Tag Archives: human resources

It Takes Two to Tango

I think it would be an easy cop-out to say that it is an Employer’s responsibility to keep workers engaged. Drilling down, one may even say it is Management’s sole function to keep workers engaged to ensure high productivity… But, this doesn’t paint the full picture. Yes, without a doubt management needs to actively engage their workers- give them variety in their task, autonomy within their work, and foster the connection one has with the purpose of their work; however, I’d like to focus on the relationship between and employee and an employer and how each plays a role in employee engagement.

As an employee it is also your responsibility to ‘maintain’ your engagement. If you feel yourself becoming disconnected from your work, bored, or feeling unchallenged, you have two options: you can say something to your boss, or you can stay silent. Sitting your boss down and saying your work is boring is not exactly what I’m suggesting- don’t misquote me! But what I am saying is that employers are not mind readers and many take the approach of no news is good news when looking at feedback from employees. Sometimes a candid conversation is needed, especially when the relationship between employee and manager is a good one. Like any relationship, including the employment one, communication is key. If you choose not to voice your concerns or wishes related to your work-that is completely your choice- sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and sometimes the squeaky wheel quietly looks for work at another organization in their spare time.

Remember those “Employee Engagement Surveys”? That is one avenue employers take to solicit feedback from employees and gauge levels of dedication, interest and happiness within the workplace. If the survey is sent out, and management takes no action upon the results, I’d say they shouldn’t have done a survey to begin with! If management receives the results, truly invests in making the changes employees say they need to stay engaged, and actually takes action, that is a great start to ensuring employees are engaged.

I think there is a lot to be learned about corporate culture playing into employee engagement, the law of attraction that states ‘like attracts like’, and the fact that most people like people like themselves. If your organization’s values and culture are strong, you may have a very homogenous workforce which is made up of many employees who are the right ‘fit’ for your organization and therefore are highly engaged simply because they do ‘fit’. Does that mean that whoever does the hiring and recruitment, those who deal with people who don’t even yet work for the company, have a hand in ensuring the workforce is engaged? More often than not, it is the Human Resources Department that actually manages much of the recruitment (gate keeping) for an organization and is also the department that conducts and employee engagement survey… however, I see Human Resources as a partner in engagement, but not the one responsible for it.

In the end, I’d say it takes two to tango and that both the employee and the employer have a role to play and are both responsible for employee engagement. I’m not even going to open the can of worms of talking about the role unions play in engagement… lets save that for another article!

Whose Responsibility is it to Ensure that Employees are Engaged?

Both employers and employees have an equally important role in ensuring that people are engaged in their work. Employers need to make sure the conditions in the workplace encourage innovation, initiative and growth, because these are key elements in helping employees feel engaged with the work they are doing. Employers also need to set performance management goals with their employees in order to balance expectations and tangible results. This helps to ensure that both employer and employee are on the same page. Employers also need to check in with their employees on a regular basis to discuss growth opportunities and workplace challenges. Staying engaged with employees helps make sure that employees are feeling engaged with their work.

Employees on the other hand need to actively pursue professional development opportunities. Many workplaces not only offer, but encourage employees to work on new projects, take on different roles, and pursue career advancement. I strongly believe that employees need to identify key elements that they are passionate about or interested in to stay engaged with their work. Employees must also be proactive, if they are feeling detached or discouraged in their work they need to talk with their managers/supervisors, and work to identify challenges as well as opportunities to change this situation. Employees need to challenge themselves on a regular basis so they don’t become complacent or bored with the work that they are doing. Employees have a big role in shaping the level of engagement they have with their work.

While there is no magic one-size fits all solution to staying engaged with work, I believe that if both employers and employees work together they can ensure that work stays challenging as well as rewarding.  This will be of benefit not only to the employer and employee but to workplace productivity and workplace culture.

Motivation Fuels Engagement

When I think of motivation, I think of an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer decides that the reason why he’s going to show up for work each day is because he loves his daughter Maggie, and he’s willing to make the daily sacrifice for her.  It’s December 17th, and seasonal celebrations are everywhere.  Employees are taking vacations, kids are out of school, relatives are in town, and everyone seems to be in a hurry get somewhere.  So whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are engaged in their work?

Motivation fuels engagement.  If I want to do something, I’ll do it, it’s as simple as that.  Speaking as an employee, I feel that the responsibility of staying engaged at work is largely mine.  But I think that`s greatly because of my personal work ethic.  If my mind is not challenged with a complex task, or if I feel unappreciated, I’ll disengage from the task at hand.  Despite these challenges that can come up in the workplace, as a paid employee, I do feel that it is my responsibility to focus on work during work hours.

On the other hand, as someone who manages employees, I view the salaries that are paid by employers as investments made on behalf of the company.  We need to support and develop these investments over time to get the best return.  So on the other side of the coin is the reality that employers have a responsibility to all stakeholders to observe the working patterns of their employees, and support their development through training and mentorship.

In Ron Alsop’s book, ‘The Trophy Kids Grow Up’ he writes about how the Millennial Generation is forcing the workforce to change the way they recruit, and ultimately how they manage their staff.  The Millennial Generation is made up of those who were born between 1980 – 2001.  Key characteristics of this generation include being comfortable with using technology, doing more than one task at all times, and demanding immediate results.  He argues that on the one hand, this generation demands immediate payoffs, but on the one hand, the work they produce is also completed swiftly.  On the one hand, Millennials want to maintain worklife balance, yet they desire to move quickly up the corporate ladder.  ‘The Trophy Kids Grow Up’ is a fascinating exploration into the mindset of the Millennial Generation, and what that means for managers and corporations as a whole.

As a Millennial myself, it is easy to see where my choices fit into the stereotypical Millennial frame of mind.  Honestly, some aspects of being a Millennial seem extremely negative, including a constant need to be recognized for one’s work.  Still, I strongly believe that the reason why I care about employee engagement is because of my Millennial traits.  Not only am I willing to multi-task, voluntarily working through multiple projects at the same time, but I enjoy the challenge of excelling in more than one task.  And because I do intend on moving up the corporate ladder over time, my mind is always focused on the business as a whole, and learning all of its parts (rather simply focusing solely on my role).

Again, I can only do so much for my own engagement.  I, as an employee, can be excited to learn about the business I am in, and the industry I care so much about.  But unless my employer supports that desire to learn through training or mentorship, there’s no other way for my curiosity to go beyond simply that.  So to the question ‘whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are engaged,’ my response is that if motivation fuels engagement, then the responsibility of an employee is to find motivation to work, while the responsibility of an employer is to sustain that forward motion.  An employee may be expected to start the car, but an employer needs to provide the gasoline.

How Can HR Clearly Communicate that Workplace Bullying is Unacceptable?

The recent and tragic event of Amanda Todd’s suicide brings to light the profound impact bullying can have on a person’s life. Unfortunately, even as we become adults and working professionals there are still instances where people feel bullied and threatened. I believe we all have a role to play to ensure that our workplaces are safe spaces where we are comfortable being ourselves and feel accepted for who we are.

Human Resources also has an important role in setting clear policies that articulate that workplace bullying is unacceptable and has strict consequences. This policy should be a part of any HR guidelines/hand outs for new employees and should be built into any workplace orientation. I strongly believe that the clearest and most effective way to communicate that workplace bullying is unacceptable is to ensure that any reported cases of bullying are taken seriously, looked into and handled immediately. It is also important to build awareness in the organization of this policy, through posters, bulletins, potentially a spot in the internal newsletter, etc. By actively communicating to employees that this is an established policy that will be implemented when necessary, HR will help to foster understanding and a level of comfort among employees with the policy. I also believe it can be helpful to offer occasional workshops or seminars about workplace bullying generally and how to prevent it.

Ultimately we all need to be aware of how we behave in the office and ensure we are being respectful of our colleagues. In addition, if we witness workplace bullying the onus is on us to speak up, and/or go to HR and report the incident. Workplace bullying can be mitigated but it takes the active participation of both HR and all employees.

The Role of HR Involves Creating and Enforcing Company Policy; Bullying Policy Must Be Clear

In North America, our attention was directed to the effects of bullying with the death of young Amanda Todd this past October.  She was a 16 year old girl who took her own life after struggling with high school bullies, and posting a youtube video as a final cry for help.

Bullying is not limited among youth.  Unfortunately it’s a reality that men and women deal with in the workplace, in a passive aggressive and direct manner.  Passive aggressive bullying involves making subtle comments to an individual that come across as jokes, but are meant to be hurtful.  Direct bullying on the other hand, refers to as aggressive behavior that involves one person directly telling another person hurtful, and often inappropriate things.  Both types of bullying can manifest in different ways, and are equally despicable.

The role of human resources as a profession is to manage the human intellect in an organization.  The work involved varies between creating and enforcing employee policy.

The best way that HR can clearly communicate that workplace bullying is unacceptable is by having direct policy stating exactly that: bullying is unacceptable in the workplace.  Bullying needs to be defined in policy, and there needs to be policies that state the consequences that follow should bullying occur.

I certainly understand that what happens from there is where the real work happens; it’s the responsibility of company leaders to follow through on the policies laid out regarding bullying.  But that only makes sense.  HR and other company leaders need to set boundaries around conduct in the workplace.  Corporate culture needs to reflect those policies.  And should employees refuse, then perhaps that’s the indication required to signal that certain employees don’t belong.

If the policy is ignored and employees feel bullied, then those individuals involved (including any witnesses) need to speak up regarding what happened, and discipline ought to be carried out.

At the end of the day, responsibility comes into question.  Whose responsibility is it to say that one person’s conduct is inappropriate?  When a co-worker makes an offensive joke, how should people respond?  It’s not the role of HR to police their employees.  However, it is the role of HR to enforce company policies.

I recently participated in an HR discussion group where someone described a drastic decision made by an HR manager to prove that the company policy was not to be broken.

The example I’m about to share involves stealing (not bullying) but I think its message still applies here, to some extent.  To respect the privacy of those present, I’ll change the example a little bit, but essentially this is what happened: an employee purchased a closed package of food.  Inside the package were two items instead of one.  A number of other employees saw this happen, had a laugh, and purchased the same item expecting to receive a second item for free.

The company policy stated that stealing is forbidden.  The consequence for each employee who purchased one item but received two were immediately terminated.

Is that an extreme example?  Absolutely!  But when bullying can lead to such drastic results such as emotional torment, and the taking of one’s life, then perhaps extreme examples are required, and out to be followed in certain situations.

Certainly a great deal of policy writing is reactive.  I’m sure that schools in British Columbia will be looking at their bullying policies for some time.  But the best way that HR can clearly set the record straight that bullying is unacceptable is to create direct policies, and to enforce them.

The measures of enforcement that are necessary to maintain policies regarding bullying on the other hand, are another complex topic best left for another discussion.

This Remembrance Day Be Mindful of Young Unemployed Veterans Seeking Employment

When I was studying HR at BCIT, a key component of my program was completing a period of Directed Studies, where we worked as project managers to complete an HR project for a company in the field. To choose an assignment, representatives from companies all over Greater Vancouver were gathered together to deliver their pitches to us, allowing each student to choose a project that resonated best with them.

One project that has always stuck in my mind became known as the Reservist Re-entry Project. It involved finding ways to help young veterans market themselves better to hiring managers. When Lieutenant Colonel (Ret’d) John Appleby approached BCIT’s School of Business to take on the project, his concern was supporting Canadian soldiers who had served in Afghanistan gain support returning to civilian life. In particular, he wanted students to work with veterans to identify transferrable skills they had gained overseas, and help them communicate those assets to employers.

I’ll never forget meeting a young man who was likely in his mid-twenties – my age at the time – who explained to us that the challenge with finding employment in Canada was that since his skills gained through military service involved specific combat action, his applications to grocery stores or retail outlets would be rejected because his skills didn’t match the ones they were seeking. I remember him saying “I can throw a grenade, fire a rifle and shout commands while bombs are going off around me, but I can’t get a job at a grocery store.”

Today the program is known as The Legion Military Skills Conversion Program, and is funded by the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Command.  Participants in the program choose from three paths:

1. Go to school and get a credential

2. Become an entrepreneur & start a business

3. Get a job

The project is led by Natalie Hargott, CHRP, one of my classmates from BCIT. Along with another classmate of ours, she took on this project as her Directed Studies assignment back in 2009. Now she works at BCIT as the Legion Military Skills Conversion Program project manager. I touched base with Natalie recently to ask her more about the project, and you can access my Interview with Natalie Hargott, CHRP for more information.

On this Remembrance Day, I challenge you to take a moment to respect the fallen, and to reflect on the lives of the young men and women whose faces rarely come to mind when we think of veterans. Not all of today’s veterans are over the age of 50. You’ll never know who among you on the train, or in a grocery store has served for the military overseas.

Canadians are still dealing with high unemployment rates. As a result, it is still an employer’s market: because there are so many applicants for each vacant position, recruiters receive hundreds of applicants for postings in highly populated areas such as Greater Vancouver.

To job hunters who are dealing with the financial stress and emotional challenges that come with unemployment, this Nov 11th I urge you to be mindful of young veterans in the same position as you. When you are seeking employment, it is such a burden to hear ‘you didn`t get this job because it wasn`t meant for you.’ However, since it is Nov 11th, perhaps that statement of consolation will be more kindly received because among the unemployed in Canada are veterans of war who have served overseas in their mid-twenties over the last ten years.

Coffee Shop HR: Join the Discussion from the Beginning

Today will be a historic one in the United States as either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is elected President. Since Barack Obama has been instrumental in changing so much in the US since the beginning of his Presidency in 2008, and since the Nation is such a powerful one, so much could change if Republican Mitt Romney is elected tonight.

What won’t change is that tomorrow you’ll have to go to work. And all day, you’ll encounter people who are already at work: bus drivers, sales clerks, teachers, and countless others.

Undoubtedly you’ll encounter unemployed people too. You likely have no idea whether the person standing beside you is employed, and really, I have no idea whether you’re employed yourself.

HR is something that most people only think about when they’re when they’re in trouble or looking for a change:

I’m scheduled to work 12 days in a row. Can they do that?

They laid off everyone but the four of us. The problem now is they’re giving us jobs that pay less than what we’re making now!

What do you mean, I have to apply for unemployment insurance for my Maternity Leave? Aren’t they going to keep paying me my full salary?

Human Resources policies and practices affect each working person’s life every day, and yet it’s only a point of discussion when major changes are forced upon us.

This is why I’ve built this blog: to encourage you to think about and question HR issues that may not even affect you today, but more likely will affect you in the future. When discussing employee issues at work, I hear time and again, ‘they don’t know what they don’t know.’ While this is certainly true, it’s no excuse for naiveté.

My goal for Coffee Shop HR is to bring thoughtful writers from around the world to discuss HR issues.  No matter what your profession or career aspirations, HR issues affect your work environment, well being, and your salary.
Currently Coffee Shop HR has three writers on board: Bonnie Milne, PhD in Dubai, Michelle Yao in Toronto, and myself in Vancouver.

Every 3rd Monday of the month, this site will host a Coffee Shop HR World Cafe.

A World Cafe involves gathering a group of people into a room with the purpose of discussing a shared issue.  Participants are broken into groups of tables, and each table discusses some aspect of the general issue.  As an online World Cafe, each writer will respond to the same topic each month, allowing readers to really compare the different perspectives which exist.

Our first Coffee Shop HR World Cafe will be held on Monday Nov 19, 2012.  The topic of discussion is ‘How can HR clearly communicate that bullying is unacceptable?

I’m happy to connect with anyone who is interested in contributing to Coffee Shop HR.  If you are interested in volunteering as a writer, contributing as a visual artist (including photographs or illustration) or submitting video posts, please feel free to contact me at coffeeshophr@yahoo.com.

Cheers!  And if you’re an American, please get out there and vote!

Geraldine Sangalang