Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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?”

Michelle Yao

Michelle Yao

As someone who is a positive person by nature I often find it challenging to deal with negativity and negative people.  This is particularly difficult when I face it in the workplace because it is an environment that I need to be in daily.  So when I am in a negative situation at work I tend to step back and assess what is happening, who is giving off the negative vibes and what their point of view is. I tend not to react right away to negative attitudes, I’ve found that taking a breathe and reminding myself of my own frame of mind lessens the impact of another person’s negative attitude.

Early in my career I worked with an individual who was constantly a “negative nelly.”  She would complain on a regular basis about how much she hated work, her role and her responsibilities.  While initially I didn’t react I found that over time her constant complaining crept into my own frame at work.  The old adage ‘you are who you hang out with’ comes to mind.  Not saying anything, combined with constantly being around this negative attitude was affecting me and my view of my workplace.  Once I realized this I made a decision to speak frankly with this colleague.  I encouraged her to get proactive about why she was feeling how she was feeling.

She was surprised that her attitude was influencing me and dragging me down too. She apologized and we talked through some options.  She ended up speaking to her manager, enlisted the help of human resources to connect with a career counsellor and identified areas in her work that were making her unhappy.  After a few months of seeking support and talking more frankly to her manager, she slowly but steadily became a much more satisfied and happy colleague.

The lessons I’ve gained from this experience are lessons that I’ve brought forward with me in my career.  I’ve learned that if you stand by and just listen to negative attitudes eventually they will start to affect you. We need to be proactive in fostering our own healthy attitude at work.  It takes effort, time and it’s an ongoing process, but it is well worth the reward.

Negativity happens.  It’s a reality, but it is up to us to manage its impact on ourselves and in our workplace.

Next week our focus is Inspiration

We are the Music Makers and we are the dreamers of dreams

It’s Friday, and it’s going to be a sunny day in Vancouver, which is miraculous!  But if you’re still feeling the Winter Blahs, you’re not alone.  The days are short, and many of us move to and from work every day in the dark until mayors across the United States confer with their respective groundhogs.  To combat the common feeling of blah that comes after the Holiday Season, we’re focusing on inspiration next week, starting with our Coffee Shop HR World Cafe on Monday January 21st.

This month’s online World Cafe is a different platform than the ones we’ve used before.  Instead of posing a question, I’ve asked all contributors to introduce us to someone who loves their job.  For those of us in developmental positions in our careers, for those of you who are new to your fields, and for anyone who’s just going through the motions of work, it’s inspiring to hear stories of success; examples of people who find joy in their current professions.

So enjoy the weekend, and check back with us next week!

Facets of Motivation

Because I live in a country where decisions are made at a family, rather than an individual level, I was curious about how one would stay motivated if achieving a goal was not simply an individual endeavor, but was mediated by family members. Bear with me, I will bring this back to HR in a moment, but first, I’d like to share a conversation I had with one of my students at the women’s college where I teach.

I asked my student how she stays motivated when she wants to do something and her family disagrees.

Without hesitating, she described the steps she takes when her parents tell her she cannot pursue a goal. First of all, she envisions her goal and imagines what it will be like when she achieves it.  This surprised me, because I thought a ‘no’ was a ‘no’, so I wondered why she would be focusing on achieving her goal when her parents had vetoed it.

Secondly, she talks to her friends and other family members and gains support for her idea.

Thirdly, she figures out what her parents object to, that is, she reflects on what is it they are concerned about.  In the example the student shared, her parents disagreed with her plan to apply for a scholarship that would see her spending ten days in New York City.

Her fourth step is to research ways to allay her parents’ concerns and come up with solutions she thinks might work.  She then shares these ideas with her parents.   If they raise other concerns, she addresses these as well and, when she can, she shares benefits to her goal that her parents may not have known about.  In this case, if the student was granted the scholarship, it would enable her to enter the workforce at a higher level, something her parents may not have thought of, but would be pleased with.

She doesn’t give up; she keeps focused until she has convinced her parents.

I asked how she developed this strategy and she said that as a young child she began working out ways to bring her parents onside.  Her older sister took ‘no’ for the final answer and didn’t pursue her dreams, but this student says she is intrinsically motivated so she would go ahead and work out how to alleviate her parents’ concerns.  Now she coaches her older sister.

Tying this back to the question of how to motivate employees, it would seem that intrinsic motivation is stronger in some people than in others.  Some people will need external motivation and others won’t.  So yes, it is up to leaders to motivate those who need it.  Those who are intrinsically motivated, as my student pointed out, will find ways to achieve their goals, leaders need only provide support, encouragement, or in some cases permission, and then step aside.

Reflecting on my student’s example I realized that this ties back into the workplace where it would be useful to provide training for employees in how to achieve their goals, not the ones that are set for them, but the ones they identify on their own.  Quite often employees come up with ideas that would enhance their organization’s performance, but they don’t know how to introduce these ideas or build support for them.  My student’s technique strikes me as a good starting point for helping employees develop strategies to achieve their goals by asking for assistance from others.

As managers or leaders, it would seem that it is important to encourage these employees by creating an environment that is relatively free from constraints where new and creative practices can be developed – the premise of ‘skunkworks’.

I have noticed that employees will often work on a project they are interested in with great dedication and little thought of rewards, perhaps as a form of self-actualization.  It seems that many employees are interested in ‘making a difference’ in their organizations especially when they define the terms.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that work is but one facet of a person’s life and their motivation will fluctuate depending on where their focus is at the moment.  We can expect interruptions in our employees’ and colleagues’ motivation, but these won’t last.

Some employees see work is a safe haven of predictability when their life is in chaos, it is a place where they have control and a sense of stability.  These employees will be motivated to maintain routines and will work well within a structured framework. They won’t be as interested in creating or participating in change initiatives but they can be counted on to put the systems in place to normalize the change once it has been adopted – once again creating a sense of stability.

Listening to our employees and colleagues can give us answers more quickly and efficiently than speculation coupled with trial and error.

I didn’t anticipate the answer my student gave me and I am not convinced that another student would share her approach, but I am sure that every student has a strategy.  Indeed, when I asked my young granddaughter how she stays motivated when she has difficulty with math, she explained that rewards are very helpful.  Time to practice, praise and recognition keep her going. Staying with a concept until she understands it completely is important, she doesn’t like to move on to new processes before she has mastered the current one.  Wise words indeed!

As always, I am amazed at both the complexity and the simplicity of the responses and the ways to ensure colleagues and employees are motivated. Time for some introspection!


Strong, P. (2006). Honors as Skunkworks. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council. Vol. 6, 2.

Cundall, M.  (2010). Service learning and skunkworks in a senior honors colloquium.  Honors in Practice. Vol. 6