Announcing Human Elements U - Kicking Your Workplace Up a Notch

Human Elements U

We’re excited to announce that with summer almost over, we’re kicking off Human Elements U: an ongoing series of free talks, and pay-to-attend workshops designed to give small business owners / operators the practical skills, knowledge, and experience to apply in their workplace. All backed by our 100% money-back guarantee if you attend a paid event, and are not satisfied with your course. No questions asked.

Our first two half-day workshops are:

  • How to Manage an Underperforming Employee
  • Recruit, Onboard, and Retain New Employees

Calgary and Fort McMurray Events

Our inaugural Human Elements U workshops are initially being offered in Calgary at the end of August, and in September for Fort McMurray (in partnership with the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce). Workshops for Grande Prairie and Lethbridge are in the works (more to come on those dates).

Dates, Tickets & Discounts

Discounts are available for Calgary attendees (REAP members and Momentum students/alumni), in Fort McMurray (Chamber members, and Social Profits), and tickets can be purchased through The dates and tickets for each workshop are:

  • Calgary - Aug 29, 9am to Noon - How to Manage an Underperforming Employee | buy tickets |
  • Calgary - Aug 30, 9am to Noon - Recruit, Onboard, and Retain New Employees | buy tickets |
  • Fort McMurray - Sep 12, 9am to Noon - How to Manage an Underperforming Employee | buy tickets |
  • Fort McMurray - Sep 13, 9am to Noon - Recruit, Onboard, and Retain New Employees | buy tickets |

We hope to see you there, and look forward to helping you kick your workplace up a notch.


Workshop: How to Manage an Underperforming Employee

With this workshop you will understand how to stop negative employee patterns and cycles, and approach performance issues in a productive, and respectful manner. By attending, you will learn:

  • How to effectively approach performance issues, not just deal with "problem employees"
  • How to identify and resolve the core issue
  • How to work together with your employee to address the core issue, and
  • How to give yourself an your employee the greatest chance to turn a negative into a positive for all

Join your peers in an interactive workshop, where you will be actively participating in examples of real-world interviews and candidate situations. Leave with practical experience and examples you can apply to real life.

Workshop: Recruit, Onboard, and Retain New Employees

With this workshop you will gain a better understanding of the recruiting, hiring, and retention employee process. By attending you will learn:

  • Where to look for potential new employees
  • How to set up a professional and effective interviewing process
  • How to effectively onboard (introduce) a new employee to your workplace
  • Strategies to keep and retain your employees

Join your peers in an interactive workshop, where you will be actively participating in examples of real-world interviews and candidate situations. Leave with practical experience and examples you can apply to real life.

Your Facilitator

Matt Youens

Matt Youens is an energetic, passionate, and highly adaptable professional with close to 20 years experience in the Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Hospitality, and High Tech sectors, and is a past Chair and Founder of TEDxFortMcMurray. Matt has a handful of educational papers on his office wall, has held a CHRP/CPHR designation since 2010, and is an ADR Institute of Canada-trained mediator. He is married to an extremely supportive wife, and is fearful that one day their two cats might learn to work a can opener and cut out the middleman. Matt really enjoys working with others, helping them to learn, grow, and thrive.

Are You Ready for Jan 1, 2018? Alberta Employment Standards Codes Are Changing

 The Alberta Legislative Assembly.

The Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Albertan Workplace Laws Are Being Modernized, and Your Organization Is Counting On You to Be Prepared.

As part of Bill 17: The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, changes to the Alberta workplace are coming as of January 1, 2018. This is the first change to the Employment Standards Code since 1988.

That's a long time ago. Calgary was hosting the world with the Winter Olympics, Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, and photos were taken on something called "film", which was "developed" by an employee at your local drug store using chemicals. People still sent actual letters. And they had VHS players which meant they would have go to a store, to rent tapes to play in them.

A lot has changed since 1988, and Alberta hasn't been keeping up with other provinces and territories in Canada with respect to employment standards. Many of the upcoming changes were advised by veteran labour lawyer Andrew Sims.

"This is not a cutting-edge, lead-the-country reform... It is in most respects a bring-the-best-experiences-from-elsewhere to Alberta... There are some novel things in here that are new, hopefully add efficiency, but it brings us up into the mainstream of Canadian legislation." - Andrew Sims via Michelle Bellefontaine, CBC News

The changes run from tweaks, to some rather large changes. An example of a rather large change is "Employees will be eligible for current and new leaves after 90 days, rather than 1 year". It is well worth your time if you are an owner/operator  of an organization in Alberta, or a Union representative, to ensure you are familiar with these changes.

Some of the major categories of changes taking place are:

  • Leave Eligibility
  • Compassionate Care Leave
  • Maternity/Parental Leave
  • Rest Periods
  • Compressed Work Weeks
  • Deductions
  • Minimum Wage
  • Overtime
  • General Holiday and General Holiday Pay
  • Vacations and Vacation Pay
  • Termination and Temporary Layoffs
  • Youth Employment

You can find all of the changes to existing law, additions to existing laws, and how farms and ranches will be affected by viewing this Employment Standards Code Changes resource that the Alberta Government has generated.

Wisconsin Company Offers Microchip Implants to Roughly 60% of Its Employees

We're always fascinated to find how technology interacts with employees in the workplace, and a CBC article caught our eye about bringing RFID microchips into the workplace... more specifically embedding them into the employees, who then themselves enter the workplace. CNBC has a quick video on it as well.

These sorts of financial feasible, and potentially disruptive, technologies may have the ability to significantly improve how small business gets work done. But for all of the potential benefits, owner operators need to make sure they balance the benefits with the rights of employees, and ask hard questions about the new risks the technology bring with them. 

A Wisconsin vending machine company is offering its employees a chance to have a microchip implanted in their hands that they could use to buy snacks, log in to computers or use the copy machine.
About 50 employees at Three Square Market have agreed to the optional implant of the chips, which are the approximate size and shape of a grain of rice, said Tony Danna, vice president of international sales at the River Falls-based company.
The company, which employs 85, said it was the first in the United States to offer staff the technology which is similar to that used by contactless credit cards and chips used to identify pets.
The implants made by Sweden's BioHax International are part of a long-term test aimed to see if the radio-frequency identification chips could have broader commercial applications, Danna said.

 Read the full article on

What to Do with a Problem Like Email in the Workplace?

Emails emails emails

Look, email is a phenomenal tool. It’s phenomenal at helping us communicate in the workplace, it’s phenomenal at ensuring the right people get the right message, but it’s also a phenomenal waste of our time.

Connected computers are so common in the workplace that we take them and their abilities for granted these days. Most of the applications we use on a daily basis have been learned through trial and error. Occasionally we’ll have learned how to use specific applications, like CAD software, or maybe Photoshop, from experts, or from a class. But ask yourself this: when was the last time I took a class on email? When was the last time I seriously thought at how I use email?

Maybe those questions are worth asking if we take a look at how much time we spend in the blackhole that can be email.

My Inbox Beats Me Up 

I don’t know about you, but my email gets in the way of my work. Trying to manage it makes me feel like I’m biking uphill, rather than how good technology should make me feel - like how I feel when I’m biking downhill.

I save way too many emails and items than I should, the email systems I’m using are probably ineffective, and 99 per-cent of the time I use email I come out feeling like I lost. Lost time from helping clients, lost time from tackling those admin projects that need my attention, and lost time hunting and pecking for information.

Searching for an Answer

Over the past two years I’ve been looking for answers to how to email better, how to spend less time emailing, and more time doing productive work. And the answer is two-fold: technology + the human approach.

Technology: You need to find an email program/system that works for you and your organization. There are many to choose from, and the technology side seems to be progressing. You will probably find better solutions than the default application or app that came with your hardware.

The Human Approach: I’ve found looking at what I want email to be, how I want to use it, and how I want to feel when I use it has helped to create an internal email culture at Human Elements that is producing positive results. Less time is being spent in “mail jail”, and more time is being spent with clients, and on internal projects. Much like an organization’s Mission and Values, and internal email culture can help guide the work.

Build a Better Email Culture

Human Elements was recently asked to help a small and growing engineering firm of about 15 employees figure out how they can handle email more effectively as a group. The ask was not “teach us how to use our email program”, rather it was more “help us have a common understanding of how we should use emails between ourselves, and with our contractors and customers”.

What a great ask. The firm was large enough that they realized they were running into communication problems, but they were also small enough that they could build a useful and productive email culture - one that can and will save them time, money, and even IT costs.

Custom Email Workshop

We designed a two-hour facilitated workshop for the employees and key contractors of the firm, that would focus on how they currently use email, and what they would like it to look like. We then also discussed a modified version of the Email Charter (co-founded by Chris Anderson of TED), a version we called the Email Rules of Engagement. At the end of the session, all participants signed the rules with a promise that they were going to approach email differently. The feedback from the session was entirely positive, and while it’s early days yet, the hope is that email will be less a distraction, and more a productive tool.

You can find the rules they’re building their email culture around below. Who knows, perhaps these rules are a great fit for your organization as well.

Email Rules of Engagement

1. It’s About The Recipient, Not The Sender

First rule of email: Respect the recipient and their time. It is the responsibility of the sender to send out an email that will take the smallest amount of time to process by the recipient. Yes, this means more time on your end when sending an email.

2. Crystal Clear

The subject line should be crystal clear and easily identify the topic. Perhaps include other information in the subject line like Action, Priority (Low, Med, High), Time Sensitivity etc.. Use the least amount of sentences possible, and all your sentences need to be clean and easy-to-understand. Do not use bizarre fonts and colours - you’re not writing a medieval manuscript.

3. Brief and Slow is OK

Everyone is getting more email than is healthy, so agree up front to not be offended by brief responses, slow responses, or even brief and slow responses. Brief means more time doing actual work, and slow can be perfectly fine for email. If it’s urgent, a face-to-face or phone call should be your first priority.

4. CC - With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

CCing is a powerful tool, and it should not be taken lightly. If replying to a CC’d email, think hard, really hard, about who really needs to receive your response. Maybe only two people need to see your response. Maybe you don’t need to reply at all.

5. Open-Ended Questions Are Not Helpful

Finishing an email with “Thoughts?” or “How can I help?” are not helpful, despite the best of intentions. Simplify into easy-to-answer questions, like a multiple choice question: Does the client need A) a phone call from me B) a site visit by me and the team C) tickets to a Flames game with our client rep D) nothing, it’s all good.

6. Actually Useful Acronyms: EOM & NNTR

If your email can be sent in a short sentence, just place it in the Subject, followed by EOM (End of Message). An email like this can be read without having to be opened. Placing NNTR (No Need To Reply) at the end of an email is one of the best things a recipient can ever read.

7. Stop Being Attached to Attachments

Do not use graphics in your signature, or as your background. You’re wasting time on the other end when the recipient is looking for a real attachment. If you can, avoid sending files by linking to a shared document. This saves space in inboxes and outboxes everywhere, and avoids the spawning of multiple versions of the document.

8. Stop Being So Canadian (Polite)

Stop replying with “Thanks, this was good.” or “Sounds great”. This is not useful content, and just cost you time writing it, and it will cost the recipient time too. It all adds up, eh?


One Person Can Make a Difference to a Toxic Workplace

It was Lao Tzu who said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
In the case of complete and utter change reeling through Uber right now — culminating in the resignation of its once untouchable CEO Travis Kalanick — it turns out that it began with one of the most epic blog posts to be written about what happens when a hot company becomes hostage to its increasingly dysfunctional and toxic behaviors.
It was clear from the moment you read the 3,000-word post by former engineer Susan Fowler about her time at the car-hailing company that nothing was going to be the same. Titled simply, “Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber,” the essay deftly and surgically laid out the map that the media and others would use to prove to its out-to-lunch board and waffling investors that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had to go.

Read the full post here on

Your Employees Need You to be a Manager, Not Playing Doctor

The Call For Advice

 Playing Doctor should be left for kids, and actual, you know, doctors.

Playing Doctor should be left for kids, and actual, you know, doctors.

Isaac called me about a case they were having in the warehouse/parts area. Isaac is a senior manager and they were struggling with a long-term employee (30+ years) who is now over 65, shows no signs of retiring, and who’s performance has slowly been degrading to the point where there were major concerns in the workplace.

Isaac was painting a picture for me, listing the concerns with the employee: poor interactions with customers, safety issues like the employee forgetting they were on a ladder and just stepping off a foot or two from the ground… Isaac then went on to say that they even asked the employee to see a doctor as rumours had it that the employee was dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The employee came back from the doctor and had no new information to pass along to management, other than he was cleared for work.

Isaac was frustrated because from his perspective he was trying to do the right thing and ensure that the employee was safe and that the rest of the team was safe working alongside the employee. To make matters worse, the employee was so concerned for his job that his son was now joining in on conversations with management. Incredible.

Now Isaac was talking to me, his HR buddy, concerned that he has a potential safety issue with a 30+ year employee that has a chronic disease, and that this employee has not been performing acceptable for a while, and the company doesn’t want to dismiss a long-term employee as that could be a disaster for company morale.

A Classic Mistake

Make no mistake Isaac is a good guy, and means well in the end, but a classic mistake was made that I have seen dozens of times from well-meaning managers across multiple industries. Isaac’s mistake? Isaac was thinking like a medical professional, and not a manager.

I have seen this before - medical assumptions made by management or staff that explain poor workplace behaviour. “Oh, that’s just Karri. I’m pretty sure someone in my family is on the Autism spectrum, and I can recognize the signs. So I’m dealing with Karri like I would my family member. She doesn’t mean anything when he has an outburst in meetings... That’s just Karri, we're dealing with it.”

In this specific case however, Management was approaching the situation with an assumption that there was an underlying medical condition, and was avoiding dealing with performance deviations. To make matters worse, when Management asked the employee to go and speak with a doctor, all control of the situation was given to an under-performing employee who was worried that his pension might be at stake, and that the company was “out to screw him”. Was the employee completely transparent and forthright with his doctor when asked the reason for the visit? Probably not.

So I asked Isaac to back things up and explain what do we know for sure.

Concrete Details

Ok, what we do know is that on April 8th the employee left a customer to go and collect an item from the warehouse but came back out to the customer as he had forgotten what he was looking for. We also know that on May 4th that the employee was on a small step ladder in the warehouse, and seemingly stepped off the ladder as if he were on even ground. Luckily there were no injuries. The employee also has his forklift ticket, and is expected to operate the forklift when required. And lastly, we also know that the employee's performance over the past several years had been degrading, that Management was not addressing the issues as they were secretly hoping the employee would retire on his 65th birthday.

Focus on the Issues at Hand

We then talked about dealing with the performance issues, which Management could approach the employee with concrete performance deviations, and work with the employee in a constructive manner to resolve the issues. If the issues were not able to be resolved, Management could continue with progressive discipline, and continue to work with the employee in a positive, cooperative manner until the issues were resolved, or the employee left the organization either through retirement or some other means (hint: this is coded language for "the progressive discipline did not correct the issues, and the employee was exited from the organization").

Isaac was happy with the path laid out, and we left the conversation with Isaac looking to address the issues at hand.


Isaac gave me an update after a handful of weeks. It turns out that once concrete performance issues were being addressed in a healthy and professional manner, the employee was motivated once again to see his doctor, but this time, the end result was a diagnosis for an underlying medical condition, and the employee is receiving the proper medical care he requires. Medically-supported restrictions have ensured that the employee is not a danger to himself or others, and productivity at work is getting better. The employee appears to be less agitated, and management is happier with how things are progressing. Not a bad result from a 20 minute phone call with an "HR buddy".

(Note: names and details have been altered to protect privacy.)

Bullying: Unacceptable in the Workplace Too

 Image courtesy of  Province of British Columbia via Flickr , under a Creative Commons license. No changes were made to the image.

Image courtesy of Province of British Columbia via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license. No changes were made to the image.

Pink Shirt Day - A Workplace Opportunity

With Pink Shirt Day being this Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017, Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast will be proudly wearing their pink shirts to support and raise funds for anti-bullying initiatives that directly help youth in need. The genesis for Pink Shirt Day is a Canadian story of youth solidarity. From the Globe and Mail

Students and adults across Canada will be wearing pink shirts today as part of an annual anti-bullying campaign founded by two Nova Scotia teens in 2007.
When a fellow classmate was bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt to school, David Shepherd and Travis Price decided to take a stand. They bought dozens of pink tank tops at a thrift store and announced they would give them out to students the next day. With the word out, many students took it upon themselves to show up for school in pink rather than wait for one of the tops.
Since then, Pink Shirt Day has become an annual event to speak out against bullying in schools, communities and workplaces.

Pink Shirt Day is not just for youth, as bullying exists beyond the playground, appearing in our homes and in our workplaces. 

This annual February event is an excellent reminder to reflect upon an organization's corporate culture and how it responds to bullying, harassment, and violence in the workplace. It's a fantastic time to engage staff in conversations (many of whom would have children engaged in Pink Shirt Day activities) to find out what is going well, what can be improved upon, and to review/update the organization's workplace harassment policy.

Alberta Workplace Harassment Policies

The Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) state in their latest Alberta Trends Report that in 2016, 91 per cent of organizations in Alberta have a general workplace harassment policy, however only 86 per cent of organizations have a workplace harassment policy based on Alberta Human Rights Legislation.

The HRIA Alberta Trends Report also found that only 27 per cent of organizations "updated their HR policies in response to new protected grounds of gender identity and expression in Alberta’s Human Rights Act". With 42 per cent of organizations either updating or planning to update their policies, and 10 per cent were unaware that Alberta's Human Rights Act has been updated.

Percentage of Alberta Organizations with Harassment Policies in Place (2016)
Protecting Gender Identity & Expression in the Alberta Workplace

And while an 86 per cent rate for Albertan organizations with strong harassment policies seems impressive, that means that 14 per cent of all the businesses in Alberta, roughly 23,700!, are not properly addressing their workplace harassment needs. If your organization doesn't have a workplace harassment policy, or the policy is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, what better time than Pink Shirt Day to set things on the right track?

#PinkShirtDay - Respect & dignity for all

So Alberta - this Wednesday, wear pink to work, and engage your employees, peers, and leaders regarding an environment free of violence, with respect and dignity for all.

 Image courtesy of the  Premier of Alberta via Flickr , under a Creative Commons license. No changes were made to the image. #pinkshirtday

Image courtesy of the Premier of Alberta via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license. No changes were made to the image. #pinkshirtday

Vancouver Burger King cook, fired for taking food after 24 years service, is awarded $46K

What happens when you combine a 24-year employee, a language barrier, product being taken from the workplace, a poor decision made by management, and a wrongful dismissal lawsuit? A $46,000 court-ordered award, that's what.

Excerpt from the article:

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has awarded $46,000 to a longtime Burger King employee who was fired for taking home a fish sandwich, fries and orange pop without paying.
In her reasons for judgment, Justice Lisa Warren outlined how Usha Ram had finished working her shift as a cook at Burger King in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 27, 2013.
Warren said Ram had forgotten her wallet, so she asked restaurant general manager Tayyaba Salman if she could take home some food.
When Salman apparently agreed, Warren said, Ram stuffed a sandwich and some fries into a bag and poured herself a drink — a  misunderstanding that would wind up costing Ram her job.
Now, Ram has been awarded $21,000, which works out to a year's lost wages and $25,000 in aggravated damages.
"There is no doubt that the defendant's employees should not take food without authorization," wrote Warren in her ruling.
"However, it is my view that given the absence of any evidence of premeditation or attempted concealment, the absence of any formal discipline history, Ms. Ram's excellent and lengthy record working with Mr. Mohammed, the nature of her position and her economic vulnerability as a 55-year-old woman with little education who had worked as a fast food cook for 24 years, summary dismissal would not be a proportionate sanction." 

 Read the full article on