Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter Wonderland? How to Prepare for Snow Days

In British Columbia we’ve just recently received our first snow fall which has covered our roads making the commute into work a potentially dangerous time. Snow-covered, icy roads can present a barrier for many in keeping business going as usual however, by providing employees with a “snow day plan” you can help keep them safe and the company productive.

Here are some helpful tips to implement your winter commute program:

Plan Ahead
Don’t let employees become anxious over the snowfall by neglecting to plan ahead. Make sure you address “snow day protocol” before the first snowfall of the season. Look at the weather forecast and address concerns in advance.

Get the Message Out
There are many options for spreading the word such as posting snow plans on your internal company website and lunch rooms or other common spaces; utilizing email broadcasts; addressing procedures during team meetings; and having a contact network or phone line with “snow day updates.” The best way to get the message out will depend on your organization’s structure/size and the communication tools available. If you are having trouble deciding on the best method, ask your employees for suggestions. Use multiple methods if necessary.

Emphasize Safety
The main reason for planning for snow days is to ensure the safety of your company’s number one asset: the people. Ensure to communicate this message clearly to employees.

Provide Work Alternatives
If you’re able to, provide staff with work alternatives so that they won’t get behind and won’t feel pressured to come into the office on dangerous roads. If employees work on laptops, these can be brought home the night prior to an expected snowfall. By providing databases which can be accessed from a distance this will ensure little disruption. If staff doesn’t use computers, cannot bring laptops home, or cannot access files/databases remotely, allow employees to bring home paper files or other necessary work. Think of projects which can be worked on outside of the office (e.g., research projects).

Be Understanding
Above all else, be understanding. Not everyone has access to snow-ready vehicles or reliable transit routes, and school closures may impact child care responsibilities.

By utilizing these strategies you can remove the stress surrounding snow days and foster engagement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Celebrating the Holiday Season With Your Work Team

Tradition is defined by dictionary.com as “a customary or characteristic method or manner.”[1] At Life Strategies we have several holiday traditions that bring us together as a team. Each year, around December, we get together to go out to an event. In my time working with Life Strategies we have gone to a Pantomime play in White Rock, BC (something we’ll be doing again this year), attended a Christmas concert at the Red Robinson Theatre, and celebrated the season on a Christmas carol ship. Our annual holiday event is a great time to get together as a team to relax and appreciate one another for the work done throughout the year.

In addition to our annual event, the Life Strategies team gets involved with several charities. Early in November, Life Strategies’ team members contributed to the Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child which involves filling a shoe box or plastic container with toys and living essentials for children in need. We also work together, clearing out our closets and prepping for a Clothing and Toy Giveaway in Coquitlam, BC, that reaches out to individuals of all ages to provide clothes, food, toys, and items for the home (see below for a picture of all the donations received this year). Another favourite Life Strategies’ tradition is to donate to World Vision. World Vision makes donating simple by providing a catalogue and ordering online

Likely many workplaces have one holiday tradition or another. During this busy time of year, such traditions can be a great way to keep employee engagement going. If you’re organization doesn’t participate in any holiday traditions, try starting something simple (such as a baking trade-off where everyone brings baked-goods to work and swaps amongst one another to get a variety of baked-goods to take home). I find our workplace holiday traditions are a great way to pump up energy and increase productivity.

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tradition
[2] https://catalogue.worldvision.ca/gifts/Forms/preHome.aspx?mc=3221603&lang=en

Friday, November 6, 2009

Status Update: Creating a Presence Through Social Networking: What To Do and Not To Do

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn are increasing in popularity; most everyone has an account on one or more sites. From my personal experience it has been quite common to use such sites to network with friends and family but more and more people are creating accounts to connect with their business contacts to help further their career. Creating an account for career networking is just one way to instigate Planned Happenstance which is the theory by John Krumboltz that details that individuals have the ability to create their own luck.[1] For instance, you never know which of your contacts is going to be able to help you further your career. Before jumping in with both feet and creating an account or adding career contacts to your existing accounts, take a moment to review the following dos and don’ts for creating a web-presence.

1. Keep your network interested - Engage your contacts by changing status updates, adding pictures, or posting relevant links

2. Use an updated, professional profile picture
3. Consider increasing security settings - If you are going to create an account that is visible to everyone, you may want to limit who has access to post public things on your account (e.g., with Facebook there is an option to remove the ability for contacts to write on your “wall”)
4. Be available to your network - If you’re using your social networking presence to ask for favours from some of your contacts make sure you’re available to them when they ask for a favour in return. Remember networking (whether face-to-face or online) is a two-way street
5. Keep contact information up-to-date and accurate
6. Join groups and become fans of pages that are relevant and appropriate
Do Not:
1. Combine personal accounts and business accounts - You may want to create one account for friends and family and another for business contacts. It is likely that your business contacts are not going to be interested to see pictures from your family reunion

2. Accept “friend requests” or requests to be “connected” from individuals you don’t know - If you aren’t sure who someone is but feel they may be valuable to add try viewing common contacts to see if that can ring a bell
3. Post inappropriate content - As a rule of thumb, if you have to think about whether or not something is appropriate, it likely isn’t
4. Provide too much information - Be cautious about the type of information you’re posting (e.g., it may not be safe to post an address if you work from home)
[1] http://www.contactpoint.ca/cjcd/v1-n1/article2.pdf

Monday, November 2, 2009

National Career Development Month

It may be news to you but November is National Career Development Month in the United States. Although we don’t have the same special day here in Canada, it’s a great opportunity to bring attention to the growing need for career development activities and promote them throughout an individual’s lifespan. It’s the perfect time to reflect on your career and focus on developing it.

Many associations and educational institutions throughout the United States are celebrating through fun and informative activities, contests, workshops, and/or featured resources. If you’re interested in celebrating check out these resources for suggestions on activities that might be of interest:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Benefits (and Risks)
of Friendships at Work
Most employees working in a non-virtual environment spend a great deal of time with their co-workers and are likely to develop friendships over time. While friendships in the workplace can increase job satisfaction and make going to work more fun there are also other benefits. Co-workers that become friends can provide rich feedback on work-related matters and encourage you to do better; providing that extra push to further yourself at work.1

However, not all researchers/authors have agreed that workplace friendships are beneficial. If your workplace friendship is beyond casual where you are also friends outside of the workplace this can cause potential problems. Spending time together outside of work enables you to see another side of your friend’s personality and vice versa. Some friends may become more accustomed to the “outside of work personality” and lose professional courtesy when engaging with one another at work. Another potential risk is if a personal friendship is tainted outside of the workplace. A fight or disagreement could potentially lead to poor communication and a lack of productivity. 2

What to do? I think the benefits outweigh the risks. Having a source of support and encouragement at work is healthy. However, I do believe that a balance of professionalism and friendship is needed. One suggestion is to leave strong friendships outside of work and keep to more casual friendships with your co-workers.

1. http://www.lhj.com/relationships/work/worklife-balance/at-work-friendships/
2. http://careercoaching.suite101.com/article.cfm/friendships_at_work

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Green Age

Social responsibility and “going green” are new trends of the new Millennium amongst the general public and within the business world. There are many ways to pledge your commitment to the sustainability of the global environment all while getting fellow colleagues and employees excited and engaged in this beneficial endeavour.

As a new member at Life Strategies, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of our newly initiated “green committee.” There are a number of ways in which Life Strategies has been a “green” business since its beginning, but the goals of this newly instated “green committee” are to ensure that these green practices are maintained, others are adopted, and others are promoted in a manner that encourages other businesses to contribute to the sustainability of the environment.

At Life Strategies we:
• Work from remote offices which reduces the amount of fuel emissions
• The majority of our work is produced in digital format; significantly reducing the amount of paper used
• Print on the reverse side of previously printed on paper when we print for internal purposes
• Conduct bi-monthly staff meetings online, also reducing emissions
• Have an in-house recycling program where we recycle paper products and drinking containers
• Provide educational services online with the majority of learning resources in digital format resulting in the reduction of printed paper products
• Provide publications on flash drives; not just printed versions

Do you recognize the impact your efforts can make? How are you and your workplace going green?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book Review: The Age of Speed

Title: The Age of Speed: Learning to Thrive in a More-Faster-Now World
Authors: Vince Poscente
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Available Online at http://books.google.ca/books?id=YVpwIst_uNMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Age+of+Speed:+Learning+to+Thrive+in+a+More-Faster-Now+World#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Building from a simplistic children’s story, the tortoise and the hare, Poscente takes readers on a journey exploring the notion of speed in today’s society and breaks down myths about speed. He begins by examining the concept of “time” and how we have traditionally define/organize our time. Poscente opts for a new notion of time, building on values rather than the traditional work-home-leisure paradigm.

The take home message is that one should develop efficient and fast ways to deal with the mundane tasks in order to allot more time to fun, creative tasks and family. Poscente does concede that that speed isn’t necessary for success in all circumstances and utilizes a metaphor to expand on this:

  • Those who resist speed and succeed nonetheless are referred to as Balloons (e.g., speciality shops)
  • Those who embrace speed but accelerate out of control with no clear plan or direction for how to utilize their speed are referred to as Bottle Rockets (e.g., Dell Computers)
  • Those who require speed but resist it are referred to as Zepplins (e.g., Kodak)
  • Those who embrace speed with a clear direction/plan are referred to as Jets and serve as a exemplar for business strategy in today’s society (e.g., Google)

I liked how the book was structured with small but insightful chapters. The use of metaphors and case study analysis in this book was also well executed and facilitated understanding. The practical tips and strategies for embracing speed presented to the reader provided excellent advice on how to become a “Jet.”

I found some parts of the book, although insightful, were repetitive. Considering the topic, I would have appreciated greater directness and conciseness.

Applications & Lesson Learned
This book has great applications in the workforce. By examining your circumstances and the nature of your work, you can determine how best to use speed to your advantage and succeed. It is also important to keep in mind that speed and direction need to come from not only at the individual level but also the organizational level.

“If we truly want to soar, we have to understand our authentic purpose, be nimble and open to opportunities, be free of clutter and drag that can limit our potential, and seek our speed in unique and innovative ways” (p. 209)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Crucial Conversations

Book Review

Title: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
Authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Available Online
For more than 25 years, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler researched people in the workplace. These authors found that what makes someone an effective colleague is the way they manage their conversations. The authors studied these conversations and took detailed notes when they were having crucial conversations.
The authors offer some basic steps for how to manage crucial conversations. First is to identify when a conversation is turning crucial. One way to do this is by your own physical signals (e.g., Is your stomach getting tight? Are you eyes drying up?).

Once a crucial conversation is recognized the authors suggest to “start with heart.” What this means is to dig deep down inside and figure out the message you’re truly trying to get across. Often in a crucial conversation you can become defensive and your message may get lost or never get sent because the focus turns to defending. If you can recognize that a conversation has turned crucial and stay focussed, then you can learn to avoid being defensive and stay focussed on the message you’re really trying to get across. If your conversation partner begins to get defensive, this is one way to recognize that they do not feel safe in the conversation. When someone is feeling unsafe, they are likely not hearing your purpose. To return to a safe conversation, the effective conversationist has to guide the conversation back to a mutual purpose; if both parties can agree on one goal, it makes the conversation safer, with both parties more likely to hear what one another has to say.


One of the best things about this book is the use of examples for various situations. This book is not just useful in a work setting, but also applies to conversations with spouses, family members, and friends.


The authors did a very good job of getting the point across in the first few chapters, however after that the advice seemed a bit repetitive.

Lesson Learned

Practice makes perfect. Just as trying to remember to sit with good posture may take a conscious effort so too does staying in tune to your emotions during conversations when they turn crucial. It’s easy to prepare yourself for a crucial conversation when you are expecting one, but as conversation escalates and emotions get stronger, it is easy for conscious effort to control your emotions to fade. Just as you may sit down extend your back, put your shoulders back, and focus on good posture, once you begin working on something you may realize a few minutes later your back is slouched and your shoulders are forward. If you are in the middle of a crucial conversation and you suddenly become aware that your emotions have taken over, take a few minutes to regain your composure, take some deep breaths, and start back into the conversation. Over time, forming some of the habits in this book should become natural just as good posture is more natural for someone that practices at it, such as a ballet dancer or physiotherapist.

[1] http://books.google.ca/books?id=Gzjj9mSPAGEC&dq=crucial+conversations+tools+for+talking+when+stakes+are+high&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=Aj8gIPH8II&sig=oq_qTIeUhEF9MyKeOjy3grtvEB8&hl=en&ei=RvOWSo_cG4ySsgPhocXFDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#

Monday, August 17, 2009

Re-Engaging after Summer Vacation

If you’re anything like me, you look forward to the warm, sunny days of summer. It’s a great time to plan that special holiday and leave all your worries behind. Upon returning to work I feel refreshed, reenergized, and ready to get back to my work duties. Sometimes getting back into the swing of things can take some time, but I always focus on re-engaging in my work.

So, just how can you re-engage yourself? Be sure to ease your holiday-to-work transition by following some of the tips included below (adapted from Helium.com):
  • Give yourself time to settle back into your “normal” routine. If you’ve traveled to an exotic destination, give yourself a day or two to get your land legs and overcome any jet lag.
  • Reflect on your positive holiday experiences and achievements.
  • Stay positive about your work and reflect on the things that you enjoy doing.
  • Avoid in-box overload. If you can, consider looking through your emails the night before returning to work or have a colleague respond to urgent items while you are away.
  • Try to stick to your regular sleep schedule at least a few days before returning to work
I’d also suggest the following
  • Give yourself time to settle back into the groove of things.
  • Be sure to review any meeting notes, memos, or other updates
  • Organize yourself by creating a checklist. This will give you a sense of accomplishment getting through all the smaller tasks.
  • Take what you’ve learned/experienced during your holidays and apply it to your work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to Maximize Your Talents at Work

Maximizing your talents and showing your employer your diverse set of skills can help to put you and your career in the spotlight. To maximize your talents you must recognize your own strengths. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, try asking friends and family “What do you think I’m good at?” You may also want to reflect on skills that you been complimented on. Next transfer the skills you identified to the realm of work.

Once you have identified your strengths and how they are applicable to work, it’s time to put these talents into action. Start by volunteering for projects or take initiative to help others when needed. Don’t be afraid to talk about your accomplishments with others in a non-boastful way. At staff meetings you could mention how much you enjoyed working on a certain aspect of a project. Or when offering to assist with certain projects, make note of your skills “I’m great at__________, and could really help with_________.”[1]

The potential benefits of maximizing your talents could result in focusing more on projects and job duties that are a better fit for you, in turn making work more enjoyable. Your willingness to volunteer for projects may be noted by your employer, who in turn may begin sending you the work you enjoy more often.

[1] http://www.playtoyourstrengths.com/resources/faiths-articles/maximize-your-talents

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Finding Flow...

I'm currrently just finishing my contributions to a book on "Career Flow" (co-authored with Norm Amundson and Spencer Niles). Csikszentmihalyi has previously written about "Flow" as "optimal experience" - those wonderful moments when you are so throoughly engaged in an enjoyable activity that you lose all track of time as things click along perfectly for you.

In an entry in our own blog last month, Fiona talked about how the variety of projects she's working on contributed to flow. Krista, in her recent blog entry, spoke of the joys and challenges of working on virtual teams. As I reflect on my own work, the time races by when I'm teaching in a classroom, but minutes seem like hours when I'm grading a mountain of papers according to detailed criteria. As a consultant and manager, I love seeing "aha" moments; I hate wasting time.

Csikszentmihaly found that flow occurs more often at work than in any other life roles. He observed that balancing the degree of challenge to the level of one's skills contributes to flow (i.e., if you take on too much of a challenge for your current skill level, you'll likely be worried or anxious; however, too little challenge may result in boredom instead of flow).

I believe that it's not just about skills; rather the resources available to you (i.e., your overall capacity to get the task done) make a difference as well. Sometimes a job can be highly enjoyable until a co-worker calls in sick, leaving you with double the work with the same amount of resources. Your skills haven't changed, but it may no longer be a flow experience if you were already challenged by the work to be done. On the other hand, a job could be boring until an emergency arises - the unexpected challenge bumps you back into flow.

As you reflect on your own career, when do you find yourself in flow?
  • What types of activities, under which specific circumstances, do you find particularly engaging?
  • How can you create more of them at work?
  • How can you adjust the activities that drag you down so that they'll be more meaningful? Less tedious?
"Hope" is at the centre of the model explaining "career flow" in our latest book. In my previous research on what contributes to job success and career satisfaction, optimism was the single best predictor of both. Therefore, as you strive for more "flow" in your work (i.e., as you become more engaged), nurture hopefulness or optimism. Ask yourself,
  • Why are you doing what you do?
  • What difference does it make?
  • Who needs the product or service you provide?
  • Is the demand growing or declining?
  • What other meaningful projects can you contribute to?
Finding flow doesn't have to be accidental. Intentionally create opportunities that are challenging but not overwhelming. Make meaningful contributions. Recognize how your work helps make the world a better place.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Strategies for Working Successfully Within a Virtual Team

I’ve been working on virtual teams for several years now and recently started to think about some of the tools and techniques that I’ve seen used to effectively engage employees when there is little or no face-to-face (f2f) interaction. Some of the little interactions that we take for granted in a traditional work setting are not as easily replicated in a virtual work environment. In a traditional office setting, employees typically greet one another, even if it’s just a passing hello on the way to one’s desk. These settings allow for virtually endless opportunities to connect throughout the day whether it’s as they walk by colleagues on their way to another office, the lunch room, or just to stop by to check-in on a project. Then, of course, there’s the coffee/lunch room – a veritable meeting place for most workplaces.

With the ever-increasing advances of technology and the subsequent comfort people have using it, virtual or distance workers are becoming more commonplace. Some of the techniques I’ve seen for engaging virtual work teams are listed below:
  • Annual retreats, allowing staff to reconnect, build relationships, and engage in professional development opportunities
  • Regular team meetings (e.g., weekly teleconferences, audio conferences)
  • Regular project meetings using suitable communication technologies
  • Online document storage to ensure that all team members have equal access to required documents
  • Effective use of available communication technologies, including:
    • Telephone
    • Chat (e.g., MSN)
    • Videoconferencing using web cams (e.g., Skype)
    • Audio conferencing (e.g., GoToMeeting)
    • Email
    • Online planning software as a virtual white board (e.g., mywebspiration.com)
Some of the challenges that virtual teams may face, include:
  • Taking longer to build relationships and trust amongst team members
  • Misinterpreting electronic communications (e.g., email, telephone, audio conferencing, text chat) because of a lack of body language
  • Developing processes for communication and providing feedback amongst team members
Despite there being some challenges to working within a virtual team, there seem to be an endless number of benefits that this type of work arrangement can offer. Some benefits include:
  • Working with colleagues from other regions and countries
  • Enhancing one’s technology skills
  • Working flexible hours, particularly when a team is spread across various time zones
  • Saving money by not having to commute to an office (e.g., transportation, parking)
  • Decreasing wardrobe costs if working mostly from home
  • Experiencing a sense of well-being from lessening one’s environmental footprint
Although not an option for every workplace and not for every individual, I am happy that I’ve been able to work on virtual teams and experience the wonderful benefits of doing so!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shifting Priorities
As I was sitting here contemplating my next blog topic I was having difficulty thinking of a new and exciting employee engagement topic for which to focus my next blog on; so I started to think of everything that I’ve done today and began thinking about how it’s near the end of my day and how I have stayed productive and engaged throughout the entire day. After thinking about it for a while I looked back over my task list I noticed that I have been able to switch from one task to another several times throughout the day. After working on one project for a considerable length of time and feeling my creative juices for that project fading fast I decided to put it aside and refresh with a new task: writing my monthly blog entry. So this is where I am now.

If you have the flexibility within your own job to create your own schedule throughout the day – I encourage you to do so. If one project begins to become mundane, set it aside and pick up a new one. At least for myself I find this helps my productivity throughout the day. I find that I cannot force myself to be creative and once that runs out, the best thing to do is to switch up the project and come back to it at a later time. If shifting to another project is not an option, one source suggests shutting down your computer temporarily and taking a break as an alternative to staying productive

Now in the last few minutes I have been able to complete my next blog entry where if I had stayed focused on the project I was working on before I likely would not have accomplished nearly as much.

[1] http://lifelearningtoday.com/2007/08/23/25-tips-to-become-more-productive-and-happy-at-work/

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Professional Development

In any field there are opportunities for engaging in professional development in some shape or form. This might include taking part in an educational course, attending a short presentation/workshop, or going to a conference. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in all of these forms of professional development through Life Strategies. This has allowed me to not only further develop my skills but also keep me engaged in my work.

Educational courses can be the most time consuming option for professional development and may require time away from work. This might not always be an option and many would not dedicate their vacation to study. However, with online learning, correspondence/independent study, and/or night class options, it’s easier than ever to continue your education by working your studies in and around your work/life commitments.

There are a variety of reasons why an employer may host a presentation or workshop internally (e.g., to introduce new policies/procedures, to train workers on new technologies/practices, to strengthen team functioning) and workers may or may not be required to attend. Externally you can access an endless choice of topics – anything from improving your editing skills to managing conflict. Conferences are a great way to attend numerous presentations/workshops over the course of few days. They also provide invaluable networking opportunities for you to connect with others in your field.

Some organizations invest in professional development and others unfortunately do not. Professional development is a great way to not only ensure employees have the skills necessary to do the job but also to let them know that the company is willing to invest in them. If your organization offers professional development opportunities or funding for them I really encourage you to take advantage of this. Even without funding from your organization, developing your skills is a great way to keep engaged. Learning something new could help you perform your job better and maintain an energetic and enthusiastic approach to your work.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


When you hear about employee engagement, you likely think about how to ensure you increase and maintain high levels of engagement in the workplace...after all, studies show that engaged employees are more productive. However, do you ever think about whether your employees are over-engaged and the problems which may arise from over-engagement?

In reading a recent article about job loss and subsequent identity loss for some people, it became clear that it is possible for employees to become over-engaged in their work and over-identifying with their jobs. Workers with a great passion and interest in their work may be at risk for over-engagement.

The upside of over-engagement is that a job may not feel like work if the employee feels a personal connection and passion for the work. It may in fact feel like a dream job if personal and work interests are interconnected. On the surface these are likely attributes employers feel make positive contributions to their work sites.

Unfortunately, over-engaged workers may:
  • Identify strongly with their jobs thereby losing personal identity
  • Have unclear boundaries between work and personal life
  • Find it easy to sacrifice family, friends, and health for the sake of their jobs
In a turbulent economy, over-engaged individuals may be at risk of experiencing personal collapse if they lose their jobs. They may be more likely to experience workplace stress and burnout and the resulting stress-related illnesses can be incredibly costly to already over-burdened employees.

Here are some tips for ensuring employees aren’t over-engaged
• Make vacation mandatory
• Don’t make “busy a badge of honour”
  • Avoid rewarding those who work constant overtime and penalizing those who don’t
  • Employers should model valuing personal time by taking vacation, leaving early/on-time
  • Reward quality not quantity
  • Encourage volunteer work or involvement in community-based projects
  • Support health and wellness initiatives in the workplace
Life Strategies Ltd. offers a range of training opportunities, workshops, and services related to work-life sustainability, managing stress in the workplace, and healthy workplaces. For more information, visit: http://www.lifestrategies.ca/

Friday, June 5, 2009

Best Job in the World Competition

You may have heard of the recent competition to be the caretaker of an island in Australia. The “gruelling” position (please note sarcasm) has earned the winning candidate a 6 month contract worth $150,000. The successful candidate’s job duties are to explore the island (e.g., lie on the beach, go snorkelling), complete some minor tasks, and blog about his experiences.

This contest attracted well-over 34,000 candidates. However, only one lucky candidate, Ben Southall, beat out the competition.
[1] Yes, it is easy to see why this would be such a brilliant job, but what can you do in your position to make it your own “Best Job in the World?” Now you may be thinking “I certainly cannot go lie on a beach and get paid for it,” which may be reality for most of us; but what about spreading out your vacation time? Perhaps taking a day here and a day there to go do the things that you really enjoy would make your job more of a “dream job.” Try planning your vacation days around work milestones, for instance after completing a major project take a day to explore your city like a tourist, going to events or attractions you wouldn’t normally visit. If taking vacation days isn’t appealing, perhaps working in some flex time would be. Is it an option to work 4, 10 hour shifts Monday through Thursday one week to take the Friday off? Your employer may be very open to such options as a refreshed and relaxed employee is likely to be an engaged and productive employee.

Time off or holiday days may not be the component you need for your “dream job.” Take some time to write out a list. Title the list “If I Could Do Any Job in the World I Would…” Next compare your list to your current position, what on the list could you try and incorporate? Even if you think something is farfetched, it is always worth speaking to your supervisor or HR department to see what is feasible. Another idea is to list all of your current duties, ranking each duty with a 1, 2, or a 3 (1 = very satisfied, 2 = neutral, and 3 = not very satisfied). Next take a look at all the duties you ranked with a 1, is there any way to be doing more of those in replacement of the duties you ranked with a 3?

Have fun in creating your “dream job,” get together with friends or co-workers to brainstorm “dream job” scenarios. However, be sure to move it forward, don’t stop at creating the list; look up workplace policies, speak with your supervisor, HR department, or other co-workers to see what is possible.

[1] http://www.news.com.au/travel/story/0,28318,25437797-5012671,00.html

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Involving Employees in Diversity Initiatives

Employers are slowly coming to seeing the advantages of creating a diverse workforce and fostering an organizational culture which accepts and supports individuals from diverse backgrounds. Diversity makes good business sense for a lot of reasons including reducing turnover/absenteeism, fostering creativity/innovation, and improving marketplace understanding (Robinson and Dechant (1997) as cited in HRM Business Case for Diversity Management -http://www.managementmarketing.unimelb.edu.au/mcib/include/diversity/HRM%20Business%20Case%20for%20Diversity%20Management.pdf). It can also foster employee engagement by creating a safe and accepting workplace.

But what about actually involving employees in creating and organizing workplace diversity initiatives? What about creating “diversity champions” or “diversity committees” to spear head such initiatives? These are individuals or groups of individuals who are the “go to” people for anything related to diversity. They can be just regular employees, not experts, who have a passion for diversity and know where to look or who to consult with to get the answers you need.

Begin a “diversity champion” or on a “diversity committee” offers employees a chance to get involved by shaping organizational culture and improving diversity within the organization. It also provides the opportunity for employees to get involved in something they really care about. Perhaps they’ve been itching to help orientate newcomers into the working environment but never had the opportunity or perhaps they are a newcomer themselves and empathize with the challenges newcomers can face drawing on their own personal experiences. Whatever the case may be, getting involved in diversity initiatives is a great employee engagement strategy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Developing Essential Skills to Lead to Employee Engagement?

Do your employees have all the essential skills needed for their job? If not, there is a possibility that a lack of required essential skills could lead to a disengaged employee. Think about it; let’s say you are the manager of payroll services at a busy hospital; you have just hired Samantha on as she comes with great references for having excellent interpersonal skills. At the same time Samantha is hired, the department has just upgraded to a fancy new computer system. You make the assumption that as Samantha is pretty young she will easily transition to her position and easily learn the new computer system. After about a month you begin to notice that Samantha is already beginning to show signs of a disengaged worker: she has already phoned in sick, her morale is low, and there is room for improvement with her productivity. Samantha’s current behaviour is not reflecting the eager, enthusiastic employee you hired a month ago. There could be numerous factors which lead to an employee’s disengagement however one factor to think about is whether or not your employees have the necessary skills to do their job (i.e., would Samantha have been more engaged had she had more training on how to use the new computer system? Was the lack of knowledge and skill leading Samantha to be frustrated at work?)

The Government of Canada has identified nine essential skills that will benefit employees and help employees transition to change in their working environment. For a detailed description of the essential skills visit:

As an employer looking to increase employee engagement in the workplace a strong suggestion would be to assess the skills of your employees. If you feel that your employees could benefit from essential skills training – try to build in activities once a week that concentrate on enhancing the essential skills most needed by your staff.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Diversity and Employee Engagement

Living in Canada, we are surrounded by diversity – economic, geographic, cultural, and ethnic diversity. With all of this diversity in our midst, it is a bit of a wonder how society can at times be reluctant to embrace it. Perhaps I’ve become more attuned to the concept of diversity since it has been the subject of a recent project, but it seems that everywhere I turn these days, there is some mention of diversity – the cover of the current issue of Maclean’s Magazine, the upcoming focus of the next Contact Point newsletter, or the recent CANNEXUS conference.

After spending the past month steeped in a diversity project, I have come to appreciate the importance embracing diversity has on employee engagement in the workplace. For engagement to work from a diversity perspective, employees need to be able to bring their “whole self” to work, without any fear of how their disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, age, etc. will affect how they are perceived. This in turn will allow employees to more fully engage with their job, increase productivity, and ultimately, lead to greater job satisfaction.

When an employee feels unable to come to work freely, without feeling emotions that could include discomfort, shame, dread, fear, this negatively impacts their ability to perform their work to their fullest potential. It seems that more and more companies are beginning to adopt or considering creating diversity policies and programs, recognizing that doing so is helpful to the bottom line. Because we live in a diverse society, hiring diverse workers and embracing our differences creates workplaces that better represent the diverse range of customers and clients, and will ultimately lead to increased employee engagement.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sustainability...in Chaotic Times

I’ve just returned from a career development conference in Toronto. In a number of significant ways, the energy was different from previous years:
  • We’re in a recession. Funding cuts by governments and educational institutions have resulted in less professional development money. For several participants, this was the one conference they could attend this year. As a result, many saw their attendance as a privilege – they took the opportunity more seriously.
  • The recession has resulted in significant pockets of unemployment throughout the country. Many career practitioners are busier than ever before. Several were connected to their offices via cell phones, email, or BlackBerries. Many spent lunch hours, evenings, and early mornings working from their hotel rooms.
  • This relates to the skill shortage. Even the programs that had sufficient funding to hire additional staff couldn’t always find the right skill sets. It takes time to build capacity.
From a sustainability perspective, it’s interesting to reflect on the intersection between changes in the global economy, technology, specific sectors, and individual wellbeing. One of the keynote speakers at the conference focussed on stresses from multitasking, role conflicts, and continuously striving to do more with less. Short-term stress can be energizing – relentless stress, however, is debilitating.
So...how can you sustain yourself during stressful, chaotic times of change?
  1. Be pro-active. Whenever possible, build resiliency in advance. It’s hard to initiate self-care during a “crazy-busy” time, so take advantage of quiet moments, whether during the lull before the storm or the sudden stillness in the eye of a tornado.
  2. Be responsive. Rigidly sticking to plans or routines is unlikely to be effective during times of significant change. Learn to adjust plans to accommodate new information and opportunities.
  3. Form partnerships, whether long-term and formal or short-term and strategic. It may be easier to ride out the storm with several life rafts strapped together than alone in rough seas.
  4. Reflect on lessons learned. In challenging times, it can be tempting to keep “doing” but it might be more effective to pause for a moment, step back, and look at the big picture. Challenging, chaotic times are often times of great growth. Take time to anchor that learning as soon as you can surface for air.
  5. Draw your line in the sand – at some point, continuously trying to do more with less is simply not sustainable. What responsibilities can you set aside, even temporarily, to make space for a crisis intervention? What breaks do you need to take to retain your health and productivity? What tasks can you delegate – at home or at work? What can you do that’s simply for fun?
Sustainability isn’t a luxury – it’s an essential element in individual and organization success. A recession in the midst of a skill shortage has created a “perfect storm.” Being proactive, responsive, strategic, reflective, and focussed will help to sustain you in these challenging times.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Engagement Through Charity

Life Strategies Ltd. is involved in numerous charity endeavours. Most recently we took part in Bowl for Kids Sake which raised funds for the Big Bothers Big Sisters organization. Here bowlers of all ages and abilities gathered up pledges from friends, family, and colleagues, laced up their rented shoes, and got their game face on for two adaptations of regular bowling - bingo and poker bowling. Since the theme was “Out of This World” there were many space inspired costumes with alien antennas, Star Wars outfits, and glowing jewellery adorning the bowlers. Although my personal bowling performance was not outstanding, I had a great time and knew that the money we raised would be put to good use.

This event was a great chance to give back to the community. According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters website they are “the nation’s largest youth mentoring organization providing quality adult mentoring services for over 26,000 children in more than 1,000 communities.”
Funds raised from the Bowl for Kids Sake will be used to support these mentoring programs.

Moreover, this is a great event for our team to get together. Since we all work electronically it’s not often that we are all in the same place at once. It was a great opportunity to re-energize and have fun while doing something worthwhile. These types of events keep us engaged in our work and our organization.

Be sure to check out the Bowl for Kids Sake website at
http://www.bowlforkidssake.ca/bowl4kids/default.asp to learn more about this event or to donate.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Being 'Present' in Your Work

To me, career engagement is all about being ‘present’ in the work that you are doing. It is one thing to show up to work each day and complete the tasks required of you, but I think that it is another thing altogether to show up and give of yourself in such a way that you are contributing in the uniquely personalized way that only you can.

There is definitely a balancing act at play in terms of being ‘present’ in your work. We all have a wide range of roles that we are responsible for – parent, student, worker, caregiver, volunteer, coach, etc. It is unrealistic to assume that it is possible to be ‘present’ in all roles at all times. Instead, we can consciously strive to influence our environments so that we can maximize our presence in each of our roles.

Finding work that allows you to experience what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls Flow can certainly help. “Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

Flow occurs when the right blend of skills and tasks come together and an optimal state is achieved. I only became aware of this concept over the last couple of years and I think it is worth further investigation and consideration. Understanding what is needed to achieve flow is a key component of engagement. I believe that an awareness of your optimal flow conditions is key to maximizing the feeling of career engagement.

To read more about Flow and Positive Uncertainty, check out these titles from Amazon.ca:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Work Hard / Play Hard

In a time of economic doubt and hardship, we have been blessed at Life Strategies to be busier than ever. In working for a company with diverse abilities and interests we have been able to adjust where necessary to expand our services and keep working.

We have more than 30+ projects on the go; core members of our team have a hand in almost every one. This keeps us quite occupied and working many hours of overtime; fortunately we are also able to play hard. Some of the things we do together, as a team, to reward ourselves for hard work include:

1. Lunches “out” – this also serves as a great way to catch up. Especially when our core team works remotely most of the time
2. Lunches “in” – a potluck is a great way to spice up a project update discussion
3. Pedicures – a day at the spa is just the way to reenergize your mind and relax from stresses
4. Day trips – we once spent a whole working day at the Titanic exhibit
5. “Ticky” contests – when we have a lot of projects on our plate we give ourselves a tick for each task (or chunks of smaller tasks). After a couple of weeks, the team member with the most “tickies” wins a prize – this works really well to move small stuff forward but also for the competitive members of our team
6. Charity events – each year we participate in several charity events (e.g., Bowl for Big Brothers / Big Sisters of Langley), which is a great way to get the whole team together to have some fun

Playing hard keeps us engaged. “An engaged employee is more likely to commit the time and energy to help an organization succeed – and also to recommend the organization to others, both potential employees and customers. Perhaps most importantly, engagement has been linked to productivity
[1].” What also works with taking time out during busy times to reenergize, relax, and to have fun together as a team is that it gives us a break from the “daily grind.” We are able to go back to work and dive into projects with a renewed energy to them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Work-Life Balance


Work. Lots of stuff goes on at work -- interpersonal dynamics, personality clashes, team cohesiveness, corporate culture -- and then economic ups and downs. Findings ways to regroup, streamline, engage, and play up strengths available is something company management and leadership looks to do. Many companies right now are evaluating how best to keep solid employees; and to keep a company sustainable during stormy times (looking for that lighthouse!) -- a delicate mix of visionary, strong leadership with compassion and creativity.

Professional development can be helpful, even third party interventions to help facilitate new possibilities and re-structuring. Leadership development, coaching and mentorship, transition/change management, communication, stress management, conflict management, and financial management -- just a few aspects of a workplace that can be developed. Life Strategies offers workshops and seminars to help with these many facets of a corporate culture. http://www.lifestrategies.ca/training.cfm 

Professional development can be done via further specialization, such as through the Career Management Professional Program: http://www.lifestrategies.ca/training.cfm  Online learning can be a great contributor to work-life balance as an individual need not take time from work to engage in these courses; they can be done in the comfort of one's own home, at a convenient time -- less time traveling, less time taken from work. 

These same issues can be addressed individually -- for both work and home -- in order to best enjoy and function in both worlds. Life Strategies has some ideas here too: learning about work-life balance, career building, parenting styles, budgets and business plans, financial management, and entrepreneurial strategies. http://www.lifestrategies.ca/training.cfm

Life. As for personal balance (or that ongoing quest for...), people have different ideas of what balance means; but being aware of what that is to oneself will make the search for that balance a bit more reachable. https://lifestrategies.ca/secure/store/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=146   

As much as we need to learn to foster this balance within ourselves (for personal reasons, and professional), we can also encourage this in our co-workers and clients:    https://lifestrategies.ca/secure/store/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=42

Cultivating that balance
There are many aspects to work-life balance; finding ways to work better and more harmoniously and efficiently; finding ways to make time for personal interests, friends, and family; and even time just for you are all integral to a healthier way of being. Even with the multiple stressors going on -- again from work, family, personal pursuits, and so on -- with some sense of balance, skills, and awareness, can one also handle these better. 

Friday, January 30, 2009


Something that's been on my mind this past week has been the notion of resilience. It is probably no surprise that this concept is rattling around in my head with headlines of job losses worldwide and close to home; with many giant industries falling like dominos.

Resilience is an important quality in times of difficulty; resilience draws on flexibility and creativity of an individual (and even a society); a capacity to sway in the winds of change, or even to re-invent oneself in some way.

There are many things to do to help foster resilience:

a) Make connections with others - families, friends, networking, communities...feeling part of something makes for feeling supported and less alone.

b) Try to not view a crisis as everlasting and insurmountable - things eventually change; in crisis can sometimes emerge new possibilities. The Serenity Prayer, for example, offers some helpful advice towards discerning the difference between that which one can control/change and that which one can't, and the ability to something about the former.

c) Set goals and sub-goals - this provides a focus and action; a sense of ability/accomplishment, no matter how small.

d) Reflection - During challenging times, one can learn alot about themselves. Sometimes it is through self-reflection, sometimes through tests/assessments, sometimes through talking with others. Keeping an open mind will help with creative problem solving, and improve resilience.

e) Self-care - Staying positive, do something you enjoy each day, eat well, exercise, try something new each day ... all of these are good ways to bolster resilience and get through challenging times...

This is a website from the Mayo Clinic that has some helpful information about resilience and health: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/resilience/MH00078

Friday, January 23, 2009

Resumes and letters

I am coming across alot of ads and news articles suggesting that it is a good time to update that ol' resume. Maybe this is in part inspired by the new year, perhaps also in reaction to the economic downturn. Updating resumes often is always a good idea -- maybe you've taken a course that upgrades your skills; maybe a workshop; maybe completed some volunteering or contract work.... it is all worthwhile keeping track of on a general, all-purpose resume. From that resume, you can tease out the important stuff (that can fit on 2 pages!) that relates directly to a job being applied for (if that is what it comes to).

General resume
This is a great place to store all of  your accomplishments -- education, work history, volunteering, awards, workshops/conferences, publications, trades, skills development. Over time, it is hard to recall these things, so keeping them all in one place, in chronological order (grouped in to headings), becomes incredibly handy -- and an interesting walk down vocational memory lane when you need to pull out items relevant to a job being applied for. You, or a client, may recall skills and talents long disappeared years back, once again handy. Update this often to capture everything you've done. Make sure to write up the skills used and accomplishments in an active voice that speaks to facts and achievements -- self-promote in a factual way.

Over time, this general resume will become really long... pages and pages. When sculpting your specific resume for a particular job, you will have to use fine judgement and editing skills to pull out the right information that tells the right story about how you are fit for the job, and how your background has led you to that application. This becomes the process of creating job, company, and/or industry specific resumes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Year, New Goals

With a new year come new goals and fresh starts.

Goals & Fresh Starts
Part of being involved in career development involves helping people clarify their goals, and find ways to realize them, if possible. Some people are facing changes brought on by the global economic downturn -- they might have to search for more work, or do a complete career change depending on the market and their training. Revisiting with a client their goals, interests, and skills can help provide direction and possibilities. Perhaps some long lost interest or aspect of self will be cultivated.

Reviewing interests with a client will provide a narrowing of fields to explore. It may also prove illuminating for a client to take time to answer questions (e.g. from A level or B level interest surveys and assessment tools) which then gives them feed back about themselves and potential careers that could be fulfilling, least of all relevant to moving forward. It is also a great way to screen for definite non-interests. The key, as that graffiti found on a wall in ancient Greece once stated, is to "know one's self"... and also to know one's options (considering all realistic possibilities at first) ... and then make a decision with awareness. This process is greatly empowering! 

Skills & Education
Interests are wonderful -- but what if those interests exceed available skills? Part of re-assessing skills and career possibilities can include the consideration of new training and/or education. It can also serve to exclude possibilities, and again, this process is done with awareness and realism (which should help to reduce unrealistic dreams, disappointments, and regrets). It can also make things much more possible than before. Perhaps specific training is all that is needed to pursue an ideal job; perhaps financing options come to light to make that training happen. In times of recession, many people choose to or are faced to re-train. Doing this well and with choice and awareness (as much as possible) can prove to be quite empowering. 

Identifying values and priorities will help in many respects -- it will help sort through the interests, skills, and options in a meaningful way. It will also help position the job or training within an individual's life context (family, finances, ability to move, social connections, etc.). Identifying values can also help an individual choose appropriate compromises in order to better meet the goals of their larger life scenario. If staying in a particular town is priority 1, then job choice is reduced substantially. If moving is a possibility, then broader options can be considered. 

A key in all of this is awareness -- of self, of situation, of possibilities, of realistic options, of dreams. With awareness come choices - sometimes not ideal ones, but better than blind guessing and frustrated non-awareness. Being able to take a moment to step back and get a better, more objective view of things can help an individual immensely when they are faced with unknowns and fearful uncertainty of job loss. This is part of sustainability and the reinvention sometimes required therein.