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Does a Kinder, Gentler Workplace Await? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

McGuinty's Election May Signal a Kinder, Gentler Workplace. Or Not.

(Please Note: This column was before he started breaking all his promises!)

Ever see the 'Planet of the Apes' remake? You know, with Marky Mark Wahlberg as the hero? I liked the part where Wahlberg's simian companion, Helena Carter as Ari, sighs resignedly 'The universe seems to reward cruelty with power.' Wahlberg responds splendidly with 'No. Not if we fight back.'

Of course, storming the barricades isn't only route to change. Just last week we peacefully voted in a new regime by electing McGuinty as Premier. Call it a yearning for decency, or maybe just fatigue from cynicism. Whatever prompted his victory, it's clear that we're tiring of dishonesty and callousness. Does this herald a trend that will spill over into the workplace?

Hopefully it will, especially if you've had your fill with corporate scandals and newsclips of senior executives being led in shackles to a country club prison. (No Chardonnay for me tonite, warden. It might stain the stripes on my garb.)

Which leads us back to McGuinty. Here's a guy who emerged victorious by being authentic and keeping it clean. In itself, this gives us a scintilla of hope. I like to think that we can take away some encouraging findings from this.

First, being yourself is not necessarily the kiss of death when you're seeking employment. This is especially true if you:

-have the right message for the right audience, and are prepared to stick to your guns -persevere in the face of pressure to lower your standards -are willing to learn from your earlier errors, and -communicate who you are consistently in all ways McGuinty's advertising strategist, Peter Byrne (he of the 'I am Canadian' fame), says that "This was a `let Dalton be Dalton' campaign.'" Byrne adds "I knew we had to take the high road. If we got down in the gutter with them, we'd be playing their game."

The second lesson is that niceness and sincerity are endemic to our nature. This was driven home recently when I addressed a group of senior executives who'd recently lost their jobs. The room was packed with V.P.'s and CEO's from major corporations. Know what these super achievers enjoyed most? Surprisingly to me, it was talking about the most selfless, positive things they'd ever done in the workplace. Problem was they often got walked over for simply doing the right thing, or for trying to be humane. As my 10 year old puts it precociously, 'what up with dat?'

Another learning here is that many of us really are craving more civility. There's a growing backlash to the North American shift toward social Darwinism. SES Canada Research Inc., a public opinion and marketing research firm, released results last week of a poll it conducted this summer. The upshot is that 'Canadians view patriotism and business as being the bedrock of America's strength, but do not align with the U.S. when it comes to respect for diversity, education, social programs and arts/culture,' according to Nik Nanos of SES.

Now is it just me, or are there signs of change appearing around us in all sorts of early ways? The media is one indicator. Two magazines have recently sprung up that deal with tough issues head on: 'Corporate Knights' looks at how employers can be socially responsible while churning out a profit, and 'Your Workplace' tackles the stickier points of being an employee in today's hyper-competitive marketplace.

On the legal front, the U.S. passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act last year, promoting more accurate corporate reporting and providing a measure of protection for whistleblowers. Inadvertently, it covers Canadians who work for multi-nationals (good thing, eh?)

Mind you, the real battle begins every weekday morning as we head off to work. Pardon my utopian visions (a little too much Thoreau in my literature courses), but wouldn't it be great if we could basically be who we are, do our best, get rewarded for merit and effort, yet still practice such fundamentals as fairness, kindness, unselfishness and patience?

It ain't gonna happen the way we're going now: stress-related costs have become the single fastest rising expense in the North American economy.

Granted, there may not be definitive, one-size-fits-all answers. But it does seem as if the right concerns are starting to get aired. Youthography, a Toronto-based marketing consultancy, posted results last week of its survey of 15 to 29 year olds. Not only did McGuinty score as the leader they trusted most, but "There is a sense of getting back to something more genuine. There's an earnestness there that's trying to get out," says Mike D'Abramo, an executive at Youthography.

Maybe there's truth to the old homily 'a child shall lead them' after all.

Something to think about the next time you're tempted to vilify your evil reptilian kitten-eating boss from another planet. As for me, I'll be scratching my pointy head and watching carefully. Not sure if McGuinty's tapped into a broader movement or if the alternatives were considered worse. In any event, we'll soon enough see if corporate Canada takes this as a wake up call or if we collectively roll over and hit the snooze button.

Author's Note: With regards to McGuinty's leadership: I'm not trying to create political debate here, but rather simply point out here's a guy who wowed us with his "gee wizz" honesty, which could have been the start of a wonderful trend--had he not systematically lied to our faces so boldly. I mean, if you can't trust a politician, who can you trust these days? ~wink~

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