Are we choosing sustainability over health care in the City of Vancouver?

I work for the Vancouver Civic Theatres, a company owned by the City of Vancouver.  Like the majority of City of Vancouver workers, I am an auxiliary employee.  This means that no matter the length of my employment at the City and no matter my qualifications, I’m not guaranteed to be scheduled a minimum number of shifts each week, and I do not receive benefits.

The Vancouver Civic Theatres is a company which runs the three theatres owned by the City – the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum and the Playhouse.  If you’ve visited any of our theatres in the past, you may have noticed that we have an extremely multi-generational staff.  Employee ages range from 20-70 years old.

I’m young – in my late twenties – and going through the process of choosing an extended health care provider.  In doing so, I can’t help but sympathize for my co-workers who must have also done the same in previous years.  It’s challenging to decide on which provider to choose for reasons of cost and benefit.  Although a number of our employees are retirees receiving pensions from other companies, there are some older employees whose livelihood comes from working at the theatres.  Without receiving benefits, I can’t imagine how challenging it is for them to budget for their needs.

The City of Vancouver is hailed as one of the top 50 employers in British Columbia.  This is largely due to the fact that they offer amazing, forward-thinking benefits to its part-time and full-time employees.  But for the majority of us who work at the Parks and Recreations Board, Civic Theatres and the Vancouver Public Library are classified as auxiliary, which means that we don’t have access to those benefits.

I just find it so ironic that in Vancouver, where the focus of the city seems to be on sustainability – preventative measures to improve what life will look like in the future – our current standard of living is being compromised.  Somewhere down the road, a decision must have been made to shift Vancouver’s focus from promoting health care to promoting sustainability.  I’m just not sure that we needed to move all the way towards one side and not the other.

Geraldine Sangalang is at the beginning of her Human Resources career and is seeking her first full-time position. She volunteers with the BC HRMA, the Canadian Cancer Association and the Terry Fox Foundation.  On her private time, Geraldine loves scrapbooking, hiking, kayaking, and enjoying the company of friends on a local patio.


My 2010 wish list

Ten years ago I was determined to bring in the new millenium with gusto, praying that Y2K would blow over and practicing not starting off dates with 19XX.  Well, another year is over and a new decade about to begin.   It’s been an amazing and amazingly productive year.  When I look back, I think “wow!” at all the fabulous people I’ve met and all the great work that I’m hearing about.  It just occurred to me that at the beginning of this year I would have never considered blogging; the world and our minds can change pretty rapidly in the course of just one year!

Other HR bloggers at this time of year are making their predictions for 2010.  I’m not going to even attempt that one!  But I will document for you my hopes and dreams for HR for 2010.  I look forward to revisiting this list next December and seeing how far we’ve come! 

1.  HR understands that social networking has become a must do to survive.  It will no longer lock it down or police it.  It will work within the new world, accept it for what it is and most importantly, take advantage of it.  This doesn’t mean that everyone should sign up for Twitter!  Instead, we should consider the options available and choose what makes sense for the organization. 

2.  More industries and organizations give their shareholders or stakeholders a “say on pay”, giving them information on executive pay.  It’ll open up discussions and build transparency.  On December 11th, the U.S. passed say on pay legislation for the financial industry.  But the financial industry in Canada realized that they didn’t need to wait for the law to step in to do the right thing.  Management guru Peter Drucker would agree:  revamping exec comp is good for the organization and society.  

3.  Companies up their investment in employee learning and development.  Everyone is screaming for the need to increase productivity.  Investing in improving literacy and providing employees with skills to do their jobs better has a better ROI than buying a new computer.  

4.  Derogatory comments about Gen X, Y or Z stops.  This is a form of ageism and should go the way of sexism, racism and other ‘isms.  Let’s talk about how generations differ and how to maximize value through them, much in the same way we talk about any other group in our organization (e.g. women, visible minorities, etc.).  I’m not sure if people who call Gen X “entitled” realize that they have just offended me….  

5.  HR increases its knowledge on metrics and dedicates some resources to it.  I get it – your systems are cranky, your data is garbage, you don’t have the budget… I’ll tell you a secret:  start anyways and you’ll get better at everything else along the way.  Isn’t that how we start anything for the first time anyways? 

6.  As the economy gets better, organizations bring back the Christmas party, merit increases and focus on engagement.  Cut backs shouldn’t be the new status quo to maximize profits but we certainly can get more efficient at how we manage these things.  

7.  Everyone reads What Matters Now.  Shout out to Dalell Amed who shared this ebook with me using another social web took, LinkedIn.  Within 24 hours, I received 3 copies of this book thanks to our profession’s willingness to share knowledge.  If you still don’t quite understand the value of social networking, this is how it works folks.  

8.  HR pros start an email chain on the blog post “18 Breakthrough Ideas for HR Success in 2010”  along with these Holiday Eating Tips

Thanks for following my blog this year, for your encouragement, compliments and most importantly for joining in on the conversation.  Happy Holidays! 

Where's Waldo?

Take a break, you hard worker you, and find Waldo! (click on the pic to make it larger!)

The Battle of Pay Equity: U.S. vs. Canada

I wonder if Casey earned less than Finnegan though they had the same jobs?  (Yes, I believe Casey was a girl)

I wonder if Casey earned less than Finnegan even though they had the same jobs? (and yes, I believe Casey was a girl)

On April 28, 2009th the U.S. celebrated Equal Pay Day, a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages.  They have a lot to celebrate.  First, on January 9th, the Fair Paycheck Act, which stregthens current pay equity legislation, passed through the House of Representatives and is now in the hands of senators.  Barack Obama signed his first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29th.  The Act gives victims of wage discrimination the ability to hold their employers accountable for injustice and challenge the practice in court.  The Americans have moved two steps forward towards the goal of achieving pay equity.

So now that we know what our American counterparts are up to, how does Canada rate on the issue of equal pay for equal work between the genders?

Back in December 2008, we were first tipped off that Canada was moving in a different direction than the U.S.  During that time, the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government was facing a potential vote of non-confidence over their budget proposal.  Among the contentious items in the budget was the lack of a plan to manage the economic crisis, the scrapping of “subsidies for political parties, a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike and limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity”

When Parliament resumed in January 2009, the Conservatives had a new plan of attack to improve the economy, kept the subsidiaries to the political parties but kept in the provision to “require pay equity disputes to be settled at the bargaining table, effectively blocking complaints to human rights commissions”.   This legislation is now known as the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

On the same day that Obama was lifting his presidential pen to sign the Fair Pay Act, New Democrat leader Jack Layton was giving ‘er to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in parliament over his proposed legislation.

Despite protests from Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the United Steal Workers Union, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, along with the revised federal budget, received royal assent on March 12th, 2009.

Whether the Act will live on is debatable.  Any decisions made by Supreme Court of Canada ultimately trump the parliament and their enacted laws.  The feeling is that when this Act is challenged, it’s likely that it will be deemed unconstitutional (because it contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms)  and never see the light of day.

Canada has historically been on top of Human Rights issues.  But in battle of pay equity, perhaps the results will be U.S. 1, Canada 0.

When “good” ideas backfire

Ever thought of getting the professional opinion of a psychologist for your HR initiatives?  Maybe it’s time we did.  Perhaps then we could better nail down human behavior and predict employee reaction for every management action.

Take for example employee engagement.  You start of measuring engagement for the ultimate purpose of generating more profit (engaged employees > better customer service/product quality/innovation > more revenue > more profit).  Just the simple act of monitoring engagement  can create unintended consequences.  How about the employee that believes that it’s management’s responsibility to make them happy and keep them motivated?  Holy entitlement Batman!  Just try launching engagement surveys and not doing anything with the results – now you’ve got even more disengaged employees.  Then you’ve got the new topic of office gossip – “hey, did you hear about the engagement score for Team X?  Man, are they one unhappy bunch.  They are way underpaid and I hear their manager is a slave driver.”  Even better, dealing with the manager who manages to get an inflated score (via intimidation or mild bribery like a pizza lunch) to ensure they get their performance bonus.    Eek!

The bottom line is, when you start measuring employee engagement you may get some unintended consequences. 

Now let’s move on to the unintended consequences of compensation.  A timely discussion, what with all the kerfuffle around those AIG bonuses.  It’s a big discussion in all media, with all the rage and anger of “how could Americans possibly prop up the insurance giant with taxpayer dollars and then pay these grotesque bonuses”?  An interesting online debate was posted in BusinessWeek discussing the pros and cons of AIG Execs returning their bonuses.

I loved the comment posted by the reader Mark-Anthony who says “Wow, is it just completely impossible for America comprehend unintended consequences?”  In sum, he says you’ve got to give the promised bonus to individuals who meet their targets in order to keep talent and you’ve got to give some reward to the folks sticking it through on sinking ships.  Also, if governments increase taxes to claw back some of those bonuses, you know what will happen?  That’s right – companies will have to boost up that base salary to make up for that dollar loss.

Obama wants to cap executive salary, like they do in Japan.  Let’s consider the potential for unintended consequence there:  Capping CEO Pay – What It Means for All of Us.   Say you’re an exec and you’re putting yourself on the line, from reputation to family life.  Doesn’t greater risk require a greater reward?  Why would anyone put themselves out there without expecting some sort of payback?  And you know what happened in the US when SOX legislation required corporations to start publishing CEO salaries?  Everyone ended up knowing Joe Blow’s salary and wanted to make more than him because they thought they deserved it more than him.  Enter the salary cap and you may start to see all CEOs negotiating for that top range.  HR will have to work even harder to entice top executive talent using other, non-monetary incentives.

There are several more potential unintended consequences.  How about order some lunch in for your team, bring up the topic and hold a debate amongst each other about what other unintended consequences could come up with any of your initiatives.  A good lunch, lots of fun, and a way to engage your brilliant staff.  Are there any potential unintended consequence of doing that?