Author Archives: Jessica Lau

Lesson of “Environment Matters” from Dan Ariely at the 2013 BC HRMA Conference

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

Today, I attended my first BC HRMA Conference and it was an amazing experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet very genuine and experienced HR practitioners, I had the privilege of learning, and sharing experiences alongside them. It was an opportunity to network and attend engaging speaker sessions where I gained valuable lessons.

In particular, the session with Dan Ariely, entitled “Predictably Irrational: How Behavioral Economics Impacts the Role of Human Resources” really impacted me. To begin, I must say Dan is such an engaging presenter with a great sense of humor. If there is any way you can gain access to his presentation from the BC HRMA Conference, you must watch it.  I can’t tell you everything I gained from his presentation, as it would probably be like a 10 page essay but one of the lessons I learned from him is that “environment matters” so try to control it. This is how he showed us his one of his lessons…

Dan showed us a very interesting graph of the percentage of people in various European countries that are willing to donate their organs after they die. There was a dramatic difference between different European countries. I was looking at the graph, trying to figure out the reason for the differences. Of course, with a passion and interest in diversity and cultural differences, I tried to compare if there was a difference in cultures between the areas where donations were lower than countries where donations tended to be higher.  Recognizing that some of the countries where donations were low shared cultural similarities with countries where donation levels were high, I was stuck.

Dan told us that the difference was simply based on the way the form was written. This surprised a lot of us (I could tell through the gasping and shocking reactions around me).  It was a simple “opt-in” and “opt-out” on the form that created such a dramatic difference. What he was trying to communicate was that simple, changes in the environment such as choice architecture, can make a big difference in the results. He later went on to show us other examples to prove what he tried to communicate.

How this links to HR professionals and business leaders is that we may want to be more thoughtful and careful when asking questions: giving choices, designing things and creating processes. But as Dan showed, the environment matters, so I do believe you can utilize it to help you and your business grow.

Advice for Recent Post-Secondary Grads

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

I am a recent grad and if I could go back in time, these are the three pieces of advice I would give myself:

1. “Be open-minded and explore.” It doesn’t matter what career path you took during post-secondary; just keep an open-mind of different possibilities. You may have taken a focus on HR but it is worthwhile to have an open mind and speak with non- HR individuals because there may be other career paths you didn’t think or know about so speak and learn from others. If you have the luxury to travel, this is the time to explore. Many seasoned professionals have told me “you have a whole lifetime to work but this is the only time where you can travel freely for a long period of time.” This is very true.  Once you start to work, it is very hard to take a few weeks or months away to travel. You can learn so much about yourself, and the world at large from the people you encounter, while traveling. If you keep an open mind, you will learn so much about things you didn’t know.  As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

2. “Continue networking, build your brand, increase your online presence and do your prep work.” Prep work includes spending time on your resume, making business cards, perfecting your 30 second pitch, researching the industries and companies you may be interested in. This sounds simple but it takes a lot of time and effort; the prep work pays off.

3. “Stay positive and don’t get discouraged.” It takes time to find a career. I remember speaking with alumni who graduated a semester or two before me and a number of them told me it took them 6 to 8 months to find a job they were interested in. At the time, I thought maybe the economy was bad, this group of alumni were being choosy or were not using the right job search strategies.  After more than two months of job searching, I realized that there is no such thing as the “right” strategy, and it simply requires a lot of time.  After speaking with many seasoned business professionals, they also indicate that it takes more than 6 months to find a job, especially in the Vancouver region, and so it’s necessary to stay positive during the process. Now I truly know what people meant when they say, “the job search is a job in itself” so stay positive and don’t get discouraged.

Related Pages:

1. Coffee Shop HR World Café: What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart?

2. Agony and Elation: Searching for Work in a Turbulent Job Market by Nicole Davidson

3. What Three Pieces of Advice Should Post-Secondary Grads Take to Heart? by Bonnie Milne, PhD

Ethically Refusing to Hire Smokers

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

Recently, I’ve read an attention-grabbing article called Should Companies Have The Right To Refuse To Hire Smokers? on Forbes, it is about the debate and ethicality in not hiring smokers. This is of great interest to me, as HR professionals are the ones in charge of hiring and creating policies regarding this.

According to Alice G. Walton from the article, one group, including “Ralph W. Muller, CEO of Heal, argues that it’s high time to amp up our efforts to help people quit – even if new policies bring short-time unhappiness, they will certainly bring long-term health benefits.” Another group, including “former White House health advisor Ezekiel J. Emanuel, says that even though everyone agrees that smokers should be encouraged to quit, it’s fundamentally unethical for businesses, and even hospitals, to refuse people jobs because they smoke.”

I was quite torn with which group I am in support of. But after some thoughts on this “not hiring smokers” debate, I came to the view that it is unethical for companies and HR to discriminate and not hire someone who is a smoker.

I do agree that people, companies, policy makers and leaders should increase their effort to help people quit but I feel that it is unethical to have policies to not hire smokers. To me, this in a way is to force people to quit. As a very liberated individual, I believe people should be allowed to do whatever they desire for their lifestyle and should not be forced to do something due to society’s pressure. Are we, in a way, discriminating and bullying people to be non-smokers? Since if they don’t become non-smokers then they won’t get hire.

It is true that in hospital settings, most patients probably don’t want to smell the cigarette smoke on the hospital employees’ clothes or body. However, I believe the hospital may want to consider making it a rule not to smoke during work hours. As an HR professional, I believe it is more important to try to implement policies to help and support people to quit.

When I read this article, I related the smokers to those people who are obese and unhealthy with high chances of heart attack and strokes. Often, these people may have habits, which continuously contribute to their obesity. Do we need to stop hiring these individuals, as we want to encourage them to be healthier, like we want to encourage smokers to quit to be healthier? No, that’s not what companies are doing. Instead of not hiring them, companies are implementing health and wellness programs to encourage people to live a healthier life. We should do the same with smokers. As HR professionals, we should consider implementing more health and wellness programs to help and support our employees lead healthier lives, let it be due to obesity or smoking problems.

What is the HR policy your company has in regards to hiring or not hiring smokers? I am very interested in knowing what are the common practices and perspectives out there. How are you, as an HR professional, impacting these policies and practices regarding “not hiring smokers” or helping employees quit?

Walton, Alice G. “Should Companies Have The Right To Refuse To Hire Smokers?”   Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Four C’s to Managing Virtual Teams

When I think of virtual teams, the first thing that comes to mind is when team members work in remote locations across the continent or globe with different time zones and different cultural background, working on different parts of a project based on their skills to achieve corporate goals through Internet and electronic channels. However, I have missed out a very important area of virtual teams. Virtual teams is in fact any time when the team members work together primarily through communicating electronically. This means, virtual teams includes when team members work within the same building but on different floors. With this in mind, it is interesting to recognize that a lot of us are working in virtual teams daily. In fact, even the writers for the Coffee Shop HR are working in a virtual team setting.

Based on what worked for me in managing virtual teams combined with my findings from How to Manage Virtual Teams by Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst and Managing a Virtual Team by Mark Mortensen and Michael O’Leary, I found four common elements, which I called the “Four C’s” of managing virtual teams. They are communication, collaboration, culture of a global mindset and closeness and connection.

The first C is communication. There are a few things that must be communicated immediately, including an established common objective/goal, an understanding of the project on hand and a set of ground rules, suggested by Siebdrat et al. Communication is vital because this helps to ensure everyone is on the same page and reduce future communication errors and misunderstanding, which can affect the project progress and success. Often, projects have many different components that are connected so if one component of the project stops due to a communication error, it affects the components/steps that follow. This is like a domino effect.

When I say communication, it is not just what needs to be communicated but also how and when. As suggested by Mortensen and O’Leary, it is important to ensure everyone can use the technology to connect and communicate. Don’t jump to the newest platform or communication tool because sometimes, not everyone has the knowledge or time to learn this new communication tool. With virtual teams, people are often working in different time zones so setting up a regular communication schedule is vital. It is important to encourage communication at other unscheduled intervals as well.

The second C is collaboration. The team needs to understand each other’s role in the project and coordinate the work early on. And as mentioned, people are working in different time zones where one member from the team may be having dinner as another member from a different time zone is getting into work and another heading to lunch. With this in mind, it is important that everyone focuses on the importance of teamwork and tries to have greater understanding and flexibility with each other to accommodate the different time zones.

The third C is to have a culture of global mindset. With any teams, there is going to be individuals with different mindset, but with virtual teams, there is even more likelihood of cultural differences or ways of thinking and working. It is important to increase the team’s acceptance of each other’s differences and encourages a global mindset. HR can try to create training programs to help team members to be more culturally sensitive to embrace each other’s differences and have a global mindset. In addition, HR can definitely help to gauge and place individuals that are more likely to succeed in a virtual team setting.

The last C is closeness and connection. As suggested by Siebdrat, Hoegl and Ernst, with the lack of physical contact between team members, it can reduce the social ties and closeness between them. With a lack in this, it can decrease the trust in the other team members. So it is very important to ensure there are periodic face-to-face meetings to bring people together and create a sense of closeness and community. I know from experience, I have always had successes when I conducted periodic meetings and hosted events to bring team members together and encourage them to connect. Those team members that participated have always turned out to be more engaged, connected and on track with their tasks.

As companies continue to disperse their teams and with the trend of remote work, we are likely to continue this trend with working in virtual teams. As I am pretty sure there are a lot of elements to managing virtual teams but the “Four C’s” of communication, collaboration, culture of a global mindset and closeness and connection are four elements that worked for me and I hope they can help you manage your virtual teams too.

Mortensen, Mark, and Michael O’Leary. “Managing a Virtual Team.” Harvard Business Review, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

Siebdrat, Frank, Martin Hoegl, and Holger Ernst. “How to Manage Virtual Teams.” MIT Sloan Management Review, 1 July 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

Innovative Ways to Reduce the “Uterus” Barrier in your Workplace

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

So this is my first blog post for Coffee Shop HR, I am excited, yet a little nervous. I just can’t figure out what I am going to write about. But luckily, I attended this very inspiring BC HRMA event on Tuesday and wanted to share some of what I gather with everyone. The event was a panel discussion about ways the workplaces are supporting women in business. This event came at a perfect timing, with the recent controversial issue of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer taking only two weeks maternity leave and her recent ban of telecommuting for Yahoo’s employees.

When I was sitting in the room, it was very interesting to see that majority of the room, more than 95%, were women. It really got me thinking if it’s because there are a lot of women in the HR profession or if this topic mostly interests women.

I was happy to hear that none of the three successful women on the panel had personally encountered barriers in their workplaces. Unfortunately, that is not the case with all women. As the panelists mentioned, they know of many women who have encounter barriers in their workplaces. Some of the common barriers mentioned were cultural and societal, like how certain industries are still male dominant or the fact that there is a slow transition in acceptance of women as leaders. Sometimes, these barriers may be personal.

What really stuck out to me is that policies can greatly affect and alter these barriers for women. Government and companies can implement and encourage policies such as parental leave so that instead of the women, the men can take the leave. Having this policy will lead to the change in the negative societal view of hiring women because women are going to take maternity leave. I mean, having parental leave seems reasonable and may sound like such a small thing but this may make a great impact in the long run. Even I have personally encountered the stereotype that hiring women will be more costly and troublesome than hiring men because women are the ones who need to take maternity leave eventually. This stereotype needs to go, as many women nowadays are choosing not to have children. Why are we being discriminated because of our gender? If only society, government and companies encourage paternal leave, that’s when this barrier and discrimination can slowly get broken down.

This is not to say that all companies are not being flexible and innovative in creating workplaces to support women, as I know some companies are. Companies are offering flex hours, telecommute, in house childcare and breastfeeding rooms. One other interesting program that I really like is where companies partner up with restaurants so their employees can just buy food on the way home to help reduce the domestic duties that women are “traditionally” responsible for. Hearing about all these little steps companies are taking to encourage women in business is truly motivating.

What innovative ways does your workplace have in reducing the barrier? Go ahead, speak up, do something innovative! Let’s work together to get rid of this barrier together.