Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Dealing with toxicity in the workplace can be detrimental to employee morale, productivity, and overall organizational success. 

 

For business leaders, addressing this issue requires a combination of empathy, clear communication, and proactive measures to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.

 

“Ultimately, it’s going to affect your bottom line because you’re going to spend a ton of money on recruiting talent because you’re going to have a revolving door,” says Carrie Thomas, a human resources expert and founder of Nimbus HR Solutions Group.

 

It's essential to identify the root causes of toxicity within the workplace. It can stem from various sources, such as authoritarian leadership styles, irresponsible behaviour of employees and managers, unrealistic performance expectations, lack of transparency, or a history of punitive actions. By understanding the underlying factors contributing to fear, leaders can develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

 

“You have to find a balance. How do you maintain your employees and give them some input on things?” says Carrie. “But that’s where trust comes from. Change comes from the speed of trust.”

 

Address issues promptly

 

However, finding that trust can be difficult when leaders are faced with challenging issues surrounding time theft and absenteeism, especially after many businesses introduced hybrid work schedules. Employers must address these issues promptly and effectively to maintain a healthy work environment and ensure the smooth functioning of their operations.

 

“You have to nip the bad behaviour in the bud,” says Carrie, noting that inaction can easily demoralize other employees. “You can put policies in place because if one person burns that bridge it’s going to make it crummy for everyone else and the leader will have to deal with it.”

 

To offset potential issues that can lead to a toxic environment, she recommends leaders take a closer examination of the work culture which may require immediate attention and says creating an employee engagement survey can be a good starting point.

 

“If employees chose not to answer, that immediately tells me you have a culture of fear in your workplace because they don’t want to speak up,” says Carrie, adding in this situation HR assistance may likely be required. “But you have to ensure the HR person can handle the situation in a confidential and professional manner that follows the rules on how you handle an investigation or a complaint because there are laws pertaining to no retaliation.”

 

As well, she also suggests leaders visit the work review site Glassdoor to get a sense of what may be taking place at their company.

 

Good mechanisms needed

 

“I remember saying at the beginning of COVID, the businesses that will come through this is because their success in retaining people will solely be based on how they treated their staff during the pandemic,” says Carrie. “So, there are a lot of employers right now saying they can’t find anyone. But if you weren’t kind to your employees then, nobody will want to work for you. I call it the ‘tainted talent pool’. If people see a job continuously posted, they’re not going to want to touch it.”

 

She notes the ‘new’ generation of employees in the field are not apt to remaining in a job if they deem the work environment as toxic.

 

“Sometimes they may try and discuss their issues once, or even twice, with an employer but if they see no change, then they’re gone,” says Carrie, adding addressing concerns is imperative for leaders.

 

As well, she says having good mechanisms in place such as weekly one on one meetings are good vehicles to diffuse potential issues before they start affecting the entire team, especially when others may see their co-workers not adhering to the rules.

 

“I always say leadership is a shared responsibility,” says Carrie, adding ‘skip level’ meetings with a higher level of management may also be required to solve some of these issues. “But this falls in line with an open-door policy and being honest and transparent.”

 

 

A few key issues business leaders may encounter when dealing with a toxic work environment:

 

Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Toxic work environments can lead to decreased morale and disengagement among employees. This can manifest as increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates, all of which can have a negative impact on the company's bottom line.

 

Negative Organizational Culture: Toxicity often stems from underlying cultural issues within the organization. Changing entrenched cultural norms and behaviors can be difficult and requires sustained effort from leadership to promote a more positive and inclusive culture.

 

Legal and Reputational Risks: Inappropriate behaviour such as harassment or discrimination can expose the company to legal liability and damage its reputation. Leaders must take swift and decisive action to address such issues and prevent them from escalating.

 

Loss of Talent: Talented employees may choose to leave the organization if they feel unsupported or mistreated in a toxic work environment. Losing key talent can disrupt business operations and hinder long-term growth and success.

 

Difficulty Attracting New Talent: A reputation for being a toxic workplace can make it challenging to attract top talent. Potential candidates may be wary of joining a company with a negative work environment, leading to difficulties in recruiting skilled individuals.

 

Impact on Leadership Credibility: Leaders who fail to address issues related to toxicity may lose credibility and trust among their employees. This can undermine their ability to lead effectively and diminish their influence within the organization.

 

Productivity Loss: Toxic work environments can impede productivity as employees may be preoccupied with workplace conflicts or feel demotivated to perform their best. This can result in missed deadlines, decreased quality of work, and ultimately, reduced profitability for the company.

 

Resistance to Change: Addressing toxicity often requires implementing changes to organizational policies, procedures, and cultural norms. Resistance to change from employees who are comfortable with the status quo can hinder efforts to create a healthier work environment.

 

 

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In the dynamic landscape of modern business, where competition is fierce and innovation is paramount, the role of effective leadership cannot be overstated. Among the many responsibilities of business leaders, one crucial aspect often stands out: conducting performance management reviews. These periodic evaluations of employee performance are not merely administrative tasks but essential components of a thriving organizational culture.

 

“People really need to have those conversations because quite often they’re operating in a vacuum,” says Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at HR2 Business Solutions, adding most people believe they are doing a good job and take pride in their work. "And in the absence of any feedback to the contrary, they go about their merry way with that. But you just can’t come around and surprise people afterwards if you haven’t had those conversation with them.”

 

Performance management reviews provide a structured mechanism for evaluating employee contributions and aligning them with organizational goals. By assessing individual performance against predefined objectives, leaders can gauge the effectiveness of their workforce in driving the company's mission forward.

 

This evaluation helps identify high performers who deserve recognition and rewards, as well as areas where improvement or additional support may be needed. Such insights enable leaders to make informed decisions regarding talent development, resource allocation, and strategic planning.

 

But how a manager or leader initiates the process should be done in a positive way, says Debra.

 

“When you say, ‘performance review’, sometimes I feel we can go down a negative road,” she says. “It has mixed messages for people, especially those who have had really bad experiences with those kinds of things. I prefer performance conversations.”

 

Setting clear expectations vital

 

Debra believes that employees want a clear understanding of how their performance is being viewed, especially when it may relate to compensation or promotions, and when they know that their work will be evaluated regularly and objectively, they are more likely to stay focused, motivated, and committed to achieving excellence.

 

By setting clear expectations and providing constructive feedback, leaders empower their teams to take ownership of their roles and strive for continuous improvement. This culture of accountability not only enhances individual performance but also cultivates a sense of trust and camaraderie among colleagues.

 

“Having those conversations is absolutely critical and managers and leaders need to get better at them because to be honest, many are not,” says Debra, adding some may lack the necessary training. “When you become a manager or move into a leadership role, it’s certainly not everyone’s forte to be very adept at having those difficult conversations.”

 

She says it’s easy to offer praise, but that performance conversations can be much more nuanced when it comes to outlining potential strengths and weaknesses. 

 

“At a minimum, the conversation should be about growth and where you want the role to grow and how do you help guide and mentor them, and what path they should be on,” says Debra. “A lot of times, the problem with people who don’t have performance conversations at all is that they don’t know what the expectations are, so there is a big gap or void, and they may not find out until it’s too late and a termination may be involved.”

 

Managers and leaders too busy

 

She recommends ongoing performance conversations can be far more effective and beneficial – especially for managers - rather than scheduling annual or even quarterly meetings.

 

“The No. 1 reason performance conversations are avoided is because managers and leaders are just too busy, especially if they take this on as a once-a-year project. Even half year or quarterly meetings can suddenly become a time management issue,” she says. “If you’re giving feedback on performance on a regular basis, where people are being guided and informed, it’s not a big scary thing. Even when there might be poor performance involved, you can accomplish it in ways where people are really receptive to it.”

 

Debra says a conversational approach can take a lot of the problematic parts out of the process for the leaders as well as the individuals, providing it’s done in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

 

“There should be some element of careful language and the potential for opportunities to help because sometimes you might have to provide feedback to someone who won’t have the skills set to make those changes unless you actually help put those things in place for them,” she says, adding there are tools available to help leaders who may not have the natural ability to have those difficult conversations. “I feel like conversations don’t happen as easily and as compassionately, or maybe as kind as they used to.”

 

 

Tips for business leaders to enhance their performance management practices:

 

Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define performance expectations for each role within the organization. This includes outlining key responsibilities, goals, and performance indicators. When expectations are transparent, employees understand what is expected of them, leading to better performance outcomes.

 

Regular Feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback to employees regarding their performance. Feedback should be specific, timely, and focused on both strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage open communication and dialogue to address any concerns and provide support for development.

 

Goal Setting: Collaboratively set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals with employees to align individual objectives with organizational goals. Regularly review progress towards these goals and adjust as necessary to ensure they remain relevant and achievable.

 

Performance Reviews: Conduct periodic performance reviews to assess employee progress, provide feedback, and identify development opportunities. Performance reviews should be conducted in a supportive and objective manner, focusing on accomplishments, challenges, and future goals.

 

Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees for their contributions and achievements. This can take the form of monetary incentives, promotions, or simply verbal recognition. Acknowledging employee efforts boosts morale and motivation, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

 

Training and Development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth to empower employees to reach their full potential. Development initiatives should be aligned with both individual and organizational goals.

 

Performance Improvement Plans: When performance falls below expectations, work collaboratively with employees to develop performance improvement plans. Clearly outline areas for improvement, set measurable goals, and provide support and resources to facilitate progress. Monitor performance closely and provide ongoing feedback and coaching throughout the improvement process.

 

Data-Driven Insights: Utilize data and analytics to gain insights into employee performance trends and patterns. Analyzing performance metrics can help identify areas of strength and weakness, inform decision-making, and drive continuous improvement efforts.

 

Employee Engagement: Foster a culture of employee engagement and empowerment by involving employees in decision-making processes, soliciting feedback, and recognizing their contributions. Engaged employees are more committed, motivated, and likely to perform at their best.

 

Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation: Regularly review and refine performance management strategies based on feedback, evolving business needs, and industry trends to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

 

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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

They are constantly under pressure to drive growth, manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure their organizations’ long-term success, which is something Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at H2R Business Solutions says has only been magnified in the recent years.

 

“Since the pandemic, some things have really changed. They changed during the pandemic and somewhat again since then,” she says, referring to a rise in negative conflicts which can lead to a toxic environment and even workplace investigations. 

 

“We’re seeing an unbelievable amount of those kinds of problems coming into play in organizations and have leaders coming to us because they’ve never had to deal with them before but are dealing with them much more often.”

 

She says employees have become more empowered with information, and that many are dealing with mental health issues and feeling ‘angry’.

 

“They may not be working with the same expectations in their jobs that they used to and for some people, there are more challenges as they deal with downsizing, and shifts,” says Debra, adding bigger workloads, and hybrid work situations could be adding to these stresses since they may no longer ‘align’ with what an employee wants.

 

As a result, she says many leaders are now seeing more employees who are willing to take employers to court, or a human rights tribunal, or filing a report with the Ministry of Labour.

 

“Leaders who may never really had many people issues to deal with are now finding they are faced with all kinds of these things just to keep the business going,” says Debra. 

 

She says the challenges can vary between the several generations of employees that are now in the workplace, noting there are still many benefits of having a multi-generational workforce despite potential issues.

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

“For a leader, becoming someone who has to manage all these things that come to play and the nuances and potential conflicts, plus the lack of time and resources, it’s very challenging,” says Debra. “When someone says being a leader can be a very isolating place, they are not wrong.”

 

She says leaders must first watch for warning signs and realize they don’t have all the answers.

 

As the demands of leadership continue to mount, it is vital for leaders to discover effective strategies to ease their burden and navigate their roles successfully, which Debra says can start with better communication.

 

“As a leader, you have to get comfortable with communicating. Employees want messaging and they want to hear it from the owner, CEO, or an executive,” she says, adding that a communication breakdown is often the key cause of any conflict, and that lack of management training could be the root cause. “When you do a job well and get promoted to management, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good people manager.”

 

As well, Debra says leaders can benefit from expert support from others who may have experienced the same issues they are facing, even those outside of a leader’s particular industry.

 

“I’m not a big fan of coaching for your own industry. You can receive a lot of benefits from working with a diverse support group,” she says. “Even if you feel like you’re an introvert CEO or leader, you might be really surprised how much that support is going to mean to you.”

 

And while some companies and industries are dealing with tight budgets, Debra says investing in training can pay off big time for a leader professionally and personally, as well as the organization.

 

“Those things are going to trickle down through an organization in powerful and impactful ways,” she says.

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, fearing that no one else can handle the responsibilities as well. However, effective delegation distributes the workload and fosters team development and growth.

By entrusting capable team members with tasks and responsibilities, leaders can free up valuable time and mental energy to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-priority matters. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but also about giving team members the opportunity to contribute and grow.

 

Building a support system

Establishing a support system of mentors, advisors, or fellow business leaders can provide valuable guidance and emotional support. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from those who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable.

Additionally, leaders should foster a culture of open communication within their organizations. Encouraging team members to share their thoughts and concerns can lead to more collaborative problem-solving and reduce the burden on the leader.

 

Embracing technology and automation

Automation can handle routine tasks, data analysis, and reporting, allowing leaders to focus on strategic initiatives. Investing in technology solutions that align with the organization’s goals and processes can significantly reduce the administrative burden on leaders. Moreover, data-driven insights can aid in making informed decisions and staying ahead of market trends.

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals and expectations is equally crucial. Unrealistic targets can lead to stress and burnout, as well as erode team morale. Leaders should work with their teams to establish realistic objectives and timelines. This approach fosters a sense of accomplishment and helps prevent the exhaustion that can result from chasing unattainable goals.

 

Continuous learning and development

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for effective leadership. Leaders should invest in their own growth by attending seminars, workshops, and courses relevant to their industry. Also, encouraging team members to pursue their own professional development can contribute to the organization’s success and ease the burden on leaders.

 

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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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The holiday season is not only a time for festive decorations and gift-giving but also an opportunity to foster camaraderie and build connections in the workplace and at industry functions. 

 

Work-related events during this time of the year provide a unique setting for networking, as colleagues and potential clients come together to celebrate the spirit of the season. These gatherings, which can take place right into the New Year, offer more than just a break from the daily grind — they create a platform for professionals to connect on a personal level, share experiences, and build lasting relationships.

 

“You’re there to start building relationships because people prefer to do business with others they know, like and trust,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.  “It’s not about being the salesperson, because you’re not selling a product or service, it’s about selling yourself and building a relationship to the point where people want to start doing business with you.”

 

One of the key benefits of networking during holiday season workplace events is the relaxed atmosphere. This informal setting allows professionals to get to know each other beyond their job titles and responsibilities. 

 

Additionally, holiday season work events often include activities that promote team building. From festive games to group activities, these events create opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. Working together in a different context can reveal new aspects of colleagues' personalities and skills, leading to a deeper understanding of each other's strengths and abilities.

 

Also, networking during holiday events provides a chance for professionals to express gratitude and appreciation. 

 

Embracing the festive spirit of the season, professionals can build meaningful relationships that extend beyond the workplace, creating a supportive and collaborative professional network that lasts throughout the year.

 

Here are some tips to make the most of business networking at this time of year:

 

Be Approachable:

If you want people to know you’re approachable, remember that body language is important so try not to cross your arms and legs, or use objects (drinks or plates of food) as potential barriers. Also, maintain positive eye contact and lean in slightly to let others know you are interested and engaged.

 

Stay Professional:

While the atmosphere may be festive, remember that you are still in a professional setting. Maintain a level of professionalism in your interactions, even in a more relaxed environment. How you greet people at these events can impact their perception of you. A warm and firm handshake, or a light touch on the arm or shoulder can create an instant bond. 

 

Prepare An Elevator Pitch:

Be ready to succinctly describe your business or professional background. A well-crafted elevator pitch can make a lasting impression during brief encounters.

 

Dress for Success:

Wear appropriate attire. Always remember this is a business event. Festive and stylish is great, but flashy or too revealing can be unprofessional.

 

Limit Your Smartphone Use:

If you can, leave your smartphone at home, or try to keep it out of sight. Constantly checking emails and texts while talking with fellow partygoers can send the wrong message.

 

Update Your Business Cards:

Ensure your business cards are up-to-date and bring plenty with you. The festive season can be a great time to exchange contact information.

 

Express Gratitude:

Send personalized holiday cards or emails to your professional contacts, expressing gratitude for the collaboration and partnership throughout the year. It's a thoughtful way to strengthen relationships.

 

Set Realistic Goals:

Set specific, achievable networking goals for each event. Whether it's connecting with a certain number of people or initiating conversations with key individuals, having a plan can make your networking efforts more focused.

 

Join Online Networking Events:

If in-person events are limited, consider participating in virtual networking events. Many organizations and platforms offer online gatherings where you can connect with professionals from the comfort of your home or office.

 

Utilize Social Media:

Share holiday greetings and updates on your professional social media profiles. Engage with your network online by commenting on their posts or sharing relevant content.

 

Follow Up:

After the event, follow up with new contacts promptly. Send a personalized message expressing your pleasure in meeting them and suggesting ways to stay in touch.

 

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Navigating the intricacies of entrepreneurship and professional growth in the business world can be a daunting journey filled with challenges, uncertainties, and a constant need for adaptability. 

 

In this ever-evolving business environment, the mentor-mentee relationship can be a powerful and crucial catalyst for success and personal development, which is why our Chamber Circles program has been created. 

 

The program – one for women and another for entrepreneurs - offers business leaders a platform to not only expand their network but explore potential partnerships with peers as they advance their own growth both professionally and personally. 

 

The Chamber has enlisted a group of talented business mentors for each ‘Circle’ which consists of between four and five people who will discuss pre-selected topics once a month.

 

“Chamber Circles is a great way for business leaders to not only tap into our mentors’ knowledge and professional connections but can lead to networking opportunities with their peers as well as give participants the chance to cultivate their own skills and strengths,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The monthly sessions will provide these business leaders with some added tools they need to enhance their businesses.”

 

He says the Chamber Circles for Women stream was created after the Chamber was approached by some female members requesting an opportunity to learn and collaborate with other women business leaders like themselves. The second stream, Chamber Circles for Entrepreneurs, is available to all business leaders.

 

“Having both streams provide a large cross-section of the business community the chance to thrive and succeed,” says Greg.

 

The program touches on a variety of topics, including bringing creativity into your work role, finding new ways to manage yourself and others, how to give and receive effective feedback, as well as a look at resiliency and the importance to continuously evolve. 

 

“These are topics we feel are very relevant to operating a business in today’s economic climate and will give these leaders an even better foundation,” says Greg.

 

Click here to learn more about joining Chamber Circles

 

A few reasons why joining Chamber Circles can assist your business:

Guidance Through Experience

By sharing their experiences, mentors provide invaluable insights that can help mentees avoid pitfalls and make informed decisions. 

 

Accelerated Learning Curve

Instead of relying solely on trial and error, mentees can leverage the wisdom of their mentors to gain a deeper understanding of industry intricacies, best practices, and strategies for success. 

 

Building a Network

Building a robust network is an invaluable asset, often leading to collaborations, partnerships, and a broader spectrum of career opportunities.

 

Confidence and Emotional Support

Having a mentor provides a reliable source of emotional support and encouragement. This emotional support fosters confidence, helping mentees navigate uncertainties with a positive mindset.

 

Encouraging Innovation

Mentors not only guide mentees within existing frameworks but also encourage innovative thinking. This dynamic approach to problem-solving is essential in an era where innovation is often the key differentiator between success and stagnation.

 

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The holiday shopping season has begun, and retailers are hoping for the best despite the fact consumer indicators have been painting a less than perfect picture of the weeks to come. In fact, according to Deloitte Canada’s 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook, Canadians are expected to spend at least $1,300 over the holidays representing an 11% drop from last year. 

 

But how these dire predictions will affect them in 2024 remains to be seen.

 

“I think in 2024 retailers will be facing an awful lot of pressure on inventory management and cashflows just because of the interest rate problems,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “I think retailers are going to have a real deal seeking consumer base who are going to want deals, and that again cuts into their margins and can play havoc with inventory turnover.”

 

He says like the past couple of years, effective retail management will be required noting that consumers, in general, don’t really pay attention to consumer indicators.

 

“We’re not very good a judging what is a good deal or what is good value,” says Brad, noting that many consumers are very susceptible to perceived ‘sales’. “We have this whole apparatus that is designed to stimulate impulse purchasing.”

 

To encourage more in-store shopping, which has been facing turmoil as anti-theft measures and store closures detract from the customer experience, retail experts insist consumers must be provided exclusive products and deals or fun, and experiences they can’t find online. 

 

However, Brad says the true definition of what that special ‘customer experience’ is can be hard to pinpoint.

 

“Experts can never seem to quite define what this is,” he jokes, adding a positive in-store environment with expediated delivery and payments, and return policies should play a role. “We used to just call it good customer service. But for most consumers, when you talk to them about what they think is a good experience it’s ‘Can I find stuff easy?’, ‘I want to be able to check in and out fast’, ‘I don’t want salespeople bugging me unless I need help’. It’s sort of fairly basic.”

 

He says customer mapping is also something to consider, noting that online searching can lead consumers to physical stores. Industry experts often refer to the omnichannel approach where consumers may start their search in one place and make their purchase in another and encourage retailers in 2024 to learn where their audience is discovering products and where they are buying them.

 

“There is still a huge social component of shopping in a mall, particularly with younger generations,” says Brad, noting that humans still crave that ‘tactile’ physical encounter. “You have a generation of young people who is always going to gravitate to that sense of immediate gratification.”

 

He says the key for retailers going forward is to remain flexible in their approach to conducting business.

 

“Something that worked before and got you where you are now does not mean it’s going to get you where you need to go next,” says Brad. “Things are just happening so fast in multiple directions, and you have to be open to rethink and revisit what you thought was truth before.”

 

 

Released this past fall, the 6th annual RCC X Leger Holiday Shopping Survey from Retail Council of Canada (RCC) unveils the evolving shopping patterns of more than 2,500 Canadians: 

 

A few findings:

 

  • Savvy Shopping in Spotlight: Economic apprehensions, including inflation and rising living costs, weigh on many. Accordingly, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%).
  • Retailer Selection: To help shoppers decide which retailers to buy from this year, Canadians are prioritizing holiday sales/promotions (66%) and free shipping (55%). They are also looking for in-store exclusives (48%) and distinct online promotions (60%) to provide additional value.
  • Shopping Experiences Enhancers: In-store shopping will benefit from value bundles (26%) and product sampling (25%). Conversely, online shopping will be amplified by unique product offers and extended return policies, both at 33%.
  • Lead Spending Categories: Clothing emerges as 2023’s frontrunner, constituting 17% of the holiday budget, followed closely by home entertainment and essentials like food and alcohol grabbing 16% of the planned spend. 
  • More Gift Cards:  45% of shoppers are leaning towards purchasing gift cards for others this season, with a notable 37% of Canadians (up from 32% last year) expressing a preference for receiving gift cards over traditional presents. Dining gift cards top the charts (42%), while big-box retailers come in at 33% and food outlets register at 27%.
  • Local Shopping Upswing: Supporting local businesses this holiday has seen an increase in intent, with 82% of Canadians accentuating its importance, a leap from 74% last year.

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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Effective leadership communication is the cornerstone of any successful business or organization.

 

A leader's ability to convey their vision, build trust, and inspire others can determine the difference between an average outcome and an extraordinary one.

 

But to arrive at that point requires the ability to be a good listener.

 

“There’s a lot of people that listen but they don’t hear,” says career consultant and corporate soft skills trainer Murray Comber of Life Concepts. “You cannot be a good communicator unless you are a good listener. It’s all about understanding yourself and understanding others.”

 

Since 2001 he has trained more than 8,000 people, noting that many in the workplace don’t realize becoming a better communicator is a very learnable skill.

 

“It’s all about the pattern of human dynamics,” says Murray, adding that boards of education or even in families, do not teach people how they are hard wired. “I teach my clients that. I always say to them you need to know who you are, and you need to know who you are not.”

 

He says at least 71% of companies that fail do so because the leader didn’t understand who they were and who their employees were.


“Good communication is based on a relationship. You don’t communicate with people you don’t relate with,” says Murray, who regularly uses personality and temperament studies to determine a course of action for his clients. “Unless you know how to relate to a person, it’s going nowhere.”

 

He admits this type of soft skills training is often considered ‘fluff’ and is usually one of the first things cut from the budget or put on the backburner when economic times get tough.

 

“The truth is when things are going south, that’s when they should be put on the front-burner,” says Murray. “Training shouldn’t be seen as an expense but as an investment.”

 

In terms of advice for business leaders looking to take their first step at becoming better communicators, he says there must be a willingness to learn and connect with employees not just as a manager with subordinates. 

 

“What I’ve learned is that there is more emphasis put on product knowledge than there is people’s knowledge,” says Murray. “When you respond to what you’ve heard and have listened, you build trust with your employees and good communication is built on trust.”

 

 

To lead effectively, one must be a skilled communicator who can inspire, guide, and unite a team. A few things to consider:

 

  • Active Listening: Leaders must pay close attention to what others are saying, not just with their ears, but also with their eyes and heart. By showing genuine interest and empathy, leaders can better understand their team's needs and concerns, creating a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Clarity and Conciseness: Leaders must articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Avoiding jargon and complex language ensures that the message is easily understood by all team members. A clear message prevents confusion and promotes alignment with the leader's vision.
  • Empathy: Leaders who demonstrate empathy can connect on a deeper level with their team members, making them feel valued and understood. This skill helps resolve conflicts, build trust, and foster a positive work environment.
  • Adaptability: Effective leaders are versatile in their communication style. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation, a team meeting, or a public presentation, adaptability ensures that the message resonates with its intended audience.
  • Body Language: Leaders should be aware of their own body language and the signals they convey. Maintaining open and approachable body language encourages a sense of comfort and trust within the team.
  • Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Leaders need to provide feedback and constructive criticism in a manner that is supportive and motivating. Constructive feedback should focus on specific behaviors, offer solutions, and be delivered in a private and respectful setting.
  • Conflict Resolution: Leaders must be skilled in addressing and resolving conflicts, promoting a healthy and productive work environment. Effective communication is essential in facilitating conversations that lead to resolution and growth.
  • Storytelling: Leaders who can weave a narrative around their vision and goals are more likely to capture the hearts and minds of their team members. Storytelling is a powerful tool for making the message memorable and relatable.
  • Consistency: Leaders must align their words with their actions and decisions. When team members can rely on a leader's consistency, they feel secure and are more likely to follow their guidance.
  • Openness to Feedback: Leaders should be open to receiving feedback from their team members and actively seek it out. Constructive criticism can help leaders improve their communication and leadership skills.

 

By honing these skills, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment, foster strong relationships with their teams, and achieve success in their leadership roles.

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While running a business, it's easy to get caught up in the complexities of the day-to-day operations surrounding production, quality control, and supply chain management. 

 

However, one aspect that often takes a back seat but is equally crucial to success is customer service. Exceptional customer service is a critical component of operating a business and providing employees with the right training is essential to meet and exceed customer expectations.

 

“If people are not well trained, that’s going to have an impact,” says Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting. “There are a lot of opportunities for people to go through formal customer service training and we know that makes such a huge difference.”

 

Customer service is not just a necessary requirement but a strategic investment that can assist businesses – in all sectors – the opportunity to build lasting relationships, foster loyalty, and ultimately, drive long-term success.

 

Acknowledging clients

 

“You really want to drive home a customer service mentality in all your staff because every sale is important,” says Frank, adding giving employees the autonomy to make decisions benefits the customer experience. “It takes away the frustration for the consumer or client, so they don’t have to wait for a customer rep to go see a manager.”

 

As well, he says acknowledging a client or customer – perhaps with a thank you card or phone call - after the transaction has been completed can also go a long way to building professional relationships.

 

“The follow through is very important to show how you go above and beyond in your business,” says Frank, noting even having an employee answer the phone rather than an automated system can make a noticeable difference. “Ultimately, you want to surprise and delight your customer and offer them a little bit of the unexpected, especially in an era when so much customer service is you pick up the phone and wade through five different phone menus.”

 

Unique experience 

 

He says differentiation and creating a unique experience are important.


“It’s thinking about what the whole customer service process is like,” says Frank. “From the time that customer makes that first call, to the way the order is handled, and the acknowledgement sent, you need a consistent process, making sure clients or customers receive similar treatment from all employees.”

 

He says developing a customer service training program doesn’t have to centre on videos and that assigning a ‘mentor’ to assist new employees navigate the workplace can be a benefit.

 

“The other thing to think about as you bring new people onboard is to provide them with stories featuring examples of great customer service,” says Frank. “Sometimes, the best way to train someone is often through storytelling. People learn by examples.”

 

 

The Essentials of Customer Service Training

 

  1. Product Knowledge: Comprehensive product knowledge enables them to answer customer queries, provide valuable insights, and recommend suitable solutions.
  2. Effective Communication Skills: Clear and concise communication is a vital skill in good customer service. Training should focus on teaching employees how to communicate complex information in a way that customers can easily understand. 
  3. Problem-Solving Abilities: Employees need to be equipped with strong problem-solving skills to address customer issues efficiently. This includes not only finding solutions but also preventing similar problems from arising in the future.
  4. Time Management: Customer service training should include time management skills to ensure that customer needs are met promptly without compromising on quality.
  5. Emphasis on Quality: Employees must prioritize delivering quality service that reflects the company's commitment to excellence.
  6. Personalized Service: Training should emphasize the importance of understanding each customer's unique requirements and finding ways to meet them effectively.
  7. Crisis Management: Training should include scenarios to prepare employees for managing unexpected challenges.
  8. Continuous Improvement: Regular training and feedback loops are essential for continuous improvement.

 

 

Benefits of Effective Customer Service Training

 

  1. Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: Well-trained employees can address customer concerns with confidence, resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction. Happy customers are more likely to become loyal customers.
  2. Customer Retention: Satisfied customers are more likely to return for repeat business. This reduces the need for costly customer acquisition efforts.
  3. Positive Brand Image: Exceptional customer service contributes to a positive brand image. When customers receive excellent service, they're more likely to recommend your company to others.
  4. Competitive Advantage: In a crowded manufacturing industry, excellent customer service can be a unique selling point. It sets your business apart from competitors who may focus solely on the product.
  5. Increased Sales: Happy customers are more likely to make repeat purchases and buy additional products or services, resulting in increased sales and revenue.
  6. Reduced Costs: Effective customer service can lead to a reduction in customer complaints and returns, which can lower operating costs.
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