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If you don’t have anything nice to say. . .

2014-10-10_04-48-10This blog is part of our Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice series offered this Fall.

You know the ending to this phrase already. It doesn’t bear repeating.

I’ve just returned from China.

I have coined a new phrase, for me anyway. Regarding China, “you have no idea”.

I was on the economy tour. We saw everything that you can in a compact time frame. The Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Water Cube, Tiannenmen Square, the Canals of Suzhou, and many factories. I now have a lifetime of treasures in jade, pearl, silk and cloisonne. I saw the skyscrapers of Shanghai. I ate really bad Westernized versions of Chinese food. I used primitive forms of toilets. I got a sore throat from the smog. Personally, I had a great time.

I didn’t take my normal devices with me on this trip. Perhaps there was a fear that the Chinese government would steal my passwords and take sensitive information, so I left my phone and my laptop at home. Even so, I couldn’t leave my human resources perspective in Toronto.

We all apply our experiences to new situations. It was no different for me in China.

It is a big country. There are a lot of people. There are few rules of the road. On the street you take your life in your own hands. You have no idea.

How do people find employment? How are they chosen for their professions? How much of a chance do the Chinese people have to move up in the world? How do they still make money in old-style manufacturing when the costs of the basics are so high. I asked both my guides these questions and didn’t really get straight answer. The terms “fortune” and “luck” were repeated regularly. You have no idea.

The construction industry fascinated me the most. After you read this blog, Google the ghost cities of China and you’ll get a glimpse of what I am writing about. See in China, you aren’t allowed to Google, or Facebook, or Twitter–so the average person there probably doesn’t know or realize how significant the development is. The smog masks the scale. Honestly, no words I type here are going to adequately describe the pace of development in China. Pick a high rise building design, and then replicate it 100 times in a 10 block area. Then pick another design and do the same thing. And so on, and so on. For miles and miles and miles. One guide said that the national bird of China is the Crane. You have no idea.

The wealth there is incredible. They have so much money and they don’t know what to do with it. Buildings of gold. A building that looks like a bottle opener. A train to the airport that goes 431 kms/hour. Oodles of BMWs and high end cars. In the places that the Chinese government wants you to visit, there are malls that sell nothing but Rolexes and high end jewelry. Communism at its finest. You have no idea.

Meanwhile there are still people living in the grittiest conditions imaginable. There are homes with no running water where the villagers use public toilets and showers. Some of these people actually invite you into their home for lunch. Their graciousness was memorable and a highlight, but as for the sights and smells you experience getting there, you have no idea.

I’m a North American girl. A farmer’s granddaughter. I have a heritage. I am educated. I’ve never gone hungry, or had to go without something that I needed. I haven’t suffered. I can vote, run a company, lead a revolution, complain, rant on my blog and travel when I choose. I can watch television without the screen going black whenever there is news of Hong Kong.  I don’t have to say only nice things. But for others in this world, well, you have no idea.


View From HR

This blog is part of our Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice series offered this Fall.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

 -Emily Bronte

Forget Christmas, for me Fall is the most exciting time of the year! For some it’s a time crack open school books and make new friends, for others a time to harvest, shore up for the Winter, light fires and cozy up indoors. Nature rolls out a tapestry of yellows and reds and days start to get shorter. The coffee shops roll out the pumpkin spice lattes, muffins and other treats, Halloween decorations start to creep up in early September and – my favourite – the shoe shops finally put the high-heeled boots out on display.

This year my attention is on a different type of boot though, the type with a steel-toe best accessorized with a hard hat. I started volunteering as a recruitment coordinator with Habitat for Humanity in the Spring. Habitat, for the uninitiated, is a world-renowned, US-based charitable organization with a very humble, basic purpose: to build decent, well-constructed homes for deserving families and provide a sense of dignity, humanity and community in the process. Not only are the homes built entirely out of donated materials and volunteer building crews, the families for whom they are built are also expected to put “sweat equity” into the build. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbours, strangers (not for long) all wield hammers, nails, power saws and screwdrivers alongside each other for months on end until a house takes shape and a dream slowly reaches fulfillment. Habitat also operates a number of outlets where donated building supplies and home décor are sold and that’s where I come in. The Milton ReStore opened to great fanfare and great mishap earlier this year when it was vandalized during its opening weekend. Still, as they say in Tinsel town, there’s no such thing as bad press and the stolen losses were quickly restocked with generous donations from the big box hardware stores.

Staffing issues at the store, like with most volunteer opportunities, is sporadic. Even for a small hamlet like Milton, it amazes me how people going about their weekend chores and shuttling the kiddies to karate class and altogether miss the giant blue, white and green signs on the former Canada Post office just off Main Street. So it was time to do something about that and a plan was hatched to hold a recruitment event to draw the throngs from the Saturday farmer’s market towards the store. Most people park right in front of the store before wandering off to haul in farm fresh goodies, so why not lure them towards the store with a table full of chocolates and a warm smile? We even found a nice Miltonian to donate a big bunch of blue, green and white balloons!

I’ve worked in corporate recruiting before and the ABC sales mantra “Always Be Closing” was always an undercurrent flowing through every gesture and thought and utterance to clients and candidates. On this sunny Saturday morning, however, I felt relaxed, confident, ready with my forms and 30 second sell for Habitat and the store. In turn, I must have inspired confidence in those I met because over the space of a couple of hours, my colleague and I met with several enthusiastic locals who signed up for shifts at the store and made mental notes to donate their household fixtures and furniture in the future instead of leaving them out on a curb.

We plied them with chocolates and brochures and, after we packed up shop, headed down to the neighbourhood coffee joint for celebratory lattes. The featured drink was a White Chocolate Pumpkin Mocha, cinnamon sticks pictured not included. The larger than life glass cup, brimming with delicious Fall goodness, looked like a warm, inviting, giant foamy mocha bath. I wanted to wrap the banner around my shoulders like an afghan but the barista was eyeing me silently and politely waiting for my order.

White Chocolate, Pumpkin, and Mocha – that enigmatic subtle blend of chocolate and coffee – are all pretty unique and powerful on their own. Yet someone thought to combine them into a sweet, satisfying and spicy super drink which is warm, potent and satisfying. As I stood in line I looked around the crowded little coffee shop and thought about the teamwork of flavour and the combination of caffeine and sugar increasing the productivity of the organization, or rather the organism (me).

I took in the satisfied customers milling about, the cash flow from paying customers to staff, the little microcosm of commerce and industry. I savoured the flavours of chocolate and pumpkin spice in my mind and let them wash over me like the warm colours of Fall outside. The diversity of the ingredients in the cup emerged as a metaphor for the young and elderly clientele who filled the little coffee shop as well as the Habitat store down the street and the committee of volunteers I worked with.

Here was a diverse and unique bunch of mostly women, all highly skilled and accomplished professionals with a wide network of resources who were lending their time and expertise to recruit skilled merchandisers and crew leaders for building homes little town I now choose to call home. I was heady with delight at all the little connections and how it made up the thread of our society and humanity. Strength and goodness meeting their counterparts, working for a greater good: it warms me on the inside.

About Judith:

I’m an emerging HR professional whose day job is in Finance at a downtown Toronto law firm.  I guest-blog about my dogs and food.  I enjoy creative writing and meeting new people and can be reached at


A Quick Guide to the End of the Year

This blog is part of our Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice series offered this Fall.

With summer over, you may start to notice the office getting a bit more quiet. You may have been thinking you have lots of time before the end of the year, but you’ll find as the days get shorter, time flies by, and before you know it, the year will be up. And if your office is anything like mine, that means lots to do before the holidays.

But if you want to be on top of your year end, there’s a few things you can do to make sure the holiday season goes smoothly.

Make sure everyone has their vacation time booked well in advance. Many employees may want to take some extra time around the holidays, so make sure you have enough people to staff your office. Some offices actually close between Christmas and New Year’s, and that may be worth considering depending on your business.

Create a list of what needs to be done before January 1, and make sure you get a head start. Look back at your old emails, if you have them, to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Get your Christmas shopping done early! Go through and plan out any gifts you may want to send to clients, vendors or your employees. Our office often sends out cookie baskets and we recently got a call from the baker, asking if we would want to try and book early, and it struck me as a great idea. Booking these things early will make it easier for everyone.

Don’t forget that there’s a long break between holidays after Thanksgiving. Make sure you’re giving your employees something to celebrate, whether it’s letting them out early on a Friday, bringing in some baked treats, or just making sure they take their vacation days. Employee burnout can be a very real concern, so make sure your employees know their work and dedication is appreciated.

A pre-holiday lunch out can also be a great way to give back to your employees and to build a great team environment by encouraging them to socialize and talk about their lives outside the workplace. But be sure you book early. Many restaurants will be overloaded with these sort of outings. There’s nothing wrong with having it a good bit before the holidays, either.

No matter what you do, the holiday season and the end of the year is coming up, and will be here sooner than you think! A bit of planning and perhaps some time and money spent can ensure your workplace keeps humming along with happy and healthy employees.

Tom Hadley, or @tomfromhr, is a long time blogger and technology aficionado. When not working in downtown Toronto at a small law firm he can be found out in Oakville, likely walking an adorable dog or relaxing with whatever the newest nerdy Sci-Fi show is.