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 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. 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 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”.

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