I Can’t Relate To This

Is buttering people up the new way to get ahead in the workplace?

“Relationship Currency.”

I’ve come across this term a few times while reading articles related to job-searching.

According to the originator of this term — Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley — relationship currency is a form of social pull in the workplace that is obtained through “spending time with people in your organization, getting to know them, sharing ideas with them, or working with them on internal task forces and other company projects.”

According to Harris, relationship currency is a skill that is overlooked in favour of performance currency — your past track record in getting the job done and your level of expertise in your chosen field. She also adds that it can open avenues of opportunity to get things done at work that performance currency and job authority cannot.

How does one build relationship currency? In an article stressing the importance of relationship currency, she used an example of “chatting with others about the firm, a recent movie, their families, …..outside interests”. Small talk, in other words.

Small talk is nothing new. I remember as far back in my teenage years when I worked at the Eglinton Theatre in Toronto shooting the breeze with fellow ushers and confections staff. What is new is how this is to be used in the workplace. Here is an example from her article of how she did this in her workplace:

“….my manager would decide to make some last-minute changes to the client presentation that was due in, let’s say, three hours. I would hurry down to the word processing department, only to find a long queue in place and an estimated five-hour turnaround time at best.

While I did not do it often, if the situation was really dire I would ask my word processing colleagues if they would make an exception for me and move our presentation ahead in the queue. They helped me meet my manager’s deadline every single time. Why? Because we had a relationship. Had I not spent the time getting to know them, I would have been just another associate asking for my work to be done first. “

I don’t know about you, but reading this made me a little uncomfortable. I would hate to be one of the word processing colleagues being asked to make that exception. It makes me uncomfortable because, during my early years in my I.T. career when I was a computer operator, I remember fellow employees coming up to me to call in favours of having extra time on the system when I had to perform a backup, and they used this very technique in order to do this. Later on in my career there were times some users wanted access to specific menu options without going through the authorization approval process, again using our familiarity as grease to work the procedural gears to their advantage.

Look, I get how important it is to be able to get along with people. Sometimes getting to know people better beyond the title does help with in a team initiative, like a systems migration project or an emergency situation.

It also makes the workplace a less toxic environment. I have to use all my fingers and toes to count the number of employees I’ve known who were good at their job but lousy people to deal with. I knew a programmer who was a genius coder but was socially inept. In my last full time job we had a PC whiz kid who partied too much and came to work looking like Keith Richards on a bender. In that same full-time position I’ve dealt with managers who attempted to bully me into getting their help-desk requests done first and who I had to complain to HR about. These people had the skill and the talent to do their job but were a liability in the end because, let’s face it, their behaviour sucked more than a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

Having said this, there’s a line in the sand I personally will not cross for the sake of good relations. This includes using social hacks to bypass the organizational chart, violate standard operating procedures at both the departmental and company levels, or use an emotional play just to do my job. There are other avenues, other channels available that employees can use if they are having trouble getting things done. Sometimes all it takes is fixing something that is broken in procedure, or a problem employee HR can have a word with.

In case my point hasn’t been understood, take a moment to read another excerpt from her article:

“This is powerful currency. It takes the goodwill and leverage that exists in one relationship and positively influences the trajectory of a new connection.

In other words, it’s a subtle form of using people to get ahead in one’s profession.

I have never needed to take that approach with others in my twenty years in I.T. nor will I allow someone to do that to me.

The fact I’ve been out of full time work for so long, have been in a homeless shelter, and am struggling to return back to financial self-sustainability has not made me willing to break that policy. I prefer to work with people, not work on people.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Advertisements

Double Vision


When looking for work, it’s important to read in-between the lines of any job ad, and be sensitive to cues that serve as warning signs not to apply there.

Before I apply for any position, I take the time to examine not only the written details about the opening, but also other things not mentioned but still noticed.

I came across the following post in the KitchenerWorks Facebook group, used by jobseekers like myself as part of their search for work:

“Since it seems impossible to get people in for interviews or even find people who want to work, I’ll try social media out.” 

As you’ve noticed in the ad, the place is in Cambridge. Where I live right now, that’s a two hour bus route just to get there — on a good day. Even by car (if I had one), it’s still a lengthy commute one way. Imagine what it would be like as a round-trip.

Right off the top, that eliminates the night shift hours mentioned.

There’s also some heavy physical work in the description. It’s not explicitly mentioned but general labour, saw-cutting, and receiving require physical fitness and endurance. Is that something I can do in my mid-fifties? Possibly. Sixties? Not so sure.

Then we get to the things NOT mentioned where your gut instinct can be as useful as Spider-Man’s Spidey Sense. Read the line below before continuing on in this post:

” If you don’t have experience in the position, we will do the proper training.”

At first glance, that sounds pretty good. I’ve previously ranted in this blog about credential creep and lack of on-the-job training doing away with entry-level positions. That opinion has not changed. There should be more entry-level jobs for people who have no work-experience but want to start somewhere.

What has also not changed is my belief that not every job can be learned on-the-fly.

Some jobs require training and education in order to hold a position in that field. I.T. work, my past career, is one of them. So is handling machinery that could injure you if you’re not careful: hydrostatic testing, sandblasting, computer numerical control and lathe work, and saw cutting.

These things should never be learned on the job. You go to a trade school or an apprenticeship program to get formal training, and on successful completion are given a document that certifies you to be competent and not a danger to anyone.

I would never have faith working with another programmer in a large business who learned how to code for the first time from a “Teach Yourself ABAP/4 in 24 hours” book. In the case of dangerous machinery operation, I wouldn’t feel safe working with anyone without certified training. Maybe that’s paranoia or overprotectiveness on my part, but it is my call to ensure my workplace safety needs are met.

The final point that prompted me not to apply is the most telling of all, found in the first quote near the top of the post. The comment that people who do not apply do not want to work. That is such a arrogant and inaccurate reason of the person’s failure to find a hire, and also an unfair characterization of people who are looking for work. It gives me the impression that person is easily upset and frustrated.

I would love to tell this person three things about job seekers that are accurate and fair:

  1. Job seekers want to work. That’s why I and other job seekers get up early every morning and apply for positions.
  2. Job seekers don’t want to waste their time applying for work they are not qualified to do. We don’t want to just get hired, we want to stay hired for as long as possible.
  3. Job seekers also don’t want to waste the time of the interviewer. The interviewer does not want to sift through a sea of unqualified applicants in order to find someone who is qualified. They have limited time to find a fit and usually have to do this in addition to their regular work-day duties. Consider it a courtesy of sorts, if at least not common sense, when some of us decide not to apply.

Thanks for reading!

David.

The Devil Is In The Details

Image from Jacobs Media Strategies blog, original artist of cartoon unknown. If anyone knows, please contact me and I’ll attribute the correct credits.

The expression I’ve used in this title post is not often uttered, so most people are probably unfamiliar with it. Simply put, it means any plan, action, or situation that seems sound must be carefully examined, because even the smallest detail can end up causing a major problem.

Putting attention in the details of a job opening ad at a business is also important. Granted, leaving them out might not result in major problems per the expression, but it can cause major misunderstandings.

Consider the following text from an advertisement I read in the Facebook group, “Kitchener Works”:

[REDACTED] is looking for an outgoing and personable new employee for the season. Must be available anytime. Perfect for recent high school grad taking a year off. If interested send me your resume at [REDACTED].

What’s my issue about this ad?

It doesn’t list the job title of the position or even a description about the position. The one thing that really sticks with me is the expression, “must be available anytime”.

What exactly does that mean? Will the person work 8 hours, 10 hours or longer? How many days a week: five or seven? Is it a morning-centric position or an evening one? How about stat holidays like Canada Day, Labour Day, or Victoria Day?

How about if the person is already an employee of that company and currently on vacation? Does “must be available anytime” mean that employee can be recalled back to work, well, any time? I can tell you from experience in the I.T. field how much of a pissoff it can be when you’re called back to work while on vacation. That often happens in that line of work.

“Anytime” can mean anything, but for different people, it could also mean a different thing. I replied to the OP of the ad to ask what was meant by “anytime”. His response was, “Yes as in lunches, dinners, weekends, some late nights.”

While the response still doesn’t mention what days and hours the candidate is expected to work if hired, it’s not as vague as it was before. We went from “anytime” to “lunches, dinners, weekends and some late nights”. So much clearer!

Imagine going to an interview for this position without this clarity and finding out you cannot work late nights because you don’t drive and use transit instead (as in my case). Not only did you just waste your time applying for a job you were never qualified for, you also wasted the employer’s time too.

Still, it is the business owner’s or hiring manager’s job to put as much information as they can in any hiring ad. There is no excuse for leaving out details just to save time. I’ve come across ads that look something like this:

Looking for Dishwasher, available to work all hours, please inquire within.

and discover after following up the position also requires food preparation. You know, cooking, something I can’t do. I can wash dishes without a problem, yet that omitted detail means I’m not qualified for the position.

That “dishwasher” example could have been presented better, perhaps like this:

We’re looking for Kitchen Support Staff willing to work shift hours between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays and sometimes Holidays. Duties are:

* Assisting in food handling and preparation. 
* Washing and drying dishes, either by hand or using a dishwasher
* Cleaning kitchen and dining areas during slow periods.
* Stockroom work (must be able to lift between 30 to 50 pounds on a continual basis)

A job title that accurately describes the open position. A clear and concise explanation of what is expected from the candidate if chosen, including the days and hours worked. Everything a job seeker needs to know before applying.

Heck, maybe I should freelance myself out as a professional ad poster.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Storming Mad

In the challenging employment times we now live in, even heroic champions like this guy would have the odds stacked against him.

As mentioned in a previous post, I was once a World of Warcraft player in better employment times. I cancelled my subscription shortly after my full time employment finished, but I still follow Blizzard’s newsfeed, mostly for the trailers and cinematics. My gaming in WoW may have ended but I am still a fan of the lore.

One thing that caught my eye was Blizzard announcing a layoff of over 800 employees. Apparently the bloom has come off the rose that is WoW, particularly after the reaction for their latest expansion, “Battle For Azeroth”. One would have assumed revenue has fallen, so Blizzard felt the need to cut expenses. On the surface, a sensible decision, though I do feel bad for the employees who were let go.

Then I did a little bit of digging and what I found out angered me.

At the same time these layoffs were announced, Blizzard’s newly hired CFO, Dennis Durkin, received $15 million just for taking the position. Right then: Blizzard couldn’t find money to retrain or relocate these laid off employees, yet had no trouble finding $15 million to hire ONE guy — a finance exec, of all things.

I might have been a bit more forgiving if the hire was a creative consultant, a developer, a lore master, anyone who could contribute a gaming strategy that would have taken the stink off of BFA’s negative review and get subscribers to come back.

Instead, Blizzard has a new stink to air out: the optics of laying off employees while announcing record profits AND hiring a line executive for a rather obscene amount of coin.

This is not the first time Corporate Canada — and in this case Corporate America in the form of Blizzard — has put making money well over the well-being of its employees and customers. Over 10 years ago, Canadian banks reported record profits, after reducing teller staff and hiking bank charge. In 2018 GM Canada announced plant closures despite receiving corporate welfare on the condition of keeping local workers employed and not to relocate.

This has always been an ongoing practice, and the reason why this continues is because we’re sheep. We as consumers allow this to happen. We don’t vote with our wallets. Some of us might say we will, even vow that we shall, but clearly there’s nothing happening.

This same practice will continue unless companies are held responsible for the negative aspect of laying off employees for no reason other than to boost profits for their shareholders. Companies that are doing well have no reason to let people go. Re-assign? Yes. Re-train? Definitely. Discard just to fatten the margin because someone had the gall to ask for fair wages for a hard day’s work? Absolutely not.

This must end, and it’s up to each and every one of us to do something about it.

Thanks for reading.

David.

Taking A Bite Out Of Poverty

This man would never had a positive change in his life had he not regained a reason to smile again. Click the image to read this wonderful news story that has stuck with me for so many years.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE USED:

The Ontario Dental Association (ODA) recently asked for more funding for dental programs used by low income earners and the homeless. Currently in Ontario, OHIP does not cover the cost of dental care, which means unless you are rich or at least work for a company with a generous benefits plan, you are shit out of luck if you do not have the money to go to the dentist.

The ODA itself is shit out of luck if it thinks the Doug Ford government, which has already shown a callous disregard for the poor and homeless by treating them as an excessive expense to be cut from the budget, will go along with the idea. In fact, in a recent link, the Doug Ford government is considering plans to allow private companies to deliver health care — meaning dental care may not be the only thing Ontarians will be paying for out of their pocket.

You don’t have to be knowledgeable about the human body to know how important it is to have a good set of teeth. Teeth aid in digestion of food: if you can’t properly chew your food, that food will either not metabolize properly while going through your digestive tract, or you simply won’t be bothered to eat since you can’t chew. Poor oral health could also cause serious health problems to occur if oral infections spread throughout the bloodstream.

There’s another aspect most people miss when it comes to the importance of publicly funding dental care. It’s looking for work.

Much as I rag on employment assistance centres and their mostly useless job seeking tips, one tip I am in agreement with them on is that appearances count during an interview. Missing teeth is an unattractive thing to see, if not at least a visual distraction, and could subconsciously prejudice a job seeker’s chances of landing a job. We are after all a very shallow society that worships beauty to somewhat unreasonable standards.

I make this point because I’m often reminded of a 2007 news story I read in the Toronto Star. It’s about a man who could not afford dental care because he’s poor. As a result, he lost nearly all of his teeth and in turn could not find work because it affected his appearance. The reason why this story stuck with me for so long was because I do have a great deal of knowledge about the human body — in fact I once wanted to be a doctor — and found it odd that medical treatment for an illness was only covered by Ontario for as long as it did not happen in your mouth. So. Stupid.

After reading this story, I talked to my (former) dentist about it, and suggested that maybe OHIP should cover dental care. She responded, rather tersely, the day that dentists have to deal with OHIP is the day she relocates to America. Seriously.

Why would she have this dislike of publicly funded dental care? Is it because she can’t set her own prices when working under OHIP? Is it because OHIP — being a government run body — is a bureaucratic mess to deal with?

Whatever the reason, dental care is STILL extremely important for the working poor, not only as a sound foundation of good health but also for personal happiness and boosting self-confidence.

Thanks for reading!

David.

P.S. For those of you who didn’t bother reading the story — that’s okay, it’s somewhat depressing — it does end with a happy ending. Toronto Star readers were moved by this story and generously donated enough money to give the fellow a new set of chompers.

Close To Home

An interesting point. Does the government have a responsibility in helping the homeless?

I came across this sign one day while walking home from the Kitchener Public Library. It reminded me of a post I made a while back about whose job it is to help people get employed.

Using the same logic in that post, there are two camps on the subject of housing. 

The first is that housing is the individual’s responsibility. If anyone wants to keep a roof over his or her head, find a job (or keep the one you have), and stick to priorities in the budget. That’s such a simplistic viewpoint, not to mention totally unrealistic.

Owning a home requires not one but two incomes. The cost of a home — a basic necessity — is now higher than items classified as a luxury. These include lamborghinis and world cruises. 

The option to rent an apartment as an affordable alternative is also a thing of the past. For example, an average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,620. It’s no better in smaller urban areas either. In Kitchener, Ontario it’s $1,320. Choosing a one-bedroom apartment in place of a two bedroom one offers some relief, but it’s still no different from paying a monthly mortgage.

The instability of today’s economic climate has a direct impact on employment stability. Companies have become more aggressive at expense management through labour cost cutting and relocation, even when the government of the day has given corporate welfare as a condition not to do either in the first place.

On the other side of the coin is the argument that housing is a human right, of which I agree with. We’ve come a long way since the wooden hut: modern homes have running water, sanitation, electricity, home heating and even Internet hotspots, but like the hut, it still provides a basic need as protection from the elements. An individual cannot survive without a roof over his or her head and a bed to sleep in. That’s an irrefutable fact.

Where I begin to split ranks is when activists start chanting for even more taxes on the well-to-do to pay for affordable housing. Yes, housing is important but there has to be a better way than more taxes. We’re already paying a lot of taxes: can anyone honestly say we’re getting a good ROI based on the services we’re receiving lately? What guarantee do we have that these new taxes will go into housing based on the past track record of government transparency?

The angle I would approach in this discussion is that people who do not have a home simply do not disappear into the streets. According to the policy brief from the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) and Housing First in Canada :

Homelessness is a significant social problem in Canada, with recent estimates putting the total number of people who experience homelessness on a given night at over 35,000 (Gaetz, Dej, Richter, & Redman, 2016). In Canada (Aubry et al., 2013), as in the U.S. (Culhane et al., 2007; Kuhn & Culhane, 2008), research has identified different sub-types of single adults experiencing homelessness. Single adults experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness constitute 15-20% of the homeless population and they account for the majority of shelter use. Furthermore, many have complex needs involving serious mental illness and addictions. In contrast, those who are temporarily homeless, typically have only one shelter stay and are able to quickly obtain housing either on their own or with short-term support.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the population that needs to find refuge from the elements. When shelters are packed and have to turn away these people, the coffee shops, libraries, shopping malls, hospitals, and other places not designed to house people become the next destination and this is where the problems begin. Employees are forced to become social workers and the general population is made uncomfortable with the sight of people lugging in what belongings they can carry and sleeping in the chairs if not on the floor. Sometimes the police have to get involved when those suffering from mental illness become disruptive.

Sleeping in places not meant for residential living has long term health consequences as well. Lack of REM sleep, not being able to lie down on a supportive mattress, and not getting the recommended number of hours of sleep have both a negative physiological and a psychological impact.

It is for this reason why finding a place for those less fortunate is a worthy investment for the government to make. The transformation of individuals from a state of negative return to one of positive return (as in gainfully working and stabilized) leads to less disruptions in everyday living, reduced costs in law enforcement, social programs, and medical care, an increase in government revenue to pay for services we take for granted, and improved safety for the more vulnerable members of society.

Since the purpose of government is to protect its citizenship, provide social order, and maintain essential services, dealing with homelessness would certainly be on its collective to-do list.

The sign could serve as a reminder to put that issue at the very top of that list.

Thanks for reading!

David.

A Defias Of Our Own Making.

Defera Speech
A screenshot of a cutscene from “World Of Warcraft”, where a mysterious figure from the Defias Brotherhood exhorts the homeless to revolt against the King of Stormwind, blaming him for the situation they live in. Thanks to player “Vahallae” for letting me use this screenshot.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE.

“It’s time for a revolution. Anyone earning 150K? Kill’m all!”

This was an excerpt from a conversation I had with someone in the Kitchener Public Library. The topic of the conversation was about GM closing a series of plants after being given government money to remain in operation and keep the workers employed.

If you feel this remark is extreme, I agree with you. We live in a civilized society and while it’s true we have several levels of government that have grown out of touch with the voters, we’re not living in a dictatorship, not even a benign one. There’s no need to have a bloody revolution.

Such a revolution will replace one problem with a more serious one: replacing politicians who sleep in the back pockets of corporations with warlords and gangs who believe might is right and the weak must perish.

Unfortunately, this is a comment I’ve heard repeatedly spoken by the homeless and the working poor, in varying degrees of bile. It’s also why that particular remark reminded me of a questline in World Of Warcraft, a game I used to play many years ago when times were better and my income was more stable.

SPOILER ALERT. REVEAL OF A QUEST STORYLINE AHEAD.

The questline involved a player having to investigate a murder in an area known as Westfall. This area was once very prosperous but after repeated wars has now become poverty stricken, full of homeless people and the working poor.

Operating within the boundaries of Westfall is an organization known as the Defias Brotherhood, a group formed after engineers and artists were not paid for restoring the Kingdom of Stormwind, after damage taken from their First War with another faction known as the Horde.

Defias exists as a hostile counterforce to what is regarded as exploitation of the socially vulnerable . They incite violence against the law, rally the poor and the homeless (as shown in this screenshot) against the ruling government of the day, and strike at caravans of trade and commerce.

If all of this is a little hard to understand — especially if you haven’t played World Of Warcraft like I used to — what basically happened was a group of lower-class working stiffs were not paid by the government of the day for work done in good faith, and a violent anti-establishment group (Defias) was formed as a result.

If one were to look past the fantasy aspects of both the questline in specific and the MMO in general, such a outcome is quite plausible. In fact, most social activist groups, ranging from the relatively benign to the overtly malevolent, came into being to address an imbalance of wealth distribution. Their portrayal of corporations and levels of government as money grabbing thieves that make the lives of the working poor and the homeless harder might not be accurate, but when there is news about a car manufacturer that closes plants down after being granted corporate welfare by the government to stay operational, or where government funding is being taken out of social programs and given instead to increase the size of a police force —- well, you can begin to see why there would be discontent among the lower income brackets.

In addition to the above, you can also see why the more hardline elements would organize into groups of dissension not far removed from the fictional Defias Brotherhood in World Of Warcraft. All that is needed for this to happen is for enough people to get really pissed off about the government, and want something done yesterday.

The working poor and the homeless have been pissed off for a very long time. Something’s bound to give.

I’m not advocating violence to force government change: I think I made that point clear already. Nor am I white-knighting any social activist movement that breaks the law and risks public safety to help the more vulnerable members of society.

What I am saying is if you do not agree with my argument that helping the homeless and the working poor is a positive investment that ensures a good ROI for society, then take heed this warning instead as another point to consider: nature abhors a vacuum.

If governments will not do the right thing by helping out the less fortunate, then there will be those who will fill in that void of leadership —  but not with laws, not with compassion, not with civility. They will make right what is wrong, as their chant states, “by any means necessary”.

Such a directive will not only fail to bring help to those less fortunate, but it will further destabilize the stability of social order we’ve come to take for granted. The last thing we need is a Defias of our own making to covet the reins of power over our lives.

Thanks for reading!

David.