#MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #NoBanNoWall: social activism has taken more than a turn; lately, it’s gone viral, but what does this new dynamic mean for the workplace? Now that social issues can be brought to light with a viral following in as little as a few minutes, do workplaces need to adapt to mitigate the increasing tensions that could result among employees, shareholders, and clients?
According to Dena Gillies, partner, Omni Management Consulting Alliance, the social media impact has been notable. “Social media has extended the definition of the ‘workplace’,” she explains. “Much of the training that I do is less about sensitivity and more about educating employees on the consequences of off-duty conduct, including the use of social media. While the #MeToo movement has influenced the workplace, I believe the more significant influence has been the recent changes to Alberta’s OH&S Act, effective June 1, 2018. We’ve had several client requests for training on what this change means specific to workplace harassment.”
“Bill 30’s changes to the Alberta OH&S Act has introduced requirements for employers to develop violence and harassment prevention plans,” Gillies continues. “Educating employees will be a part of that plan. While not a legal requirement, it may be in the best interest of an employer to provide staff education in some or all of the above areas mentioned as a means of proactively addressing potential workplace issues. Pro-active education in these types of emerging issues is reasonably new and growing in the workplace. While employees may be receiving training in school, my sense is that employees entering the workforce are receiving most of their education by the world around them, often through social media. Social norms and laws are changing in terms of what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.”
Does that mean this is becoming the new normal?
“Yes, very much so,” Gillies affirms. “Currently, millennials are now the largest generation in the Canadian workforce. Social consciousness is a trait associated with millennials that generally hasn’t been connected with the previous generations. In my experience, companies that choose to offer training on healthy workplace practices are doing so in the best interest of the company and its employees. Failing to address poor workplace behavior could come at significant cost to a company’s finances, turnover, productivity, and reputation. As the labour shortage in Canada continues, having a poor reputation in the market is a significant risk to any company.”
O’Ryan Hughes, MBA., managing partner, Stoppler Hughes Ltd., agrees that social movements like #MeToo have had an important impact on businesses. “These movements shine a light on what’s been an issue in society and in the workplace to a shockingly large extent in terms of harassment, and that’s opened up a lot of eyes and scared corporations into actively dealing with them. There is always a risk identified, but the social pressure of these movements has made a meaningful impact in terms of training policy awareness and unacceptability.”
In terms of implementing the changes necessary in preventing social movements from becoming issues in the workplace, “It’s up to individual leaders in organizations,” Hughes observes, adding that, “with leadership that cares about its people, we will have already seen them become more proactive in the past. It’s the ones who are not so conscious that are having to make changes now.”
“It’s a positive thing, not negative,” he stresses. “We’ve actually seen a lot more focus on diversity hiring as a result.”
He’s also noticed an increased value being placed on higher quality human resources, which at times haven’t been given as much priority.
“If done right, HR is more proactive. When stuff goes sideways in the media, PR and marketing step in.” He points to the recent example of two African-American men being arrested for “trespassing” at a Philadelphia Starbucks. “Shutting down to train your employees is a PR move. The type of training that needs to go along with harassment has to be long-term, purposeful, and embraced by the top of the organization. The problem doesn’t end because of one sensitivity training session. It has to be a top-line strategy that the company focuses on. Unless it is embraced throughout the whole company, it is not going to succeed.”
However, it doesn’t just come down to corporations. He points out, “It can’t just be certain groups championing when society as a whole is responsible. Social media has spread the word to the masses to shine a light on what’s going on. These social movements are legitimately important to people—employees stakeholders, and customers—society is demanding changes be made to account for what isn’t acceptable anymore. And the whole movement is about bringing the issues into the light, so companies are not going to be able to hide.
“The companies that really care about making those changes are doing it as a wholistic approach in everything they do. It becomes the mission and vision, which allows the company to be conscious of their impact and to purposefully make all of their decisions based on that vision. That’s really when the shift will happen, when that vision becomes part of what the company does, part of its brand—and we are starting to see more and more of a legitimately genuine desire to make that happen.”
One company that has thoroughly embraced that wholistic strategy is Fire & Flower, a cannabis shop taking root in several locations across Canada. Jesse Cheetham, vice president, Human Resources, Fire & Flower, explains that, “Based on extensive market research, Fire & Flower’s stores are intended to ensure customers across diverse demographics feel welcome, comfortable, and that they are able to maintain a level of privacy, should they so choose. Fire & Flower is focused on delivering a responsible, education-based approach to retail and extensive community engagement.”
“Like any retailer,” Cheetham observes, “people decide where they shop, and we need to offer an experience that sets us apart. Educating the cannabis curious, setting the bar high, and being actively involved in the communities where we operate is fundamental to the Fire & Flower ethos, and that will set us apart from the rest. How we hire, train, and elevate our team is based on mindset over skillset. We look for emotionally intelligent, compassionate, and uniquely talented individuals through a unique hiring process. Anyone vying to be hired by Fire & Flower is made aware early in the process that there are inherent challenges in the cannabis industry, but we will face them together. Impairment, mental health, dependency, and minors attempting to access cannabis are issues our training and education will address.”
Cheetham notes, “Because social media is instantaneously accessible, it is incredibly influential; issues can quickly gain momentum. Anonymity empowers people to feel safe in sharing their vulnerabilities. The speed and momentum of social media in this context is amazing, but the awareness of that fact has only provided Fire & Flower with a new angle toward success. Intentionally building principles, such as inclusion, compassion, empathy, and mindfulness into how you operate, creates instant humanity in your business. This humanity is what people expect and connect with.
“The expectations society places on businesses is vastly different than it was even five years ago. With mass social movements, such as #metoo, longstanding businesses and entire industries have had to make radical changes. Making large scale changes is challenging for large businesses both in time and costs. The benefit we have in the cannabis industry is that we have an opportunity to build from the ground up and are not tied to long standing practices.”
“From Fire & Flower’s perspective,” he concludes, “the ‘glue’ that motivates our current team, and a key element we look for in hiring, is viewing this industry as an opportunity to do things right.”