Time to Put the Human in Human Resources!

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In this time of crisis, as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are trying to simultaneously cope with the situation and support their citizens. Most governments are being very supportive with generous financial support, but some are using this time to make some controversial decisions, such as the current Canadian Liberal government attempting to give themselves sweeping powers without democratic oversight—in the end, the Canadian federal democratic system determined that oversight will still be provided.

This is a time of great chaos for our modern society, but it can also be a time of great reflection on how we want to better our society for the future. In the media, one is hearing calls for improvements, such as more respect and greater compensation for our frontline workers, including—but not limited to—grocery store clerks, truck drivers, and personal support workers.

It has also been brought to our attention that we need to do more to improve the fundamental working and living conditions of our long-term care homes as well. The Quebec government have proposed an idea to redeploy education workers to work in long-term care facilities. To understand why the government can do this, we need to have a history lesson on the foundations that formed the employer and employee relationship in Canada, as we know it today.

To understand Canadian employment laws, you have to go back over 400 years to England, to the 1563 Statute of Artificers Act, which basically stated that if you refused to do or quit a job, you would go to jail. It was a very draconian concept, but at the time, this was seen as an efficient way to deal with poverty.

Then, in the 18th century, there was a development of what were called the master and servant laws, and these laws now act as the foundations of our current employer-employee relationship. Only a change in the name of these laws, and not in the legal relationship itself, has occurred; we have just replaced the word “master” with “employer” and “servant” with “employee.” The fundamental power structure supporting this contractual relationship, however, remains the same. All the power rests with the “master,” or employer, and the “servant,” or employee, must follow their demands. Even though we have other laws, like the Employment Standards Act and the Human Rights codes, the ultimate balance of power still rests with the employer.

This is what the Quebec government seem to be relying on, believing that they are the “master” (and they do have the legal right to be) over their employees (the teachers), who are their “servants.” The government then believe that they have the power to decree whatever work their employees should do. In a case like this, we are using contractual laws that are hundreds of years old to decide what our employees should be doing.

Even in a time of crisis, perhaps it is time to embrace a more egalitarian view of the employer-employee relationship. Perhaps it is time to put the word “human” back into “human resources,” and treat workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. Perhaps it is time to dismiss the outdated belief that workers are just “servants” to their employers.

Discussion Questions:

Click and read the following two references: here and here. Reflect and prepare to debate one of the following positions with a partner:

  1. It is time to change the concept of “master” and “servant” in relation to the employer-employee relationship.
  2. There is no need to change the concept of the “master” and “servant” relationship in an employer-employee relationship as other employment laws have already done so.

The Power of Three

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Vision. Mission. Values. These three elements form the fundamental pillars for an organization’s strategic plan. When we look at each of these as separate elements, they have inherent power. Vision is the big idea that drives and pulls the organization into its future self. Mission articulates the purpose or the reason for being in the organizational marketplace. Values are the beliefs upon which the organization exists in order to represent itself with its moral, ethical, and social character.

When these three separate elements are joined together, their power becomes solidified. Like a three-legged stool, their strength is reinforced through their reliance on each other. One leg does not function without the other two, and all three provide the basis of support for the organization’s success. Should one of the legs be weakened or break, the entire entity will topple over.

An example of how the strength of these elements work together—to support organizational and human resources success—can be found in a short interview with the CEO and President of Schneider Electric, Annette Clayton.

Click here to read the interview with CEO Clayton.

Click here to find out more about Schneider Electric.

As noted in the CEO’s responses, Schneider Electric has not only built its award-winning success on the “highest levels of business integrity,” it is deeply committed to its “people strategy,” so it can remain competitive within the industry, and future-focused to achieve its vision. As the organizational leader, the CEO can clearly articulate how organizational values shape her decision-making processes. It is also interesting to note how critical the role of Human Resources is, not only as a partner to the CEO, but also as a leadership champion for successful changes in implementing its strategic commitments to its people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can Human Resources use organizational values in the development of a “people strategy”?
  2. Think about your own work experiences. How did an organization’s vision, mission, and values impact you as an employee? Were these elements evident in the workplace? What advice would you give to your employer to change or improve the visibility and impact of the organization’s vision, mission, and values?

KitKat Is Updating…Maybe Employers Should As Well

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After six decades, the KitKat chocolate bar is updating its marketing tagline from “Have a break—have a KitKat” to “Make the most of your break.”

Perhaps modern employers need to refresh their views on the value of workplace breaks and vacation time as well. Even Fredrick Taylor, the inventor of scientific management theory during the 1800s Industrial Revolution, realized the value of taking breaks in the workplace. His famous pig iron experiment showed that if workers were given more frequent breaks, they could move up to 47 tons of iron a day—compared to moving only 12 tons of iron a day, without breaks, which is almost a 300% increase in organizational output. Taking breaks in most workplaces, however, is not an accepted practice. Research posted in a Forbes article illustrated that taking breaks is frowned upon by employers:

  • 38% of employees don’t feel encouraged to take a lunch break.
  • 22% of North American bosses say that employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.

This is unfortunate, as we have known since the 1800s, from scientific management, that breaks actually increase productivity. Current research by Tork reinforces the idea of employee productivity and engagement being improved on by taking breaks. Tork’s research shows that “employees who take a lunch break on a daily basis feel more valued by their employer, and 81% of employees who take a daily lunch break hav[e] a strong desire to be an active member in their company.”

Now let’s consider the most beneficial workplace break of them all: vacation time. Employers are not respecting this workplace break either. CBC reports only a dismal 33% of employees take their full annual vacation allotment.  

It is time for employees to stand up and take the advice of KitKat: “Make the most of your break.” It is time for employers to wake up and realize workplace burnout is real, and they should support their employees in taking regular breaks, from lunches to vacations. How do we really want to spend the rest of our lives—working in an economy, or living in a society with an economy?

Discussion Question

Research the average amount of paid leave days employees receive in Europe compared to employees in North America. Develop a persuasive argument that could be presented to a VP of HR, asserting that there is value in providing more paid leave days per year to North American employees. Use this link to start your research.

When 81% Is Considered a Failure

81%—Why Current Workplace Leadership Gets a Failing Grade

Usually a rating of over 80% is praised as a positive HR Key Performance Indicator (KPI); however, in this case, 81% is a failing grade.


According to a recent global report by the O.C. Tanner Institute, 81% of Canadian employees are experiencing some type of workplace burnout, which is 2% higher than the global average. The 2020 Global Culture Report of the workplace done by the O.C. Tanner Institute has provided some startling insights about current workplace cultures:

  • 59% of employees would leave their job for a comparable one
  • Only 42% of employees rated their employment experience as positive or extremely positive

These are very discouraging results revealing that many employees have negative workplace experiences, and some of these experiences can be related back to the dominant workplace culture, which is not supportive of employees.

Creating a supportive workplace is a function of organizational leadership and having a supportive workplace can reap very positive employee engagement benefits. In the very same survey, the O.C. Tanner Institute reported that organizations that have a positive workplace culture are:

  • 13 times more likely to have highly engaged employees
  • 3 times less likely to have layoffs
  • 2 times more likely to have increases in revenue
  • 7 times more likely to have employees innovating

The above list is not just great for the HR departments of these organizations, but are great business results overall. If one extrapolates their research though, this shows that only 19% of Canadian employers are reaping the benefits of positive employee engagement.

The O.C. Tanner Institute commented that current workplace leadership is dead. To counteract this, organizations have to fundamentally change their leadership style to one that promotes hope, employee engagement, and inspiration. No longer will mindful mediations, onsite yoga, and weak work–life balance policies work to reduce employee burnout. There needs to be a fundamental change in how leaders in organizations treat their employees.

Organizations must cultivate an environment that is one of mentoring and coaching rather than managing. Understanding current research, such as the O.C. Tanner Global Report, is a great starting point for organizational leadership to turn their dismal employee engagement numbers around.

Discussion Question:

Briefly review the O.C. Tanner Institute Global Report on Culture. Use this link to assist your research. Once done, prepare a 5-minute presentation outlining the highlights of the report that could be presented to a VP of HR.

Are Female CEOs Better?

Whenever over-generalizations are made one must always try to better understand with data and parameters of what you are trying to generalize. Are female CEO’s better? An interesting question but very generalized. Let’s look at some data; the HR professional may find interesting.

The research shows that females may be better than male CEO’s in a number of business categories. Forbes magazine research shows that companies that have female CEO’s are better in the following categories:

  • Meeting their financial targets
  • A more desirable place to work
  • And greater employee engagement

Click here to read about details of the benefits of female CEO’s.  

Having success in business and an enjoyable place to work seem to be the main business goals of any HR department. Improving ones organization may not be as much about HR as it is about leadership.

Peakon, a HR research organization that measures a variety of organizational metrics did not find any categories where male CEO’s beat the performance of female CEO’s. That is a very positive statement about the success of female CEO’s. 

However, in reality females make up a very small portion of CEO’s in Canada. In fact, as of July 2018, none of the top companies listed on the TSX 60 had a female CEO, and less than 8 percent of females were even on the senior management team of those company’s.

HR leaders have been speaking out for years about the benefits of diversity in the workplace, what has to happen for organizations to wake up and truly embrace the success of female employees in senior leadership positions.

Discussion Question

Developing a diversity policy is the first step at closing the workplace gender gap. Research organization in Canada that have diversity policy’s review three specific policies.  Identity the one that you think is the most effective at improving diversity and state why you think it is?