The Right to Disconnect

The boundaries between home and work became blurred when the COVID-19 pandemic caused many jobs to be shifted online. Workers who were not permitted to come into their workplaces were working on computers in their living rooms, dining areas, spare rooms (if they had one), and even closets and bedroom. But even before that, boundaries were already being blurred by communications technology such as cellphones, text messaging, and email, allowing employers to contact employees at any hour of the day or night – which for many workers made them feel as if they are never really off work.

Ontario’s labour minister has proposed a legal “right to disconnect” is a step toward solving the problem of employers expecting workers to always be “on”. This is an important initiative, and the problem needs to be addressed. But this on its own is not going to fix the more fundamental and widespread workplace issues that the pandemic has highlighted, and which should be more of a priority.

The legal “right to disconnect” was first implemented in France in 2017, allowing employees to not answer work-related emails or calls during their time off. Canada’s federal government struck a task force in 2020 to explore the possibility of similar legislation for federally regulated occupations.  Ontario’s proposed legislation would require organizations with 25 or more employees to develop policies around work-related communications, such as establishing expectations for response times to emails.

It might seem that policies like this could cause even more stress for workers and employers, by compressing working time while maintaining expectations of continued productivity. However, (more…)

Jonah Lehrer’s “Mystery”

An unexpected benefit of mask-wearing is being able to say things without being heard. That came in handy a few weeks ago at my local public library, when I uttered “what in the actual f***?” at the completely unexpected sight of a new Jonah Lehrer book.

As you might remember, Lehrer’s writing career derailed nearly 10 years ago when numerous instances of plagiarism and inaccuracy were uncovered in his books and magazine articles. Two of his books were withdrawn from sale by their publishers, and most of the publications he wrote for dropped him as a contributor and removed his discredited articles from their websites. Lehrer gave a controversial speech of apology and co-operated with author Jon Ronson for a chapter in Ronson’s book on public shaming, but since then his writing has mostly been seen on his own blog and in two books that slipped by without much notice.

Mystery, the new book, is indeed mysterious in that it seems to have sprung out of nowhere. I couldn’t find any online news about a new Lehrer book on the way, and there doesn’t seem to have been much advance promotion for the book. So, being intrigued by that additional layer of mystery, of course I read it.

I posted about Lehrer’s previous problems several times on this blog, including an analysis of his now-withdrawn book Imagine which became a featured post on WordPress and attracted thousands of readers. I don’t say this to be boastful, but to be forthright about the reality that I’m familiar with the controversial history of Lehrer’s writing – and that inevitably colours how I look at his current work. I didn’t deliberately go through Mystery looking for things to pick on, but I have to be truthful and say that there were several places where information in the book just didn’t read or feel right. When I encountered those places, I did additional research on the information that Lehrer presented.

The book (more…)

“The Power of a Collective”: The Experience of Unionizing at a Chapters/Indigo Store

As an author and as a reader, I love bookstores. I want to support bookstores that treat their employees fairly and respectfully, because knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff are the difference between a good bookstore and a great bookstore. So I was delighted when the staff at my local Chapters/Indigo store became members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and recently reached their first collective agreement.

Traditionally, retail outlets staffed by younger or part-time workers have been perceived as challenging to unionize. I was curious about the process that led to the formation of the Indigo 771 union, so I got in touch with Ariel Popil and Alex Johnson, the two union stewards at the store. They graciously agreed to be interviewed via email about the experience of organizing the union.

[Note: since this discussion took place, workers at another Chapters/Indigo location, at Kennedy Commons in Scarborough, Ontario, have started a certification campaign.]

How many full-time and part-time staff work at Indigo/Chapters Pinetree? How many of those staff are in the union?

There are about 30 part-time staff members at any given time, and we have one full-time staff member. All part-time and full-time staff are part of the union.

When did the organizing campaign start, and why did it start? What was happening at the store that made the workers want to be represented by a union? (more…)

Blowing the Whistle on the CBC

One of the principles that managers are taught is the importance of listening to employees. Listening to employees makes them feel valued and included. But the other side of that principle, which regularly gets overlooked, is that the listening should result in action. If employees express concerns about the organization to managers, and nothing happens, that can lead to a distrust that potentially undermines the employee-manager relationship in the long run.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada’s publicly funded national English-language broadcaster; its French-language counterpart is Radio-Canada. In the last couple of years, CBC has had several internal management-employee disputes that have spilled into public view. After radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired in 2014, it emerged that several employees had filed formal and informal complaints with CBC management about his harassment and abuse, but no meaningful action was ever taken. Last year, there was criticism of the CBC’s coverage of anti-racism protests in the US, reports that journalist/host Wendy Mesley had twice used the N-word in workplace meetings, and an arbitration decision that found CBC had wrongly dismissed a reporter who criticized comments by (former) hockey commentator Don Cherry. Not surprisingly, CBC employees then publicly expressed concerns about the lack of diversity within CBC’s own workforce, as well as bias in the choices of what was considered “news” and how some issues were presented.

In response to those complaints, CBC editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon publicly committed to a number of workplace initiatives, including (more…)

Change

As of May 31, I’ll be retiring from my position as Professor in the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley. I’m moving to a part-time position at the BC Council on Admissions & Transfer, which administers BC’s post-secondary transfer system.

But this blog will continue. This is a very interesting time for work and for organizations, with the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about. A lot of fundamental assumptions about how and why we work are being questioned, and there is lots to think and write about.

I’ve been posting irregularly of late, but I hope to post more regularly once things have settled down. Thanks to All About Work‘s readers, followers, and commenters for your continued support.

Cleaning out my office (credit: own photo)

A Tale of Two Universities

One of the ways that business schools and universities like to promote their contributions to society is to emphasize their external connections. These connections take many forms. There are formal relationships such as co-op placements for students, program advisory councils, and participation in external community and academic organizations. Less visibly, there are also connections such as researchers collecting data from or conducting research for organizations, and businesses providing opportunities for students to do class projects or case studies.

However, to paraphrase George Orwell, it appears that at some universities all external connections are equal, but some are more equal than others.

(more…)

From Small Things….

Economics is a male-dominated profession in post-secondary education and in industry. In the last few years, some economists have been challenging that norm and calling out institutionalized practices and conditions that discourage more diversity in their profession. Both the Canadian Economics Association and the American Economics Association have undertaken surveys of their membership to identify the representation of different demographic groups, and to hear from members of those groups about their academic or workplace experiences. Now, a group of 101 economists has released the results of a study that looks at gender-related behaviour in a significant part of academic work: the research seminar.

At these seminars, (more…)

Into the Gap

Happy 2021!

The Globe and Mail newspaper is currently running a series of articles titled Power Gap: a data-based investigation into gender inequality in Canadian workplaces. I’m really pleased to see attention and resources being directed towards understanding this issue. To date, the articles are doing a very good job of unpicking why there are more men than women in positions of power in Canadian workplaces, and why men are generally better-paid. But the series also shows how difficult it is to address these imbalances in a substantive way, because of data limitations. It’s hard to solve a problem without fully understanding what’s causing the problem.

The complete explanation of the Power Gap project methodology is paywalled, but to summarize it, the analysis relies on data from “sunshine lists” – lists of public sector employees with an annual salary above a certain level, which most Canadian provincial governments release every year. Because these lists are not consistently formatted across provinces – for example, not all provinces release employees’ full names – the data on the lists had to be combined and then adjusted so the data were comparable.

Also, since the purpose of the Power Gap project was to investigate gender inequality, the employees’ gender had to be added to the data set. Gender data were collected through several different methods, including (more…)

All About Work’s Winter Break

2020 has been…..quite a year. So All About Work is taking a much-needed break for the holidays.

The top five posts for this year were:

  1. Bob White and “Final Offer” (hint to students looking up this post: your essay will get a much higher grade if you actually watch the film)
  2. Why Academic Freedom Is Important to Everyone (Not Just Academics)
  3. Population Ecology in Real Life: How the Globe and Mail Misunderstood Its Environment
  4. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ Doesn’t Add Up
  5. What’s A Rotating Strike?

Thank you to all the readers and commenters who, in spite of everything else that happened this year, showed that respectful, thoughtful discussion still has a place in the world.

I wish everyone a happy, restful holiday, and a healthier and saner New Year. See you in 2021!

Decorations at the Ivy restaurant, Chelsea, London, December 2018. (credit: own photo)

Pandemics, Productivity, and Gender

After ten months of pandemic-related lockdowns, rescheduling, and cancellations, it’s almost becoming clichéd to say that “work as we know it may have changed forever”. But it’s true. The key word, though, is “may”. We don’t know if the way many of us are working now is going to be the way we’ll always work. We don’t know if employers and organizations are permanently changing the way that they’re going to organize or run their operations.

But one thing we do know is that the pandemic has had an unequal effect on workers’ productivity. Both women and men are working at home more, but (more…)