Impacts of Part-Time Employment on Small Business

Owning and operating a successful small business has its challenges – long hours, limited resources and restricted staffing capabilities – especially when you operate in Downtown Vancouver, during a recession and in a competitive industry such as Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café.

Harrison Galleries and the The Buzz Cafe


For Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café, leveraging part-time employment is a means of reaching future goals and continuing to build their business. So, how do they do it? What’s their secret? Jennifer Harrison, Co-Owner shares her experience:


Hiring Part-Time Employees

Especially in small businesses, once an organization identifies the need for a vacancy (in our case, part-time) and develops an accurate position description, managers and/or business owners can begin the recruitment process. At Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café, co-owner Jennifer Harrison finds Craigslist to be a cost effective means of recruiting a part-time barista, aside from using referrals. On the same token, Jennifer relies on the clear representation of her part-time job advertisements to attract the ‘right’ candidate. Although she receives more than 40 applications per ad, Jennifer says that the success of her screening process for part-time employees is easily attributed to the clear communication of the role’s expectations – used in conjunction with a retention strategy (described below).

No matter how successful their recruitment process, Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café still struggles (like most small businesses) with organizational fit, engagement, retention, language barriers, communicating expectations, quality of applicants, and knowledge transfer after training – despite precautions taken. But, when recruitment is successful, part-time employees are used to bridge scheduling gaps, support budgetary capabilities, and fulfill a need our labour force possesses.


Retaining Part-Time Employees

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

According to Statistics Canada, “in 2012, 11.6% of working-age Canadians worked part-time, whereas 50.2% worked fulltime”. Of those part-time workers, 27.2% preferred to work full-time (making them involuntary part-time workers)2. Given these Statistics, Canadian businesses need to use effective retention strategies to make part-time roles more attractive to involuntary part-time workers.

In order to retain part-time employees, Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café offers a wide array of tangible and intangible benefits:

  1. Saturday or Sunday shift off each week, guaranteed
  2. Steady hours (eg. a minimum number of hours per week)
  3. Equal wages (eg. full-time and part-time staff earn the same rate)
  4. Consistent shifts (eg. no shift alterations by management/business owners)
  5. Flexibility (eg. employees can swap scheduled shifts as long as business needs are met)
  6. Open communication (eg. employees leave praise, ideas and concerns in an open log book)
  7. Understanding work-life balance (eg. Owners and other employees may cover shifts)
  8. A family-like company culture (eg. appreciation for one another/social atmosphere)

Despite these retention efforts, this small business still finds it challenging to compete with turnover and changing expectations of the part-time workforce. “The most common issue is that part-time employees expect to receive increased hours over time. However, I make it clear in the job advertisement, during the interview and upon hire that part-time hours will not change”1. For Jennifer Harrison (Co-Owner), this means spending more time on recruitment, interviews, training, and placement trials. However, with the professional connections she has made over the years she is able to limit the negative impacts that part-time employees and the challenges surrounding them have on her small business.


What retention strategies have you used to effectively leverage your part-time employees?


1 Interview: Harrison, Jennifer. Co-Owner, Harrison Galleries and The Buzz Café. 15 April 2014.


Redressing Engagement

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Redressing Engagement

Shortly after my last article was posted (February – The Month of Engagement[1]), I received a call from a colleague asking a very important question: ‘How can I measure the level of engagement in my organization?’ My answer, of course, was: ‘conduct an Employment Engagement Survey’.

An Employment Engagement Survey is a quick and easy way to measure the extent to which employees are committed to their work and the organization. According to Dale Carnegie & Associates Inc.: “Employees personalize their work through emotions felt about the company’s actions as a whole and about their immediate supervisor in particular. Those who emotionally connect in a positive way with an organization feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to stay with it, delivering superior work in less time and reducing turnover costs”.[2] In other words, retaining a superior workforce depends on efforts made by an employer in terms of best practice, affirmative action and employee engagement.


Getting Started

My first suggestion is always to look at, and assign weights to, all of the following areas within your organization:

  1. Productivity and morale
  2. Absenteeism and turnover
  3. Sales and customer satisfaction

Assigning weights to these areas will help ensure you develop questions that revolve around changes you want to observe in the future. Note: for some, these outcomes may weigh the same.

One caution I am adamant about, however, is this – it is possible an Employment Engagement Survey will yield a different result than you expect. For example, you may believe absenteeism and/or turnover is of greatest concern but soon discover morale is the bigger issue, according to employees. For this reason, it is wise to start with an equally weighted survey. Remember: you can always modify your survey.

Once weighted, you can start developing questions that dive deeper into the perceptions and emotions employees have on their role, colleagues, performance, pay, and organization. If you need help developing questions, Survey Monkey offers a free and simple template you can modify as you see fit[3].


Getting Further

After analyzing results from your survey I strongly suggest organizing focus groups to learn more about the responses employees provided. Focus groups are also a great way to reassure employees that their constructive feedback is welcomed and free from reprimand. Of course, you should make it clear that any constructive feedback given at a focus group be voiced with respect and remain factual.


Finally; another question posed by my colleague, with obvious concern, was: ‘How do I reassure my employees that their feedback will remain confidential and protect their identification?’ Simple – at the beginning of the survey, include a Statement of Confidentiality explaining just that. Or, you may consider a Third Party provider. Nonetheless, be sure it is clear to your employees why you are conducting the survey and how the information will be used. This will help minimize their possible concern for reprimand.





Mentor a Student from Southeast Asia through WeDu

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

Mentoring is an amazing experience when it’s done with the right spirit.  The reasons why people enter mentor/mentee relationships vary, but the purpose should be to build a supportive relationship that benefits both parties.  The idea of finding a mentor can be intimidating, but when the right people are paired, the benefits are endless.

People say that mentoring can help you get your foot in the door.  But I believe it’s more accurate to say that a mentor can show you what the door looks like, where the doors are located, and help you decide whether or not you actually want to walk through that door in the first place.

I’ve recently been introduced to an inspiring organization called WeDu.  Originally based in the UK, the purpose of the WeDu Fund is to connect mentees from Asia (primarily South East Asia) with mentors from outside their communities.  Mentees are referred to as Rising Stars at WeDu, and using whatever medium of online communication that works best for mentors and mentees, the pairs build mentoring relationships virtually. 

I work in Vancouver, British Columbia for example, but I may be mentoring a student from Thailand, Myanmar, or any of of the Least Developed Countries in the world (as determined by the United Nations).

I connected with Noor Teja, the Mentoring Coordinator at WeDu.  Noor is a Canadian working in Thailand, and this is her perspective:

“Wedu believes that one can foster leadership through life long mentorship. We do this by pairing a student with proven leadership potential with an experienced mentor and through a leadership development curriculum. Our Rising Star meets with their mentor twice a month for 2 hours at a time. Once a month they discuss their goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Their second monthly meeting is a piece of leadership development curriculum aimed at developing critical thinking by introducing topics of discussions which makes them questions social injustices happening around them.

Once a mentoring pair reaches a peer relationship instead of a mentor relationship, we rematch both parties.”

In addition to the mentoring program, WeDu hopes to build and sustain a student loan and future income sharing system meant to redirect repayments to supporting new students.  Ultimately, the hope is that through mentoring and leadership, Rising Stars will take on leadership roles in their communities.  WeDu has already begun to see success among its Rising Stars in Myanmar, who are now working with local NGO’s.

The majority of WeDu’s volunteers and financial support comes from Western sources, as described in the New York Times.  Through mentoring, WeDu is able to support young students from these challenging environments by connecting them with mentors who are able to discuss college and university admissions, and potentially move on to finding placements and financial aid.

I advocate mentoring in every workplace.  Whether you are a new warehouse employee, bartender or a professional protégé, all working hours are opportunities to share culture and training to those who are new to the worksite; new to a city.

The economic situation in North America is improving, but job seekers continue struggling to find employment in particular fields. Imagine how daunting it must feel for young students in struggling nations to finding employment in their fields of choice.  I’m on the list of WeDu mentors waiting to be paired with a mentee, and I encourage you to apply as well!

February – The Month of Engagement

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Now before you get excited and congratulatory, I am not talking about wedding nuptials.  I’m talking about Employee Engagement.  In my last article, The Dreaded Termination Conversation, I described December and January as the typical months when company closures and layoffs take place[1].  So, what better way to gear up February than to talk about its purpose – to engage employees and/or Survivors.


Survivors are those who remain within your organization following downsizing, layoffs, or winter termination.  Don’t be fooled, these individuals are negatively impacted when they learn a coworker, friend or teammate has been terminated.  Even though a Survivor remains employed, he or she is often sad, scared and worried their own job is next in the line of fire[2].  For this reason, Employers must recognize the need to engage these employees immediately*.

*Ideally Employers would focus on Survivor Engagement before, during and after terminations occur; however, we do not live in a perfect world.  Also, “before and during” usually take a back seat since Employers are usually worried about ‘how’ to break the news to employees being terminated.

The Emotional State of Survivors

I can no longer count the number of Employees who have disclosed to me that they feel disengaged and unmotivated in the workplace.  In particular, I have heard Survivors describe their dismay in at least one of the following ways:

  1. Mistrust of management
  2. Low morale or productivity
  3. Job insecurity or high stress
  4. Increased resistance to change
  5. Anger, to the point of acts of sabotage

Sound familiar?  If so, let’s call on February to help resolve these concerns and develop re-engagement!

Embracing February’s Approach to Engagement

There are 4 distinct initiatives I would consider “Go To”s when it comes to successfully counteracting the negative emotional states of Survivors (above):

1.       Inspire trust through leadership

Developing an internal mentorship program is a great way to build trusting relationships and involve employees in professional development and realistic succession planning.  You can also create Work Teams for the purpose of achieving specific organizational goals (ex. Reducing absenteeism by 20%).

2.       Boost morale through open communication

Before you can manage negative attitudes in the workplace, you must identify specific negative behaviours (usually observed over time) that are exhibited by Employees.  My first article – Managing Negative Attitudes in the Workplace[3] – provides further advice on this topic.

3.       Practice honesty and respect

Employees like information.  At least, that’s what Employees tell me.  Of course, they don’t need to know “everything”; however, they surely expect you to be honest with them in tough times.  Remember: Employees are physical resources.  They have useful knowledge and expertise that can be used when making key decisions – especially those which may affect the wellbeing of your organization.  More importantly, “don’t offer false guarantees or try to sugar-coat the current reality”[4].

4.       Demonstrate that you value Survivors

Susan M. Heathfield hits it right on the nose: “If you are a manager, it is most important to reassure the people who report to you of their value to you and the organization.  You need to talk with each of them individually to let them know why and how they are valued; tell them what you feel they contribute to your effective, continuously improving work environment”[5].  As far as I know, there is no better way to demonstrate that you value Survivors than to tell them directly.

Don’t stop at just one initiative – breathe life and energy back into your staff by challenging yourself to accomplish them ALL! After all, you don’t want to lose more than you (may) already have.

December: the Season of Joy, Guilt, and Reflection

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

I received the sweetest Christmas gift from my brother this year – tickets to watch Fred Penner with my Dad at a local theatre.  Fred Penner is a Canadian children`s folk singer who used to perform live and on television in the 1980s and 1990s; a true gem during the days of Mr. Dressup, and Schoolhouse Rock.

The tickets were a complete surprise, and even more unbelievable was how fun it was to witness the storyteller of my youth, alongside little children leaping and shouting out at Fred Penner.  There was a two year old girl who walked along the front of the stage.  Fred stopped, smiled and very sweetly said, “there’s a baby down there,” signalling to the child’s father to help him pick her up.  After helping her wave to the audience and say hello, Fred returned the child to her father.  She immediately held out her arms at Fred, silently asking to be held again.  Fred explained that he should let the little girl leave with his father before getting too attached.  Then he chuckled, turned back to the audience and said, “Penner’s still got it!”

A classic storyteller, I was surprised to hear from Fred Penner that he has four children, the eldest being 32 years old.  That meant that when I was a child, watching Fred’s television show and singing along to classics like “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “The Cat Came Back,” he had small children at home my age, doing the same thing.

There is a fascinating documentary called Being Elmo where Kevin Clash speaks about his journey to discover and breathe life into the popular Sesame Street puppet.  In the 1990s when the Tickle Me Elmo doll was the overwhelmingly sought-after Santa gift of the season, Kevin speaks of enjoying the rise of his career while managing the guilt of missing his young daughter at home.  While he travelled the world bringing joy and hope to young children as Elmo, his daughter often wished that he would give her the same joy as her dad.

It`s December – the season of joy, guilt and reflection.  This is that special time of the year when people make time to see those they neglect and especially try to spend time with those they love.  But the notion of whether to spend time with family and children while pursuing career aspirations is complicated.  By virtue of how they spend their lives, I’m sure that Fred Penner and Kevin Clash would agree that when you truly find your calling, you’re no longer pursuing career aspirations, you’re simply living your life.  Allowing yourself to spend your time doing the work that you are meant to do, you are bringing fulfillment into your life that can’t be matched.  By preventing yourself from focusing on your career, you may be sacrificing more of yourself than by embracing the joy that your calling could bring.

If this truly is the season of joy, guilt and reflection, give yourself the time to reflect on your career as a calling.  What are you meant to be spending your time doing?  How do you choose to spend your time, and does your work environment allow you to be the best that you can be?  Will you allow yourself to spend time doing work that brings you joy?

The Dreaded Termination Conversation

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Even if you don’t work in the construction or manufacturing industry, chances are you have been witness to (or have heard from others about) organizational cutbacks during winter months.  In my experience, December and January are the months of closures and layoffs – bad timing for the holidays, yes, I know.  However, these months typically push the lowest production all year due to the nature of the industry.

What does this mean?  Managers and Supervisors now have to plan for, conduct and manage what I call “The Dreaded Termination Conversation” or “DTC”.  Just so you know… Managers hate these meetings too!  Clearly it is for different reasons but it is hard to give difficult news without it snowballing into an avalanche.

So what do I suggest as a (misconceived) Career Grim Reaper? Research, Write a Speech and Rehearse.

Here’s the easy part: At one time or another, we’ve all read them – articles about how to terminate employees “the right way”.  Some examples you may have considered are:

1.       How to Fire An Employee: The Do’s and Don’ts of Terminating Employees to Keep You Out  of Hot Water [1]

2.       The Best Way to Terminate an Employee [2]

3.       How to Fire Someone: Respectful Tips and Exact Verbiage for Managers [3]

4.       How to Fire With Compassion and Class [4]

The list goes on.  Managers should read these articles to get a better understanding as to which termination guidelines they should follow and why using those guidelines are important.  For example; set the tone, make eye contact, be straight forward, make it short and to the point, and refrain from terminating on a Friday or Monday, etc.

Here’s the tricky part: Very few termination articles outline a clear speech Managers can use to mimic their DTC.  For this reason, I would like to share a dialogue I’ve had a Manager use before:

Supervisor or Manager:

Hi Neil (or Nancy).  Come in and have a seat.  I have some bad news for you.  As you know, the company has experienced a drop in production this winter due to the weather and the nature of our business.  As a result, I have to inform you that your employment with us has been terminated as of today.

I’m sure you have questions regarding pay, benefits continuance, unused vacation time, a letter of reference and outplacement so I will let Sandy discuss this with you.  If you have any other questions I may be able to answer them before you meet with Sandy.

If yes: answer clearly and concisely, with the use of facts (not     confidential info).

If they have a question you do not know the answer to, say “I will get      back to you on that”.  Just be sure to follow up!

I understand this is difficult news but I need to collect company property from your work station and ask that you hand in your keys at this time (collect phone and vehicle keys, if applicable).  If you need time before collecting your personal items you are welcome to go home and come back in a day or two.  Or, if you would be comfortable with Sandy packing your personal items I can have them couriered to your home.  Which would you prefer?

Neil (or Nancy).  I want you to know that it was a real pleasure working with you.  Thank you for all of your hard work.  (Optional: If our situation changes, I could let you know).

If they take you up on the offer, be sure to make a note of that.

Are you okay to drive, or would you like me to call you a cab?

Show Neil (or Nancy)out or call a cab if need be.

Of course, you can tailor your message by substituting the reason for the termination but the rest of the message should remain the same.  Remember – don’t make promises you do not intend to keep.  If you don’t plan to call an employee back from a termination due to ‘shortage of work’, don’t!  They will respect your honesty in the end.

Finally; REHEARSE!  I can’t stress this step enough.  If you don’t have an HR Professional to practice a “fake fire” with, use a close friend or family member (don’t use another employee).  Of course, you can even rehearse your speech in a mirror if you’d prefer.  Regardless, the more you run through your speech – the easier it is going to be during the DTC.  Just don’t start sounding like a robot.  Be genuine.

This is someone’s career, after all.

Good Luck 🙂

How to Deal with Negative People at Work

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

We have all encountered people who stay in an organization for years, all the while complaining on a daily basis about their boss, the organization, their colleagues, their clients – it tires me out just thinking about it! But, how do we improve the situation?

First of all, it’s important to remember that complaints, much as we may not want to hear them, sometimes unearth legitimate issues. I remember reading once that it is better to have an employee who criticises the organization because it means they care about the quality of the people and the product. Perhaps this is one of the keys. At the risk of sounding like I am wearing my rose coloured glasses – well, maybe I am, but you can’t see me – I think it is possible to redirect the complaints into plans.

The danger seems to be in falling into the trap of responding to a complaint with another complaint – competing complaints – one-upmanship of the worst kind – “ Well, you think that’s bad – let me tell you….” You get the picture.

What if we respond with a question? Perhaps we could ask what the best solution to the problem would be –or what could the person complaining do to improve the situation. I love the way our brains respond to a question! It is as if they are programmed to answer any question thrown their way. So by asking a question you will have redirected the conversation instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Another technique; this one learned from Don Pinkham who I worked with at BCAA, calls for asking the person what the next step is. So, for example – when your colleague comes up with a solution – ask her what the next step is, or perhaps, what the first step is. Follow this up by asking if there is anything you can do. Quite often the answer will be that there is nothing she wants you to do.
I like this technique because it places the onus on my colleague and leaves me knowing that there is nothing expected of me. On the other hand if I’m asked to do something – I can consider it. Either way, I have broken the cycle – at least for the moment.

I came across this ‘no complaining rule’ in The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work written by Jon Gordon in 2008.

Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.
This rule puts the onus on management to work with negative employees, but the message is the same. Colleagues who complain should be asked to come up with solutions. This turns the conversation around and that is, after all, what we want. And, it seems to me that every employee can be part of the solution.

So, we can deal with the issue of negative employees ourselves or try to implement a process in our organization. Although I would prefer the latter, sometimes we don’t have the power to change the organization, but we always have the power to change our response and that is a good starting point.

A Surprisingly Common Misconception of HR

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

For those of you also working in the Human Resources (HR) profession, I’m curious to know if you’ve come across the same surprisingly common misconception when explaining what we really do for a living – unless your job, in fact, is to fire people all day long*.

One story in particular comes to mind:

In my final semester at Kwantlen University I was tasked with writing a research paper for an Organizational Development class.  The topic: Organizational culture.  With a new connection to a local IT management company, I decided to reach out to the firm’s Operations Lead. For the sake of this article, let’s call him Jake.  After a quick introduction, Jake and I proceeded to discuss the business’ company culture and how it is modeled for employees in order to drive change and improve performance.  By the end, I knew I had some great points to write a solid paper.

But then (and I have to laugh) before I knew it, the interview took a turn.  After discussing what an organizational culture is and how it benefits the workplace, Jake asked me why I want to work in HR “given the reputation it has”.  Now, I don’t know how you would have reacted to this question but I became seriously confused – haha!  I took a minute to respond but soon decided to explore his query instead. So, I asked: “What sort of reputation does HR have?”  His response: “Around here, employees are scared of HR.  When someone from HR visits our facility it’s because someone is getting fired. Otherwise, we don’t really see them around.”  Now, as an emerging Human Resources Professional, and someone who is very passionate about improving the ’employee experience’ I felt it was necessary to ‘clear the air’.

I am a firm believer that Human Resources Management (HRM) is an important, strategic partnership used to help achieve future business goals.  It is not only responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating programs or initiatives but also responsible for organizational leadership and culture.  So, I asked the following questions:

  1. How does the organization engage its workforce?
  2. How is performance evaluated (formally vs. informally?
  3. Does the organization have any health or wellness programs?
  4. How are employees recognized or rewarded for a job well done?
  5. Are employees asked whether or not they are happy with their compensation?
  6. Does the organization offer any perks that are unusual, creative or different from other offices?

After answering each question (all positives) Jake quickly realized that HR was more than just the ‘Career Grim Reaper’.  In fact, the company’s HR department contributed a great deal to successful employee relations initiatives, including reward, recognition and continuing education.

That day, I was surprised to learn what “Human Resources” looked like to someone else.  Since then, I have made it a point to shatter their misconception and explain the real notion behind HR and how it contributes to an organization’s and employee’s success.  From friends and family to colleagues and potential network connections, I love sharing my passionate views of HR because I am proud of what I do. I hope more people can learn to appreciate the true value of Human Resources Management and its implementation in the workplace.

* If your job really is to fire people all day long, send me a message – I would love to pick your brain!

I give this book five stars easy. “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge was published in 2007 and has become an international best seller. It is an outstanding work that explains a number of remarkable and insightful discoveries from the fascinating world of neuroscience that has led to one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the field. Whilst many of us take a natural interest in the brain pausing at times to think about the rather small piece of meat that’s sitting within the top of our skulls powering our consciousness, it is difficult to gain a great deal of insight from the rather impenetrable scientific literature that surrounds human brain research. With the curious, non-expert in mind, Doidge takes us on a scientific adventure that is easy to understand, laying the fundamental groundwork of our previous and current knowledge about the brain and its ability to change itself. During the journey we encounter numerous eccentric, inspiring and insightful researchers, doctors and patients who were part of this revolution and many of whom were told they were crazy for doing so.

The word is neuroplasticity and the consequences of this discovery are immense. We are now beginning to understand the inner workings of previously Inconceivable recoveries –  paralysed stroke victims learning to walk and talk again, a blind person given “sight”, a woman born with severe learning disabilities graduating from college with a PhD. By discovering the brains capacity to adapt and change itself, Doidge shows how best practices for rehabilitation and medical therapy have improved dramatically and how this impacts the quality of life for those suffering from brain trauma, sensory deprivation and other neurological disorders. Furthermore, he explores how this leap in understanding has helped us to readdress questions in psychology and how this may help us to optimize the ways we live and learn.

By demonstrating that our brain can help us to understand more about ourselves as individuals, “The Brain that Changes Itself” becomes an evidence-based tool and directory for how we can improve the functioning of our own minds and what we can expect in return. It provides reasons for why we should not feel condemned by the fifth grade teacher who told us we would never amount to anything nor the colleague who is convinced we lack a dynamic approach to tasks that require creative thinking. Where many of us have been brought up within a society and culture that has focused more on our genetics, our “IQ” and intelligence as a child, implying this notion of predetermined abilities – that we were either “naturally gifted” or not, research is suggesting that our intelligence, capabilities, “gifts” and “talents” are something that we have the power to develop ourselves despite genetic setbacks or initial challenges. This is not for the sake of a more progressive, considerate or “likeable” ideology or belief but because of the hard evidence that suggests our experience and how we “exercise” our brain as a child AND as an adult, has a much bigger impact on our brain than we had previously realized.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the early pioneers of the ideas surrounding our mind’s ability to adapt. Way back in the 18th century, Rousseau suggested that “the organization of the brain” was affected by our experience. As Doidge explains, Rousseau thought that the brain’s development depended, at least somewhat, on what we exposed it to and how we exercised it, just like the muscles in our body. In the 20th Century, Donald Hebb’s research began to prove that this was indeed the case, and the law he developed, Hebb’s law, is often summarized as “neurons that fire together, wire together”. In other words, this means that our outer experience affects how our brain is wired and rewired. As Doidge explains, this capability introduces exciting avenues for progress in clinical psychology and the management of conditions, such as character disorders including sociopathy, which we have had little success in treating with other conventional routes.

Lauren Kress

Lauren Kress

Reading this book made me laugh and cry, it left me feeling empowered and it gave me hope for the future of our world. Not only is it exciting to see such positive steps in the field of medicine and read about how this has changed people’s lives, it was motivating to know that I can overcome things at work and in my personal life that I may find initially challenging by taking advantage of my brain’s ability to change. I think this book is for those who are curious about how our brain, mind, behaviours and experiences interact with one another and are interested in understanding how scientists, patients and doctors have worked together to unlock some of the secrets of the brain in the 20th and 21st Century. It is for those who seek motivation and want to know what neuroplasticity means for them, whether it be for their own rehabilitation and/or personal psychological growth and well being or for a loved one. This book is also for those who believe that the future progress of the human race lies in our ability to continue to learn and teach throughout our lifetime. It is for those who want to understand the wealth of hard evidence available and utilize this data to encourage others to continue to grow and make positive changes to their own life and the world around them.

How to Welcome Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

Imagine a world without negativity. Smiles everywhere, acquiescence everywhere. You’ve got an idea? It’s a great one! Let’s do it!

In a world free of negativity, we’d do everything. We’d never question anything, we’d just get on with things, and do them. Yay! Positivity! Hurrah for positivity.

But after a while, things start to go wrong. That idea that nobody questioned, that project that everyone thought was going to go brilliantly – well it all went badly awry. But hey, we’re all positive and we bumble on, smiling happily, until the whole company falls around us and we smile on into our next jobs.

Without negative attitudes, all of this will happen – you have been warned.

Of course, this is a small exaggeration. Without positivity, nothing would ever get done. Positive attitudes are good. However, the negativity is what makes us question what we’re doing, and if we can’t make good of this negativity within our workplaces, we’ll never see the potential pitfalls in what we’re doing.

Few businesses realise the potential in negativity. They attempt to manage negative attitudes out of the workplace, or beat some positivity into them. Hey, wear a smile! Not happening.

I believe there’s a better way of handling negativity, of turning it around for the greater good. Let’s break it down into the different types of negativity, and see how we can get more out of negative attitudes in the workplace:

I hate my job but I’m not leaving it

 Now, we’ve started at the extreme, but let’s not dismiss it. A quit-stay has the potential to spread dissatisfaction around the business, and a quit-stay has to be turfed out at the very first possible opportunity. I can say that. I’m not in HR.

Nevertheless, you can at the very least glean some vital information about the way your business is run. What is the reason for dissatisfaction? Is it that person’s eternally negative personality? In which case, you have questions about your recruitment processes to answer. Is it line management or colleagues? Is it something stemming from the employee’s personal life?

There’s nothing that you can’t manage, one way or another. Problems at home can’t be resolved at work, but work can go some way to helping address those issues. No company can’t afford an employee assistance programme of some form or another – they’re cheaper than a Chinese takeaway at their most basic. It’s a no-brainer.

This project will never work

 I always like to surround myself with people who question, people who doubt. Those who say “this will never work”, even when it appears to be working.

They might be wrong – but at least they question the workings of a system. They question the processes, they question the results, they question how the results were obtained. There is never a right answer for them, and these negative attitudes may be construed as unhelpful by many businesses. I view them as the most helpful views of all.

You don’t have to take them at their word, but you should listen to them carefully. Their opinions are very often considered, thought through, and worthwhile – they’ve explored every angle, and they see the problems that you might not have seen.

I’m not doing this

 You might get frustrated by employees who act like three-year-olds, but like every three-year-old, there’s a reason behind their negativity. Here’s an opportunity, therefore, to sharpen up your act.

Why are they refusing to participate? Why are they not doing as you asked? There’s a chance that they haven’t fully understood why you’re asking them to do things, or that maybe, they just don’t agree with it. We’re not kids, we can have grown-up discussions and air our views, we don’t have to continually do everything we’re told to do in exchange for our monthly salary, do we?

Blindly believing that everyone will continually follow every order is naive, at best. A negative attitude may reflect on the way you’re managing that person, and can be managed better.

So – negative attitudes in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to be more positive about them?