The Only Asset That Matters: Your People

In more than 20 years of covering the workplace as a journalist, there is one simple truth I’ve uncovered: If you don’t invest in your people, your business will suffer.

It may not die, it could appear entirely healthy to an outsider — but it will never reach its full potential and you’ll leave money on the table.

It’s a simple, somewhat obvious premise that often gets missed in critical C-suite conversations: Your employees are not only your most valuable asset, they are also the only true differentiator — and they’re the most volatile, to boot.

All that is why HR is such a difficult profession. It should also be called the hardest profession, but it’s also the most important. Years ago when I was at Thomson Reuters, I had the opportunity to interview Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric.

He was empathetic and passionate about investing in people, and the role of HR at an organization. Using a sports analogy, he asked a simple question — if you were running a baseball team, and wanted to win more games, who would you talk to? The CFO or the vice-president of HR?

At too many organizations, the answer is CFO. And that’s a shame. Because if you get your people practices right, magic will happen — engagement rises, productivity increases, turnover drops. Accountants can’t do that.

A 2016 article in Harvard Business Review outlined a study that looked at the correlation between employee engagement and stock price. In reviewing nearly three decades of data, it found “that firms with high employee satisfaction outperform their peers by 2.3 per cent to 3.8 per cent per year in long-run stock returns.”

Cumulatively, that’s 89 per cent to 184 per cent. (That thud you just heard was CFOs falling out of their chairs.)

It’s also why Annex Business Media recently launched Talent Canada (www.TalentCanada.ca). Talent Canada is a magazine, an online website, a newsletter and so much more with a simple mandate — to educate the C-suite about the bottom-line benefits of investing in people.

It echoes what HR professionals themselves have been preaching for decades. In the coming months and years, Talent Canada will be providing news, information, case studies and practical advice for managers on the most pressing issues — here’s a look at some of topics that are currently dominating our headlines.

Mental health in the workplace

The statistics are shocking. One in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year — in real numbers, that’s 500,000 workers unable to report every single week, according to data from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Morneau Shepell.

Anecdotally, we also know younger workers are more comfortable than their boomer counterparts to openly discuss issues — and to seek help.

Management is often frustrated by what they view as a “sudden crisis” in mental health. There is plenty of skepticism when an employee hands in a doctor’s note, without much detail, that simply states “Jeff needs to be off for the next two weeks due to stress.”

The issue is not going to go away. The stigma around mental health isn’t just fading — it’s gone. Progressive employers will invest in programs, including Mental Health First Aid, to mitigate the problem and root out behaviour (such as toxic managers) that can spike absenteeism due to this illness.

Sexual harassment

Like mental health, sexual harassment is not a new issue. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, workers are less tolerant of abusive behaviour and more inclined to speak up if something inappropriate happens.

That doesn’t mean you can draft a policy, sit on your hands and wait for complaints to roll in — content that you’ve done your due diligence. Employment lawyers will be quick to warn that courts take a dim view of passive behaviour on this front — a complaint isn’t required for liability to be triggered.

If you suspect anyone on your staff is harassing someone, you have a duty to act proactively. If you get a complaint, you absolutely must take it seriously and investigate fully. You have an obligation to create a safe working environment. If you don’t, you may not only find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit but you may also be fielding uncomfortable calls from the media.

Corporate social responsibility

On a more positive note, employers have a new tool they can use to attract, retain and engage employees — particularly young workers.

Employees want to work for a company that gives back, that contributes to a better community, a better environment and a better world. But corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs have to be more than just lip service or window dressing to have a true impact.

Staff are not shy about speaking up in praise or protest — even against the company that signs their paycheques. Companies have seen staff walkout to protest social issues, including sexual harassment, ammunition sales and climate change.

Nearly four in 10 (38 per cent) workers in the U.S. have spoken up, either in support or criticsm, of their employer’s actions, according to a 2019 survey of 1,000 employees.

A good strategy is for senior leadership, particularly the CEO, to champion a cause in an authentic way and set the tone for the business.

“Choose something that you and your organization can realistically stand for and stand behind,” said Greg Power, president and CEO of Weber Shandwick Canada, a global PR company in Toronto. “And if you can, link it to your business strategy.”

People are difficult, people are complicated and, frankly, downright annoying at times. But they are the heart and soul of your organization, and if you get the right people in the right jobs at the right time — magic will happen for both the business and the bottom line.


Todd Humber is an award-winning journalist and a group publisher at Annex Business Media in Toronto. He looks after 11 magazines, including Talent Canada. For more information, visit www.TalentCanada.ca. He can be reached at thumber@annexbusinessmedia.com