human resource management

The “Skills Gap”

A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.

The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Thanks to my local public library, I recently had the opportunity to read Morra Aarons-Mele’s new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). As I’ve discussed on this blog previously, I’m not a fan of most popular-press career and business books, but the title of this one drew me in. It suggested vulnerability and something less than overwhelming self-confidence, and that’s far more representative of many people’s workplace reality than (more…)

I Think This Is An Important Topic

And, um, I’d like to suggest that we should pay more attention to it?

A recent discussion on Twitter raised some provocative points about communication norms in workplaces, especially those norms associated with gender. The research of linguists and sociologists such as Deborah Tannen has shown that men and women communicate differently, especially in the context of work. Men tend to present their views and opinions directly, while women tend to frame their statements with qualifiers such as “I think” or “in my opinion”.

In any workplace, the dominant group’s norms – both linguistic and behavioural – usually become (more…)

It’s Everywhere…Again

The last couple of weeks have been full of news about workplace abusers and harassers being called out. It seems that every time I look at Twitter there’s a link to yet another story about an accusation of inappropriate behaviour. It’s good that this behaviour is being brought into the open. But two decades ago there was also a huge uproar about harassment when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused of harassing the staff in his office.

So it puzzles me why we apparently need to have this same conversation all over again – especially when most organizations now have statements or policies about zero tolerance for workplace harassment or abuse.

These discussions of high-profile incidents of obvious harassment also have another effect. They distract attention from other forms of harassment. Harassment isn’t just the big incidents; it’s also the little things that happen over and over again.

Earlier this year, a study pointed out some very good examples of smaller, ongoing harassment. Alice Wu, the author of the study, was (more…)

Ask Not What Amazon Can Do For You

The mighty Amazon has announced that it is looking for a city in which to locate a second North American headquarters (“HQ2” in Amazon-speak), to supplement its operations in its home base of Seattle.  It’s also released a set of specifications describing what it’s looking for in a new location. The reaction to this announcement has resembled the 1960s TV game show The Dating Game, in which a single man or woman would ask questions to three blushing men or women on the other side of a wall. Based on the answers, the questioner would choose which of the three they wanted to go on a date with, and then the lucky couple would finally get to see each other and go on a fabulous night out.

So Amazon has asked its questions, and 238 cities and regions throughout North America have answered, with (more…)

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

Misfits in the Workplace

If you are involved in hiring, or if you do research about hiring, one of the terms that you consistently encounter is “person-organization fit”. That term describes the idea that in a successful hiring, the values of the employee match the values of the organization. However, in turbulent labour markets, job seekers may be less concerned with finding a “fit” and more concerned with just finding a job. On the other side of the equation, employers may be less worried about “fit” and more worried about finding someone who’s capable of adequately performing the job. Those priorities can result in more and more workplace  “misfits”  – employees who don’t feel like they belong in the organization, or who don’t want to be there, but who don’t feel they have the option to leave.

A research article published late last year takes a very interesting perspective on the “misfit” experience.  It seems reasonable to assume that because misfits are unhappy at work, their job performance would be poor, and they would tend to be disengaged from the organization. However, this study proposes that, (more…)

Mary Tyler Moore and Workplace Equality

When Mary Tyler Moore passed away this week at the age of 80, the world lost a very talented performer. But the world also lost a woman that made a difference for other women. In the 1970s, through her TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she co-created and co-produced, as well as starred in –  Moore helped to change attitudes about workplace equality.

Dan McGarry, who teaches human resource management at Seneca College in Ontario, sent me this post, which he also put on his course website. He wanted to tell his students how important Moore’s television show was in depicting the barriers that women faced at work.

Mary Tyler Moore’s name may mean very little or nothing to most of you, except that you heard that she passed away yesterday. However her television show, which used just her name, was a groundbreaker when it was first aired starting in 1970. Her character of Mary Richards was the first ‘career woman’ portrayed as the primary character in a TV show. 30-something, unmarried and unattached, she demonstrated something new in the mass media: a woman who could ‘make it on her own’. (more…)

Race, Class, and Bias in Hiring

At the start of a new year, a lot of people make resolutions for what they want to achieve in the next twelve months – and often those resolutions have something to do with work. The resolution could be to choose a new career, to get more education, or to look for a new job. So now is a particularly appropriate time to look at two recent studies about bias in employers’ hiring processes. The results of these studies demonstrate that job applicants can often be rejected for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do the job. And the studies also suggest that biased hiring has effects that go way beyond individual careers or workplaces.

These two studies used essentially the same methodology, which is (more…)

Shadow Work and Customer Service

In any organization, there are tasks that have to be done if anything is going to be accomplished or produced. So the organization has to decide which jobs in the organization are responsible for completing those tasks. In workplaces, this decision process is referred to as “job design” – putting different tasks together to create jobs.

Ideally, according to job characteristics theory, a job has skill variety, task significance (feeling like the task contributes something meaningful), autonomy, and the opportunity to get performance feedback. All of these make the job enjoyable for the worker who has that job. The organization also has to ensure that the tasks in one job don’t overlap with or duplicate tasks in other jobs, and that all the tasks in the organization are assigned to a job.

However, tasks in a workplace are not always easy to fully define, or to fit inside clear boundaries. Think of something like (more…)