The ties that bond us

There are so many layers to an employee-employer relationship. Some are very obvious and easily referenced – you will do XYZ from Monday to Friday and we will pay you. There are likely some picky little details like…if you don’t do XYZ the way that we expect, and then we may penalize you. Or if you have to work beyond the 40-hour work week, we may pay you extra…or let you take your lunch breaks.

Another layer, a less visible and less obvious one, is the psychological contract. Although not as formal, it is no less powerful than the employment agreement that people sign. Why? Because it’s based on unwritten perceptions and expectations of the business relationship.  It’s founded in the idea that if I work my ass for 60-hours to get a project done, then my employer is going to remember that and reward me…in some way…at some point. The principle is equity.

So what happens when this psychological contract is broken? The result can be devastating to an employee – there is a sense that they have been betrayed, used, and disregarded. Responses can vary but include resistance, disengagement, lack of productivity, and even sabotage.

I really hate hearing that employees (en masse, not just Gen-Y) have too much of a sense of entitlement…”employees expect to be given everything and don’t want to reciprocate”.

This is bullshit.

Oh of course there are people who fall into this category – there always will be. However they are not representative of the majority.

What I see are people who are giving up their family time, physically and emotionally draining themselves, and “sucking it up” to do what needs to be done.

And sometimes they hit a wall and complain. But that’s okay, we specifically didn’t hire martyrs…we wanted people who would challenge and push back.


I certainly do.

However, when business decisions are made there are often significant impacts on the people. What some fail to remember is that for most employees, the first reaction is not to pull out that black & white agreement that says, yes…we are entitled to do this to you. What they typically do is reference that psychological handshake that was made that said – if you are loyal to us, then we will be to you.

And unlike a paper contract, a torn and damaged psychological contract cannot just be reprinted or taped back together.

Sure it may be the soft and mushy side of business, and maybe it’s the last thing on your mind when you are making hard choices, but that intangible and invisible bond is as important as any legal document and no amount of tape can put it back together when it’s ripped.


When 17 isn’t 17

Ruby Tuesday #33










It’s the middle of January and I wake up to a house that, according to the thermostat, is 17 degrees Celsius.

It’s frickin cold…I’m huddled in bed under blankets and when I finally emerge, I’m wearing layers of pjs, fleece jacket, and socks.  I dream of the time of year when I can jump out of bed and saunter around comfortably – throw on light clothing and proceed with my day.

Truthfully, it’s knowing what’s out there waiting for me…the even colder temperatures (like -30C ), the snow, the layers upon layers of clothing, the energy-draining lack of sunshine that make that initial 17 degrees unbearable.


It’s now almost the middle of June and I woke up this morning to a house that was 17 degrees Celsius.

And yet, it’s no longer cold.  In fact, I saunter (okay, stumble)  downstairs to start my day and leave the house wearing lighter clothing.

Knowing that today is expected to get increasingly warmer (like 30C), with the likelihood of a sunny afternoon, the promise of more daylight and a chance to enjoy the gardens after work that makes that initial 17 degrees completely bearable.

Often times it’s not where you start that matters, but the direction you are heading that make all the difference.




Circular thinking

I have a pretty good memory.

Actually, I would like to think I have a very good memory, but as with most people who claim this…it’s selective.  There are things in my life that I can recall with great detail.  Particularly those things that were stressful or painful to relive.  And by painful, it might be a ridiculous as the sting I felt from my grade six BFF’s brush off.

Thinking about times like this, and many more that happened throughout high school, university, and beyond…I can actually relive the emotions that I felt and the embarrassment of having done or said what I did.

I think that this is an amazing human quality that we have…the ability to torture ourselves over and over and over by rehashing our twelve-year-old social gaffes.  What evolved beings we are.

Honestly, I just can’t seem to let certain things go and I believe that they will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.  I’ve tried to analyze these triggers to see what the common theme is and the best that I’ve come up with is that’s it’s situations when I have told someone what they should do…and it doesn’t work out.

Like the time I was walking to school with a group of kids.  The forecast must have been for rain, because we all had umbrellas but none of them were open.  As we walked over a sewer grate, I suggested that one of the other kids put their umbrella in one of the holes and open it.  Despite the fact that I was no ring-leader or an intimidating type, the kid did it.  And as anyone with sense could predict, the umbrella got stuck and could not be pulled out.  As luck would have it, an adult came strolling by, took a look at what was going on, and asked this kid why they did such a stupid thing.  The kid’s response (as she pointed at me):  “She told me too.”

I can still feel the drop in my stomach and the humiliation of a) having been pointed out to a complete stranger as the source of all evil and b) having suggested something that was “such a stupid thing”.

If I could have crawled into the sewer grate alongside the umbrella – I totally would have done it.

Interestingly enough, the adult’s response was to point out that no one had made the kid do it and he even asked whether she went around doing everything that people told her to do.  Thinking about this now, I see that the adult was making a valuable point – the other kid was responsible for the decision she made and the action she took and while it was my idea, it doesn’t stand to reason that it’s my fault.

So fast forward to current days.  I am in a similar, and yet completely different, situation.  My daughter is in her final year of high school and should be winding down…we are weeks away.  And yet, this has probably been the most stressful period. Ever.  Why?  Because my daughter is having a very difficult time with one of her courses – she doesn’t like it, doesn’t see value in it, and has let it slide to a level that is incredibly uncomfortable.

So how is this about me? (Because you know that’s what I’m about to suggest…).  Well…of all the course selection decisions she had over the past four years, I strongly suggested that she should take this course.  And in fact, when things were tough earlier on, I insisted that she needed to stick with it. I explained why and rationalized the value.

For the past few weeks I’ve been living with that same drop in my stomach and anxiety that I felt as a kid…the feeling that I’ve made someone do something that didn’t go according to plan.  And there’s a part of me sitting there cringing, waiting for an adult to ask why I suggested such a stupid thing.

And although I jokingly alluded to it, this should not be about me.  Sure it was my idea and I will own up to the fact that, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea.  But the reality is that I can really only lay claim to the idea…not the  choices and actions (or lack of actions) that has put my daughter in this position.  Those are hers.

Of course, easier said then done.  I mean, considering the fact that I have not been able to shake the umbrella-incident from my consciousness…what is the likelihood of me not getting worked up about my daughter’s school.

And it doesn’t end at home either.

As HR – we frequently find ourselves in the situation where we council or provide advice and whether or not you add a caveat…it’s hard not to feel somewhat that familiar cringe when things don’t go according to plan (regardless of how good a suggestion you make).

These are things that I know to be true, but sometimes can’t help but feel otherwise:

  • Just let it go
  • People are responsible for themselves
  • It’s not always up to you to make it work
  • It’s not your fault

Maybe it’s a defect in me as a person.  Maybe it’s a defect in me as  HR.

Or maybe it’s just me being human and assuming that my sphere of influence is WAY bigger than it really is.

In any case, I’m likely to be circling back to this incident and adding it to the long list of cringe-worthy things I’ve done.