Don't Forget, You're Here Forever
In a famous episode of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson returns to his position at the nuclear power plant after ceremoniously resigning to pursue other opportunities prior to the birth of his daughter, Maggie. When he returns to the plant, hat in hand (he is forced to crawl through a doggy door marked 'supplicants' next to the regular sized door for applicants), his draconian boss adorns his cubicle with a sign reading "Don't Forget, You're Here Forever"
As CBC reported last week, workers in an Edmonton workplace were faced with a similar message several weeks ago on an office whiteboard. Employees were offered several reasons they should be grateful for their job, including "there are tens of thousands of unemployed people in Alberta right now," and mention of the "hundreds of resumes" in the author's inbox at any given time.
It should be noted first and foremost that the whiteboard postings were not condoned by the employer, and the message was taken down weeks ago. The online maelstrom only began when an image of the whiteboard was posted online to Reddit, and the company has recently issued a response on its Facebook page, which has since been taken down.
While the message may not have been sanctioned by the company, the attitude displayed by the author highlights some of the key concerns common in tense or hostile workplace situations, and a few of those are worth exploring:
1) Workplace bullying or harassment is not okay, in any way, shape, or form. Workplace harassment is defined by the Ministry of Labour in Ontario as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome." While these comments were not in Ontario and may not have been directed at a specific worker, they are certainly intimidating and most assuredly unwelcome. Laws surrounding workplace violence and harassment vary across the country, but it is never tolerated. In Ontario for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Act will be changing in September to obligate employers to deal with any incidents of harassment and to utilize thorough investigation and reporting procedures (more on that to come)
2) It is not permissible to punish employees for asserting their legal rights at work. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 states specifically that an employer shall not "intimidate, dismiss or otherwise penalize an employee or threaten to do so" for the employee asking the employer to comply with the Act, filing a complaint under the Act, or even making an inquiry about their legal rights. Alberta's Employment Standards Code, 2000 has a similar provision prohibiting an employer from terminating, restricting, or discriminating the employment of anyone who has made a complaint under the law or who requests or demands entitlements. In other words, the fact that Alberta's economy is struggling does not preclude workers covered under the legislation from getting their legal entitlements, nor from asking about them.
3) Legal issues aside, postings like these in the workplace are an example of poor employee management. It must be noted that this was a posting made by an individual, and was not sanctioned by the employer. However, any attempts to bully or belittle employees are not just illegal, but they lessen employee morale. Over time, employees who feel worthless and undervalued will undoubtedly result in decreased productivity and higher turnover - a surefire recipe for disaster in any organization. A struggling economy is the time to keep a workforce together and unified, not turn them against the employer or each other. As the old adage goes, you win more flies with honey...
Again, this is a single incident that likely does not reflect the employer or its values. But the author's example of poor employee management, and the public backlash the company incurred as a result, sheds light on some key workplace issues.
The bottom line - try to keep workplace postings positive and supportive, and avoid any Mr. Burns-style plaques in the office.