Water Cooler March 2017: Does your boss value your work?


by Melany Hallam

Question: Do you feel valued for the work that you do? Yes/No/Somewhat

Believe it or not, money isn’t the only reward that people need in order to feel that they are valued at work. Yes, money sure helps but, in my own experience, my best paid position was one I left because I didn’t feel that my time or efforts were respected.

Looking back on it now, I realize that part of the problem was that I wasn’t good at communicating to managers my successes, compliments from clients or the sheer volume of work that I tackled every day. I just kept my head down and did the work. It turns out that this is exactly the wrong thing to do if you want to be recognized and valued by your boss.

There’s lots of career advice out there on how to toot your own horn without becoming known around the office as a braggart, such as:

  • Only take credit for your own accomplishments (not that of others you work with or who work for you). That way, managers and co-workers will pay attention when you talk about what you’ve achieved.
  • If someone you work with does a good job, say so. They may do the same for you one day.
  • Stick to the facts, don’t exaggerate.
  • When someone compliments you, say “Thank you”. Don’t minimize what you’ve achieved, and don’t be afraid to take credit for great work.

But feeling valued isn’t solely your own responsibility. A study out of Florida State University (FSU) (https://www.fsu.edu/news/2006/12/04/bad.boss/) several years ago found that the employee/boss relationship has a huge effect on job satisfaction and employee retention.

“They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss,” says study author Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management in FSU’s College of Business.

The FSU research group surveyed more than 700 people working in a range of jobs about their opinions of supervisor treatment on the job. They found that:

  • 37 percent reported that their boss failed to give credit when due
  • 39 percent noted that their boss failed to keep promises
  • 31 percent of respondents reported that their boss gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year
  • 27 percent noted that their boss made negative comments about them to other employees or managers
  • 24 percent reported that their boss invaded their privacy
  • 23 percent indicated that their boss blames others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment

I don’t know about you, but no amount of money would be enough for me to put up with that sort of treatment on a regular basis. So if you’re feeling unappreciated at work, don’t ignore that feeling. It won’t go away by itself. Stop and assess what it is that you need to change. The solution could be as simple as asking for what you want (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201212/9-ways-ask-and-get-what-you-want). Remember, your boss may be completely unaware of your unhappiness – and she can’t say “Yes” if you don’t ask!

Here are some further readings and resources that might help:


Water Cooler November 2016: Chronic pain – is it real?


by Melany Hallam

Question: Do you feel limited in the kind of work you can do due to your health? Answers: Very limited / somewhat limited / not limited

One of my best friends (let’s call her “Debbie”) – a talented teacher – is no longer able to work because of chronic pain and anxiety.

For as long as I’ve known her (about 30 years), Debbie has been an anxious person. Periodically, life or work would become too much for her and she’d crash, spending a day or two in bed unable to get up due to fatigue or physical pain. She’d cancel our get-togethers at the last minute saying she was just “too tired”, she’d call in sick to work saying that the stress had become too much for her. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t experiencing anything more than normal, everyday events. So why was she having trouble coping?

In some ways I can relate to this – who hasn’t felt like life is too much sometimes? But I’ve always been a person who forces herself to carry on no matter what happens, so I find myself wondering if all this pain and fatigue are real or imagined. You may be thinking the same thing, but before you judge, let me tell you a bit more about Debbie’s situation.

About 10 or 12 years ago, Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer, went through surgery and treatment and a very long and painful road to remission. She went through this alone – she didn’t have a partner at the time. Family and friends had to be scheduled in to drive her to chemo, she gave herself injections in the stomach as part of her treatment, she drove herself to the hospital when she spiked a fever in the middle of the night. Through all this, she kept her sense of humour and fascination with life and all its craziness. Debbie is an extremely strong person.

For many years following remission, she tried going back to work part-time on a return to work plan, but each time she tried she became overwhelmed with anxiety and pain throughout her body. She tried everything she could think of to get better: meditation and exercise, therapy sessions, changes in diet and a whole range of prescription medications. Nothing has worked for her. Some days, Debbie is completely laid flat by pain – it covers her whole face, goes down her back – she can’t move, talk or eat.

This year, Debbie found out that she’s “florid” celiac, meaning that she’s severely allergic to anything with wheat/gluten in it. Gluten actually destroys the lining in her small intestines, can cause extreme fatigue and all kinds of other complications. She has since also been diagnosed with a type of bi-polar disorder and, most recently, with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

All of these diagnoses have come as a sort of relief to Debbie as she can now look back at the difficulties she’s had in her life and see that there’s an explanation for what she’s experienced. She has come to accept that she’ll never be able to work again due to her health. At the same time, it’s a huge blow to someone who has always done her best to fight her way back from each obstacle she’s encountered. I know that at some point she’s going to break down and mourn that strong person she always believed herself to be. To me, she is still that person and I know that she’ll find a way to deal with this, as she has with everything else that has happened in her life.

Debbie’s experience with chronic pain isn’t that uncommon. According to research from the Canadian Pain Coalition:

  • 17% to 31% of the general community report chronic pain
  • People in pain miss work, spend time in hospital and visit the doctor often
  • Pain is almost unmentioned in medical training
  • There is a severe shortage of acute pain services and pain clinics in hospital settings
  • In-hospital patients with pain from non-surgical conditions are less likely to have their pain taken seriously enough to be treated
  • Outpatients who report pain of chronic duration to health care professionals are often dismissed, or are accused of malingering
  • There is a large gap between what is known and what is practiced in the treatment of all kinds of pain
  • about 15% of pain conditions do not respond to any current therapies

Nov. 6 to 12 is National Pain Awareness Week. If you or someone you love is experiencing pain that affects their ability to live and work normally, here’s a chance to learn more and find out how you can help yourself or others.

A tale of three teachers: Water Cooler Blog October 2016

school-1551049by Melany Hallam

Question: Did you have a teacher who had a big influence (either positive or negative) on your career outside of school?  Yes/No/Somewhat

Three of my best friends are teachers, so I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years about what actually goes on in classrooms and schools on a day-to-day basis. One of my friends now teaches grade one French immersion in West Vancouver, the second taught adult high school upgrading for 20 years in inner city Vancouver and the third, middle and high school kids up north.

That’s quite a range of teaching situations and students, from privileged kids through to not-so-privileged adults. You’d think the stories from each of my friends would be quite different. But they’re not. Here are things that I’ve learned about teaching from all three of them:

  • Each classroom is filled with students who are individuals, with a huge range of learning needs and abilities. I hear my friends’ frustration as they try to figure out how to reach them all on a resources budget of near zero and limited classroom time.
  • There are always some real characters who don’t fit into the traditional way of teaching and learning. I hear my friends’ affection for these kids, and the satisfaction they feel when they are able to come up with a creative way of engaging them in learning – sometimes in ways that are not quite school board-approved.
  • Some students’ families are convinced that their kids can do no wrong, and some are so self-involved that they don’t see their own kids struggling (or achieving). I hear my teacher friends as they either attempt to resist or give in and embrace that urge to parent their students.

I’m thinking about all of this right now because a couple of weeks ago, one of my friends (let’s call her Nancy) flew off to another province to help a former student who was in personal crisis. Nancy paid for a plane ticket and paid for the ferry, arranged a place to stay with friends, borrowed a car, figured out how to use her GPS app (no small feat) and made it out to an obscure health facility, where she spent many hours each day listening and asking gently focussed questions – all to support a former student that she absolutely believes in.

Listening to Nancy talk about this experience, it’s hard not to feel what she’s feeling. It’s devastating. It’s exhausting. It’s hope and despair at the same time.

Nancy’s story is above and beyond, I realize, and not many teachers would do this for their students. But, like any profession, teaching includes people who do it for the salary and people who do it because that’s who they are. Whatever their reasons for doing the job, they all face multiple challenges – parents, administration, students. The education system is far from perfect, but we survive it and can look back on our school years somewhere on the scale of “best years of my life” to “most traumatic time ever”.

The point is that the impact of teachers and the education system can be huge on individuals and on society as a whole. The United Nations has declared October 5 World Teachers’ Day, recognizing that, “… teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics.”

Events are planned around the world, and more information is available here.

Maybe take a moment on Oct. 5 to think about what teachers mean to you and perhaps come up with some small way in which you might support their positive impact. The next kid saved by a teacher could be yours.


Food for thought – some ideas from creativity expert and educator Ken Robinson on the case for radical rethink of our school system. He talks about the link between three troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. An important, timely talk for parents and teachers: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms


Water Cooler: September 2016: Time for Trades

working-1229720by Melany Hallam

September 2016 Water Cooler Question: How many times have you changed careers? 0 / 1-3 / 4-7 / more than 7 Take the survey now. Click here

A lawyer friend of mine once gave me a birthday card showing a crazed-looking guy running around a room flapping his arms in order to activate motion sensor lighting. The caption inside read, “Another journalism major joins the workforce.” Har-di-har har.

Yes, I graduated with a journalism degree and, yes, it was difficult to find any kind of journalism-related work that didn’t involve being a mouth piece for a large corporation. But that was, shall we say, a significant number of years ago.

What’s the job market like now? I looked it up on the Google and found some very helpful information and advice for both job seekers and employers in the 10th Annual Talent Shortage Survey by ManpowerGroup (2015):

  • For the fourth consecutive year, Canadian employers have had the hardest time finding skilled trades people (plumbers, electricians, welders, heavy equipment service, etc); drivers and skilled business executives are also hard to come by, according to the survey
  • 32 per cent of Canadian employers report having difficulties filling some positions
  • The problem exists partially because of a shrinking working population (read “aging”) and, therefore, a shrinking talent pool

As well, according to this Maclean’s Magazine research, there is still a wide-spread belief in the myth that any type of university degree is the best way to a high paying career. But this belief may be severely limiting your options – and your earning potential. In fact, according to futurist Rohit Talwar, from 30 to 80 per cent of all jobs that exist today may disappear over the next 10 to 20 years, replaced by smart software, automation and robots. Kids in school now could have as many as 40 different jobs and 10 career changes in their lifetimes. That trend is starting now.

What does this mean for today’s job seeker? For those just entering the workforce, it may be time to widen your job search or training plans. For those with an established work history, it may be time to think about a career change to work that will always be in demand.

I’m talking about learning a trade.

Trades have had a bad rap for way too long. I can tell you that – after having gone through many years of helping to build our own house – wiring a 3-way light switch (never mind a whole house!), installing plumbing (planning for venting, pipe slope for drainage, etc.) or properly framing a room so that your drywall doesn’t get messed up is not easy. It takes mad spatial skills, math, patience and an incredibly logical brain. It’s hard, it’s sometimes crazy-making but it’s ultimately some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do. I live in a house that is only here because I made it. How cool is that?

And as a beginning tradesperson, you can potentially get paid very decent wages after a fairly short training period. For example, my nephew is still in the apprenticeship stage of becoming an electrician. But his employer is paying him to complete his certifications AND is paying him more than the going apprentice level pay rate while he’s working. Why? Because Andrew is reliable, he’s a hard worker and he’s smart – all qualities highly-valued by his employer. Andrew takes his career choice seriously, he loves what he does and his employer is generous in showing his appreciation.

How many of us can say the same about our own careers?

More information:



Water Cooler Blog: August 2016 How to hate your job … less

man-at-work-3-1239158by Melany Hallam

Question: Do the days you do want to go in to work outnumber the days you don’t want to go in to work? Yes/No/About the same/I am not employed

(take the survey now, click here)

Almost half of Canadians surveyed recently in a recruitment agency-sponsored poll didn’t like their jobs – some even hated them. The survey found that “not fitting in with the workplace culture” was the main reason for job dissatisfaction but there are lots of other reasons, ranging from personality conflict with the boss to boring work.

If you find yourself obsessing about how much you hate your job, it could have all kinds of negative consequences for your mental and physical health. You need to act now before it’s too late! No job will make you happy every single day, but here are five things that you can try to help make the good days outnumber the bad days:

(1) Know yourself

What do you like and not like about working? What are the values most important to you and what do you expect to get from your paid employment? Make a list. These qualities can be either the type of work you do (those things in your job description) or your working conditions (pay, management, hours, etc.) Here are some ideas to help you get started.  Note that money is only one item on this list! Once you have a better idea of what you really need from your paid employment, your next steps should be more obvious to you. If you hate the type of work you’re doing, maybe you should be looking to re-train and change jobs. If it’s the working conditions, it may be possible to stick with your current job by negotiating some changes with co-workers or your boss.

(2) Control – get some

For many, having no control over how you do your work is unbearable. Is there something that you can do to change your situation? Talk to your manager about options. As long as a task gets done, there should be some flexibility in how to do it. Don’t expect your employer to realize what’s happening and make changes for you – be proactive. And if your suggestions result in saving time or money for your employer, it could even earn you some points with the boss.

(3) Cut down on those little everyday hassles

Are there one or two little things that you have to do every day that drive you up the wall? For me, filling out endless forms and paperwork for things that should be straightforward has always been one of my pet peeves. If forms are unavoidable, can they be shortened or made more user-friendly? Sometimes a tedious process is in place just because “it’s always been done that way”, and that’s not a good enough reason for keeping it.


(4) Change how you think about your job

Do you cringe when you have to tell people you’ve just met what you do for a living? Every job exists for a reason and is therefore important in some way. I’ve found that how you (and others) see your work is greatly influenced by how you talk about what you do. Are you helping others or making a difference to their safety? Are there parts of your job that you like – that are just plain fun – but you feel like you shouldn’t admit it? Why not? Is your job only temporary until you’ve paid off some bills, or built up a part-time business? It can help to focus on your long-term goals.

(5) Leave your work at the office

Not everyone is lucky enough to find paid employment doing something that they love. Your job may just be the way you support yourself while finding personal fulfillment in other ways (hobbies, volunteering, etc.) It can be very freeing to realize that your job title is not who you are, so why waste energy hating it? Leave your work at the office at the end of each day and spend the rest of your time doing what you enjoy most – whatever that may be.

Good luck!

Water Cooler for July: The 15th is World Youth Skills Day: Why does this matter?


By Melany Hallam

Question: If you had the option, would you train or change jobs to work in a trade? Yes/No/Maybe/I already work in a trade

Did you know that there’s a worldwide youth employment crisis?

According to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO), 74.5 million youth were unemployed in 2013, and 228 million youth were considered poor. Youth unemployment is greatest in developing countries but in first world countries such as Canada, younger workers under 25 years old are also:

  • often unemployed for at least six months of the year
  • taking jobs for which they’re way overqualified, and
  • increasingly working on temporary contracts or positions (not stable employment)

Why should you care?

The ILO is sounding the alarm now because they’ve found that members of the under 25 generation are worse off than the same age group 20 years ago—we’re going backwards! If this is affecting a whole generation, this can’t be anything but bad news for the world economy in general, right? See more on this in an interview with the UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi here.

If you’re part of this younger generation, you likely won’t find any of this all that surprising. For example, taking a look at some of the numbers for Powell River, a School District 47 survey of Grade 12 students shows a fairly dramatic decrease in satisfaction that school is preparing them for work. In 2009/10, 54% of students were satisfied, plunging down to 26% satisfaction in 2013/14, according to Powell River’s 2015 Vital Signs Report. So not so optimistic, then.

To raise awareness of the youth unemployment crisis, last year the UN declared July 15th World Youth Skills Day. (Resources, videos, and handouts to help celebrate and motivate change are available here.) The ILO and its 187 member states (including Canada) are also recommending five policies to governments, including promoting:

  1. job creation policies
  2. job-related education and training
  3. help for disadvantaged youth
  4. entrepreneurship and self-employment
  5. labour rights and equal treatment for youth

What can we do locally?

In Powell River, one bright spot appears to be in trades training, where just under half of the enrolled students found local jobs in 2014. Programs are offered locally by SD47 and Vancouver Island University in welding, carpentry, automotive repair, culinary arts, and hairdressing.

If you’re under 29, you might also qualify to get help from provincial training and work experience programs—there’s a list on the BC Centre for Employment Excellence here.

Federal government programs for youth apprenticeships, careers, and education are listed here.

And, of course, Career Link is always here for you with help and advice.

Of the youth that I know personally in Powell River and the Lower Mainland, I wouldn’t say that most of them are all that pessimistic (or doing that badly employment-wise). But then those under 25’s that I know are not that large a sample! What’s been your experience? Leave a comment below—we’d like to hear from you.

Water Cooler Blog February 2016 : Discrimination in the workplace

birdsby Melany Hallam

QUESTION: Do you currently experienced discrimination in the workplace?



Discrimination. I’m against it.

Kind of an obvious statement, right? If you asked anyone, they’d likely say the same. But discrimination can be subtle, as well as unintended and unrecognized. In order to be fair to everyone in your workplace, first you have to recognize discrimination.

So what is it? Here’s a descriptive list from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

  • not individually assessing the unique merits, capacities and circumstances of a person
  • instead, making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s presumed traits
  • having the impact of excluding persons, denying benefits or imposing burdens.

These “presumed traits” can be based on any number of things, including race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended. That’s a pretty long list, and it’s fairly likely that we’ve all been on one side or the other of some negative or stereotypical assumptions.

The most obvious examples involve individuals who are passed over for promotion due to gender or colour. But bias can be much more subtle than that. Consider this example:

A small company is proud of its intensive team-building approach. Every other week, all staff are expected to attend gender-specific sporting activities such as wrestling and football with their “husbands and wives.” Many of these events take place on evenings and weekends in places that are not fully accessible. People who do not attend these events are less successful at building the internal networks that lead to promotions. Employees who are female, single, gay or lesbian may not feel welcome at these events. People who have care-giving responsibilities after work or who use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, would likely not be able to attend these events.


I doubt that discrimination was intended here, but no effort is made to be inclusive either. The result is that some individuals in this workplace may be less likely to get ahead because of factors that have nothing to do with an ability to do the job. This type of discrimination is systemic and has to do with a corporate culture that welcomes only specific groups of people.


Look around your own workplace right now. What do you see? Really think about the assumptions you’re making about others and those that others may be making about you. Are you the only woman in an all-male office? Is one of your co-workers single in a workplace where most employees are married? Does this have an effect on what tasks you are assigned or how many weekend events your co-worker is expected to attend?

A recent human resources survey by Randstad Canada found that, although the majority of Canadians believed their workplace to be “open and inclusive”, about 25 per cent of those surveyed said they’d been discriminated against due to age or gender.

The lesson here is that we still have work to do, starting in our own workplaces and our own community. Discrimination isn’t always obvious but, once recognized, the solutions can be.


More information:

Are you eligible for overtime pay?


by Melany Hallam

Question: When you work overtime, are you paid time and a half?

Take the survey here.

We’re getting into the busy holiday season and many of us will be working extra hours to cover longer store opening times and holiday party events, or to get work done before we go away on vacation. And that means overtime, baby!

In BC, overtime means that you’re paid time-and-a-half of your regular rate for all hours worked over eight in a day and double time for over 12 hours. On a weekly basis, you’re paid time-and-a-half for all hours worked over 40 in the week, excluding any daily overtime hours.

This sounds like such a straightforward rule. But there are many exceptions, as well as a chronic lack of clear overtime policies – and a lack of effective communication of said policies – in some organizations. The reality of overtime pay is not so simple. Remember last year, when Scotiabank employees received a settlement for unpaid overtime to the tune of an estimated $95 million in payouts for 5,000 full-time employees? If you read the legal opinions on the case, this lengthy legal battle really came down to a very unfortunate misunderstanding of the types of positions exempt from being paid overtime.

The most important thing to learn from this is that both you and your employer must be very clear on company policy and provincial labour laws – and how these apply to you specifically. This isn’t as easy as it sounds – there are all kinds of exceptions to the rules. For example, the BC Employment Standards Act exempts from overtime pay jobs such as fishing and hunting guides, live-in fish camp workers, towboat operators, charter boat crew, certain transportation workers… the list goes on. And this is just for non-unionized employees. Union employees have their own set of negotiated rules.

BC also exempts from overtime professions such as lawyer, dentist and architect, high-technology professionals and anyone with managerial responsibilities. However, just because your job falls into an exempt category doesn’t prevent you from negotiating alternate overtime terms with your employer, such as time off in lieu. It also doesn’t mean, for example, that a job called “managerial” by your employer necessarily meets the legal definition of the term (that was Scotiabank’s mistake). I once had a job classified as managerial by my employer but the only person I actually supervised was myself. Looking back on it now, I really should have been paid overtime for all of those extra hours, but I was too busy working to figure that out!

But getting back to the holiday season, in addition to getting overtime over Christmas, there’s also the possibility of extra pay for working on a statutory holiday. You can get time-and-a-half for the first 12 hours worked on a stat and double-time for any work over 12 hours; PLUS an average day’s pay! But beware. If you’re being hired as a temporary employee over the holidays, you’ll likely not be eligible for any of that, even if you work on Christmas Day. That’s because BC labour laws say that you don’t get overtime for working a stat holiday unless you’ve worked for your employer at least 30 calendar days immediately prior to the holiday, and you’ve been paid for at least 15 of those days.

My brain hurts.

So before you take that extra work over Christmas hoping for overtime pay or that job with a company that SAYS it doesn’t require you to work overtime, check out the fine print. Know your rights. Overtime is a tricky business.

Further reading:


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