REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO RESPECT is my complementary monthly e-newsletter.  I started writing these articles in 2006 to support my clients in building a respectful workplace culture. You will find all of them posted here.


I love to write and am fortunate to get many opportunities to do so. You will find lots of valuable information in articles I have written for business focused publications.

Erica Pinsky




2009    |    2010    |    2011    |    2012    |    2013 - 14

January 19, 2012

It’s a New Year.  In spite of the fact that according to the Mayan calendar it is also going to be our last, I am feeling very optimistic about 2012.


One reason for my optimism is the fact that, The Foundation for A Better Life,  an organization that I blogged about last year has not only survived, but is thriving.   It now has the economic clout to advertise in multiple media streams to promote the importance of values in making a positive difference in people’s lives and communities.


During the holiday season I passed a billboard that caught my eye because, rather than yet another ad for some product we all just have to run out and buy, it had a simple slogan about doing good.,  like, is interested in making the world a better place.  They don’t want us to buy anything.  They just want us to do good: to be generous, compassionate, respectful and kind, precisely what I am dedicated to create in our workplaces.


Apparently, there are some very compelling reasons for us to consider joining this movement.  PeopleForGood cites research which establishes that when you do something nice for someone, you get a natural high that can last for weeks even months.


 Can it be possible, in spite of all the evidence that we see in contemporary society to the contrary that Anne Frank was right when she wrote “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”


Last week I attended a meeting of the  International Coaching Federation.  As we went through the obligatory table partner introductions, I learned that the woman next to me spent her time coaching unhappy C suite leaders.


Given the fact that salaries for Canadian CEO’s rose by 27% last year, while remaining frozen for the rest of us, you might be wondering what these folks have to be unhappy about.  They have money and lots of it. They can buy all the latest stuff, go on great holidays, live in a huge house with a big staff and lot of cars.   in short they can live the American dream, a vision which has been held up for years as that which we should all be aspiring to because, let’s face it, money is the most important thing in life.  You know that old expression, Money can buy happiness.


Oops.  I think I got that wrong.  That old expression is that Money CAN’T buy happiness, which is why the woman I met last week has a thriving coaching practice working with all these rich executives.  As she explained it,  in spite of the fact that they have all the “stuff” that should make them happy, all of them are really unhappy and have no idea why.


I do hope that in some sense the Mayan’s were right.  I hope that 2012 will be the last year we continue on the path to bigger, better, faster, the path to mass consumption which is destroying our planet and all of us that live on it.


I’m hoping that 2012 will be the year that sees the seeds that were sown in the Occupy movement of last fall start to bloom.  I’m hopeful that 2012 will be the year when those of us, and I absolutely believe we are in the majority, that embrace ethical values will reach that critical tipping point that Malcolm Gladwell talks about: the point at which the balance of power will shift to ensure that respect for people and planet becomes  the norm rather than the exception in our world.


What about you?  Care to join us at PeopleforGood?  Set an intention today, and every day, to do something nice for someone.  You’ll enjoy that natural high and contribute to a global  shift in our cosmic energy.



New Year, New Standards for Psychologically Healthy Workplaces

January 20, 2012

It’s a New Year.  In spite of the fact that according to the Mayan calendar it is also going to be our last, I am feeling very optimistic about 2012.


One reason I am feeling optimistic about 2012 is because within the next few months the Mental Health Commission of Canada will be releasing voluntary standards for psychologically healthy workplaces.


In addition to establishing standards for psychological health in Canadian workplaces, the Commission will be encouraging employers to set targets to achieve them, and will provide strategies to build healthier workplaces that are measurable, sustainable and allow employers to track improvement.


The adoption of these standards was prompted by research from the Mental Health Commission of Canada which found that between 10 and 25% of Canadian workplaces are “mentally injurious” to their employees.  Simply put, for thousands of employees, going to work is making them sick. That translates to a cost for employers of $51 billion.


Mental health issues are the leading cause of both short term and long term disability. They are the number one reason that people miss work. Particularly relevant is the fact that short term disability claims are not insured, but rather are paid for out of operating costs, meaning that this cost directly and negatively impacts the organizational bottom line.


Another interesting fact from the Commission’s research is that over the last 5 years the increase in damages awarded for workplace mental health has gone up 700%.   Increasingly courts are recognizing the importance of employees being treated properly and working in a psychologically healthy workplace.


A psychologically healthy workplace is, by definition, a respectful workplace.  It is workplace disrespect, power based behaviours like harassment and bullying that are the biggest contributors to creating the “mentally injurious” workplaces that are affecting increasing numbers of employees. Workplace bullying is defined as “harm inducing behaviour.”  It makes people emotionally and physically ill.  This is the main reason it is being recognized as a legal issue under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, both here and abroad.


We have to look no further than the RCMP to provide proof positive of the link between disrespect and psychological illness.   In early November 2011, Constable Catherine Galliford decided to speak up about the disrespectful treatment that resulted in her being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Since then dozens of women have come forward, so many that a potential class action suit is being considered.  In almost every case, the women ended up off work as a result of psychological harm suffered on the job.  Some went off on medical leaves, others decided to leave the force altogether. I can’t even begin to calculate what all of this has been costing the Canadian taxpayer, who, let’s face it, funds the RCMP.



Sarah Burke – A Legacy to Live Up To

January 20, 2012

Today the world mourns the untimely death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who died 9 days after a fall during a training run in Utah.


It is a tragedy any time an individual, like Ms. Burke, dies in the prime of life.  In this case, her death is even more tragic because of who she was, how she lived her life: the loss of her continued contribution both to the world of sport and the promotion of gender equality.


Sarah Burke wanted her sport, superpipe free style skiing, to become an Olympic sport.  She wanted women to be able to compete on a level playing field with men.  And while she talked about what she wanted to see happen, she made it happen by choosing to truly walk her talk.  She followed her gut, and her heart.  She did what she loved, went out and joined the men, skied with them, demonstrating that women could compete with them.


She proved her point by winning 4 gold medals at the X games, and being the first woman to land a three revolution trick called a 1080.   She continued to make her case in until women were invited to join the ESPN-sponsored action sports showcase, and advocated tireless to get her sport recognized as an Olympic sport for the upcoming winter games in 2014 in Sochi.


Scores of young women will be empowered because of the choices she made.  She lived her passion and refused to allow the status quo to define or limit her.  Instead she committed herself to achieving her vision, and by doing so has inspired and opened the door for countless other young women, who can look to her and say Yes I Can.


May her example, passion and commitment continue to live on and inspire all of us – to step into our power, challenge the status quo, and refuse to let fear imprison us or prevent us from discovering and living our purpose.



Dying for Dishonour - The Shafia Murders

January 30, 2012

Yesterday Canadian courts handed down a guilty verdict in the trail of Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed for the murder of 4 female family members.  Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Mohammad Amir, 50,   Mohammad’s first wife in his polygamous marriage were all found dead in a Nissan that had been pushed into the Rideau canal.


Like Aqsa Parvez, another young  Muslim woman killed by her father and brother in Toronto, who I blogged  in June 2010, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti were killed because their father deemed that their actions were bringing dishonour to their family.  The girl’s interest in integrating into their new country by wearing Western clothes, listening to Western music and dating was cause enough for their father to consider them “whores.”  In Afganistan, where Mohammad grew up, whores like his daughters deserve to die.  So he killed them.


Leaders in Canada's Islamic community are reacting to the verdict by applauding the outcome but characterizing the crime as one of domestic violence rather than honour killings.  As reported by CBC news,   Samira Kanji, president of the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, warned on Monday against "focusing unduly" on the purported honour-killing motive.


While I can certainly appreciate why Ms. Kanji might want to downplay the “honour killing” aspect of the murders,  I must respectfully suggest that taking that kind of approach will simply lead to the killing of more women and girls.


The evidence that emerged in the trial was that the girl’s father repeatedly referred to them as “shameless” and “honourless.”  This was not a case of domestic violence.  This was premeditated murder,  the rationale for which, as Justice Maranger  stated in his decision was “that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.”


The United Nations Population Fund estimates that over 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year by members of their own families for similar crimes.  Once confined to remote and isolated countries like Afganistan,  the Shafia family’s country of origin, these crimes are now spreading across the globe and their numbers are climbing rapidly. Recent research by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization,  showed that police in the United Kingdom recorded almost 3000 such honour attacks in 2010. Last month Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission reported that in the first nine months of 2011, 675 women and girls were killed in honour slayings.


As James Baldwin once wrote “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   The verdict in the Shafia case has sent a strong signal but until leaders within the Muslim community are prepared to face up to the reality of what is happening to women and girls within their communities, these killings will continue.


The fact is that for millions of young Muslim women their choice is subjugation or death.  As this case and countless others so clearly demonstrates, the fact that they live in countries like Canada that have human rights laws is irrelevant.  Until the communities themselves truly embrace such laws, nothing will change.



It’s International Women’s Day and I am Mad as Hell

February 9, 2012

It is International Women’s Day today.  Yes, there is cause for celebration.  Women are resilient, courageous, powerful, amazing creatures.  I know many fabulous women I respect and admire and I celebrate their existence and am grateful to have them in my life.


But overall today I am mad as hell.  I saw a tweet noting this day with a link to the Status of Women Canada’s page.  This year’s theme is Girl’s Matter.  I have to agree with that.  The question is to whom?  Not to our governments, who consistently underfund and cut programs intended to serve women and families.


The page touts the progress that women have made since the UN declared this day as International Women’s day in 1977, including the fact that the current government has the highest ever percentage of women?


Sounds pretty good.  The question is compared to what?


What they fail to reveal is that while women outnumber men in terms of numerical majority, the percentage of women relative to men in Canadian government is currently 21%.  We rank 52nd in the world, after countries like Rwanda (56%), Cuba (43%), Uganda (31%) Afghanistan (27%),  and  Iraq (25%). But hey, compared to our largest trading partner south of the border, we are doing well.  The US,  with the world’s largest economy ranks 72nd (16%).  Of 435 voting members of the House, 73 are women.


I have shared these numbers in numerous blog posts before but they bear repeating today as we celebrate the progress we have allegedly made as women. Women still earn 67 cents for every dollar a man makes.  Women perform nearly two thirds of the world’s work, yet receive less than 10% of the world’s income, and own less than one percent of the world’s property. While women outnumber men in university graduation at every level, we are not making it to the top in any profession anywhere in the world.


Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Women make up only 7% of directors and 10% of writers out of the 250 top grossing films.  I heard these stats from Gavin Newsom, former Mayor of San Francisco, now Lieutenant Governor of California.  He was one of Bill Maher’s panellists this past Friday on HBO, along with Gloria Steinem. Mr. Newsom pointed to what he called a remarkable myth about the progress of women, fuelled by the fact that a few women, Hilary Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Condoleezza Rice have made it to the top.  Everyone points to them as if they are the rule, rather than the exception, a fact  he established by sharing the stats included above.  He also shared that recent budget cuts introduced to allegedly deal with the effects of the recession disproportionately affect women, mirroring our experience here in BC and throughout Canada.


Ms. Steinem, who has been working to promote equality for women since the 60s highlighted the current attack on women’s rights to abortion as an attempt by those in positions of power to regain control over women’s reproductive rights.  Power and control are the key elements that define bullying behaviour.  Does this mean men in power are bullying women?  Perhaps the fact that women are on the receiving end 75% of all bullying complaints gives us some insights there.


Not only is today International Women’s Day, but it is the 100 anniversary of this day. First started in Germany in 1911, it was originally called International Working Women’s Day, to call attention to the working conditions of vast numbers of women that had entered the workforce following the industrial Revolution.  It was only 2 weeks later, on March 25th 1911 that 146 women workers died in the Triangle Shirt factory fire in New York’s garment district.  That fire called attention to the working conditions that trapped those women.  It led to the growth of a strong garment workers union to protect the rights of garment workers, to ensure that all workers, both women and men, enjoyed safer and fairer working conditions.


What has happened to those rights today you ask?  The garment workers union in the US is but a shadow of its former self, since over 95% of all clothes worn by Americans today are now made overseas.  In the never ending pursuit of  bigger and bigger profits for fewer and fewer people, 99% of whom happen to be men, the garment industry moved to places where it could find cheaper labour with less requirement to be concerned about safety and fairness.


The result was that almost 100 years later, a similar fire broke out in a factory in Bangladesh, killing 27 workers, most of them women.  Underpaid, and overworked in conditions similar to those found in New York in 1911, the question must be asked.  What progress have women, men or for that matter anyone without access to the economic power, really made?


Yes we would all like to think that the old boys club is dead.  Certainly events in Africa and the Middle East are signs of hope that things are changing.  The problem is that for the most part, those old boys are simply being replaced by younger models. Diversity and equality are generally nowhere to be seen.


Except in Rwanada.  How is it, you ask, that Rwanda has the highest percentage of women as elected representatives?  The answer is simple. After the events of the Rwandan genocide, where as in all such events women were disproportionately victimized and brutalized, women spoke up and demanded a seat at the table. The country adopted a new constitution which includes a quota system for representation of women in government.


Oh how we all hate quota systems.  They are unfair.  It’s reverse discrimination.  But the fact is that history shows, over and over again, that those in positions of power rarely if ever willingly give up or share power.  Just look at Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.  He is prepared to  kill everyone in his country to keep his position of privilege.  He is the prime example of Machiavelli’s famous theory – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


I am sick to death of hearing about how much progress women have made.  What little progress those brave sisters like Ms. Steinem made in the 60s and 70s has stalled and is currently trending in the wrong direction.  We are sliding backwards.  As Mr. Newsom stated Friday night, this notion of the progress of women is a remarkable myth.  If we want things to change then we need to face that fact.  We need to stop being sugar and spice and everything nice and demand our share of the power and privilege pie.


So today I celebrate each and every woman out there working, the millions of woman that are doing 70% of the world’s work for 10% of the pay, and I say let’s follow the example of our sisters in Rwanda. Let us come together, all together, and demand real change, change that will benefit not only women, but everyone.


Because the fact is, and this is a fact, not a myth is that what is good for women is good for everyone.  Over and over it has been shown that an investment in women is an investment in community.  Just yesterday I saw a feature on CBC news about a new study documenting that the way to solve the world’s hunger crisis is by getting more farming resources in the hands of women. Micro loans to women, first started by Nobel prize winner Muhammud Yunus, have been shown to be incredibly successful in lifting communities out of poverty.  His Grameen bank where 97% of the borrowers are women, has a 98% payback rate.


We do ourselves, our children and our communities a disservice when we buy into this myth of the progress of women.   Let’s come together and create change so that that next year we really will have something to celebrate.



Ignite Innovation With Respect

February 14, 2012

In Road to Respect, I talk about the fact that it is not the absence of disrespect in and of itself that creates superior business results.  Rather it is the releasing of individual potential that a respectful workplace fosters that produces that outcome.  Respectful, relationship based cultures create an environment where people feel connected, where they want to contribute to their full potential and are empowered to do so.


Last spring I was facilitating a respectful leadership session with a client with whom I have been working for the past couple of years. Given that Road to Respect leadership is relationship based, we spend a lot of time in those sessions focused on respectful communication: what it is and how to develop the skills that allow us to demonstrate it.


We were working through a number of role play scenarios, intended to provide skill practice for the participants.  The skills I want participants to learn are included in a written guide that each person receives. Practically speaking, what that means is that there is generally a lot of reading and page turning when we are doing these exercises.  At one point, one of the participants spoke up and said, “You know, it would be really helpful if this stuff was available as an app.  Then we would really be able to make use of it and access it when we need it.”


Developing an app was something that had never occurred to me, however, as soon as this fellow said it the light went on.  For years I have been providing my clients with materials in paper form because, let’s face it, when I started out 13 years ago that was the status quo.  I talk to my clients about ensuring that participants put their materials in a binder that will be easily accessible when they need them.

But let’s face it.  Can you really pull out a binder when you are walking down the hall and overhear a disrespectful comment?  Will you be able to access your binder when you are in someone else’s office?  Will those paper materials be there to support you when you really need them?


My goal is to have respectful communication become a workplace norm within my client’s workplaces, because it is that norm that lays the foundation for a respectful, relationship based culture.   Now I have be resource  that will greatly increase the possibility of that goal being achieved – the Road to Respect Speak Up E-Guide,  an e-pub that can be used on an iPad, IPad touch,  iPhone,  Blackberry or Android phone,  developed as a result of the comment I heard in that session last spring.


I purposefully structure my training sessions as an interactive conversation.  I have been working for years to develop a presenting style that will encourage learners to be engaged and participatory.  I know that the subjects I talk about; respect, disrespect, power, harassment, and bullying are not easy to talk about.  I know that many of us would prefer to avoid talking about them.


I also know that, as James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  If we want to eradicate destructive, disrespectful, power based behaviours in our workplaces, we have to start talking about them.  My job is to provoke that conversation.


I am strategic about building trust and relationship in my sessions.  Before the sessions start I always take time to say a quick hello to everyone in the room, so that I have at least a brief moment to establish an individual connection.  I ensure that we have tent cards on the tables so that I can call participants by their names.  I ask a lot of questions.  I share personal stories because I appreciate the power of stories to create “relateability” and to build relationship.  I talk about what we need to do to create a safe place for disclosure, about the guidelines we need to agree to so that everyone in the room will feel safe to speak up.


I don’t do this because I want my participants to generate great ideas to promote my organizational effectiveness.  I do it to make the training more effective, to ensure that my client’s desired outcomes are achieved.  I do it because I want to model the respectful behaviour I work to promote.


That fellow suggested I develop an app because he could see the practical application of a tool that would help him become a better leader, one that would support him in aligning his behaviour with his values.   When I followed up with him after the session he also suggested that the potential market for the app could be huge.  As we talked, I got excited, not so much about the sales potential of the app, but of the potential value of that app to support my clients in building respectful relationships to promote my vision of respectful workplaces.


I spend a lot of time writing about why respect is a must have in business.  What is so great about this experience is that it is giving me a chance to live a very personal and practical application of the theme of Road to Respect.  One of the reasons respect works to build business success is because it creates an environment where people want to contribute.  It provides the safety and support people need to express their authentic selves at work.   It creates an environment where success becomes a collective experience as well as a shared goal.  It embodies the “lift as we climb” philosophy.


I doubt that I would ever have thought about developing the Speak Up E-Guide.  But because I spend so much time thinking about creating a respectful environment in my training sessions, the outcome is an atmosphere that allows innovative ideas to be ignited and expressed.  My organizational effectiveness – my ability to support my clients to build respectful relationships, and by extension, respectful workplace cultures - has been greatly enhanced as a result.


What kind of business results are you hoping to produce in 2012?  Would creative and innovative ideas help support those outcomes?  If so, figure out whether your workplace practices are serving   to ignite innovation or stifle it.  Access respect and release the untapped creative potential in your workplace.




The Cost of Love

February 14, 2012

Have you heard the old expression the best things in life are free?


These days love, which certainly makes the list for me, seems to come with a hefty price tag.  Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate those we love in our lives, seems now to another opportunity to demonstrate our love for spending money.  Flowers, chocolates, jewellery, gift baskets, treats to the spa must all be procured by men so that the women in their lives will know that they love them.


Apparently, according to everything I have been hearing lately, if women like the gifts they receive, they will let their men know they love them by having sex with them.  There is a price to be paid for physical love on Valentine’s Day.   In countless ads I have seen and heard,  the covert and sometimes rather overt message is either no gift, no sex or better gift, better sex.


Sorry, but this sounds an awful lot like prostitution to me.  Last time I checked, prostitution had very little to do with love.  It is a commercial exchange.


It’s time for a wakeup call here folks.  First of all, love and sex are not the same thing.  Second of all, while sex can be bought, love cannot.  End of story.


Love, when it is genuine, is freely given.  It supports us, sustains us, inspires us, empowers us.  We all have the ability to be loving.  It is not something we have to learn to do.  We simply have to make a choice to open our hearts; to be vulnerable, forgiving and generous.   Not generous with our money, but with our time, our patience, our compassion, and our energy.


We need a whole lot more love in this world.  The energetic properties of love are strong and healing.  Most of us would benefit if we learned to love ourselves, as well as those with whom we share this physical plane.  Love should be our fallback position.  At the end of the day, love is everything.


So this Valentine’s Day, why not make a choice to show those you love that you love them by being truly loving.   And while you’re at it, why not create an intention to be loving, compassionate and kind today and every day.


We’ll all be the richer for it.



Spread the love on Pink Shirt Day

February 29, 2012

Today is Pink Shirt Day designated to raising awareness about bullying - a growing epidemic in our society.


As I was driving back to the office after dropping my daughter at school, I was listening to a radio program where they were talking about an Arizona Senator who has proposed a new law which would allow parents access to the text messages of their minor children.  Given the growing prevalence of  cyber-bullying, particularly among young people, the interest is  to ensure parents know if their kids are being targeted, or are targeting others.


My first thought was that if parents could read their kids texts, kids would probably stop texting.


I get that parents want to keep their kids safe.  I have a 15 year old daughter.  If my daughter was being bullied, or was bullying others, I would know.  And I wouldn’t need to read her texts to find out.  I would know because she would tell me.


My relationship with my daughter is and has always been my number one priority.  I made it my business to be around, to be available, to ensure I know her, her friends and her friend’s parents.   Did that mean that my social life was affected?  You bet.  I basically had no social life because I made the choice to stay home with my daughter in the evenings, to ski, skate, swim, whatever with her until she was no longer interested in hanging out with me.


Did that mean my business has been affected?  Absolutely.  I chose not to travel much so that I could be here with her.  There is no doubt that I could have achieved greater financial success had I chosen to put business first.  I didn’t because financial success has never been that important to me.  It was far more important to me to ensure that I raised a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child.


I am not trying to set myself up as the world’s greatest parent.  However, I deal with bullies all the time in my work.   And I have yet to meet one that is not, at their core, insecure, angry, in pain, and/or emotionally damaged.


Bullying is a growing epidemic.  There is no doubt in my mind that raising kids in a society that places material wealth above all else, one where greed, selfishness, envy , and  divisiveness reign, is the reason for it.


Pink is the colour of love.  What our kids need, what we all need is more love, love that is not expressed by the material possessions we get for each other, but a willingness to spend quality time with each other,  to demonstrate genuine compassion, respect  and kindness to each other.


Passing a law allowing parents to access kids personal messages is a power based response to a power based behaviour.  Bullying is all about power.  Those that have it use it in a disrespectful and destructive manner to target those they perceive to have less power.   This kind of action will not stop bullying.  If anything it will just cause it to become even more covert than it already is.


To combat this problem requires a paradigm shift.  We need to use our power to empower others.   We need to use our power to speak up about the moral vacuum that characterizes contemporary society.    We need to use our power to demonstrate and model the behaviors we want our kids to emulate – love, compassion, respect, kindness, and generosity.  We need to use our power to create healthy, caring, vibrant relationships and communities.


So please, don’t just wear pink and think you are doing your part.  Make a choice to be pink. Make love your fallback position. Make love your conditioned response.


I want to make love, rather than bullying, a growing epidemic.   Care to join me?


Are We There Yet? Women, Position & Power  (Part 1)

March 2, 2012

Call me naïve but when I entered the workforce in the 1980s, I thought gender equity was a done deal.  The “women’s libbers” had marched. Bras had been burned.  The movement had ensured that women could move out of the kitchen and into corporate boardrooms.


When I started to work in human rights in the mid 90s I began to appreciate just how wrong I had been.   While 70% of Canadian women with children under six years old are now working, (more than double the 31.4% in 1976), not very many of those women are making it to the C-suite.


A recent Conference Board of Canada report showed that very little progress has been made in the last 20 years. Despite the fact that women hold the majority of university degrees, the ratio of men to women in senior leadership positions is still more than 2 to 1.  Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women.  Women hold only 14% of Canadian board positions.


This issue has been the topic of much discussion and research.  There can be no doubt that systemic factors are affecting the ability of women to climb the corporate ladder and that those need to be addressed.   Lately, however, I have been wondering what other factors might be contributing to the experience of women, position & power.


I became curious as a result of my work dealing with power based behaviours like bullying and harassment.  Women tend to be on the receiving end of the majority of these complaints.  One of the main reasons for this is that women make easy targets.  We take it.  We don’t speak up.  We avoid conflict.  In effect we contribute to our own victimization, albeit unknowingly.  We have conflicted relationships with our own power which causes us to bully other women.


Now sisters, before you start sending me hate mail, let me assure you that my interest is in figuring out how to end both bullying  and inequality: for women and everyone else.  My experience is that the best way to figure this stuff out is by being curious and asking questions.   I decided to sit down with 4 women who have beat the odds and made it to a senior corporate positions, (outside of Human Resources),  to get their perspectives in the hopes it might shed some light on this issue and offer some guidance for those of us interested in finishing the work started way back in the sixties.


My first interview was with Anne Kinvig COO of Pacific Blue Cross & BC Life COO of Pacific Blue Cross & BC Life. Pacific Blue Cross is BC’s largest provider of health and dental benefits.  The organization has 750 employees serving 8000 employer groups, as well as 60,000 individual plan customers.  They offer health, dental and insurance products.


I asked Ms. Kinvig to talk about the path that led her to the C-suite, and if/how gender had  affected her journey.   She shared her perspective on the reality of being a woman in a position of power, given the stereotypes and biases that are out there, as well as her experience with women who “target their sisters” with disrespectful, power based bullying behaviour.   I’ll be sharing the highlights of that interview, framed as Lessons for Leaders and Lessons for Women in part 2 of this post, which will air, quite fittingly, on March 8th, International Women’s Day.



Are We There Yet? Women, Position & Power (Part 2)

March 8, 2012

On making it to the C-Suite - It was her CEO who approached her to discuss succession planning.  When he asked her if she was interested in the COO position,  “ I laughed and said I can’t do that job.”


Lesson for leaders – Ms. Kinvig’s response confirms what I learned in my research for Road to Respect.  Women, as well as members of visible minorities, typically do not self-identify for senior leadership positions.  Simply put, they don’t Speak Up.  Ken Martin, CEO of PBC modelled best practices by initiating and continuing the discussion with Ms. Kinvig.  All of the Employers of Choice featured in Road to Respect require similar kinds of conversations between leaders and their direct reports.  This is a proactive strategy that ensures that internal talent is identified, supported and developed for effective leadership succession planning.


Lesson for women - Ladies, work is not dating.  We don’t have to wait for the man to ask.  If we are interested in a position, we need to Speak Up. In addition, we need to ensure that we are acting as our own advocate.   Watch your self-talk.  Might you, like Ms. Kinvig be limiting your possibilities?


Ms. Kinvig stressed that a solid understanding of business financials is a pre-requisite for anyone interested in climbing the corporate ladder.  Women interested in senior leadership positions should be proactive in ensuring that they acquire the skills and experience they need to be qualified for senior operational positions.


On Gender and Career Progression – While Ms. Kinvig did not believe that gender had affected her career progression, she did state that she had experienced wage discrimination early on in her career, as well as a perception, perhaps self-imposed, that she had to work harder than her male colleagues to “prove” herself.


Lesson for leaders – Equal pay for work of equal value is supposed to be the law. It isn’t.  Wage disparity exists in virtually every industry and every sector. Starting salaries of male MBA’s are  typically $4500.00 higher than that of female MBA’s  The biggest wage gap in the U.S. is in the Financial Activities industry, with women earning 70.5 cents for every dollar men make. How do your compensation policies stack up?  Might these policies be affecting your ability to attract and retain the best talent?


Lesson for women – Ms. Kinvig commented that women don’t assert themselves with respect to salary. This is borne out in the research.  We tend to undervalue ourselves.   We are often uncomfortable talking about money or asking for what we want.  The bottom line here is that if we chose to remain silent, if we   continue to accept less money, we will continue to receive it. Find out what the going rate is for the position you want, then step into your power and ask for it.


On Women and Power - Ms. Kinvig commented  “ I do agree that there is a tendency to label women leaders differently than men. If you are collaborative and engage in team based decision making, they view you to be weak and not in control of the situation. If you take control you are labelled a bitch, and I don’t think the same is true for men.  Men can also be collaborative and team based but I don’t think they would be viewed to be weak. They would be viewed to be a good leader.  I think there are differences in the way women and men lead.”


Lesson for leaders – As I discuss in Road to Respect, we all have biases and prejudices, many of which we are unaware of.  The problem arises when these unconscious biases affect our perceptions, judgements and decisions about those we work with.  Are you judging, or interpreting  a women’s behaviour differently simply because she is a woman?  Is that in the best interests of your business outcomes?  At the end of the day it is about identifying  the qualities of leadership that work,  determining which  qualities contribute to the most effective leadership style, gender aside.


Lesson for women – Women can lead differently than men, but Ms. Kinvig’s experience is that because senior leaders, CEO’s, have traditionally been male, there are certain expectations with respect to how an individual in a CEO position behaves.  If you want to lead differently, it helps to clarify your intention, to talk about your leadership style so that people are not left to make their own assumptions on the basis of their expectations of what you should or shouldn’t be doing.


On whether the choice to have children  is a career liability for women – Ms. Kinvig does not have children, but commented that the flexibility that PBC allowed her when her Mother was terminally ill has affected her decision to remain with the organization.


Lesson for leaders – Research supports Ms. Kinvig’s experience that it is that “intrinsic thing,” an organization’s cultural norms and whether those norms cause people to feel valued and respected that determine if great talent is attracted and retained.


Offering flexibility in terms of when and how employees get their work done is another best practice among employers of choice.  At PBC, where 80% of the employees are female,  flex time policies are available for all employees.  Unionized employees work a 35 hour work week with flex time, which include shifts ending at 3 so that employees are able to pick up their children after school.  Managers have the ability to make a request to work at home.  “As long as it does not impact the business we look favorably on that.”


Lesson for women – If workplace flexibility is important to you, make a choice to speak up about it.  Arm yourself with the research that clearly establishes the bottom line benefits of creating a workplace culture that respects the whole person at work.   Present the business case.


On the reality of women bullying women at work –  Ms. Kinvig’s comment confirmed my experience as well as the research in this area. “That is true in our workplace.  I don’t know why.  I find it quite shocking actually.  I have seen it.  I don’t think I have ever seen a man bully a women, it is always a woman bullying a woman.”


Lesson for leaders – It is important to realize that if you have large groups of women in your workplace, chances are you are going to experience this phenomenon.   Gender makes a difference.  It is not discriminatory to talk about this or adopt a different approach when dealing with groups of women than you might when dealing with groups of men.  Diversity is the new reality, a business reality that needs to be managed.  It is about looking at how difference affects the workplace and reacting accordingly.


Lesson for women - Many of the behaviours that women engage in relative to other women are habitual and reflect norms that are reinforced in society.  It’s time that we as women start thinking about, talking about,  and determining what behaviours really serve us as women.   Does avoiding a direct conversation with someone we are in conflict with serve us?  Does gossip serve us?   Does focusing on what powerful women look like rather than on what they do support our ability to have access to power?  It is important that we start to talk openly about our conflicted relationship with our own power as well as the myths and stereotypes that work to keep us from stepping into, and manifesting our power respectfully.


If you would like to hear the entire 35 minute interview,  you can do so here




Is there a Psychopath in Your C-Suite?

April 16, 2012

As I frequently tell my audiences, one of the most encouraging findings with respect to workplace bullying is the evidence that establishes the effectiveness of coaching in shifting the behaviour of  individuals who routinely engage in disrespectful, power based behaviours.   The exception, I point out, would be that small percentage of individuals, 1% within the general population, who can be classified as psychopaths; individuals who are incapable of changing their behaviour because they lack empathy and feel no remorse or guilt, regardless of what they say or do.


Until recently, I assumed that we would find that same small percentage reflected in our workplaces.  Apparently I was wrong.  According to research by Dr. Robert Hare, the Canadian psychologist who co-authored Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work, the likelihood of finding a psychopath in your senior leadership team is 4 times higher than within the general population.


It seems that contemporary corporate culture, particularly within the financial services industry, provides the ideal environment for psychopaths; excessively narcissistic individuals who mimic rather than feel emotions, who lie, cheat, steal or harm with no feeling of remorse.  Psychopaths are manipulative risk takers, knowing when and how to turn on the charm to get what they want, without caring who or what they destroy to get it.


The reason there is a much higher likelihood of finding them in the C-Suite is because they are drawn to position and power.  They seek out situations that will provide them unfettered access to both.  Unfortunately, far too many corporate cultures are structured to ensure their psychopathic desires are fulfilled.


They are welcomed into a workplace cleverly disguised as the “turnaround” guy.  Charismatic and confident, they boast of moving from one company to another, hired to cut costs, trim the excesses,  dispose  of waste while getting  paid big bucks to do so.  The damage and destruction they cause to corporate culture, morale, teamwork, employee health and turnover are rarely reflected in what gets captured in bottom line results.


According to British researcher Clive Boddy, author of the book “Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers”,  the 2007-2008 financial crisis may have resulted in the growing proliferation of psychopathic personalities in the C suite.   "Psychopaths are great bullies. They are cunning and manipulative, and great at engineering situations. Although they don't have emotions themselves, they can create emotional situations. The rest of us don't even realize we're being manipulated until it's too late."1


Corporate psychopaths never stay in one company long enough to get caught, particularly as no one is really looking to catch them. Their lack of empathy, “tough love” managerial style  and interest in risk taking are often viewed as the kinds of traits that will provide that competitive edge so many of today’s companies are seeking. Typical of those who engage in bullying behaviour, they are able to charm and manipulate those whose support they need, as they steal credit for the accomplishments of others who they coldly blame them for any problems or issues that arise during their brief tenure.


According to Paul Babiak, a New York industrial psychologist and co-author  with Dr. Hare of  "Snakes in Suits", todays turbulent and challenging economic reality is creating “golden times for cold, career opportunists like psychopaths.”  In addition to the people costs listed above he has been documenting for over 16 years,  Babiak is concerned about a new danger to companies who allow these individuals to infiltrate their ranks.

Corporate crime is on the rise. A November 2011 report by Price, Waterhouse Coopers shows a 13% increase in global economic crime since its 2009 world survey, with an average cost per company of $5 million. And most of the crimes are inside jobs: 56% of companies say the offenders were employees. 2


To ensure that you avoid the destructive and costly outcomes that result from inadvertently hiring or harbouring a psychopath make sure to:


1 - Develop a list of values based  leadership competencies and ensure that every leader is hired and evaluated on the basis of those competencies.


2 - Have rigorous and thorough hiring practices that mirror those routinely used by Employers of Choice and described in Chapter 5  in Road to Respect  (Respectful Hiring).  Structure multiple interviews with a host of different individuals, including those that the new leader will be supervising.  Include questions or scenario based exercises that will allow you to assess the moral and ethical behaviors of prospective incumbents.   Be rigorous in your reference checks, particularly if the individual has been moving from one company to another.  Don’t just speak to someone in HR. Speak to individuals that worked directly with and for the prospective incumbent.


3 - Build relationships across organizational power lines.   The most effective way to expose a psychopath, or a leader who engages in power based bullying behaviour is through intentional relationship development. Every leader should know that his/her behavior will be assessed and evaluated by those that report to him/her, as well as those in other departments with whom they interact.  A flatter organizational structure with a myriad of respectful cross hierarchical, cross functional and cross departmental relationships will ensure that bad behaviour has nowhere to hide.


We are currently witnessing just what psychopaths are capable of in the tragedy unfolding in Syria.  Structures that allow for concentration of power encourage its abuse.  Now is the time to take proactive steps now to ensure that your workplace is truly values based.  Hold leaders accountable to demonstrate their power respectfully.  Make sure that psychopathy is not the path to success in your workplace.


1,2 Bad bosses: The Psycho-path to Success? Kevin Voigt, CNN, January 20, 2012



Income and Ethics – An inverse Relationship?

April 23, 2012

For most people on both sides of the 49th parallel 2011 was not a very good year, at least in terms of their finances.  Plunging share prices and double digit declines in the markets have resulted in many aging baby boomers postponing plans for retirement.  It has been  dismal and challenging for Gen Y’s looking to enter the job market.  The hopes of paying off student loans are fading rapidly for many of them.


Income inequality, the raison d”etre of the Occupy movement is something we are hearing more and more about these days.   In both the US and Canada, the gap between the rich and everyone else continues to widen.


There is lots of data coming out of the US to support what US President Obama calls  “the defining issue of our time ”  While incomes for the majority of US workers have barely moved in the last 30 years, the incomes of those in the  top 1% have almost tripled in that same time period.  Recent  economic data confirms that 93% of all the benefit of the economic recovery in the US has gone to the top 1%.


A recent investigation from Business in Vancouver should alert Canadians, in particular those of us living in BC, to the fact that the growing disparity between rich and poor is not confined to those living below the 49th parallel. BIV found that 80 corporate executives and directors collectively cashed out more than $112 million in personal profit through share trades made by BC public company insiders in the last six months of 2011.  (Business in Vancouver, Issue 1162).  The article went on to state that despite ongoing market fluctuations this trend is likely to continue, with company executives gaining even greater profit simply by exercising their stock options.


Because I have blogged on the Occupy movement I was recently contacted by someone  that thought I might be interested in some data that suggest that it is not just money that distinguishes the wealthy from the not so wealthy.


It seems that there is an ethical gap as well. Except in this case the ratio is reversed.  Higher  income appears to encourage  less  ethical behaviour.


I spend a lot of time speaking and writing about the dynamic of power. Money is a critically important source of power. Apparently that old saying about the relationship between power and corruption is just as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.  A rather depressing statement on the evolution, or lack thereof, of our species, particularly in light of the fact that we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms earlier this month – a document intended to promote the values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.


The facts highlighted in this graphic confirm that when It comes to economic fairness and justice, we are trending in the wrong direction.


Here’s the thing though.  Money is only one source of power.  Power  of knowledge as well  as power of  association and also important sources of power, and are potentially much easier for most of us to access.


 If this alarming trend in income inequity is going to be stemmed, we have to come together, inform each other and use our collective power to speak up about it.  I hope you will choose to share this information about the relationship between ethics and income with others you think might find it of interest.



Are You in a Toxic Relationship?

April 30, 2012

On April 26th I spoke at the BC Human Resources convention in Vancouver.  During my presentation I talked about the fact that in spite of my overwhelming interest in supporting my clients to be proactive and preventative,  the main focus of my work is “fixing” relationships that have gone off the rails,  relationships that have become unhealthy, have become toxic for the individuals involved.


In most cases is it disrespectful, power based behaviour that causes these relationships to become toxic.


There are two critical steps in preventing or dealing with toxic relationships: one is to recognize them, the second is to take effective action to deal with them.


Would you recognize potentially toxic behaviours?


In my experience many of us don’t. This creates a huge liability for us, both in our workplaces and in our personal lives.


To support you to take action before a relationship you are involved in becomes toxic, here’s a list of “red flag” behaviours.


Comments, or actions that have the effect of undermining your self-confidence or sense of self.


Insulting, degrading or humiliating comments, including those disguised as jokes, particularly in front of others.


Frequent fits of anger, temper tantrums, emotion such as yelling, shouting, crying.


Actions that have the effect of excluding or isolating you from others.


Refusing to speak to you, giving you the “silent treatment”, being condescending or patronizing.


Intruding on your personal privacy.


Any type of physical violence or threat of physical violence.


Blaming you without justification, or taking credit for your work or accomplishments.


Being overly controlling or dominant, cutting you off, interrupting you, refusing to listen to you.


Withholding information you need to be successful.


Just like at the beach, the red flag means potential danger.   What is critically important is to recognize the red flags so that you can be proactive and take steps to protect yourself from any potential danger to your psychological well-being.


Next week’s post will focus on  what those steps might look like.




Access Respect and Learn to Innovate

May 14, 2012

Like most of us, I assumed that the ability to be innovative was somewhat innate, like creativity.  If we’re left brain we’re creative and innovative, if we’re right brain we’re not.


It seems I was wrong, affirming that old expression about assumptions and how they make a you know what of you and me.  A new book from authors Jeff Dyner, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christesen, published by Harvard Business Press claims that innovation relies on five skills: skills that can be learned by anyone interested in fostering innovative thinking and problem solving.


The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators is based on the authors research on some of the world’s most innovative companies.  They discovered five skills common to all innovative leaders: questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating.


At the foundation of developing an innovative mindset is the requirement to move away from a fear based, support the status quo mindset, to an attitude of curiosity, openness and engagement.


The innovative leaders ask challenging questions.  They watch the behaviour of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.  Rather than network with other that “look like them”, they embrace the true wealth offered by diversity. They seek opportunities to talk to people with different life experiences and perspectives.  They try new things, construct interactive experiences and build prototypes to gain new insights.  They look for associations within unrelated fields  to discover unexpected connection  in places one might not expect to find them.


The authors term these skills as discovery skills.  Their research shows that CEO’s in innovative companies spend 50% more of their personal time engaged in discovery skills than do CEO’s in less innovative companies.


What is most interesting to me is that I talk about curiosity being the foundation of a respectful attitude.  In my book I argue that it is this attitude that allow for creativity and innovation because of the presence of relationship based leadership across both functional hierarchical power  lines, combined with an interest in fostering constructive conflict – where different or divergent opinions can be openly expressed and discussed.


So next time you have a challenging problem to solve, adopt a respectful attitude characterized by the five discovery skills described above.  Not only will you end up with an unexpected and innovative solution, you’ll reap the added bonus of developing relationship in the process.



Social Justice  - Vision for a Socially Just World

June 11, 2012

One of the chartable organizations I support is Inter Pares.  Inter Pares, which means "among equals" in Latin, is dedicated to promoting international social justice.  The organization’s mission is to support people's struggles for peace, justice, and equality in Canada and throughout the world.  They work to confront injustice and to promote more sustainable models of human community and interaction in our world.


Inter Pares 2011 annual report contained a number of interviews with supporters who shared what their perspectives on the question What is Social Justice?  I wanted to share some of what I read in the hopes that it might encourage and inspire some of you to think more about that question and what the concept of social justice means to you.


For Pippa Curwen, director of Burma Relief Centre (BRC) social justice means” working to oppose oppression and exploitation by an group of people over another.”  Mike McBane, Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition ((CHC) believes that social justice is about the choice to take sides and speak up about ethical issues, something he learned from activist bishops when he worked for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “  …there are circumstances when not taking a side in a conflict that involves injustice and oppression is, in effect, taking a side – the side of the status quo, which can benefit the oppressor.”


 I see this all too often in my work, where power based workplace bullying creates a culture of fear where bystanders are afraid to speak up.  While I understand why people make the choice to stay silent, there can be no doubt that it always empowers the bully and supports the victimization of the target.


Lynne Brennan, professor in social services at George Brown College in Toronto also believes in the  importance of speaking up. “Democracy is only possible when people can and do voice issues.  I am convinced we need to practice and protect democracy in every situation in which we find ourselves.”  She  frames her understanding of social relationship in the context of relationship.  “ Social justice has to do with enough for all.  At the heart, what makes social justice possible is relationship – relationships with each other, with the earth, with the past and with the future.”


A critical focus in my work is the expression of power in workplace relationships.   I began to focus on the issue when I started my work in human rights. As I see it, our human rights legal framework is  really an attempt to rebalance a historical societal power imbalance whose outcome has been systematic discrimination and inequality.  Asha El-Karib, Executive Director of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development  (SORD) describes the process of social justice as “challenging and dismantling power relations at all levels.  It also means ending discrimination and discriminatory behaviour against people, so that they enjoy equal opportunities and full rights.”   The outcome of social justice should be “a state where societal and individual welfare and ensured within a social contract based on democratic governance; accountability; freedoms of though, expression and assemble;, shared responsibility; and balanced development.”


One of the most frustrating aspects of my work is going into toxic workplaces where unhealthy power based behaviour has been allowed to go on for years, either because people don’t want to deal with it or choose not to acknowledge it.  I often share this quote by author James Baldwin “ Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be faced until it is changed.   Felix Rojas, coordinator for the Sisay Centre of Andean Development (SISAY)  echoes this is his thoughts about social  justice. . “ It is often said that justice is blind.  Social Justice therefore means taking off the blindfold so that we can see the realities and correct the inequalities and injustices that this system continuously produces and reproduces.”  To do that means putting pressure on  “ those in power to remove the barriers and obstacles that prevent the development of equal conditions and opportunities.”


These days it is hard to see evidence of social justice in a world which seems to be moving toward greater inequality and disparity, both in rights and incomes.  How do you feel about what is happening in our world today?  What does social justice meant to you?  How would you define it?  Does it matter?


If you believe the answer to that last question is yes, the next question is, what action are you taking to support and encourage social justice in your life, your workplace and your community.  Share your story.  I’ll be happy to spread the word in my next post.




The Normalization of Violence

June 18, 2012

Yesterday my soon to be 16 year old asked me if I wanted to watch an episode of Lost with her.  Those of you with teenagers will appreciate that given how infrequently my daughter asks me to do something with her that does not involve cooking, driving or paying, I immediately said yes.


I had no idea what the series Lost was about.  After about 3 minutes into it I started to become concerned and at the same time curious about my daughter’s interest in the series.  I found it to be very disturbing.   While I only watched one episode, I found it to be very violent, power-based, abusive and gender biased,  with one dimensional characters, most of whom seem to have lost the ability to display empathy for others.


I asked my daughter what is was that she found interesting about it.  She said it was the plot, which was about people stranded on an island and their struggle to survive.  I didn’t see much of that in the episode I saw.  I saw people abusing each other.


If any of you think that the plethora of violence that all of us, and particularly our children and youth are exposed to in the media is not having an effect on their behaviour, think again.  On Friday I tweeted about a shocking story of human trafficking, forcible confinement, brutality and sexual assault that broke in the media last week. The shocking part was the fact that teenage girls were the ones charged, as they had been luring other teenagers through social media.


Immediately afterwards I drove my daughter to school on the last day of classes.  She asked me to wait as she had something she wanted me to bring home.  There were a group of kids hanging out outside.  All of a sudden I see two girls start to fight. Punching and hitting.  Just as I started to get out of my car, a boy that was physically bigger than the girls pulled them apart. He held on to one of them for a few minutes, however, as soon as he let her go she flew right back at the other girl and the punches started again.


This time I did get out of my car, went up to them and said in a loud voice “Hey, what are you doing?  If you have a problem with each other, talk it out.  You don’t fight.”  They immediately stopped fighting and one girl walked away, while the other girl stood there and called out “You’re such a whore (name).”


Needless to say calling her a whore was not what I had in mind when I suggested talking it out.


They say art imitates life, and while I cannot call what is packaged as popular entertainment art, there can be no doubt that these days the reverse is true. Media is working to normalize violence, particularly among young people.  What I saw on the show Lost is exactly what I saw played out last week.   When conflicts arise, the only way to resolve them is through anger and violence.  Empathy and compassion are nowhere to be found.


Is it any wonder then that incivility and violence is increasing in our schools, our workplaces, our families and our communities?  I think not.  The question is: What are we going to do about it.



Working Holiday – Oxymoron or New Reality?

August 13, 2012

Last night I had dinner with a friend who had just started a week long summer holiday.  When I asked how she had spent her first vacation day, she told me she had been working.   I, of course, reminded her that a holiday was by definition supposed to be a break from work.


Yes, yes, she assured me.  She was going to take some time off, starting when she left town on Day 3.  When her holiday week started she had 2 days of work to complete and 2 days of holidays in town in which to do it. It was all working out well.


It seems my friend, like so many others these days, is taking a working holiday.


It was not that long ago that a “working holiday” would have been considered a complete oxymoron.  The raison d’etre of a holiday has traditionally been about getting away from work: to take a break, to rest, to rejuvenate, to reenergize.


There are a whole host of very good reasons why holidays are legislated.  When people work too much, when we don’t take a break from the world of work, both our health and our work, and by extension our workplace, suffers.   Research into the neuroscience of leadership by Dr. David Rock has proven that leaders and those they lead make more effective, creative decisions when they are relaxed, safe  and having fun.


Now in the olden days, before PDA’s and 24/7 worldwide connectivity became our reality, “getting away from it all,” was pretty easy to do.   These days it can be virtually impossible.


On the surface it appears that this development is great for business.  An employer may still be paying employees for a 40 hour week, however, providing an employee with a smartphone often alters that aspect of the employment contract.


The technological capability to be available wherever, whenever creates an unspoken assumption, which can quickly translate to a cultural norm in a workplace: whether or not an employee is at work, he/she  must be available to deal with work related issues.  If one fails to do so, that could prove to be a   “career limiting” move, somehow demonstrating a lack of commitment to one’s  job and/or one’s employer.


The critical issue here is the unspoken or implied part of this assumption.   New or changing technology will by definition change how we work.  Unless an employer is strategically and deliberately engaging in communication about those changes, employees will watch, wait and then follow whatever everyone else seems to be doing.  If everyone else is answering emails at 11 pm and when on holiday, if colleagues are working rather than taking holidays, those behaviors will very quickly become cultural norms.


So what’s the problem?  My experience with my clients as well as my research in this area establishes that this new cultural norm is increasingly contributing to employee anger and resentment.  Workplace incivility is on the rise. This unspoken requirement to be available 24/7 too often creates a perception of unfair and disrespectful treatment among many employees, particularly when combined with a lack of recognition, acknowledgment or increased remuneration/rewards. Work life integration, increasingly valued by Gen X and Y employees, seems impossible to attain.


 Rather than increasing efficiencies, the inevitable result is a loss of productivity and creative energy, as well as an increase in employee disengagement, conflict and turnover.  Ever increasing numbers of employees are unhappy at work and wanting to change jobs.


Given the reality of a struggling economy, an interest in doing more with less, as well as an increase in corporate globalization, the fact that employees can now respond to an issue when it happens regardless of where they are can create huge business advantages. Technology offers incredible opportunities for business, but like any other opportunity, the critical factor is in how we manage it.


Albert Einstein said “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them.”  The “problems” that new technologies have created in our workplaces  are only problems because most employers have failed to engage in strategic, collaborative dialogue about how to manage them.


It is one thing to allow those that choose to work on a holiday to do so.  It is quite another to require employees to do so, either overtly or through an unspoken assumption and/or ever increasing workloads.


Are there unspoken assumptions about the requirement to be available on an on call basis in your workplace?   How might those assumptions be affecting attitudes and behaviours at work?  How might they be fuelling an interest in seeking employment elsewhere?  Have you calculated the bottom line cost of employee dissatisfaction and turnover that can result from a “working holiday”?


The summer holiday season is not quite over.  This is an ideal time to start talking and find out.


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