Archive for October, 2010

Plenty of room on the bench

How tough are times? Even the NHL is cutting back on staff – albeit for somewhat different reasons

By Todd Humber

Empty cubicles, vacant offices and cobwebbed assembly lines. Those are all signs of the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery. But Canadian office and manufacturing workers aren’t the only ones seeing fewer colleagues in the workplace these days.

Keep a close eye on your television during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and you’ll see many players in the NHL have, well, a little more elbow room when they’re hanging out on the bench.

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur makes a stick save, as Pittsburgh Penguins Mark Letestu watches, during the first period. The Devils dressed only 15 players for the game, something that caught the attention of the players' union. (Photo: Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

During one game in October against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils dressed only 15 skaters. That garnered the attention of the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), the union representing players. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), teams are allowed a maximum of 23 players on their rosters. It furthers states that, “except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum playing rosters of the clubs, below 18 skaters and two goaltenders.”

The CBA doesn’t define what constitutes an “emergency” for dressing fewer than 20 players. In the case of the Devils, they’re playing shorthanded because they have no cap space and were hamstrung by injuries and a suspension.

For the 2010-2011 season, teams can spend no more than US$59.4 million on players’ salaries (the NHL pays its players in U.S. currency). The league minimum salary for this year is $500,000 and the Devils have 15 players making more than $1 million with star forward Ilya Kovalchuk taking up $6.6 million of the cap space on his own.

The Devils started the season with no cap space, and therefore no flexibility to call up players from the minors should problems arise. Whether that’s a smart move (the Devils, in theory anyway, maximized their talent level by spending every available penny) or a huge mistake (injuries and suspensions are part of the game, so why take the risk of having such a short bench?) is in the eye of the beholder.

But they’re far from the only team to play shorthanded. At least 10 teams are carrying fewer than the maximum, including four of the six Canadian teams — the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.

There are varying reasons for the extra leg room on the bench. In some cases, leaving holes in the roster is designed to save cash-strapped teams a bit of money. In others, it’s a strategic tactic designed to give more personnel flexibility later in the season. It’s all about talent and risk management.

The NHL reportedly isn’t taking the complaint from the NHLPA too seriously. The union, for its part, is a little bit toothless at the moment. It’s without a leader, but Donald Fehr — the fiery former head of the players’ union for Major League Baseball — is expected to take the helm later this month.

The current CBA expires on Sept. 15, 2011. Expect the salary cap and minimum roster sizes to be a significant issue when negotiations open up. In the meantime, players might want to stretch out, relax and enjoy all that empty space on the bench. With fewer players to rotate in and out, they’re going to need the rest. 

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


Hands off the payroll taxes

Finance ministers are morphing into Saturday morning cartoon characters

By Todd Humber (

You can almost hear their hands rubbing together with glee.

As the economy thaws, finance ministers and public officials are morphing into Saturday morning cartoon characters. You’ve all seen this episode — the one where two characters are stuck in an abandoned cabin with no food and one of them morphs into a turkey leg as the other salivates.

Employers, well, you’re playing the role of the turkey leg. And finance ministers are salivating as they eye the massive deficits incurred during the recession.

It’s a rerun we’d rather not watch. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty heard the rumble in his tummy when he looked at the deficit in the employment insurance program. EI has become a huge drag on government books, as claims and payments skyrocketed through the recession.

The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The federal government have lowered premium increases for employment insurance for 2011. (Photo: Blair Gable/Reuters)

According to Statistics Canada, EI roles swelled by 329,000 people during the 2008-2009 recession, hitting a peak in June 2009. Since then, there has been a decline of 157,100 recipients, but there were still 672,600 people collecting pogey as of July (the most recent numbers available.)

Since Ottawa wisely froze EI premiums as part of its economic stimulus during the recession, the money coming in hasn’t nearly matched the cash going out. To which employers say, “Oh well.”

Not to suggest employers are shirking off their duty to help out laid off workers. But, as Canadian HR Reporter reported back in 2008, employers overfunded EI to the tune of $54 billion between 1996 and 2007. That money went into the government’s general revenues.

Maybe it’s unfair to pin the mistakes of previous regimes on Flaherty, but employers aren’t looking to play the blame game. Companies didn’t get their money back when they overpaid, so it doesn’t seem fair for Ottawa to come knocking now that the shoe is on the other foot.

The freeze on EI premiums expires on Jan. 1, 2011. Originally, it looked like Ottawa was going to increase the premiums by the maximum allowed. That would have amounted to an 8.7-per-cent increase. Or, in pure dollars, an extra 23 cents per $100 for employers and another 15 cents per $100 for employees.

Thankfully, the federal Conservatives relented and have lowered the premium increases to five cents for employees and seven cents for employers, saving workers and companies about $1.2 billion next year. It also moved to limit future increases to a maximum of 10 cents per $100 for employees and 14 cents per $100 for employers.

An increase in payroll taxes is the last thing this economy needs. It’s recovering, but it’s not roaring. Best not to ease up on the throttle just yet.

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

Everything is good in moderation, even the economy

The sobering new economic reality will, hopefully, help us all avoid hangovers

By Todd Humber (

The party is, apparently, over.

Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, said so. The boom times of the past? Well, we’re not going to see their ilk, at least in the near future.

“We’re in a different world today,” he said. “This is not a time of booming economic growth, it’s a time of modest growth and there needs to be some adjustment of expectations. We’re not going to see the boom times that we saw before in the shorter term.”

So is the sky falling?

It sure doesn’t seem like it. Nobody’s leaping out of windows on Bay Street. Calgary’s office towers aren’t collapsing. The street lights are still coming on at night, and black ink is still showing up on corporate ledgers.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty arrives at the Commonwealth Secretariat news conference during the annual IMF-World Bank meeting at the IMF headquarters building in Washington on Oct. 8. Flaherty has warned Canadians not to expect the economic boom times to return anytime soon. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

I recall talking to a prominent business leader at a forum in Ottawa a couple of years ago. I won’t name him, because it was a casual conversation at a cocktail party and not an interview, but he raised an interesting point: He said, quite adamantly, he wasn’t a fan of double-digit growth. In fact, he thought it was counterproductive even though he made a lot of money when the times were good.

He used words like “unsustainable” and “unhealthy.” He expressed concern about the effect of unbridled growth on the environment, natural resources and on the mental health of workers.

Back in 2005, I interviewed Conservative MP Brian Jean, the representative for the federal riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca, for a story I was working on about the oilsands and the labour shortage facing Alberta.

Jean questioned why there was such a race to develop the oilsands and the need to bring in foreign workers. (And let me stress again, he’s a Conservative MP — not a Liberal or an NDP.)

“We have a resource that is not leaving the country, it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “You can’t run a pipeline to China under the earth, so the oil is staying there. Prices are not going down, so why should we bring in foreign workers?”

Managed properly, the Fort McMurray, Alta., area would be poised to be a boom town for the next century, he argued. So why race like crazy, driving up costs, to suck every last drop out of the ground in the next 25 years?

Corporate titans may not like the message coming from Flaherty or the new economic reality that prescribes moderation. But there’s some serious silver lining here: Take away the boom, and maybe the bust goes the way of the dodo.

Isn’t sustained, moderate economic growth better than the soaring highs and lows the last decade brought? Banks like RBC and TD Canada Trust never experienced the highs of AIG or Bank of America. But they did OK for themselves. And when the party ended, Canadian banks didn’t show up at 26 Sussex with their hats in their hands, suffering from a mighty economic hangover.

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

We’re way past the tipping point on social media

As Future Shop turns to social media to recruit 4,000 holiday staffers, the excuses for sitting on the sidelines are running out

By Todd Humber (

Think social media is a passing fad? You might get along well with those folks who thought the world was flat.

Because there’s no denying social media is mainstream and is here to stay. Further evidence of the fascination with Web 2.0 came on the weekend at the box office, as The Social Network — the move chronicling the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook — dominated the box office, raking in US$23 million in North America. (And many critics are buzzing about it being a candidate for the best film of the year.)

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, delivers a keynote address at the company's annual conference in San Francisco. (Photo: Kimberly White/Reuters)

Just look at the statistics around social networking: Facebook has more than 500 million active users. That’s a stunning figure. And they’re an engaged audience. More than 50 per cent of them log on to Facebook on any given day, and people spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the website.

LinkedIn, which is more popular among the corporate crowd, has more than 80 million members.

Start digging through the web stats provided by Alexa, which tracks the 500 most popular websites in the world, and it doesn’t take long to see the impact of social media.

The number one website, not surprisingly, is Google. But Facebook is nipping at its heels in the number two spot. YouTube grabs the third spot. Then social media lets a few other search engines into the game, but reappears at number eight ( and number nine (Twitter). Four of the top 10 websites in the world are social media related.

There’s a message coming through here loud and clear for employers. Just a couple of years ago, it might have been defensible not to have a social media strategy. But the tipping point is in the rearview mirror now.

Employers need to get on board the social media bandwagon. This is particularly the case for human resources. If we believe the numbers on demographics, almost every sector of the Canadian economy is going to experience worker shortages over the next decade.

It’s cliché, but young people preparing to enter the workforce are unbelievably plugged in to social media. Employers are picking up on this. One prime example is Future Shop. On Oct. 4, the electronics retailer announced it was hiring more than 4,000 seasonal associates for the holidays.

Not a surprise. Retailers typically bulk up on staff for the busy shopping season. But read the first line of the press release it put out announcing the recruitment drive.

“Future Shop is using a modern form of recruitment to hire more than 4,000 tech savvy seasonal associates by turning to social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.”

Chris Taylor, the company’s vice-president of HR, said going beyond traditional job postings made a lot of sense.

“We recognize that most of our customers and associates are social media savvy, so what better way to recruit them through channels they frequently use,” he said.

In Future Shop’s case, the decision was a no-brainer, given the nature of its products and the skills its employees’ need.

But it should be a no brainer for every organization, regardless of the sector it’s in or the products and services it offers. You can post current job openings, build the employer brand by blogging about employee events and “tweet” about everything the organization is doing to be a responsible corporate citizen.

The cost is minimal (accounts are free to setup, and require a minimal amount of employee time to keep updated) and the benefits are countless. The return on investment, for the number crunchers out there, would be off the charts. So jump in, and we’ll see you online.

For more information on how to use social media for recruiting and other HR purposes, visit and enter “social media” as a search term.

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