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Giving Corporate Culture the Harlem Shake

It’s the current darling of the business world, the subject of countless fawning HR odes, the sugary buzz on everyone’s lips: corporate culture. Without it, crow its adherents, no one would want to work for a company, and no employee would have loyalty enough for a place to hang around long.

But what, beyond in-office pool tables and Friday catered lunches, is this elusive essential? And how to get it for yourself?

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Some quick-hit corporate culture tips:

• Corporate culture is born in the corporate story. Cultivate your corporate story early and revisit it often. By reminding staffers of those things about the firm that make it special and upon which its success is based, management endows the scene with a sense of value and history, and ensures a universality to its message that is consistently reinforced. Trade on corporate lore in your story, and celebrate its treasures loudly. At Nike, employees use a Winnebago as a conference room (plonked right in the middle of the company kitchen) because cofounder Phil Knight is said to have first sold shoes out of such a vehicle. 

• Encourage buy-in by staging company-wide bursts of spirit. Such activities unify disparate groups that might otherwise work in isolation, and fill them with energy around a common subject, besides. A whack of companies have filmed and posted their own takes on the Harlem Shake, of late: a perfect example of such a coalescing exercise.

• Bear in mind always that corporate culture is set by an organization’s executives and management team. It is their behaviour that signals to subordinates what kind of behaviour is acceptable and expected. So those in the C-suite, remember always: you lead by example.

• Be patient. Bad behaviour, alas, spreads like wildfire; good behaviour takes a bit longer to catch hold. Establish a tone, support it with action and then dig in for the long haul. This corporate culture stuff is going to be a while.

Corporate culture matters for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that disharmony between an individual’s personality and that of the workplace at large has been linked to job dissatisfaction, absenteeism and high rates of staff turnover. Ignore its siren call at your peril.

Minimum Wage on a Global Scale

Thanks to Obama’s crie last week to increase his country’s minimum wage from a shabby $7.25 to a much more palatable $9 an hour in an effort to stem the widening income-inequality gap in his digs, the time is ripe for a big-picture, internationally flavoured snapshot of the stuff.

According to the Huffington Post and the OECD, Canada’s minimum wage, which averages out at US$8.04 countrywide, is among the highest in the world. Next up is the United Kingdom at US$8.53, then New Zealand at US$8.63, Belgium at US$9.52, Australia at US$9.54, France at US$10.02, the Netherlands at US$10.23 and Ireland at US$10.81. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg scores the number-one spot with its princely US$11.36 minimum.       

But it’s tricky to compare the whole fruit bowl of wages clocking in from across the globe, particularly given that the standard against which this financial benchmark is measured varies so wildly. It’s also meaningful to acknowledge the distance between a country’s minimum wage and its median income, an interval that has much to say about the standard of living in a place.

As such, it’s popular practice to apply an imagined international unit of currency to normalize the lot. Using that model, here’s a sampling of the world’s wages — and a sense of where Canada falls into the pack.

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Country                        Gross Annual Wage (international dollars)

Canada                               $16,710

Peru                                    $5,342

Luxembourg                        $19,426

Belize                                  $5,571

Taiwan                                $12,175

United States                      $15,080

Mexico                                $1,753

United Kingdom                  $18,428

Japan                                 $11,254

Sierra Leone                      $211

Switzerland                        $15,457

Rwanda                             $496

So it is that Canada furnishes those workers society has deemed the lowest on the payscale with a living wage that’s pretty well aligned with that in comparably developed countries. If you doubt that and feel under-compensated, imagine how the citizens of Sierra Leone feel when they haul their T4s home at the end of the year.

Brewing Employment Crisis: Whither the Engineers?

Canada is staring down a serious shortage in its stash of engineers — and this against a backdrop of fully qualified professionals looking for work in this field.

The curious paradox between this condition of looming famine in this market, and the feast of Canadian engineers seeking employment therein, is a result of the lack of professionals with significant enough track records to fill the gaps. According to Engineers Canada’s just-released “Engineering Labour Market in Canada: Projections to 2020” report, some 95,000 engineers will retire here by 2020. That development, the research found, means the Canadian engineering labour market will soon face an alarming scarcity of players with more than 10 years of specialized experience. And because the workforce can’t replace itself fast enough — by way of either incoming Canadian or experienced internationally trained graduates — a skills shortage will be the calamitous consequence.

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It’s why the labour market will be particularly rich for incoming specialty-trained engineers with a bulk of experience, and less so for emerging graduates.

While engineering labour market conditions vary from region to region, the report concludes that supply-and-demand imbalances are becoming more serious across the board. It urges markets to work to strike a balance between those workers heading for the retirement hills, and training in-country grads and out-of-country engineers interested in working here.

Any way you slice it, the market disparities poised to characterize the Canadian engineering landscape will challenge managers, planners, recruiters and job seekers alike in coming months and years. Enter external staffing firms with a specialty in this market, like Keen — and the powers they might bring to bear on the emerging conundrum.

A Comic Walks into an Office…

Flagging company morale, sucky communication skills and internal strife at a professional organization are no joke.

But some company CEOs are laughing just the same, thanks to the unorthodox program of corporate education for which they’ve recently signed up senior management staff: standup comedy.

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It’s not because they’re looking for some comic relief to offset drooping ambiance when sales numbers hit the skids. It’s because the corporate world has finally made a bona-fide and unabashed connection between the power of laughter, the gifts of a skillful comic communicator and success.

The benefits to be enjoyed by sending your team for a standup comedy workshop are multiple. For one, introducing such levity to your endlessly earnest (and sometimes dreadfully heavy) corporate existence can give a bump to companies’ sagging morale. 

For another, the lighthearted (dare we say “fun,” even) communal effort can deliver much-needed relief to festering internal conflicts.

And certainly the exercise of standing in front of a crowd and attempting to make its members laugh can do wonders for a person’s communication skills, to say nothing of his confidence levels.

At the very least, the exercise will produce a less anxious workforce. Research has proven that an absence of laughter in the workplace is a major contributor to stress — and that the opposite is true in offices where laughter is encouraged.

Ultimately, participating in a stand-up routine enhances listening and storytelling skills — both essentials for corporate types.

Finally, consider this: Laugh at work and you’ll live longer. A team of scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University — both in New York City — has isolated certain personality traits as being highly predictive of long life. And enjoying regular guffaws is among them.

And that’s no laughing matter.

Putting Employment Negotiation in Check

Q: What lasted 113 days, cost countless millions, delivered a giant purple bruise to the reputation of a massive industry and left a legacy of labour relations lessons in its wake?

A: The NHL lockout (finished at last, to the delirious delight of legion hockey fans).

But what could this exercise in greed, petty self-indulgence and enduring petulance ever have to teach folks knocking up against employment issues in less glamorous professional pursuits? Plenty, as it turns out.

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An off-ice sampling, then, for employers and employees alike looking to avoid taking a similarly bone-crushing hit:

•  Keep feelings in check. The lockout lasted as long as it did largely because of all the emotions in play. Given that every last labour negotiation includes the in-opposition participation of at least two humans, and given that humans are inherently sentient beings, it stands to reason that emotions are going to slop all over the proceedings at some point. But you mustn’t let them call the shots. Reason must always trump passion here.

Keep talking. The hockey example might have included a whack of precious and insanely drawn-out flights to and from the bargaining table — but at least it did. When the parties in an HR arbitration flat-out refuse to keep the conversation going, all is lost. The longer you can keep both sides talking, the more likely you are to find a solution.

Seek help. It wasn’t until the 72nd day of the lockout that the league and its players association agreed to call in the services of a mediator (and it took a further 41 days for said mediator to score an in-principle agreement). Canadian labour negotiations typically invite mediation onto the ice much earlier in the game (in fact, mediation or conciliation is a mandatory qualification before a lockout or strike is considered legal), and with good reason. Mediators enjoy a successful record of expedient problem-solving and bridge-building.

Remember: whether it’s hockey, hotels or heavy equipment, it’s always human relations. And the name of the game, regardless, is to achieve the best deal with the least damage to your side.