Are Canadians unhappier at work than Americans?

By Francis Li (photo by S. Yume)

From the political arena to the hockey arena – and from literacy to life expectancy –Americans and Canadians love a good “compare and contrast” debate on just about any socioeconomic variable.
As organizations on both sides of the border place increased value on productivity and employee engagement, finding out whose employees are happier at work, and why, is of growing concern. Despite the stereotype of having a generally sunnier disposition, recent research has emerged suggesting that Canadians are less happy at work than Americans.
I’m sorry to break the news, eh?
A new Softchoice study on the relationship between technology and employee engagement finds implementing technology that empowers employees to be not just more productive, but productive on their terms, has a positive impact on their overall job satisfaction. And further, U.S. companies appear to be doing a better job at it.
For example, the study finds 66 per cent of American full-time workers use cloud applications (i.e. Dropbox, Evernote) on the job, compared to 57 per cent of Canadians. Those same respondents report similar gaps in workplace satisfaction. The study finds 77 per cent of Americans are happy with their current jobs compared to 65 per cent of Canadians, and 72 per cent of American workers plan to stay with their current employers for the long-term versus 61 per cent of Canadians.
Across the board, Softchoice found that employees who use cloud apps for work are more productive, more excited about their jobs, and have more flexibility in their workdays.
I’m by no means suggesting that moving applications to the cloud is the magic solution for Canadian businesses. Employee engagement is never that simple. However, enabling a mobile workforce through Internet-based apps puts the employee in more control of how they work, when they work, and where they work. That kind of autonomy – and I’m speaking from experience here – can lead to better work-life balance, productivity, collaboration and project management.
And despite the popular notion that the excess of mobile devices, apps and other tools available today overload employees, technology (when applied the right way) does contribute to increased employee engagement.
Compared to their American counterparts, it seems that Canadian businesses have yet to embrace cloud apps and other new technologies as a catalyst of employee efficiency. Research by SAP and Oxford Economics found that only 38 per cent of Canadian employees get access to the latest technology, and just 52 per cent receive ample training on workplace technology.
Any successful IT initiative demands active employee involvement throughout – from the requirements gathering stage, through to the implementation and the training and adoption cycle. Getting employees involved on the ground floor makes them a part of the decision-making process. It helps them to better understand the choices being made, and makes them much more likely to see value in using the new tool once it’s implemented.
When the potential of that technology is realized, it doesn’t just improve business results, it improves workplace culture and job satisfaction.
Whether it’s the IT or HR department, or the C-suite, business leaders need to understand technology’s positive influence on staff performance – and, consequently, morale. Cross-border competition aside, it’s time for all businesses to rethink the power technology can deliver, even in the least likely of places.
Francis Li is the Vice President of Information Technology for Softchoice, a North American technology solutions and services provider.

Millennials’ life experience may mean more than work history

Good Work - Lisa Cefali
Good Work – Lisa Cefali

The Canada Winter Games held in Prince George, B.C. brought together a collection of Canada’s finest junior athletes across a multitude of platforms. Individual athletes and teams competed to attain personal bests and medals for their provincial organizations.
For some, the Games would bring them one step closer to possibly representing their country at the next Olympics.
From the start of the opening ceremonies, Prince George was electrified with excitement, pride, and positive energy that everyone could feel. Each training day and competitive event was evidence of the best of the best on display, but also of the many hours, determination and dedication needed to get to that point.
I was fortunate to attend the Games with the freestyle ski team. What struck me every day as we moved from Village to Mountain and back was the skill and attributes so many of these athletes shared. There were 2,500 young adults across over 20 sports – whom at some point had started out with a mere interest in sport which led to their journey toward competing at the Games.
Separate from the pack
These were not just your everyday teens and young adults. Well, these were definitely not the teens and young adults we’ve heard classified as reluctant to do anything but stay indoors and game or pass numerous hours online – or that seem entitled to have everything given to them.
They didn’t seem to have been directed by a hovering parent telling them what they should do every minute of every day. What I saw was a group of team and individual athletes who were also independent thinkers: who were focused and dedicated, and who understood that an investment of their time and effort would get them closer to reaching their goal.
I saw a group who understood that they had to eat and sleep well to support their training, train hard, take direction, and execute on advice from their coaches – who they believed did know more and had experience and knowledge to share.
As a group, these were the ones who now had gone beyond the “participation trophy” and knew that at the end of the day, there would be winners of medals, and disappointment and frustration for those who did not win – but they had already won the experience of a lifetime they could take with them.
I was among a group of kids who did not expect to win the gold medal after entering their first year, but knew that devoted training hours and a focused attitude would get them to the next level.
These individuals, a mixture of seasoned athletes and nervous first-timers, looked up to each other and admired each other’s talents and sport. Some were envious of each other and may have even been driven to exceed their own expectations.
As I passed my days among them, I thought of the comments often heard regarding the next generation of employees who are entering into the workforce. Issues of a lack of engagement, workers who do not have the commitment to do a little more to succeed, or who feel that after 12 months they are experts and should be rewarded with a raise or a promotion.
Those who are job-hopping because “they don’t like their manager” or that they simply do not have the patience to put in the time to excel in their role.
I considered the questions often asked: “how come we don’t have the strong work ethic amongst the newly hired that we have seen with the baby boomers and other generations?” Yet, as I saw these athletes compete in Prince George, it struck me – maybe here was the answer.
Perhaps it is time that every HR director and manager not only look at work experience and simply gloss over that section of the resume that presents involvement in sports and activities, but instead, bring the exploration of that experience to the forefront, and see how it will translate into the workplace. Maybe this generation just needs to be analyzed differently.
Hiring the best of the best is not about simply finding that one gold-medal-winning athlete, but finding the individuals who can perform at that high level, and have a great skill set that is ready to be transferred to a new role.
That type of talent, attitude and dedication is easily transferable. So, the next time you consider a millennial for an entry-level position, or perhaps a Gen X employee for that next promotion, rather than only focusing on their recent work-related accomplishments and experience, scroll down to the bottom of that resume, and really delve into their story.
By hiring someone who’s seen a few competitions, you bring on someone who knows what it means to want to win.
Lisa Cefali is the vice president of executive search with Legacy Bowes Group, where she uses her many years of business experience and assessment of emotional intelligence to uncover organizational insight and those attributes that provide the best fit for her clients with their strategic planning needs. Please feel free to contact her at lisa@legacybowes.com for your executive search, recruitment, coaching, and strategic planning needs.

The price of a collegial atmosphere

Think Shift-Balaji Krishnamurthy
Think Shift-Balaji Krishnamurthy

Photo by Reyner Media

In the U.S., we do not discuss politics at work. And if somebody expresses an opinionated position, we simply smile, nod, and move on to the next topic. Why? Because politics polarizes people and we want to maintain a collegial atmosphere at work.
I grew up in India and I have spent a fair amount of time in Europe and Asia. Political discussions are not considered to be as polarizing in those regions of the world; they are viewed simply as a healthy debate.
Does a collegial atmosphere require lack of disagreement?
In a collegial atmosphere, can people disagree, express their opinions with passion and conviction, and close the conversation agreeing to disagree? We tend to believe that discussions must end in agreement or some sort of resolution. This tendency results in inauthentic conclusions to discussions.
Diffuse speakers relax their convictions and specific speakers dig in their heels for an argument.
Do all disagreements have to be resolved one way or the other? Can people maintain healthy relationships knowing full well that they disagree on certain important matters?
Healthy relationships are not measured by the number of hugs, but rather by the number of fights that end in hugs.
It is the ending in hugs that is important, not the lack of fights. Healthy relationships should foster healthy debates. Lack of debates might well be an indicator of the relationship not being healthy.
In creating an intentional corporate culture, you might strive to create a collegial atmosphere. The shadow side of this strength is fear of conflict – where people are reluctant to express their opinion because it is not aligned with the opinion being otherwise aired.
Fear of conflict leads to the loud and obnoxious shouting out the quiet and thoughtful. It leads to the multitude of subordinate opinions deferring to the single opinion of the superior. It leads to the new and different ideas being overwhelmed by the status quo of tried and true practices.
In a culture of collegial atmosphere, it is important that you empower, encourage, and enable people to face conflict and have healthy debates.
How do you teach people to have a healthy debate?
We offer three common causes for debates to turn ugly, and from it, three ways you can turn debates healthy.
The first cause is Aristotle’s principle of the excluded middle. The belief that there is a right and wrong. Something is good or bad. It is either true or false. Either you are on my side or you are with the enemy.
This polarization of thought causes debates to become personal. What is the solution? Try throwing in expressions like, “I believe…” The more you use the term “I believe,” the easier it is for the other person to receive your opinion.
So, do you turn everything into a belief?
That naturally leads us to the next reason debates turn ugly – facts versus interpretations.
In a wonderful book called The Communications Catalyst, my good friends and colleagues Mickey Connelly and Richard Rianoshek explain how people co-mingle facts and interpretations. By separating facts (that can be observed and measured) from interpretations (that are your way of looking at the facts and drawing conclusions from them), they argue that you can have more “accurate” and more “authentic” conversations.
Instead, people pursue “sincere” conversations where, by co-mingling facts andinterpretations, they pursue “their truth,” convinced that it is the truth. So separate facts and interpretations and preface your statements with those labels.
Finally, ignoring the old adage, people fail to seek to understand before they seek to be understood. In our opinion, the most important aspect of a healthy debate is the ability to understand and advocate the other person’s point of view.
Showing that you can argue the other point of view demonstrates mutual respect for the individual(s), concedes the existence of multiple points of view, acknowledges an appreciation of the strengths of the other side, and in the process, expresses a recognition that the parties at play are not good or bad, right or wrong, based on which position they hold. It leads to hugs at the end of fights.
Dr. Balaji Krishnamurthy, chairman of Think Shift, is a veteran executive with more than 30 years of corporate experience. Time Magazine recognized him as one of 25 Global Business Influentials, and publications such as the Wall Street Journal have featured Balaji and his innovative concepts as representing a new genre of corporate leadership. Known for his innovative and thought-provoking ideas, Balaji works with CEOs to develop organic leadership through an intentional corporate culture.

The real problem with being a “yes” man or woman

The Corporate Climb-Laura Wittig
The Corporate Climb-Laura Wittig

Photo by Walt Stoneburner

Disclaimer: Okay… okay. I have a confession to make prior to falling victim to the raised eyebrows of all my friends and family after reading this article. I’m guilty. I am indeed, in some capacity, what I am about to describe as a “yes woman.” Now, I’m not the worst I’ve ever encountered by far, but, I do have symptoms of a yes woman. I’ve heard that acceptance is the first step to breaking any sort of bad habit, so here goes.
What is a yes woman?
Who are the yes women and men in our lives? We all know them. They are the ones who are the first to raise their hands to chair any volunteer initiative, big or small, regardless of how full their plates already are.
They are the ones who seem to have, somehow, magically created 30 hour days – or else, how would everything they are doing be possible?
They seem to excel at their full-time jobs. They are changing the world one not-for-profit board position or community bake sale at a time. They aren’t scared to take on new jobs, or even side jobs. They maintain their personal and professional relationships. Sometimes they even have time to eat, drink, and – what – sleep?! Who are these superhumans and what is their secret?
As amazing as these everyday superheroes may sound, there is some bad news. The problem with being a yes man or woman is that there is always something that is sacrificed with each and every new initiative taken. Finding a realistic balance between taking care of yourself and your family and being involved in your community isn’t always easy to do. It is, in fact, extremely difficult.
The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to have a little part in many things, or whether we want to do a few things, and do our absolute best that we possibly can. From one yes woman to another, here are some things that I have learned in the last few years to take into consideration.
3 tips on being the best you can be while taking care of yourself
Picking and choosing
If we can’t do everything, then we should probably do the things that represent us the best. When evaluating one opportunity over another, the first thing you should do is check back with your personal values and goals. Choose to support the causes and initiatives that are closely aligned with these goals. Not only will you be more passionate about them, but your effort will go back to representing your personal brand and who you are as an individual.
It will help you expand your networks in areas that are meaningful to you, and that are aligned with both your short and long-term goals. Don’t join something or sign up for something simply for the sake of getting involved. It can become a slippery slope.
Saying no
Many of us avoid this word like the plague, when in fact there are some situations when a yes is much worse than a no. Being asked to be involved in something can be extremely flattering and humbling. Unfortunately, what happens when you get involved and can’t commit the resources required to do the best job possible, is that you are misrepresenting yourself, and your work.
Pick the causes where you can ensure you sign your work with excellence, rather than do a less than stellar job. Even if it’s a volunteer job or committee, remember – the world is still small and word gets around quickly. You don’t want to make a volunteer position gone wrong the thing that ruins your chances at future opportunities. Do everything in a manner where you are extremely proud to say “I nailed that.”
YOU come first
There will always be other opportunities to get involved in something cool. There may not be as many other opportunities to tend to you. Ignoring your own requirements, such as exercising regularly, eating and sleeping properly, and maintaining relationships that are important to you can become extremely dangerous to yes men and women. Take care of yourself first, and everything extra will be that much more special and enjoyable.
Make sense? Sound easy? Well… it’s not always. It is, however, very easy to get caught up in the world of trying to do everything and be everyone.
The best thing to do is plan your time in advance. Choose how much time you want to commit to extracurricular activities per day, week, month, or year, and stick to that budget. Ensure to always plan time for yourself, and only commit to so much that you can confidently say you are doing the very best you can at each commitment.
Practise graciously declining opportunities. Look in the mirror and repeat after me: “No, thank you.” That wasn’t so tough, was it?
Athena Leadership is a Manitoba-based, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing young women in leadership. Laura Wittig currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Director of Communications. She is a proponent of helping other women advance in their careers, and seeks to share her perspective on how we can always keep learning personally and professionally.

Paternity leave helps even out the workload at home

By Ada Slivinski (photo by Richard Leeming)

As late as the 1950s, many fathers were not present in the delivery room, but rather were waiting in the pub for their children to be born. Now, fathers are not only very involved during labour and birth, but are taking on a larger role in caring for their children during the first years of life; and a growing number of these dads are taking extended parental leave to do so.
Canadian Employment Insurance provides 15 weeks of maternity leave for mothers – and 35 weeks of parental leave that can be taken by either the mother or father, or shared between the two.
In 2000 – a year before the length of sharable benefits was increased – only three per cent of fathers claimed these benefits according to Statistics Canada. In 2006, 20 per cent did. Of course, most dads will take a few days to a couple weeks off to welcome a child, using vacation time, sick days, or unpaid leave.
The change is part of a cultural shift toward embracing involved fatherhood; there’s also been a jump in the number of men who are stay-at-home parents.
Fathers now also miss work days for personal or family responsibilities: they went from missing 1.8 days in 1997 to 6.3 in 2007 (for women those numbers were 4.1 and 4.8, respectively), according to Stats Can.
When a stay-at-home mom friend of mine gave birth to her second child, her husband took paternity leave. He was able to take care of the eldest to help her rest and bond with the new baby. The company top-up program was generous enough that this wasn’t too much of a financial burden, and both parents say it was the best thing they could have done for their family.
Convincing companies about this, though, can often be a struggle.
While bosses often expect moms to be off for a year, dads taking time off certainly isn’t the expected course of action, and many dads who choose this route experience pushback.
Trailblazer
In 2013, CNN reporter Josh Levs wanted to take paternity leave when his wife gave birth to their third child. He learned Time Warner, the parent company, didn’t offer the benefit to biological fathers (even though women got paid time off, as did fathers who have children through adoption or surrogacy). He sued to challenge the policy, and a year later, he won. The company put new language into its benefit guide for 2015 so that any parent can get six paid weeks of leave.
Dads who go this route say it can be tough to be the first in your company, but once one man paves the way, other fathers often follow – and say there are huge benefits.
In addition to giving them a valuable opportunity to bond with their child and offering the new mom more help and time to rest, for moms who go back to work, there are more opportunities for promotions and raises.
A 2010 study by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation found that for every month of parental leave taken by the father, the mother’s future earnings increased by 7 per cent.
Taking on more at home
Since the birth of a new baby is a time when housework is renegotiated, many experts say that when fathers get involved early, it sets a pattern for the future and they continue to take on more household tasks even after going back to work.
A mom whose husband was off for most of the year with their first child while she finished her degree said now if her son is upset, he’ll ask for his dad first, which she calls a relief now that they have two kids to care for and the baby demands a lot of her attention.
Though there can be practical challenges for dads who take paternity leave – many men’s washrooms don’t have change tables for example – the culture is changing. And for men who may think their day job is too important? Even U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, took two weeks of paternity leave when his daughter was born.