in our retention numbers (88-95 per cent). The influencers in our organization are our own staff and our own senior management.
Courage is commonly thought of in the context of an incredible act of bravery, or overcoming extreme adversity or risk. In everyday life, we might think of courage as getting up in the night to see if the noise we heard is actually an intruder, standing up to a bully, or climbing Mt. Everest. But why is courage critical for leadership?
Courage is not just about superheroes; it is personal and is found in everyday interactions and situations. It is the willingness to face agony, pain, intimidation or uncertainty, even when we are reluctant or fearful. It is the capacity to persist even when things are difficult. Some of us fear conflict and yet, we find the courage to have difficult conversations. Others would prefer to avoid intimacy or personal connection, but rather than flee, freeze or flop, we step into the relationship. Courage is telling the truth even though the backlash by disbelievers could leave a lifetime impact. Courage is also about being our authentic selves, embracing our imperfections and being comfortable with who we are, despite potential judgement, criticism and our own saboteurs.
Why is Courage an Essential Component of Leadership?
First, let me say that, even though we tend to think of leaders in terms of organizational or political hierarchies, we are all leaders in the context of our own lives. When we give leadership this broader, more inclusive meaning, we are inviting each of us to accept responsibility for our own lives and our impact on others. It is such a courageous and empowering step to take ownership of our circumstances and actions, rather than making others responsible. It frees us from feeling victimized and gives us hope that we can change and grow.
Most of what we face as leaders is not dangerous, but it can be intimidating and uncertain. Checking out a strange noise in the night is potentially dangerous, but holding someone accountable for their work performance creates uncertainty. Asking for accountability can be very uncomfortable. We don’t know how they’re going to react. It might take less courage to look the other way and avoid the uncertainty inherent in difficult conversations, but we know it’s important to have that conversation anyway. Courage is making a significant change by stepping out of what’s comfortable, even though you can’t know the outcome. Courage is setting a boundary with a person who has positional power over you, even when you know there are potential risks.
Feeling courageous is not about feeling bullet-proof. It’s about feeling fear, caution, worry or anxiety and then deciding how these emotions inform our action. Do our emotions tell us to protect ourselves from risk that is too great? Do we acknowledge that our emotions are telling us something important and proceed to action accordingly? Our do we tell our saboteur, our critic, to back off so that we can learn something valuable about our capacity, our resilience and our courage. What would a courageous leader do?
Most of us have stood at the fork in the road: one path or decision represents greater risk and greater reward and the other is the more familiar, safer choice. How many times have we shown courage by doing what is right even though it meant drawing unwanted attention to ourselves or creating unwanted complexity? How many times have we chosen to step up to do what was needed even when it was challenging or there were potential negative consequences? How many of us have admired and respected a leader who took a stand based on values and integrity rather than profit or power?
How do Courage and Leadership Fit into Emotional Intelligence
Courage and leadership have everything to do with emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence is an awareness of our emotions and how they influence our actions. Emotions provide ever-present information about ourselves, our relationship with others and our environment. Courage is action, but it is also about our response to our emotions – fear, confidence, excitement, caution, etc.
At EITC, we use the MHS model of emotional intelligence, the basis for the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0), which views EI as a set of emotional skills that are learned. The EQ competencies in the model that relate most to courage include:
Self-Regard (confidence and resilience);
Emotional Self-Awareness (understanding how your emotions influence your actions);
Assertiveness and Independence (being willing and able to take a stand and express it, even if your view isn’t shared by others);
Stress Tolerance (managing conflict and coping with challenges);
Self-Actualization (driven by meaning and a sense of purpose); and
Empathy (paying attention to others’ feelings for greater connection).
Leadership is about the decision to take risks and do the right thing, even when we are afraid and no matter the consequences. Are you involved in what has meaning and purpose for you? How does this give you the courage to step into challenges, to pursue innovation, to stay aligned with your purpose and achieve your goals? Leaders pay attention to their feelings because emotions provide critical information. That takes courage because there are messages we don’t want to hear. Leaders do not shy away from situations because they are stressful or because they might make others uncomfortable. They face agony, pain, danger or intimidation as a way to show up. And that takes courage.
Are you a leader? Yes, because you lead your own life and you impact others. What kind of leader do you aspire to be? Are you willing to be courageous? Learn to have the courage to face what is difficult, challenging, and uncertain and it will be the best leadership decision you ever make.
Employee needs and wants are becoming increasingly diverse. While we can’t satisfy everyone, we can satisfy more employees by finding ways to personalize the workplace experience. Some examples are: candidate experience, total rewards, training, development, recognition, performance management, work schedules and work spaces.
If I were to start with one aspect it would be individualized career development planning – short and long term goals and activities planned in reference to career advancement and development aspirations and employee’s unique strengths and potential. According to Mercer’s 2015 study, “Employee Views on Moving Up vs. Moving On,” more than three quarters of employees would “stay with their current employer if they knew their career path.” Personalized career development plans combined with regular and personalized feedback can go a long way in strengthening the employee-employer relationship, staying relevant to your employee needs and improving the overall workplace experience.
Andrea Duke, CPHR is an HR consultant at TPD, where she provides HR generalist expertise to small and medium-sized organizations across several different industries. A relationship builder with an analytical mind, Andrea looks for opportunities to improve organizational effectiveness and employee experience by aligning people, processes and systems with organizational strategy. In addition to her CPHR designation, Andrea has an MBA from the UBC Sauder School of Business.
Ensuring values alignment for both the candidate and organization ensures a positive workplace experience and culture for both new and current employees.
By understanding current trends, values and needs of current and future employees, HR is able to facilitate programs and initiatives such as onboarding, professional development, wellness and other programs. More importantly, HR can help facilitate a workplace experience comprised of positive leadership practices, supportive management, creation of meaningful work and fun at work.
Although HR may provide guidance on the workplace experience, it is employees at all levels that really shape, influence and impact the overall work experience and culture.
Sandy Sidhu, CPHR candidate, is currently the HR specialist with Delta Hotels Kamloops in Kamloops, BC. As the current chair of the CPHR BC & Yukon Advisory Council for the Central Interior, she has the opportunity to work with an enthusiastic and innovative board to implement a variety of professional development roundtables and networking events. Sandy holds a bachelor of business administration with a double major in human resources management and finance from Thompson Rivers University. HR impacts the workplace experience factor throughout the complete lifecycle of the employee. An important piece for HR starts during the interview process where HR can help shape the candidate’s perceptive of the organizational culture and ensure the mindset and values of the candidate match those of the organization.
In my experience, I’ve had a lot of fun making an impact on the workplace experience by being a promoter of existing benefit programs. As HR professionals, we spend a lot of time and energy identifying the best mix of total rewards, and early in my career I’ve realized how important the next step is—championing these programs in the workplace so that employees reap the full benefits.
Have you ever seen a boardroom that has been temporarily converted during lunch into a yoga studio or ping pong tournament? The energy is infectious!
Although on the surface, facilitating events and activities such as these may seem small, it’s a great opportunity for HR professionals to build rapport with the business and establish a foundation for partnering on higher level services, and feeling engaged within the area in which they work.
Mary Jean Muhle is the people and culture generalist at Que Pasa Foods, a subdivision of Nature’s Path. Working in HR over the past five years, she has specialized in recruitment, compensation and HRIS. An active CPHR BC & Yukon member, Mary Jean is currently on the Networking Portfolio sub-committee for the Coastal Vancouver Advisory Council.
If I am forced to pick only one way in which HR can most greatly impact the workplace experience, I believe it is in its role as change agent.
Organizations which invite HR to be a proactive participant in the change process are better prepared to support their employees through those changes. Issues such as timing, who will be affected by the changes and how they will be communicated are given appropriate consideration, easing some of the burden for front-line managers who may be tasked with implementation and reducing employee anxiety caused by inadequate planning.
Also, HR professionals who sit at the senior leadership table help shape the corporate culture by questioning and assessing how planned changes align with the organization’s strategic vision and values. Research is finding a strong correlation between employees who feel happy and valued at work and those who say their company has a strong corporate culture.
Laura Westwick, CPHR is HR programs coordinator with the Municipality of North Cowichan, providing project support in the areas of training & development, employee engagement and labour relations. Prior to relocating to Vancouver Island, Laura worked with a number of larger organizations in Vancouver including McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Accenture in the areas of legal support staff management, employee & labour relations and compensation & benefits. A passionate supporter of local performing arts, Laura is a volunteer and former board member of the Cowichan Musical Society.
Amneet Sidhu, CPHR candidate HR officer, BC Diabetes Vancouver, BC
HR impacts work experience in many aspects, but increasing employee engagement through rewards, social events and continuing education can prove beneficial for all parties.
One significant way HR can impact the workplace is by investing time to know an employee’s passion, interests and motivating factors. After acquiring that knowledge, HR will not only create a truer sense of connection with the employee, but be able to incentivize appropriately.
As an HR professional, I find yearly lump-sum amounts like Christmas bonuses become powerless over time and will not necessarily lead an employee to feel part of the team, hence, reducing productivity.
It is vital for all organizations to provide employees with consistent opportunities or rewards to grow in their careers and invest in them at a personal level. Employee motivation comes from within, so when HR recognizes that they create the right environment to ensure engagement and motivation remains strong.
After graduating with a BBA specializing in human resources, Amneet went to work at BC Diabetes as its youngest and first HR officer with more than “on the job” training. Amneet works alongside medical professionals who are highly trained to optimize care and improve outcomes for British Columbians with diabetes. Amneet finds great interest in strategic HR initiatives and systems thinking and is currently pursuing the CPHR designation and focusing on mastering required competencies.
People & Perspectives runs in every edition of PeopleTalk Magazine. If you’re interested in contributing to our People & Perspectives section, CONTACT US with your name, email and let us know if you are a CPHR BC & Yukon member and we will be in touch.
HR professionals have a complicated relationship with data.
In an earlier article, I referenced my own experiences with HR data dating back 15 years. At that time, data was the ‘it’ topic in HR. The thought leaders of the day believed HR data, in tandem with qualitative inputs (a functional specialty), would sell organizations on a more ‘human’ path forward. When we arrived at the destination, HR would be well-positioned as true strategic partners.
Except in a lot of organizations, not much changed.
Instead, HR, though now armed with an overwhelming volume of data, was tasked only with creating scorecards & distributing reports. Rather than take on a strategic mandate, too many HR departments instead dutifully reconciled headcount, tracked training completion & reported on employee turnover.
Our future proved nothing more than a dream. Our reality was unchanged.
HR Data as a Hammer
Before long, others began to ‘quantify’ HR, in a lot of cases leveraging the very HR data we had been tracking. A myriad of vendors consultants developed assessments, leadership reviews & surveys to quantify everything from happiness, trust & commitment, to name but a few.
Absent of HR influence (or sometimes in spite of it) a lot of these programs when introduced into organizations became pass/fail. We kept score & developed rankings; there were clear winners & losers. Poor performances often came with consequences.
In far too many meetings, there was accountability, though no coaching. Another unintended result? Under pressure to perform, we started to see the worst in people.
Unfortunately I’ve led a few investigations where a business leader manipulated HR data to achieve a more favourable result. In one case, a leader completed dozens of fraudulent employee surveys to inflate their overall worksite engagement score. In another, a leader bribed their employees with promises of salary increases in exchange for more favourable feedback about their leadership.
Why? In both cases the result became more important than what it signified.
I’ve seen this repeatedly over my career in many contexts. When discipline enters into the equation, behaviour changes. People become guarded, suspicious & in some cases develop unhealthy fixations with a result.
A poor result becomes an unbearable risk. Errors in judgment follow.
Most HR professionals joined (or chose to remain in) the HR profession out of a desire to enable people. Though in organizations where HR data is an impetus for corrective action, partners become adversaries. It’s hard to build trust with a function who can, based on a single poor metric result, be tasked with supporting your corrective action.
More broadly, in cases where organizational trust is lacking, you will spend your limited time debating the recency, accuracy & legitimacy of the data. You will waste time, stress relationships & ratchet up political maneuvering.
You won’t be discussing (or solving for) root cause issues.
Data Without Context Has Little Value
Matt Burns will be speaking at the HR Conference + Tradeshow, April 2nd & 3rd in Vancouver. To register CLICK HERE.
It’s true that data, viewed as an indicator, can reveal opportunities that require your attention as a leader. Those that have worked with me know I love analogies. I have often likened solving problems in business to trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Data (alone) doesn’t pinpoint the needle; it reduces the size of the haystack.
To lean on a singular data point to assess performance is an unfair simplification in nearly every scenario. Turnover, for example, is subject not only to multiple controllable variables within the four-walls of an organization, but also multiple factors (economic, regulatory, etc.) that are outside the control of a single organization, let alone a single individual.
Data requires context. The most effective method I’ve found in establishing context – a conversation. Enter the HR professional.
It’s 2018 & we again have a golden opportunity to leverage HR data as a profession.
Not in its tracking or its reporting. In its application.
If your organization’s intention & that of its leaders, is truly to improve performance & not simply to punish, remove the disciplinary implications from your HR data.
Instead use HR data as a starting point. As an opportunity to add context & understand both the local & broader organizational influences. When the potential for discipline is removed from consideration, stakeholders become less-defensive & more collaborative. Rather than engage in protracted, petty, political back-and-forths, they will reach out for help & partner with you to identify & solve the problem(s).
The stakeholder brings the on-the-ground context. The HR professional brings data & the expertise to blend the qualitative & quantitative. Together you’ll solve the problem.
What was once adversarial, becomes mutually-beneficial.
If accountability is an important part of your organization’s culture, you can still include it under very specific circumstances. I’m an advocate for corrective action in cases of poor integrity (as listed above) & when there is no partnership in creating / implementing an action plan. We don’t punish you for a result; we hold you accountable for taking action(s) to achieve the solution.
The key lies in context & in creating an environment where opportunities are quickly identified, openly discussed & ultimately solved in partnership with stakeholders.
HR professionals – it’s time to take back our data & use it to illuminate, not punish.
Matt Burns, Founder & CEO, Global HR Collective
Matt Burns’ nearly 20-year corporate journey has taken him around the world, supporting companies with operations in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia & South America. In his previous HR Executive role, Matt led an HR team that was recognized in 2018 as the ‘Canadian HR Team of the Year – Retail / Hospitality’, on the heels of their 2017 award for the: ‘Most Innovative Use of HR Technology’.
Matt is passionate about innovation, technology, and the need for change within the HR profession. Through thought leadership, he’s developed a global audience of over 200,000 by tackling challenges facing the HR profession today, while also advising a number of HR technology organizations, to better enable HR departments of the future.
Matt’s own future is guided by purpose. On October 1, 2018, Matt announced the launch of the Global HR Collective, social enterprise to raise $1M for grassroots charities supporting mental health advocacy & women entrepreneurs.
Get ready for a high-energy discussion that blends passion, purpose & a bias for action that is sure to leave you with simple, actionable tactics. Read more from Matt on LinkedIn.
When you’re named one of Canada’s most creative people, you find different, more innovative ways to do things.
So when we asked Ron Tite, keynote speaker at the upcoming HR Conference + Tradeshow in Vancouver, B.C., to answer a few questions via email for a Q & A feature, we should have known his responses would have been a little bit different from our other keynote speakers.
Rather then spell out his answers, Ron took the time to answer the following questions via video:
Why are the three words, “THINK, DO, SAY” so integral to how organizations communicate and market their brand or product?
What is the “integrity gap” and how has it widened for many in the modern era?
How can HR professionals help organizations surpass that integrity gap?
How has the online realm changed the world of recruiting for organizations and job seekers?
How can greater diversity within a workplace help create greater organizational alignment?
Thank you very much Ron for putting this together and sharing your insights on leadership, brand management, business and HR with our audience.
Watch the video below to hear Ron’s answers.
5 Thoughts On HR & Business With One Of Canada's Most Creative People Ron Tite - YouTube
Relevant, engaging, and interactive, Ron Tite exceeds expectations each and every time he takes the stage. Named one of the “Top 10 Creative Canadians” by Marketing Magazine, he’s been an award-winning advertising writer and creative director for some of the world’s most respected brands, including Air France, Evian, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, and Volvo. Addressing a variety of topics surrounding branding, corporate strategy, creativity, content, and social media, Tite’s presentations are not only information-packed, they’re also infused with his unique humour–guaranteed to have you laughing while you learn.
Currently, Tite is Founder and CEO of Church & State, a content marketing agency based in Toronto. His work has been recognized by The London International Advertising Awards, The New York Festivals of Advertising, The Crystals, The Extras, The Canadian Marketing Association, and The Marketing Awards, to name just a few.
Tite is also executive producer and host of the Canadian Comedy Award-winning show Monkey Toast, and publisher of the award-winning and bestselling humour book, This is That Travel Guide to Canada, with CBC Radio’s hit show, This is That. He has written for a number of other television series, penned a children’s book, and wrote, performed, and produced the play, The Canadian Baby Bonus.
READ MORE about Ron’s keynote speech: THINK. DO. SAY. A Guide for Personal and Corporate Success in a Busy, Busy World
READ MORE about Ron’s breakout presentation: The Coup: How to Lead and Create Disruption Within Organizations and Industries
The longer we stay in a role, the higher the chances of our interests and values drifting away from the values of an organization.
Things evolve within our lives and ourselves and, as we mature, the connection to our work changes—even if the work itself remains static.
Highlighting this ongoing internal change is the pace of change all surround us, which seems to demand we keep up. Nonetheless, we are most often assigned to tasks/projects or promoted based on what others see in us, not what we want or aspire to be. Take for instance the talented bench scientist who ends up managing teams and budgets, not because she enjoys it, but because she was promoted into the role by someone who thought she would be a great manager.
External factors also play a role in changing the meaningful connection we have to our work. According to the Institute for Mergers and Acquisitions and Alliances, in 2017 a new record was broken in terms of transaction numbers—with 3,512 transactions occurring in Canada.
Indeed, more and more of us have experienced a merger, or an acquisition, which can lead to immediate staffing changes, or a slow and gradual migration from old culture to new. Because of these external forces, coupled with internal change in our values and interests, it is not just Millennials who are finding appeal in idea of working in a meaningful environment.
Step 1: Face Your Fears
It takes courage to leave a job, especially if you don’t have the next one lined up. People may not like their jobs and may not find them meaningful, but they feel that they don’t have a choice. Mortgage payments, child care costs, and general living expenses are front of mind, and leaving a ”job” to find more meaningful work is a risk that very few people are willing to take.
Many of you reading this article may feel this or know someone on your team who does; you don’t like what you are doing, but you are unwilling to make a change because you don’t know what is out there, are afraid of not finding something, or are afraid that no one will hire you. Fear of the unknown is preventing a great many from taking the individual steps needed to make the working world not only work, but thrive.
As with any great challenge, the quest for meaning on an individual and organizational level requires a steadfast commitment to facing fears before moving forward.
Step 2: Let Go
As a career transition counsellor specializing in outplacement, I have worked with thousands of individuals who have no choice but to look for work. For many of them, when they receive the news that their role is being eliminated (effective immediately), there is a profound sense of loss.
Research conducted by Holmes and Rahe, and the resulting stress inventory generated, suggests that job loss is the eighth most stressful life event out of a possible 43. However, once people work through this stress, they will often use the word ‘relief’ to describe their new emotional state. Why? Because many were not engaged employees.
When changes need to be made at work and positions need to be cut as part of restructuring, it is often the disengaged who are chosen. Why? My experience being on-site for hundreds of terminations is that disengaged employees are not performing because they do not find the work meaningful, and can be seen in the way they show up. They are perfectly capable of doing the work, and could possibly be top performers in another setting, but they are uninspired, disconnected and, as a result, underperforming.
Moreover, while no one likes to be let go, the benefit is that suddenly we have an opportunity to pause, take a moment and realign what we are doing with what we want to be doing. Unexpected job loss gives us the ability to steer ourselves towards a role and an environment that gives us energy instead of takes energy from us.
Step 3: Think About The Future
Sometimes the best thing for a disengaged, unmotivated employee is for them to leave and find meaning in another organization, but this doesn’t always happen. So what can organizations be doing to build meaning in the work employees are engaged with?
Through a series of creative social experiments using Legos, Dr. Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University, was able to isolate several factors that were positively correlated with labourers completing repetitive tasks. Taking the time to review someone’s work—even just looking at what they had created and complimenting them—resulted in a higher chance of workers continuing to work a project to completion, even if they were compensated less and less as the project continued. Similarly, when people had their finished Lego structures disassembled in front of them, or placed out of view, they were less likely to continue because they did not perceive their work to be meaningful.
Step 4: Find A Meaningful Balance
Unfortunately, we are not all blessed with what are meaningful roles and sometimes we drift away from meaning because of changes in ourselves, as well in our work and global environment. On the other hand, your work might actually be very meaningful, but just not to you. Working in a high-paying, mind-numbing role could be very meaningful to your family, as it provides your family with options, but other options, more meaningfully aligned, always exist.
Then there are those of us who are fortunate to work in an environment that positively affirms and recognizes the work we do. Where we find meaning in work we find good fortune. Where we help others find greater meaning in their work—either with us or elsewhere—far greater organizational pictures are served.
Howie Outerbridge is vice president with LoganHR, a full-service career transition, compensation and talent management firm and member of VF Career Management.?
There was a time when people were so happy to have a job that they put up with just about anything to take home that precious pay cheque. The idea of management caring about employee experience seemed laughable.
And while that still may be the case in some organizations, employers are increasingly paying attention to the employee experience.
“It really impacts employee satisfaction, which impacts retention, productivity—it becomes almost part of the contract. It ultimately affects the bottom line big-time,” explains Caroline Schein, CPHR, vice-president, human resources, at Vancity Credit Union.
Where Employee Experience Begins
“Employee experience starts at all the touch points, everything the employee experiences with the organization, from the moment you’re on their radar, through to them being organizational alumni,” says Schein. “The need for a positive employee experience is becoming more and more understood. The market has changed; it’s no longer in the hands of the employer. It’s twice as hard to find good people.”
“I worked in retail in the ‘90s. Remember you would get a foosball table to be cool and help engagement, or be the Friday beer person? That’s not employee experience—we’re shifting how we look at it,” Schein explains. “If I look at the ‘90s, I wanted employees to have a good experience—training, check; onboarding,
Caroline Schein, CPHR
check; compensation, check. Now I’m looking at the whole employee experience, the workplace experience.
“They have emotional needs (a purpose), intellectual needs (learning, career development) and a physical space; people work in different locations and you need to establish the where, the how, and the technology that will allow them to do their best work in collaboration with others,” Schein adds. “It’s really every touchpoint.”
Leadership, Learning & Autonomy
Christine Monaghan, principal at C.M. Coaching, recognizes the same importance but describes it differently. “The ideal employee experience begins and ends with leadership. If the approach is focused on optimum employee experience, coupled with learning, a sense of responsibility—it allows for the optimal return on investment,” Monaghan says. “Employees need to have clear expectations that are focused and can be measured, have inspired guidance and creative autonomy, which allows them to do in their own unique way that which sets companies apart.”
However, all too often, that isn’t what Monaghan sees among her clientele. “The gap between goal setting and achieving is the stress management piece. Many employees and leaders are running on their reserve energy tank. It creates unnecessary costs. You can make the connection between employee energy depletion and ROI depletion. It takes more than Friday events—they’re just going back to the same culture that’s depleting their reserves.”
“Being worn out has become a badge of honour, but it has immense mental health-related costs. Society in general is addicted to stress and sees it as being normal. The statistics speak for themselves—there’s a stress epidemic and it’s crippling people. Thirty per cent of Canadian disability claims are related to mental health. Presenteeism, where employees show up but aren’t engaged, costs Canadian employers $22 billion a year,” Monaghan explains. “We’re bankrupting employee energy, productivity and potential. That’s why the employee experience is so key to a company succeeding and prospering.”
The Evolution of Employee Experience
Part of what’s changed the perspective around the employee experience are the job seekers themselves; people now have choices. “You may only have them for three to five years, if that. It’s more important than ever to create an awesome, positive employee experience. Employees have changed their expectations because they could easily go elsewhere,” explains Tierra Madani, CPHR candidate, human resources manager for Vancouver Island Brewing (VIB) and CPHR BC & Yukon’s 2018 Rising Star.
“They’re looking for wellbeing, a place where they can contribute and feel it, where they can be results-oriented and are able to align with the company’s values. There is a bit of market and general influence—people talk about Millennials looking for the next shiny new thing—that comes with the start-up culture,” says Madani. “And when people find there’s not enough for them through several workplaces, they start their own.”
The 4 Keys to Employee Experience
Madani defines the key elements of employee experience as:
Transparency and open feedback: An open and ongoing line of communication between employee and manager is essential For example, in VIB’s performance management system, employees also give feedback to their managers. People get peer reviews. It gives them multiple perspectives.
Recognition and incentive: The important thing is incentivizing what’s important to the employees—not just a gift card. VIB has creative incentive programs that help feed into the pride of the employees.
Ambassadorship and advocacy: Madani stands behind VIB’s employees as their best asset and inspires their initiative. For example, in their Cap-It program, they have been trying to drive employees to go to their accounts’ businesses and drink a beer there. Or have them ask about their beer at a new establishment and see if it might become an account. VIB gained two new accounts this way in a month. Then the employees enter their receipt into a draw for a gift card to one of the new account establishments and get reimbursement for a meal and a beer.
Celebrate every win: Last year, VIB had a 100 Days of Winning program in the summer. After having gone through two re-brands in a year and a half, they felt the need to celebrate their employees, so every day an email was sent out celebrating a win from the day before. It might have been confirming an order, building a great display, becoming a grandma—any personal or business win. The wall was filled with 100 wins. Employees were responsible for it all.
“We’re creative in our recognition and it’s pretty successful,” Madani says.“We also have a monthly meeting where we recognize two or three employees who’ve gone above and beyond with the
Tierra Madani, CPHR candidate
Three Cheers Award, like the rep who had to take a ferry to deliver a last-minute keg to a customer. There are a variety of things we highlight and recognize.”
A Reciprocity of Trust Required & The 3 Legs of Employee Experience
“I believe the employee experience starts with whether or not an employee is engaged,” says Dan Pontefract, author of Open to Think, The Purpose Effect, and Flat Army. “I argue that employee experience is akin to there being reciprocal trust between the employee and employer to do what’s right, however, whenever and with whomever.
“It matters because if there is no trust, it erodes any opportunity for an employee engagement experience. Trust is where it all starts – if there’s none, there’s no hope for an employee to serve the customers or fill the job role adequately. Employees are looking for the ability to think, be creative, make decisions and do things,” explains Pontefract.
“You can’t just tell them what to do. In a world with democratized content and the ability to reach out to anyone on the planet, we’re still shackling people by job title or team or job description. We’re competing for employees internally instead of with our competition, to the detriment of the employee experience. It’s like Game of Thrones,” he adds.
There are three legs to employee experience, Pontefract says:
Culture should be collaborative, open, transparent, proactive, genuine, trusting, inclusive and recognizing the development of people
Purpose should help people remember why they’re at work – just for money and power, or to balance profit with a higher purpose. What’s the point of being in business? To help the world, to serve a higher purpose than we are today.
Thinking should happen more. Busy-ness has become gold star worthy, freneticism is an achievement and being distracted gains checkmarks. All of this prevents good thinking. The culture and purpose for manifesting thinking is necessary for long-term success, growth and economic wellbeing. However, far too many are too busy to recognize it to begin with.
A lot of Leader, Still Stuck in the Past
Pontefract doesn’t believe the majority of workplaces value the positive employee experience, yet. “There are some who recognize the importance of the employee experience, but data and evidence suggest the opposite—that far too many men and women are not acting benevolently and don’t care about employees.”
“Leaders are stuck in the scientific principle of a leadership style that dictates rather than empowers, demands rather than asks, controls rather than collaborates, isolates rather than cultivates, ignores rather than recognizes, and purposely disengages rather than engages,” says Pontefract. “Back in 1911, Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management said managers should drive as much as they could out of employees with no regard to their health or wellbeing.
“Society is still bent on profit. That isn’t bad, but leaders have lost the critical balance of collaboration and employee wellbeing in their purpose-driven mindset for profit and power. The result is disaffected employees who are finding purpose elsewhere,” says Pontefract. “It’s a frightening time for employees. They’re out in the gig economy doing things they love and care about. Eventually as Millennials and Gen Z earn a living getting gigs, fewer people will want to work for companies.”
“If senior leadership is not involving everyone in how things are done or what the organizational norms are, if they’re hiding out on the top floor, it’s as good a top-down, hierarchical organization as I’ve seen,” Pontefract says. “We should ask employees how the organization should operate. They see the mistakes, the glitches and know how to improve processes. We need to involve other people.”
He cites the example of Netflix. “Over a 10-year period, it involved employees, from DVD mail order days to streaming, on what they wanted to be as an organization. Employees and the company
met in the middle, and created a culture deck that outlined 10 values and attributes. The company’s bottom line increased and it grew.”
When an organization is too hierarchical, growth is slow or even negative, such as it was for Kodak or Nortel, Pontefract says, adding that of the Fortune 500 list from 1955, only 60 of the same people remained in 2017. More than 400 of them changed. Some businesses were acquired, but arguably because they were using old practices in a new world and weren’t going to be able to keep up.
“When you involve employees, organizations win,” he concludes.
Workplace Culture a Key to Employee Experience
“It’s really a joint responsibility with give and get,” says Schein. “It’s the employer responsibility to ask for and listen to feedback. The employer must want to learn and evolve, to look at ways to
constantly improve, to makes things better, easier, to remove obstacles. The key elements are asking for feedback, then listening, and doing something about it.”
“It’s the employees’ responsibility to provide feedback, to want a good experience for themselves and for others. But if an employer ignores a problem they know exists, it negatively impacts employee experience,” she adds.
“Culture is such an important piece,” Schein says. “I inherited a large team of 80 people working in silos with a lack of trust, and a organizational culture—a departmental or divisional one. I did a survey at six months and asked them to describe the culture they wanted to have.
“Culture comes from what’s valued and what’s practised—the sense of purpose that employees feel,” Schein explains. “If someone isn’t aligned with the organization’s values, then it’s not a cultural fit and it impacts others’ experience. Also, we need to ensure those coming in feel a sense of belonging and set them up for success. Other employees have a responsibility for that, too.”
“If they define it, take accountability for it, this will enhance the experience if they collectively work together. It has to be a collaborative opportunity,” she adds. “It’s been a success. They’re having fun and holding each other accountable.”
“Culture and purpose can be your competitive advantage,” Pontrefact points out in agreement.
Leading by Example is a Must
Monaghan sees it differently. “The responsibility for employee experience largely falls on leaders, because I believe that employees take their cues from leadership and mostly emulate how that leadership shows up.”
“If the leader takes time for a 30-minute lunch every day, employees feel that’s a standard they can follow, as opposed to working 24/7. Their commitments, conversations and choices flow out of what they see their leaders model,” says Monaghan.
“Leadership must lead the employee experience. An organization can absolutely define and control its culture, but it has a responsibility to create a wealthy, healthy culture. That can be based on three things: improving time management, a preventive culture, and individual and collective goal setting with rewards,” she adds.
Hiring for Positive Employee Experience
The cultural fit that encourages a great employee experience is a factor right from the hiring process. “This is where hiring for a cultural fit comes into play. For example, we value member wellbeing and community impact over profit – it’s part of who we are. If someone isn’t aligned with our values, if they’re not a cultural fit, it will impact others’ experience,” says Schein.
“If a company is super clear on what commitments employees are going to be able to tap into, and works to preserve the employee’s inherent potential and convey this commitment during the hiring process and can discuss it, they’ll know if the person agrees with their culture,” Monaghan says. “We ask people, ‘Who is the next-best version of you going to be?’ The answers give us insights into what’s important to that person and their values.”
“When hiring, it all comes down to fit—he cultural fit and shared values,” says Madani. “Attitude is important because this is such a collaborative environment. We need team-oriented people who can also come up with great ideas on their own. These things trump education and experience. You can’t train attitude.”
“The employee experience starts with the company and what it decides the ideal employee experience will be, and what commitments are going to be made to help each employee grow into their next best version. Bold training, incentives, performance reviews, commitment to promoting from within—you can measure results if you’ve set commitments. It’s 100 per cent the responsibility of the company to set them, and then employees can step into 100 per cent responsibility of fulfilling it,” says Monaghan.
The 3 C’s: Commitments, Conversation and Choice
“You need to you create a solid foundation for employees from the get-go, following the three Cs (commitment, conversation, choice) and setting expectations with leaders who walk the walk,” says Monaghan. “Commitments, conversation and choice must be part of the employee experience every day. You need to focus on what employees want, versus what they don’t want, but don’t challenge out of a place of fear. “
A solutions-based communication culture can inspire engagement. Monaghan explains, “You have to implement communication across the company. It works if you work it, if everyone is leading with the same communication style. It reduces stress and decreases wasted time and productivity. If the company is proactive in creating solutions-based communication, it will save money, increase retention, reduce presenteeism. It will set them apart.”
Above All Else, A Team Effort is Required
“Employees want to be valued, safe, rewarded for actualizing their potential, to belong to a vision larger than themselves, and to be loved,” Monaghan says. “We have to slow down long enough to set people up so they can win. If we don’t, we’re working against ourselves, and it’s very hard to win.”
“The employer provides the resources, but it’s up to the employee to take advantage of them,” Madani adds. “It’s still up to the employer to follow up, to get feedback. It’s a step that’s often missed, especially at higher levels. To execute the plan, you have to keep the team engaged and deliver on planning. You need feedback from the team to succeed.”
“Talk to the key players who are affected, from the bottom up. We’ve gone through a lot of change management here in the past few years and now we’re as flat an organization as we can be with group or team decision-making,” says Madani. “We have folks who’ve been through similar experiences before, so why not give them the opportunity to discuss and share what they know?”
“We have to be flexible,” Madani maintains. “For example, we have a daily 9:17 a.m. stand-up meeting where each employee shares a win from the day before and their goal for today. It improves internal communications, enables collaboration and helps people “own” winning.”
“An organization can’t define its culture all by itself, or people will come to resent it,” Madani adds. “We derived our company values out of what our team members thought should be up on that board.”
In short, it’s part of a powerful and positive—yet fundamentally “everyday”—employee experience.
Nancy Painter is an award-winning communication consultant and writer based in Surrey. She is an active member in both the International Association of Business Communicators and the Professional Writers Association of Canada.
Francesca Gino once said, “When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively and have less defensive reactions to stress.”
Every year at our CPHR BC & Yukon HR Conference + Tradeshow in Vancouver, we see an array of new and seasoned health and wellness programs being offered to the HR and business community. While innovative programs might create breakthroughs and attract more employee participation, we wonder:
what does it really take to raise the bar on wellness programs?
What makes them thrive?
What makes a difference?
Today, let’s be curious, explore and identify some internal and external factors leading to sustainable, better health and wellness for the workplace as a whole, and its people.
Technology + Togetherness = Wellness
As we know, productivity tends to shift upwards when employees have increased levels of energy and stamina from reaching and sustaining their fitness goals. Moreover, with increasing technology applied to the wellness spectrum, it is easier to provide effective programs and tools with which employees can keep track of their fitness goals and progress towards them.
Yet, while technology facilitates the process of engaging such goals, it does not necessarily engage team spirit on its own. Finding ways to use technology while stimulating a collective élan optimizes its use while supporting a cultural shift towards health and fitness.
For example, in one client company I worked with, team members were encouraged to purchase a Fitbit. As they used it consistently over at least eight weeks and reached their initial goals, they were refunded for that purchase. Then, employees enjoyed challenging each other towards their next level of steps and fitness by setting up contests across teams where winners were rewarded with gift cards.
Buy-in from Leadership is Key
In conversation with Meaghan Jansen, owner and corporate wellness specialist at Employee Wellness Solutions Network, I learned that one way to boost effectiveness of a wellness program is to create momentum with a campaign including posters, a mini-health fare and various appealing tools. Jansen explains, her company is “all about prevention and proactivity,” affirming the importance of “getting the conversation going while raising awareness on risks of preventable health issues.”
Jansen said her programs often produce an ROI of three to one and generate better levels of energy and morale among employees, while reducing turnover. Not surprisingly, she observed that the programs with highest levels of engagement—including onsite health coaches—produce the bigger changes. To reach impressive results takes time though; when it comes to health and wellness, there is no “quick fix.” Instead, a strong program eventually helps instil employees with new habits and produces change in the workplace culture whereby they encourage each other to reach or sustain their goals.
This is where the concept of ROI meets VOC (value-on-caring) head on—albeit with support from more than the HR team alone. Jansen affirms that these programs “fail or succeed largely depending on the level of buy-in from managers and leaders.” Leading by example, again at all levels, is very important here; as “people” regardless of title participate and encourage others, a positive ripple effect reaches across the layers of organizational structure.
Big-value on a Small Budget
When budgets are limited, there are still numerous ways to create excellent and effective health and wellness programs. For example, the City of Vancouver has been a pioneer with their health-promoting programs programs—and health enhancement co-ordinator Kate Lekas has been the main driver of this department for over
25 years. In conversation, she proudly mentions that their Fit City program, which started on a shoestring budget, won a 2016 Gold Award from Wellness Fits, a program created by the Canadian Cancer Society and the BC Government.
Describing parts of their wellness program, Lekas explained that employees can earn points for health-supporting behaviours and activities. This includes all forms of exercise—dancing, yoga, walking, gym, etc.—and, with sustainable living in mind, also includes points that can be earned for composting or car pooling.
Lekas emphasized that part of the success of their program is that there is something for everyone and their specific strengths, needs and limitations. When points add up to certain amounts, prizes can be earned such as caps, water bottles, sport socks, all with the City logo and used with pride by employees. With the use of metrics, they also determined that the most active program participants have fewer sick days, are more productive, engaged and loyal to their employer.
Acknowledging that mental heath issues are becoming more prevalent, Lekas said chronic stress, depression and anxiety are among common issues these days. Along with emphasizing the importance of prevention and exercise to counter stress, the City’s wellness efforts also include promotion of resilience and stress management strategies and tools.
Drawing on Curiosity Supports Wellness
Consider the recent report from Morneau Shepell on HR trends and preoccupations of HR professionals. It reveals that mental health and chronic stress are among increasing concerns. Looking deeper into prevention on the intrinsic side, curiosity is currently standing out as a basic human attribute that can benefit business, culture and employees alike.
In the Sept/Oct 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School explains, in The Business Case for Curiosity, that curiosity strengthens and improves engagement and collaboration while often reducing stress. According to her research, curiosity is also linked to a greater level of agility and enthusiasm in helping the company perform and succeed.
However, Gino points to two typical barriers to embracing curiosity in business:
A resistance to questioning the status quo
And seeking to bypass exploration in favour of efficiency
Referring to high-profile companies in the Silicon Valley, Gino suggests that when the culture actually values curiosity, HR professionals are more likely to hire with that attribute in mind. In turn, when leaders model inquisitiveness and emphasize the importance of learning goals, the barriers fade out as the benefits of curiosity rise in people’s awareness.
As part of her research, Gino found curiosity encourages empathy as employees listen to each other, allowing them to better communicate and collaborate. Applying curiosity to health and wellness programs could foster innovation, new possibilities and increased participation with all benefits ensuing.
Self-compassion as Workplace Inner Resource
While interpersonal communication is a proven business imperative, the lesser known intrapersonal dimension includes self-compassion, which is currently becoming known as an antidote to stress in conflicted situations.
In her article, “Give Yourself a Break: The Power of Self-Compassion,” Serena Chen, professor at University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that when faced with setbacks—such as being overlooked for a promotion or an interpersonal conflict—employees typically become defensive and blame others, or berate themselves. Both reactions aggravate stress, set up negative self-talk, and prevent employees from learning from what happened. Unfortunately, we tend to be our own worst critics.
Citing several formal studies, Chen concludes that those who respond to setbacks, failed attempts or conflicts with self-compassion are more likely to arrive at a realistic self-appraisal which is the foundation for self-improvement. Rather than falling into self-complacency or defeatism, this realistic view of self also fosters a growth mindset fostering the ability to summon the grit needed to enhance personal/professional skills and change physical/mental wellness-related habits.
Now, as HR professionals embrace self-compassion and curiosity, while instigating out-of-the-box health and fitness programs, you become catalysts in the drive for excellence while supporting the culture and its people to thrive in wellness and productivity.
Professional speaker, author and business coach, Isabelle St-Jean, RSW, PCC brings to her clients two decades of experience in leading, educating and providing practical solutions to major work/life challenges and transitions.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, part of the motivation for the bill was to to “give women more information when negotiating compensation that is equal to their male peers”—in short, pay equity. The legislation would:
Require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range
Bar employers from asking a job candidate about their past compensation
Prohibit reprisals against employees who discuss or disclose compensation
Establish a framework to require larger employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, to be determined through consultation
At some workplaces, you may have been asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding your pay. Under this legislation, firms would not legally be allowed to do that. However, regardless of the law, most people find themselves in a work culture where wages are not discussed.
A Call for Kudos (With Caveats)
This bill not only seeks to empower job seekers, but pushes for a direct change in workplace culture. Although it promises to address gender pay gaps, it’s not clear how much the bill would help employees in salary negotiations. For example, although potential hires are not required to reveal previous compensation, employers are free to make them feel like they need to.
Also, under this bill, although employers are required to revealed a salary rate or range before any negotiation takes place, a low wage could be chosen to anchor the salary at or below the industry average. Similarly, a chosen range could be shifted down to take advantage of the psychology of meeting in the middle.
While the Pay Transparency Act only applies within Ontario, organizations everywhere can always develop their own transparency policy. Companies that have implemented a transparency policy have found they stand out in recruitment efforts, have stronger corporate culture with higher retention and possess stronger employee loyalty. This acts as a cushion during inevitable economic downturns. Despite the benefits, the requisite need for a culture shift likely remains the biggest barrier for those seeking to embrace the potential.
‘Radical’ Transparency Already in Play
Buffer, an eight-year-old digital marketing platform used by 80,000+ firms, including Microsoft, has implemented what they call radical transparency. They post every employee’s name and salary on their website including how they calculate their pay! Check it out here.
Buffer’s CEO and co-founder, Joel Gascoigne, who makes exactly $225, 518 a year, believes it builds a sense of fairness and has had a positive effect on recruitment, bringing over 2,000 applications for five-10 positions at any time, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Even so, Gascoigne admits, “Some employees were reluctant at first… but none has had any problems because of the exposure.”
One issue with their algorithmic way of calculating wage is that there is “no negotiation” regarding salary—something that plenty of talent from hot-tech cities might not appreciate. Business Insider reported that Buffer’s pay transparency policy resulted “in a decrease in applications from San Francisco and New York City” despite the overall high volume.
Other companies with a form of radical transparency include the grocery mega-firm Whole Foods, Bridgewater, SumAll, Verve, Zappos and Patagonia.
To be Clear About Transparency
While there are plenty of notable transparency pioneers, people often talk about transparency like it’s optional. They fail to understand that transparency exists inherently to a certain degree in any collection of people working together. Transparency relates to the quality of interactions which is core to the very idea of business; transfers of value. This brings us to a good question—what is transparency exactly?
Behind the buzz, transparency is a multifaceted macro-variable involving honesty, communication, accountability, trust, as well as the accessibility, quantity and quality of information. It’s also not always clear how these factors interact.
Consider whether transparency policies affect an increase in trust or whether it’s strong trust among employees that’s needed for transparency to have an effect? It’s likely that all the elements of transparency are interdependent and there’s plenty of literature on the subject. Any discussion of transparency that doesn’t acknowledge its nuanced nature will fall short. As a buzzword, transparency is far too often used in a carefree way.
It’s common thought that transparency increases employee trust in an organization and that it helps make individual decision making more efficient. However, is it really transparency that’s responsible?
A joint study in the European Economic Review suggests that its the interpersonal communication itself (independent of the transparency) that returns the benefits from transparent communication. Is this a huge blow for transparency advocates? Not exactly. It’s common knowledge that communication fosters productivity between people. Transparency means there are more things employees can discuss and a culture for those discussions to actually happen.
Transparency policy does produce benefits as Buffer and others have shown. There are a number of ways that transparency benefits an organization, one of which is employee feedback.
The Feedback on Transparency
In her INBOUND talk (WATCH VIDEO), Kim Scott, a CEO coach who has had management responsibilities at Google and Apple, describes what she calls “radical candor”, her 21st century re-formulation of tough-love management.
In her book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Scott tells a story of an employee she really liked but who didn’t produce good work. She says she engaged in “ruinous empathy” by failing to directly challenge his poor performance despite caring for him. Eventually, she was forced to fire him or divide the team. During her inevitable confrontation about his poor performance, he plead “Why didn’t you tell me?” Ouch. Scott realized she had failed to provide transparent feedback.
Such critical conversations and employee engagement are a complicated phenomenon that involve a number of factors. Feedback is one of the key metrics that we have identified at Jalapeño Employee Engagement. As we saw with ruinous empathy, transparency is an important factor in effective feedback, which suggests it might impact employee engagement more broadly.
Engaging the Quantity and Quality of Information
In their 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report, Quantum Workplace identify the six top drivers of engagement. The drivers are listed as statements in the order of most agreement by engaged employees:
The leaders of this organization are committed to making it a great place to work
I trust the leaders of this organization to set the right course
I believe this organization will be successful in the future
The leaders of the organization value people as their most important resource
I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization
I trust the senior leadership team to lead the company to future success
Drivers of engagement numbers two, three and six rely on faith in their leader’s commitment to the organization’s success and drivers one, two, three, four and six relate to leadership integrity and trust. This insight resonates with the “quantity and quality of information” definition of transparency.
Having a sense of where the company is and where it’s going, as well as a sense of who the leaders are and what their values are, is necessary for every top driver of employee engagement. Effective employee engagement is maximized only if transparency is embraced in principle and practice, but there is an ideal limit on transparency.
Transparency is Radical (Not Total)?
Ray Dalio, an American billionaire and founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates (mentioned earlier), wrote Principles, a book that encourages corporations to adopt a policy of “radical transparency.” Radical transparency means giving unconventional levels of free, open access to otherwise sensitive corporate information.
“Don’t get me wrong, radical transparency is not the same as total transparency. It just means much more transparency than is typical,” Dalio clarifies. “We do keep some things confidential, such as private health matters or deeply personal problems, sensitive details about intellectual property or security issues, the timing of a major trade, and at least for the short term, matters that are likely to be distorted, sensationalized, and harmfully misunderstood if leaked to the press.”
Some other possible drawbacks of transparency-gone-wrong are information overload, unproductive second guessing from lower management, resentment due to salary differences, reduction in creativity due to over-scrutinizing superiors/clients and the possibility of information being used with malicious intent.
That said, a company that publicly embraces transparency in principle and practice will attract people that resonate with the principle and thrive in such an environment. Those negative effects are more likely in companies with workplace culture that have yet to undergo the needed shift towards transparency. Those firms won’t have those ‘principled’ players in place, making the shift more challenging. To be fair, every business decision carries risk and cultural changes have some of the least precise ROIs even though the evidence for the benefits is clear and accurate.
Such cases of “culture shock” could be diminished by rolling out transparency policy while scaling or during periods of higher turnover so people can be selected whose values align with transparency. Even better, entrepreneurs could decide to have a solid transparency policy from the start of a business.
So how can we tie all of these concepts together: the need for transparency, its relationship with feedback and the question of pay transparency?
Salary IS a Form of Feedback?Pay transparency is special. It has great potential for driving engagement while being a sensitive tool that, as we have seen, can backfire. One concern with implementing pay transparency is that some employees might be emotionally invested in their wage and see differences with colleagues as differences in personal worth.
An article by Julian Birkinshaw and Dan Cable in McKinsey Quarterly titled, “The Dark Side of Transparency,” makes a compelling argument for the cause of this perception. According to the authors, ”[There exists a] psychological phenomenon of social comparison, whereby people have a need to compare themselves to others… Perceiving our ratio of rewards to contributions as worse than other people’s creates mental dissonance that can spiral into envy, distraction, stealing, withdrawing effort, or quitting.”
However, in a very real sense, transparency isn’t optional; there is always a responsibility to provide frequent, insightful feedback to employees. Pay transparency adds the extra responsibility of understanding and harnessing the fact that salaries are a form of feedback. What does that look like?
Consider pay transparency as an opportunity to publicly reward employees who show desirable behaviour. Since everyone is aware of everyone else’s increase in salary, the high achievers can serve as exemplars. Jalapeño has found that some workplaces lack role models and this alone could single handedly shatter the 80/20 rule (that 80 per cent of work is done by 20 per cent of the employees).
The Good With the Bad
Even so, disciplinary action can be unavoidable. Remember, avoiding tough feedback is ruinous empathy. Dane Atkinson, the CEO and co-founder of SumAll, a firm that engages in pay transparency, reported that he had to reduce some employees’ pay in certain cases. If he didn’t, their salaries would have been seen as unfair and the valuable, sensitive employee-employer trust would have been broken.
It was also noted that “[pay] transparency shifts the burden to the dissatisfied employee to ask for a raise.” One might see this as a burden, but implemented properly it empowers employees. Despite Buffer’s “no negotiation” policy regarding their algorithmic salary calculator, they do allow exceptions if a strong enough argument can be made before a committee.
Opaque salary policies inherently carry both the logical question of whether an employee is being paid fairly and the lingering emotional frustration of whether they should feel ripped off. This could be quelled by strong employer trust but, as we’ve seen, transparency reinforces trust.
While pay transparency has clear benefits, transparency regarding bonuses has not been shown to be effective. In one case, when a firm was clear about the way bonuses were evaluated, employees gamed the system. Instead of being an unexpected reward, the bonuses built a culture of competition where not receiving a bonus felt like negative feedback—as if bonuses were part of their baseline salary. It resulted in decreased trust in the employers and a significant decrease in the employees’ sense of fairness regarding bonuses.
At Jalapeño, we faced a scenario with a Vancouver company where the lack of role models or a clear definition of “good” work made self-improvement difficult for employees. In this scenario, we might recommend strategic salary raises and/or bonuses if it’s feasible.
When a business embraces transparency—in principle and in policy—they stand out during recruitment and experience lower turnover, higher employee loyalty and stronger employee-employer trust; as a result, they have higher employee engagement and higher profits.
Understandably, there are limits to what businesses should be transparent about, including sensitive information, industry secrets, security information, the timing of deals and bonuses.
Alternately, transparency needs to flow from the top and throughout an organization, supported by ongoing communication and feedback. As research and experience shows, employees need to trust their leadership and to have a sense of where the company is and where it’s going in order to be fully engaged.
Since there’s always transparency to a certain degree in a business, companies must necessarily strive for a balance between transparency and privacy. The goal is to ensure the benefits are maximized and the drawbacks are minimized. To undervalue transparency, or worse, to be willfully ignorant of its necessity and benefits, will decrease employee engagement, stifle feedback and result in lower productivity and profits.
If unexplored opportunities for profit aren’t enough of a reason for businesses to adopt a transparency policy, consider what motivated the Ontario government legislation—social responsibility.
Luc Briedé-Cooper is the Marketing and Business Development Manager at Jalapeño Employee Engagement in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has a BSc. in Physics from the University of British Columbia.
Jalapeño is bringing their vision of a better workplace to life by helping firms to increase employee engagement and profits using Jalapeño’s powerful platform paired with professional services.”For updates regarding transparency legislation and information about employee engagement, visit Jalapeño Employee Engagement on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or check out our website.