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Pekarsky & Co. March 2017 Newsletter – The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

March 8, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

Those fortunate enough to have a job in Alberta have heard the refrain these past couple of years that they should “just be happy they have a job”. No one disputes that for those who need one, having one is better than not.  Which makes it all the more difficult for those who have a job to complain about it.  Yet, in the face of over 100,000 layoffs since the downturn in energy prices started over 30 months ago, many employees in Alberta are working twice as hard, doing their own job as well as the jobs of those who have been let go, and are doing so for frozen or lower salaries than they once had. These employees have little possibility of performance bonuses, stock options that are under water and are saddled with the “survivor guilt” that comes with, well, surviving.  So you’ll forgive these folks for not necessarily being happy.

 

Acknowledged, even those unhappy about their jobs whilst living in Alberta, could be said to be suffering a First World problem. After all, they have a job, they live in a free and democratic country and enjoy one of the highest standards of living on earth. But, frankly, the basis of comparison for your typical Albertan is not a fleeing refugee risking life and limb to cross the (Manitoba) border in the dead of night to escape a crazed dictator. No, their basis of comparison is the life they once knew right here in Alberta.

 

Now it’s not as though people throughout history have always loved their job. According to a recent study, only 13% of global employees are highly engaged and highly satisfied with their workplace.

 

Closer to home, according to a February 2017 Gallup Report, 70% of American workers are not engaged at work, with 16% of those individuals saying they are “actively disengaged”, which sounds like an oxymoron (not unlike an “alternative fact”, speaking of moronic).  Those 16%, according to the report, are “miserable in the workplace and seem to exist only to destroy what the most engaged employees are building”.  But enough about Trump.

 

In Canada, the numbers are not much better, with 60% of workers not engaged at work and 15% actively disengaged, according to the Canada Human Resources Centre Report on employee engagement.

There are literally endless articles on-line that provide how-to tips on employee engagement, from How to Engage Your Millennials to Preventing Retail Workers from Leaving to The Ten Most Frequently Mentioned Issues that Employees Say Companies do Poorly.  You can even find articles instructing you how to transform your workplace culture and double your number of engaged employees.  I particularly like point 6 on this list, written by Jim Clifton, who suggests that if you have 25,000 employees all of them should be required to take the, wait for it, “world renowned [Jim] Clifton assessment”. Gotta admire his enterprising spirit.

 

I don’t plan on using this space to produce yet more lists, suggestions, how-tos or self-serving Clifton-like cures. Given the fact that engagement is so broadly, chronically and persistently low, the multitude of how-to remedies clearly aren’t working anyway.  I simply wish to point out that in Alberta, and specifically from where I write in Calgary, there are tens of thousands of employees who work a job because they need a job and they remain in that job despite their employer’s best efforts, not because of them.  And consoling miserable employees to “just be happy they have a job” is like serving dog food to your guests and reassuring them that at least they have a meal. While the adage – never waste a good crisis – is true, there is a fine line for employers between leveraging a down market and exploiting it. Managing to the lowest the common denominator of prescribing happiness and not a more aspirational goal of cultivating it has two longer-term consequences.

 

First, when things turn and the pendulum swings, as it always does, those employees who have been asked to take one for the team, do more with less, and make a personal sacrifice for the collective good will no longer just be disengaged; they will be gone.

 

Second, there is a direct correlation between the attitude, happiness and engagement of your employees and the way in which they treat your customer. The technical term we use around here is the “Give-A-Sh*t-O-Meter”; a vital tool in any business staffed with humans who interact with other living organisms.  If the readings on the meter are too low, the delivery suffers, the brand suffers and ultimately the business suffers.

 

We try hard here at Pekarsky & Co. to keep our people engaged. Not only because we don’t want them to leave, but because by doing so they treat our clients really well.

 

 

Arguably this is made easier by our size, though with only nine people on the payroll, if we followed the national trend, that would mean six would be disengaged with 1.35 actively so. Save for the occasional mid-week snow day at Global HQ in Fernie, I can report that we buck the national trend and exhibit complete and active engagement almost all the time.

 

Though by no means have we absolutely mastered the art of running a completely engaged and supremely motivated operation 24/7, we do try to manage well, care about our people as professionals and as parents, siblings, children and friends of others. We try to show them line of sight on their future. Ranju was the firm’s first ever employee and now she’s an owner. We try to compensate in a transparent and objective manner; no black box or dark art requiring employees to simply trust the system.

 

We try to communicate openly, honestly and frequently, not waiting for formal quarterly evaluations to heap praise or troubleshoot a problem. We try to give our people the tools and technology to work wherever, whenever so we can’t (and don’t) begrudge them for doing so.

 

We try to on-board and train new hires by committee, each of us pitching in, when and where it makes sense. In the last month alone we’ve hired three new people to the firm: Julie BaronAmy Livermore and Erin Dand. As part of our doubling-down on P&Co, discussed at length last month, we try to make our new people feel immediately welcome and part of the fabric of the firm. As an aside, we are frequently pressed by clients about our guarantee terms and we need to remind them that a well executed search by us followed by a dreadful on-boarding process by them is not our responsibility. Put another way: we guarantee our work, not theirs.

 

We try to assess, balance and re-jig work loads. The moment quality starts to slip, we respond and add resources or shuffle the work to ensure fair and efficient utilization. We try to never say “no” to an expense or an initiative that improves our ability to deliver for our client.

 

We try to work as a team. There are no siloes or lone wolves or passengers. We try to celebrate successes but we don’t mandate fun. We work hard at our culture but not to the point of imposing it.

 

Our physical space is unique, clean, replete with great and donated Albertan art and ergonomically efficient workspaces. Our M&M jar in the kitchen is constantly replenished though our boardroom Wii is underused. We train on new software, call upon our suppliers to act as partners not just vendors, and we seek input on firm initiatives, website upgrades and collateral materials.

 

We try to engage our community. We take on important not for profit searches and support causes close to us. Next month, in fact, the Pekarsky & Co. Pro Bonos will be lacing up the skates for the seventh year as part of the Gordie Howe Cares Pro-Am in support of Alzheimer’s (you can do your part by clicking here and donating generously as we push toward our goal of $400,000 raised by our team during our history with the event). And later in April the Calgary team will once again be hosting a table at the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter Turning Points Gala fundraiser while the Edmonton office, led by Foundation Vice Chair and Edmonton Partner, Rick Vogel, will be at the annual Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation Courage Gala.

 

Above all, we do extremely interesting, rewarding and challenging work for a broad cross-section of amazing and loyal clients. As a result of all this, our team takes pride in our brand and enjoys working for us and, by extension, our clients.

 

Back to Branson and the profile from Inc.com: “ ‘If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile,’ By not treating employees well, companies risk losing customers over bad service. To this end, Branson says he has made sure that Virgin prioritizes employees first, customers second, and shareholders third. ‘Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy’, he says”.

 

The corollary, it follows, is likely true, too. As companies in Alberta continue to ruthlessly manage expenses through a downturn not yet behind us, if the focus is too single-mindedly on the shareholders, first, and by extension, employees last, there could be a very unhappy comeuppance when the good times return, the baby boomers retire and the skilled labour shortage once again lands on our doorstep.

 

Until then, just be happy you have a job, ok?

 

Regards,
Adam

 

This month’s featured job postings: