Archive for September, 2010

Montreal: The centre of the (HR) universe

Videographer Amanda Silliker is live on the floor at the 13th World Human Resources Congress in Montreal

By Todd Humber (

This week, Montreal is the centre of the HR universe.

That’s because human resources professionals from around the globe are descending on the city for the 13th World Human Resources Congress, and Canadian HR Reporter has a reporter live on the scene.

Amanda Silliker, our videographer, is checking out the sights at the Palais des Congrès and will file video reports this week from Montreal. Stay tuned to for video updates this week, and in the coming weeks.

Amanda is sitting down and talking to some of the most interesting presenters at the conference. For the HR professionals who couldn’t make the trip to Montreal, it’s a great way to get a flavour of the conference.

And for those of you lucky enough to be in attendance, it’s a way to get more insight from some of the top names in the HR field.

For more videos, including our chat with Google’s director of people operations and the head of HR for Workopolis, check out the Multimedia Centre at

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter. For more information, visit


Have unions ‘lost Cronkite?’

While generally sympathetic to workers, the public has an increasingly low tolerance for disruptions to their routine. And they’re taking those frustrations out at the ballot box.

By Todd Humber (

During the Vietnam war, broadcaster Walter Cronkite aired an editorial where he said the war was unwinnable.  In response, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.”

Johnson knew the importance of having public sentiment on his side. That’s something union leaders would be well advised to remember when it comes time to express displeasure over negotiations, contracts and government policy.

As I’m writing this, there is labour chaos in Europe. The London Underground shut down as subway workers took part in the first of several planned 24-hour strikes. And French unions are taking to the streets in a nationwide strike to protest the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Henda Fersi, interviewed by the Associated Press at a train station in France, expressed the frustration felt by many people.

“I’m just getting tired of this because this is not the first time. I understand the strikers’ point of view but, still, they put us in a difficult situation and we are penalized.”

While generally sympathetic to workers, the public has an increasingly low tolerance for disruptions to their routine. And they’re taking those frustrations out at the ballot box.

There may be no better example of this than Windsor, Ont. The city — a pro-union, blue-collar town if there ever was one — turned on a dime last year during a bitter garbage strike. The final straw for many came with a video posted on YouTube that showed a woman (allegedly a union member who worked for the city) approach an elderly couple and their granddaughter, who had been cleaning up a park, rip open a garbage bag and dump the contents out in front of them.

“Here’s some more garbage, since you think you should be doing our jobs,” she is reported to have said to the young girl, according to reports in the Windsor Star.

Since that strike ended, Windsor has outsourced trash collection and parking enforcement. Only a few years ago, it would have been political suicide for local politicians to even suggest the City of Roses go down that road.

A similar scenario is playing out in Toronto. The public fumed last year over a garbage strike where one of the key issues was sick banks — which let workers accumulate unused sick days and then cash out when they retire. At first, residents were mad at the unions for withdrawing the service and leaving them to deal with a stinky mess. But they seemed equally angry at city hall when the settlement came through, frustrated because the sick bank didn’t disappear immediately.

In the wake of that Rob Ford, a right-wing councillor, is leading the mayor race and would likely win if the election were held today.

The fact Toronto, a hot-bed of liberalism, and Windsor can change stripes so quickly is a warning sign. The public has no appetite for union demands, is weary of strikes (especially ones that shut down public services) and is willing to vote for the candidates or the party most willing to squash the union.

There’s an old saying that “employers get the union they deserve.” It looks like a new saying could be “unions get the governments they deserve.”

It’s too early to say with certainty that unions have “lost Cronkite.” But the early returns aren’t looking good for labour.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit


Memo to employers: Living paycheque to paycheque takes a toll

Employees’ personal finances may be none of the company’s business, but don’t underestimate the impact on the workplace

By Todd Humber (

A majority of Canadians are hanging on to the edge of a financial cliff by their fingers.

Nearly six out of 10 workers (59 per cent) would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque was delayed by a week, according to a national survey of 2,766 employees conducted by the Canadian Payroll Association.

That should raise plenty of red flags for employers.

How individual employees manage their personal finances is, of course, none of the company’s business. But the side effects of living paycheque to paycheque can have significant ramifications in the workplace in terms of morale, stress and distraction.

So what’s an employer to do?

“Raise wages!” That would be the chorus coming from employees. And, ideally, yes. More money wouldn’t hurt. But let’s be realistic — that’s not going to happen. While salary freezes are certainly thawing for 2011, according to most compensation surveys, employers aren’t in a position to throw fistfuls of cash at workers. And, frankly, that may only treat the symptoms and not the causes for a population addicted to credit and living beyond their means, regardless of how high those means might go.

A more prudent strategy for employers is making financial counseling available for free to all employees. If an organization has an employee assistance program (EAP) in place, then it should bring that to the attention of employees. And employers need to underscore the fact that it’s a free, completely confidential resource for employees to turn to.

If an EAP isn’t in place, consider putting one in — they don’t cost that much, and provide a wide range of services to help employees.

If the organization has no interest in an EAP, then it could look at hiring a financial consultant to conduct lunch-and-learns or perhaps private one-on-one sessions with workers, with the employer footing the bill.

With so many workers facing financial difficulty, and the extreme toll worrying about finances takes, it’s a problem employers cannot afford to ignore. Organizations know the value of an engaged workforce. If 60 per cent of the population is going to work stressed about their personal finances, it’s going to have an impact on the bottom line.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit

I know what your employees are doing Wednesday at 4 p.m.

And while it may seem wrong, it’s OK to turn a blind eye to this behaviour

By Todd Humber (

Everyone knows employees goof off during the work day. Always have, always will.

But technology is making it easier to track exactly when, and how, employees are goofing off, especially if they’re using their office computers to do it.

This isn’t news to employers. After all, many employers monitor Internet and email use in the workplace. Social network websites like Facebook and online game portals like MiniClip are common time wasters among desk jockeys.

Employers, for the most part, turn a blind eye to this activity, reserving punishment only for the most excessive use or for unacceptable behaviour such as online gambling or pornography.

Thanks to a recent British study, we now have some insights into another popular workday pastime among office workers — online shopping.

Invisible Hand, an online price comparison website in the U.K., found that not only do workers shop online during office hours (online retail stores are virtual ghost towns in the evenings and early mornings) but Wednesday is apparently the most popular day for workers to pull out credit cards and make a purchase.

Robin Landy, president of Invisible Hand, said there was a 52 per cent increase in shopping from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, with a surge of 75 per cent on Wednesday.

The busiest time for online purchases? That would be 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, which has led some experts to speculate workers are getting over the “hump day” blues by doing a little shopping.

For employers, the best reaction to this new bit of information is complacency. In other words: Don’t sweat it.

For stressed out employees, taking a few minutes of personal Internet time here and there is a nice outlet. Consider it the modern equivalent of a smoke break since most people have given up that habit or never started in the first place.

Unless, of course, personal use of the Internet becomes problematic, in which case employers shouldn’t hesitate to… wait… what’s that? Somebody in the cubicle across the way just said something about a clearance sale at The Bay. Gotta run.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit

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