Photo Credit - Eric Rothermel
Photo Credit – Eric Rothermel

January is a month of resolutions, fresh starts, and goals.  It’s also a good time to run away from 2016 and the upsets and surprises the year rolled out.

Here are 3 lessons that 2016 taught us as we all dig in to a new year in the workplace:

#1 – Surprise High Profile Departures

On Friday, June 24, we woke up to the shocking news that the people of the UK voted in favour of leaving the European Union.  While it will take some time to feel the depth of this dramatic economic and political change, it left everyone stunned and bewildered about what to do next.

When a high profile employee suddenly departs your workplace, it can leave a difficult gap of productivity, decision-making processes, sales relationships and knowledge.  It can also generate fear of lost business and profits.  If handled well, however, it can also produce a tremendous opportunity to take a fresh look at how things are done.

The Take-Aways:

  • Stay calm and review the departing employee’s employment contract. What are their resignation obligations, if any?  Are there any non-competes or non-solicitations to consider?  Is there any equity to sort through?  Any benefits to end?
  • Review what digital and physical assets the employee may have that the company needs to immediately protect? Pull in IT immediately to freeze data and monitor data issues.
  • In the storm, do not head for the nearest port. Rush to protect assets and business, but do not rush to replace the employee, promote people in a panic or make any big HR decisions. Many of my clients have been surprised to see how others will quickly rise to the occasion and pitch in – moments of intense pressure can help you identify who should next rise to the top.

#2 – Popular but Disruptive Employees

On November 8, Donald Trump surprised everyone by winning the US presidential election.  He is a polarizing and controversial figure, but it remains a fact that many millions of people voted for him and/or his party.  He is about to assume the highest office in the US and will wield power for the next four years as a result of enough Americans supporting him.

The Take-Aways:

  • Every workplace is full of politics and a wide range of personalities, perspectives and interpretation of entitlements. Most want to embrace that diversity, but what to do when the top decision makers are causing a disruption?  Obviously many disruptions are great – innovation, decisive leadership, and risk-taking are all essential ingredients to success.
  • However, even the CEO is an employee and subject to the basic rules, policies and practices of the workplace. While there is typically nothing you can do if the owner is a problem, a Board of Directors can step in and deal with the CEO, and the CEO can deal with all other layers of senior management.
  • Balancing popularity with effectiveness can trigger some of the most difficult decisions in the workplace. Clear job descriptions, KPIs, targets and objectives all help make the assessment an objective process, to cut through the popularity context.
  • I frequently see clients struggling with that highly profitable manager is who a terrible manager. Over time, the impact on effective processes and getting the most out of all the other employees who are now distracted by poor management does impact the bottom line.  Employees are typically motivated more by inspiring leadership than fear of reprisals or unpredictable behaviour.

#3 – Bereavement Leaves

2016 was a year full of high profile deaths.  While your workplace may not be full of one-of-a-kind music legends or celebrities, each loss will nevertheless have a significant impact on your workplace.

The Take-Aways:

  • Statutory bereavement leaves vary across the country, ranging from 3 to 5 days. Ontario provides for up to 10 unpaid days of emergency leave, but only for those workplaces with at least 50 employees.
  • In addition, most collective agreements, and some individual employment contracts or workplace policies allow for a few days bereavement, typically in the 3-5 day range. This would be inclusive of any statutory entitlement.
  • Even if not in writing, most workplaces will allow for some amount of time for an employee to grieve the loss of a loved one. To refuse to do so will no doubt lead to a very unproductive, distracted and further upset employee.
  • Having said that, an employer is not obligated to provide an extensive period of time, particularly if there was minimal travel involved to attend to services. Having a specific number set out in writing will assist with clear timelines and processes to determine how to handle requests, including whether to ask for a medical note should the employee indicate that they continue to suffer with depression, lost sleep and other symptoms related to profound loss.

2016 was a year full of upsets, departures and uncertainty on the world stage.  2017 will no doubt be as memorable, but January is a great time for fresh starts and looking forward.