Friday, July 18, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Putting Our Money Where Your Mouth Is

I typically don’t waste time responding to inflammatory remarks that serve little constructive purpose. However, last week’s column, The Role of Unions, earned us a comment that I think needs to be addressed:

another cup of whine with that sir? said...

oh, here we go again. Sooooo, if I understand you correctly, you know nothing about your own union and it must be because unions are irrelevant, too old, incompetent? It couldn't possibly [be] because you have taken no steps to education [sic] yourself or to find out how to get involved? Noooooooo, couldn't be that. Must be everyone else right? Your series of articles are proving to be nothing but alot [sic] of whining about how no one is doing anything for you.....what are you doing for yourself?

I could respond to the comments above in any number of ways but most would be, much like the comment itself, beside the point. Below are my responses to the charges I can make out in the reader’s comment above.

Charge # 1: I know nothing about my Union

My union card is in the top drawer of my desk. My union’s website is bookmarked on my browser. I am subscribed to their relevant mailing lists, although I wish they used an RSS feed. I know about the EC conversion process. I know that the union is still negotiating the salary scale of my group and that so far “all non-monetary issues have been resolved”. I know that the preceding statement is also apparently enough to satisfy the concerns of most people affected by the conversion despite its complete lack of detail.

In short I know where to find the information they provide. Moreover, I have actively brought the subject up in conversation with others and have directed them to the information and have encouraged them to get their union cards. However, I also know that I had to go and find the information myself and that the $35 a month I pay in dues does not contribute to a proactive communications strategy (i.e. outreach).

What I don’t know, and what I tried to identify in last week’s column, is what their role will be for the next generation of Public Servants. Recall my previous statement:

My uncertainty regarding the role of unions stems from the PS’s difficulty in facing modern pressures (e.g. use of technology, work flow, time sensitivities, etc), and the demographic and generational challenges it has yet to overcome.

Charge # 2: I’ve identified unions as irrelevant, too old and incompetent

I said nothing of the sort. I said that I think that unions appear to have identified the need to reaffirm their continued relevance, and offered an example from the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s website. I explained that I didn’t think that organized labour, in its current form, appealed to Gen Y:

[Gen Y] is extremely confident in its ability to be top performers, not to mention has significant pre-government experience in performance pay based employment, [so it] has no reason to be concerned with performance based pay… one of the biggest issues our generation has in the workplace is poor performers who maintain employment not because of their proficiency but despite it. In this example, a collective agreement can be seen as a hindrance to their own aspirations rather then a guarantor of certain (self evident) rights in the workplace.

Nowhere in the column do the words ‘irrelevant’, ‘too old’ or ‘incompetent’ even appear. Well I suppose that isn’t entirely true. I did use the word ‘irrelevant’ once when I said that, “providing employment for life (i.e. indeterminate status) and pay increases tied to tenure rather than performance effectively makes one’s performance largely irrelevant”.

Charge # 3: All I do is whine about how others are doing nothing

I concluded the column by offering two constructive (and non-mutually exclusive) options – Union-led or Gen Y-led renewal in hopes of providing a small kernel upon which we can build future conversations. Again, quoting myself:

[I]ntuitively I feel as though there is potential for unions to step into the gaps that Gen Y sees in their work environments (work-life balance, being challenged in the workplace, training and development, promoting the use of new technologies and social media, better information sharing, etc.) and champion those issues in order to gain their support.

Conversely, perhaps it is Gen Y who should take the lead here. Collectively they could bolster their involvement in union activities, infiltrate their leadership and tune their activities towards their own workplace issues. I have a sense that if unions can be used to advocate issues that resonate with younger generations of workers, then they are likely to be successful in attracting their support.

I fail to see how either option can be construed as ‘whining’. It is my honest opinion that there has been a lack of conversation on the role of unions in the renewal process both online and offline. I thought the column was an honest effort to mitigate that fact.

Charge # 4: What am I doing for myself?

Unfortunately, responding to all of the above has offered relatively little new content to the subject of renewal and so I have tried to keep my responses short, clear, and respectful. Thankfully, the forthcoming response to this last charge is something I have wanted to put out there for a while because sharing ways to get involved in the renewal process is important. Hopefully it encourages others to get involved, share how they are involved, or make suggestions on how to bolster some of my own activities. I have broken down my efforts as best I could into categories.

In general
  • Contribute to working papers on renewal as it relates to different functions of government
  • Participate in focus or working groups inside and outside my department
  • Stay connected to people involved in renewal projects
  • Provide informal feedback on renewal projects through informal networks
  • Provide advice and encouragement to new hires and always offer my card coupled with an invitation to contact me at any point to discuss any matters further
  • Take my work seriously and make a concerted effort to consistently deliver on my responsibilities on a daily basis
  • Effect my overall work culture in a positive manner by demonstrating enthusiasm and welcoming new challenges
As an executive member of my departmental youth organization
  • Help integrate new hires by providing information relevant to new hires
  • Solicit feedback from new hires on the on-boarding process via informal discussions
  • Draft recommendations to senior management on how to better integrate its new hires
  • Host Lunch and Learns in order to facilitate knowledge transfer to new hires
  • Host social events to help new hires network with each other and with more senior public servants
As an executive member of my departmental intranet steering committee
  • Advocate for the use of Web 2.0 technologies and social media
  • Make recommendations to senior management on how to proceed with revamping the intranet site
As an executive member of my departmental training and development committee
  • Advocate and design informal mentoring initiatives
  • Evaluate development programs for employees
  • Make recommendations to senior management on how to streamline PSR campaigns
As a founding member and contributor to CPSRENEWAL.CA
  • Started a website on the subject of public service renewal
  • Aggregate information relevant to renewal and post online for the benefit of others
  • Write weekly columns that aim to contribute to the renewal discourse

There are undoubtedly people who disagree with the opinions that we present in our columns, that much is expected. What we publish on the site should never be construed as bitching, moaning, or whining (BMW). Our aim is to provide information to those who are interested in it, and respond to the Clerk’s call to get involved in the larger renewal process.

I’ve just shared how I am involved in that process – What are your thoughts? What kind of things would you suggest? What routes have you taken? What routes are you still exploring? Which routes should I avoid?

While I’d like to hear from everyone on these questions, I’m particularly interested in what ‘another cup of whine’ might have to offer. Ironically the comment did precisely what it accused us of doing with our weekly columns – it expressed displeasure with the current state of affairs, yet offered nothing by way of pro-active solutions.

With that – we’d like to renew our call for your participation – good comments or bad, let us know how we’re doing. If you’d like to see a particular topic covered, or if you’d like to help write on a particular topic, we want to hear about it, and want to help develop your ideas if we can.

Finally, to those who have demonstrated your support and offered your constructive comments, we thank you. Keep it up.

[Update 1:55 pm - please follow through to the comments left on this post by Chamika and Etienne Laliberté. Again, we appreciate your contributions.]

Note that while we work as public servants this is entirely our own initiative and what we post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, our offices or our positions there in.

Notez bien que nous travaillons commes functionnaires, ceci est entièrement notre propre initiative et ce que nous publions sur ce site ne reflète pas nécessairement le point de vue du gouvernement, de nos organisations ou de nos postes.