Author Archives: Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

About Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) with a genuine concern for the ‘employee experience’. Before obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Human Resources Management from Kwantlen University, Sandy graduated from BCIT with a Diploma in Financial Management. She also pursued a Diploma in Business Administration from Douglas College before falling in love with Human Resources. Early in her career, Sandy worked as a(n) Receptionist, A/R Clerk, Office Manager and Accountant. Now, with 6 years of experience in the construction and manufacturing industry, Sandy is excited to pursue new challenges and industries while working towards future goals including her aspirations of being a highly regarded mentor for other HR Professionals and an inspiration to friends, colleagues and strangers.

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.





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.

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 🙂

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!

Managing 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?”

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Negative Nancy and Negative Neil. I’m sure the majority of us can agree that we have come across one (or a few) in our careers. Now how do you properly manage their negative attitudes in the workplace? Before you answer “get rid of them”, as some managers commonly respond, let me ask you this: Are they really the problem? Nine times out of ten – No.

In my experience, a negative attitude is a result of one or more underlying sources. Of course, you cannot solve these issues without fully understanding them. How we do that is to dissect them. In our case, your first step is to identify the source. Your second step is then to develop ways in which to manage negative attitudes accordingly.

Identifying the Source of Negative Attitudes

It can be very difficult to understand negative attitudes without first discussing why these feelings exist. I suggest you start by having an open and honest discussion with the employee exhibiting negative behaviour. At this time, it is important to remember three (3) things:

  1. Give specific examples of the negative attitude(s) or behaviour observed over time,
  2. Use probing questions to identify what is causing the negative attitude and how any unresolved issues can become resolved, and
  3. Use active listening skills to clarify both the employee’s and the employer’s responsibilities moving forward.

If you use the above approaches, it becomes much easier to understand negative behaviour, and opens the floor to collaborative problem solving. Here, you want to discuss how the source can be improved (or best managed).

As you can imagine, or have seen first-hand as I have, negativity in the workplace can have dramatic affects on employee performance, the performance of colleagues and the profitability of an organization. Some sources you may have uncovered in your workplace include dissatisfaction or unhappiness with performance evaluations, leadership or management, working conditions, organizational practices or personal challenges. A negative attitude can also be the result of a misunderstanding or lack of information.

Managing Negative Attitudes

Although there are many sources of negative attitudes, I can attest to the fact that your strategy in approaching them must start with communication and follow up. To be clear, managing negative attitudes and their sources highly depends on your commitment to communicate with employees on a regular basis, to offer timely actions that improve the situation (i.e. follow up), and involving them in the process.

During my 6 years of experience as a stand-alone human resources professional in both the construction and manufacturing industry, I have encountered a colourful array of positive and negative attitudes. By far, the most common issue is dissatisfaction with performance management – “the continuous process of identifying, measuring and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization” (Aguinis, 2009). Contacts who work in other industries have also asked me how they should deal with or manage similar issues with performance management systems of their own.

It is important to note here that there are several advantages to having a performance management system. These include increased motivation, self-esteem, and commitment; clarified expectations and organizational goals; organizational change; and timely differentiation between good and poor performers. However, many disadvantages can arise if a performance management system is poorly developed, implemented and/or maintained. An inadequate system can result in increased turnover, the use of misleading information, lowered self-esteem, wasted time and money, damaged relationships, decreased motivation, employee burnout and job dissatisfaction, unjustified demands from managers and employees, unfair standards and ratings, emerging biases and unclear rating systems (Aguinis, 2009). Do any of these drawbacks sound familiar?

Finally; no matter how many cases I have come across, the number one complaint is that employees feel their performance is not being assessed or documented correctly, or being evaluated consistently (if at all). Without fail, those feelings caused many employees to exhibit negative attitudes in the workplace. My advice in improving these  attitudes was (1) to obtain employee feedback through communication, (2) to seriously consider employee feedback, (3) to make changes wherever possible, and (4) to involve employees in the progression of change. In time, my advice helped managers develop new assessment tools (using employee feedback), better training for evaluators and evaluation schedules, and held managers more accountable. To everyone’s surprise (but my own), turnover became retention, attitudes were more positive and employees showed higher productivity – making the organization more successful.

So, to answer the question “How do you properly manage negative attitudes in the workplace?” I say, make a commitment to communicate with your staff, to take action in a timely manner, and to involve them in the process.

An article by: Sandy Arseneault, BBA  CHRP


Works Cited

Aguinis, H. (2009). Performance Management (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.