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Twenty Balloons to the Skies

What a sincere challenge it is to continue with usual, everyday life, picking up dry cleaning and remembering milk on the way home from work, when those 20 little children in Connecticut exist no longer.

What a struggle it is to get on with the dozens of tasks that occupy our existence — suddenly appallingly conspicuous in such stark contrast to theirs — without getting lost in dark wonderings about their final moments or the way the news must have yanked all the joy from their parents’ souls.

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Ultimately, there isn’t much the lot of us can do out here but uselessly return to the news again and again in our brain and in our media, or click on the Facebook memes that invite us to scold politicians and marvel at how far we’ve fallen, each encounter aching for a different outcome.

But it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to bemoan the lack of appropriate response from political players or gun lobbyists.

It’s not enough to despair over the fact that an American can buy an assault weapon at Walmart or that one more bloated politician has declared that the only solution is to arm teachers to the same level as their students.

It’s not enough, even, to remember all those sweet souls’ names, and the way their mommies and daddies almost certainly have Christmas gifts tucked away in their closets for their babies that’ll never see the light of day.

Lose the guns. No more weapons. No more senseless tragedies. No more innocence lost. That’d be enough.

Say, Stay and Strive (or How to Engage the Modern Employee)

In the golden, gilded glory days of Canadian industry — the ones that saw our suit-jacketed fathers and grandfathers delivering themselves to the office in an orderly fashion every single damn day, rain or shine, sickness and health — well, the world clearly bred a different kind of employee.

Alongside tales of barefoot school-bound odysseys in shoulder-high snowdrifts, add nostalgic cogitations about a time when employees were so devoted to their jobs that they actually made it a lifelong priority.

The modern worker is a more delicate soul, it seems, vulnerable to all manner of forces that apparently conspire to keep him from his professional obligations. What sent us off the rails, then, and how can we climb back aboard already?

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Two words: employee engagement. As Jack Welch once so wisely opined, “[No] company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the [firm’s] mission and understand how to achieve it.”

The recently released list of Canada’s Best Small & Medium Employers underscores this conviction, with research revealing an average employee engagement score of 84% for the 50 best, versus 61% for the rest. “Employee engagement is key for all organizations no matter their size,” said Einar Westerlund, director of project development at the Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing, part of the Queen’s School of Business, which produced the inventory in partnership with Aon Hewitt.

According to Aon Hewitt, employees are engaged when they “say, stay and strive.” In other words, they speak positively about the organization to others, are committed to remaining with it and are motivated by its leaders to contribute to business success.

Taking action to shift staffers into this mindset is a tremendously worthwhile undertaking for managers. Employees who are engaged in their work and dedicated to their employers are more productive and less given to turnover than their less committed peers. Engaged employees at Molson Coors were five times less likely than non-engaged employees to suffer a safety incident, and Caterpillar saved $8.8 million a year at its European plant (from decreased attrition, absenteeism and overtime) and experienced a 70% increase in output in fewer than four months at its Asia-Pacific plant, thanks to its engagement initiatives.

So make your New Year’s resolution about investing in policies and practices that foster engagement among your workforce. If your workers are satisfied with their efforts, take pride in their employer, believe in what they do and feel valued by their superiors, the rewards will pile up like a snowdrift from yesteryear.

IT Outsourcing Tip Sheet

Organizations that outsource their IT work have a tall order to fill. From aligning the partner’s internal culture with their own, to ensuring an exit strategy is part of the initial contract, there’s much to be considered when entering into such an arrangement.

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Here, in the interest of easing the burden, is an IT Outsourcing Tip Sheet. Keep its wisdom close at hand.

  • Do your due diligence. The decision to assign the oversight of IT functions to an external provider comes with a certain amount of risk. Companies need to take stock of that risk via extensive investigation of the subcontractor. Review their portfolio. Check their references.
  • Sign a contract. A company makes its relationship with an IT outsourcer official with a contract. Make sure yours is comprehensive, and includes mention of much. Here’s where you outline how you’ll receive project updates, clarify confidentiality expectations and agree on a timeline for the work. Make sure, too, that the document has a long view that considers your ongoing need for both access to intelligence from this provider over the lifetime of the relationship, and a sensible exit strategy that gives you unfettered closure when it runs its course.
  • Ensure a culture match. By making sure that the culture of the service provider corresponds with your own, you reduce the possibility of having key staff — with critical knowledge of your systems — heading for the hills. Attending mutual social events or organizing participation in each other’s quality programs are two ideas for bridging the gap.
  • Get involved, stay engaged. It’s not enough to simply dump a load of work in an IT subcontractor’s hands and return two months later to survey the finished work. Keep projects on track by maintaining contact. The developers should be accustomed to reporting on their progress and seeking your feedback. No one, after all, knows your business better than you.
  • Buy wisely. While IT spends vary wildly according to company size and sector, some 80 percent of a company’s total IT budget will typically be spent on maintenance, with the remaining 20 percent freed up to take advantage of new projects, improvements and paying for regulatory changes. It’s important to bear these numbers in mind throughout.
  • Be prepared for challenges. It takes time to build an outsourcing relationship. Be patient, and you will be well rewarded.

It’s critical, when outsourcing your IT work, to ensure that you and the subcontractor are always on the same, surprise-free page. Cover your bases thus and the arrangement should prove extremely fruitful.

The (Fresh) Heartbreak of Unemployment

Lose your job and you could risk losing a lot more, new research warns.

Heart attacks are more common among the unemployed, a study published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine reports. People who have recently lost their livelihoods are as much as 35 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than their more gainfully employed contemporaries, this American research reports.

What’s more, it seems that the more blows a person takes to his employed self, the more likely he’ll take one to his pulmonary trunk. In the 13,000 older adults the scientists analyzed for this report, those who had experienced successive job losses were at higher risk for heart troubles with each new defeat.

The research has yet to be parsed out into meaningful interpretation, but the lead investigator has speculated that this reality may be a result of a combination of forces, including stress, a deteriorating lifestyle and the physical fallout an absence of health insurance delivers. These folks might up their smoking rates, say, or let their oversight of chronic conditions slip.

The relationship between health and unemployment has long been acknowledged.

More than three years ago, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health determined that workers who’d lost their jobs through no fault of their own were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease in the year-and-a-half following the event. Only six percent of people with steady employment over the study period were plagued by new health conditions, while 10 percent of those who’d lost their jobs over the same stretch developed new medical woes. And that was the case even if they found new employment in the meantime.

The takeaway from all of this for the souls who’ve recently joined the ranks of the unemployed? You need to concern yourself with not only the continued health of your bank account, but of your ticker, as well.