Why You Need to Modernize Your Performance Reviews

Why You Need to Modernize Your Performance Reviews

We see a lot of raised eyebrows when we speak about a modern approach to performance reviews. Historically, performance reviews are dreaded by both managers and employees. The anticipation of sitting down for an annual meeting is stressful and awkward, and when the conversations do finally take place they’re not as beneficial for either party as they could be.

The truth is that there is a better way to do performance reviews. 

At Castle we’ve created a modern approach to performance reviews that are beneficial for employers and helpful for employees as well. This does present something of a shift in thinking for employers; many came up as employees in workplaces that did things the old fashioned way. We recommend that as employers you cast aside that once-a-year port mortem mentality, stop focusing so much on salary, and really make sure that your employees are motivated and growing professionally. 

We get a lot of questions about how to handle performance reviews, and we wanted to share a few tips that highlight the benefit of modernizing your approach.

What is the goal of a performance review?

The ultimate goal of a performance review is to make sure that you have the right people in the right seats at your company. The old approach to performance reviews is a missed opportunity here. Instead of trying to rank employees by whatever metrics, we are better served making sure people have the skills to succeed in their role.

As workplace expert Jim Collins talks about in Good To Great, use performance reviews as an opportunity to make sure that you have “the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats.” A performance review is your best method for quality assurance when it comes to your employees. You’ll be able to ensure that your employees are performing exactly as you expect, and if there are any issues you can address them quickly before they escalate. 

Remember, when it’s your workplace you’re the one driving the bus. Not only do reviews make sure that everyone is sitting in the right seat, but you’ll be able to quickly recognize who needs to change seats, and who is ready for more responsibility. This level of familiarity with your team makes it easier to promote from within, which in turn can save both time and money instead of recruiting externally.

How often should we do performance reviews?

The old method is to do performance reviews annually, usually at the end of the calendar or fiscal year. Employees spend the weeks leading up to the review on their best behaviour, creating a recency bias that’s very real. Employers and managers running teams are also forced to try and remember what happened with each report for a full year – and that’s hard!

The modern approach is to run quarterly reviews. This frequency takes a lot of the pressure off of the meeting, and allows it to flow more like an ongoing conversation. We have found that this gives employers a greater degree of control in the process, too. Not only are they working with employees when they’re more relaxed, but they’re able to assess performance in real time instead of forgetting about incidents that have long passed – or waiting up to a year to address them. 

Quarterly reviews are beneficial when it comes to setting goals, too, by enabling shorter-term, practical goals alongside larger ones. Tracking and measuring progress is much more motivating this way. The continuous feedback keeps employees more engaged, and excited about their development.

Should performance reviews be tied to pay?

This question comes up all the time, because a direct link from review to compensation is very much the typical flow. Employees have been trained to enter the conversation as though they’re visiting a mall Santa: present a list of their good deeds and accomplishments over the past year, and then ask for the salary increase that they believe they deserve. This may have worked at a time when employees stayed with the same company for decades and salary increases were the greatest badge of honour for a job well done.

That is no longer the case. 

Employees are much more mobile across both companies and roles these days, so keeping the right people loyal to your team is going to require a new tactic. Regular performance reviews can become a dynamic conversation about growth, which is something modern employees value as a token of success. 

Salary increases are important, and of course there is still a place for them. Tying them instead to long-term growth and development changes the game: consistent hard work plus the drive to improve and learn leads to rewards. It’s not enough to just be great in Q4, hoping that’s all your manager remembers.

“Employees will recognize that performance reviews stop being an adversarial process and start being a conversation with a manager that’s invested in their success.” 

Can performance reviews increase employee retention?

Absolutely! One of the biggest problems with the old approach is that they effectively became an exercise in ranking employees. Once reviews were completed you could list your employees from best to worst by a numerical score, which doesn’t contribute to employee development and is not a useful way to look at human beings. If an employee feels like they’re just a line item on some ranking sheet, how likely are they to stay, knowing that everything they do is reduced to one number?

Employee retention is a huge problem in any sized company. We recently assisted with a benchmark study in the MaRS Discovery District, which showed that the average number of leaders who were promoted from within is roughly 20%, or 1 in 5 – and this was true for both larger and small companies. That’s really low! Imagine how a higher internal promotion rate could improve loyalty and morale, not to mention preserve your company culture and internal operating knowledge.

Modern performance reviews – done quarterly – show you who is really on your bus. You will gain a fuller understanding of your employee’s hopes and ambitions, and can spot opportunities for advancement far earlier. Not only is there a cost and time savings to promoting from within, but employees knowing that such opportunities exist motivates them to stick around for the long haul.  


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Client Testimonial - Crowdlinker

“Thanks to Marylisa and Alec, we now have a performance review system that creates a motivating and highly personalized experience that touches the lives of our people.”

COURTNEY ZORIO, COO CROWDLINKER

How do we run quarterly review conversations?

When employees are surveyed and asked about the best qualities in a manager, the universal answer every time is when employees believe that a manager truly cares about them and their success. Financial rewards are nice to a point, but there is no substitute for having a manager that is ultimately rooting for your success and offering whatever support they can along the way.

While old school reviews are top-down, modern performance reviews allow you to turn them into a conversation. Show employees you care by speaking openly about what is working, and what opportunities exist to improve – whether that’s for this role, or the next one. Ask them where they would like to go next, and discuss how you can help them get there. Our approach is to make the conversation centered on the person, not about a score or a number. Employees will recognize that performance reviews stop being an adversarial process and start being a conversation with a manager that’s invested in their success. 

It’s no secret that at Castle HR we see performance reviews differently. Our approach has helped our clients reinvent the way that they engage with their employees, and has ultimately led to greater retention and greater team development.

Our outsourced HR professionals work closely with our clients to help them change their performance review system top-down. Our approach is a unique one, and we will work with you step by step to implement it into your organization. Schedule a time below to set up a consultation and learn more about how we can help you do things differently.


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Client Testimonials - Castle HR

“My favourite part of working with Castle HR is that they systematically and methodically work through the various elements of one’s operation, from values to performance reviews to onboarding, and their talented team guides you to building processes and content that make a big impact.”

ROB CARMICHAEL, CEO CAMPBRAIN


Learn how we’re helping companies attract superstar talent, increase productivity, and score a ridiculous retention rate.

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4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

Make no mistake – your employees are talking. They’re speaking with each other after hours, behind closed doors, on private message threads, and during weekend hangouts. They’re sharing with each other their individual perspective on some things your business is doing right, and everything that they think your business is doing wrong.

As an employer, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they’re saying? You want to know what’s working, and what could be better. Unhappy employees means lost productivity and spikes in turnover costs. But unless you provide a channel for honest communication direct to your leadership team, they’ll probably just keep talking to each other.

Enter the survey. It’s not a revolutionary tool, but when you do these 4 steps you’ll get great results.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Photo by Jopwell on Pexels.com
  1. Understand the Why, the When, and the How

Why: Think of a workplace survey like a doctor’s check-up for your team. While you may not think of going to the doctor if you don’t feel that anything is wrong, you truly never know what is happening beneath the surface. Regular medical check-ups can catch the beginnings of serious problems and allow you to take action before a problem spirals out of control.

The same is true of employee surveys.

Employee surveys are where you can truly get a sense of your employees’ happiness and their level of satisfaction with the company. 

When: Numerous large organizations with thousands of workers routinely run at least an annual survey, wherein employees are questioned about their level of job satisfaction and even their likelihood of recommending the workplace for other applicants. Smaller teams have even more flexibility, and can easily do routine surveys (twice a year, or even quarterly) to gauge employee satisfaction and measure the improvement over each interval. 

How: Employee surveys should always be conducted anonymously. Just as you feel comfortable discussing your private medical concerns with a doctor because you’re assured of their discretion, employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns about the workplace without fear of public exposure and humiliation. While some of the feedback may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s important that your team has a confidential outlet to voice their honest opinions. 

Employees can often be wary of surveys, and this is mainly for two reasons. The first is the concern about anonymity. Even if you promise confidentiality, there may still be some team members who will worry about being ‘discovered’ and penalized for providing honest feedback. The surprise for most employers is that negative – and even positive – feedback, does not always come from the places that you would expect. The employees who appear to be the most ‘happy-go-lucky’ may be the most comfortable expressing their frustrations anonymously, and the quietest employees may actually be the most satisfied.

“As an employer, the most important thing you can do with a survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative.”


white paper with note

2. Make an Action Plan and Communicate It

Some employees have given feedback before, only to see nothing come of it. They may have come from a workplace that routinely did a workplace engagement survey, but never actioned any of the concerns employees raised during the process. Without solid action that the team knows about, surveys will quickly lose their power. After all, how many times would you be willing to give your opinion when you know it won’t be counted?

As an employer, the most important thing that you can do with an employee survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative. Discuss the feedback received with senior leadership, and review what changes and improvements in process and facilities may be required. 

Then, share your plan with the team. This reinforces that they have been heard and that their voices count. It also creates a layer of accountability for leadership to complete the forecasted changes.

Employees will not expect everything to change overnight, and they will be far more receptive to the process when they can see the road ahead.

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3. Start Somewhere. (E.g. “Return to Office“)

If you like the idea of conducting a survey but are unsure where to start, try asking employees about their thoughts on returning to the office. We recently wrote about how to return to the office successfully and offered employers some helpful tips and tricks. Even if you’ve already begun sketching out your plans for a large-scale return, a short anonymous email survey can tell you honestly if your employees are excited, reluctant, or even hesitant about the idea. 

Create some multiple choice questions and short-answer ones, so you can gather quantifiable data and also let your team communicate on their terms. Multiple choice questions will show you some great data slices like what percentage of the time your team would feel comfortable returning to the office, and when. Short-answers will give people the chance to express their ideas more fully, including on topics you could not have predicted.

Data from this survey is instrumental for guiding your return to office strategy. If you envision a full return in the coming weeks and then learn that your employees are still hesitant to be working indoors, you’re effectively setting your team up for an unhappy experience. Instead, make sure employees know that you are listening to their concerns and that you are making best efforts to build in flexibility while maintaining a safe and productive workplace – wherever that may be. 

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  1. Set – and stick to! – a Cadence for Surveys

With our clients, we always recommend running employee engagement surveys at least every 6 months. For us, they’re as helpful as a doctor taking your temperature or blood pressure. Quantifiable data points over time show us trends in progress and opportunities alike. 

The combination of a regular schedule and visible results empower employees to open up, and often they report emerging issues that can be addressed before they become something bigger.

This is the power of the survey.


Our team of fractional HR professionals routinely helps our clients run surveys effectively, and develop a strategy for how to implement the resulting feedback. As outsourced HR, our arm’s length approach allows us to really look inward, and help you assess what may need changing, and when those changes should be a priority. We love nothing more than seeing employee satisfaction scores climb year over year, since at the end of the day we’re only as happy as our clients, and they are only as happy as their team members. Contact us today to set up a consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

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How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

If you’re an owner or manager in your business, you may have been back to the office at least a few times (or even regularly) over the past 16 months. Some owners dropped in weekly just to check mail and water the plants. Others headed in more regularly to escape the distractions of working from home, or simply because they felt they needed to make use of the space they were committed to renting.

Most other team members though have likely been working from home since March of last year, and many have decidedly mixed feelings about going back to the office now that vaccination rates are high. Some employees have expressed concerns about health and safety, and how to handle unvaccinated coworkers. Others are dreading the idea of returning to a regular commute, and the rigors that come with an inflexible daytime schedule. 

Several of our clients have made the decision during the pandemic to permanently surrender their office space, and have transitioned to a permanently remote-work model. Others though are grappling with how to plan a safe and effective return to office strategy. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your difficult planning process a little bit smoother.

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Listen to your team’s concerns

Because return to office planning has been difficult to pin down due to the changing public guidelines, your team members are likely confused, scared, and generally on edge. The surest way to aggravate a difficult situation is to thrust the decision upon them without any consultation or input.

Instead, see if you can make the planning a collaborative process within your team. You may still dream of a full-scale return, but that will likely have to happen in slow increments in order to be successful. Survey your team members, have private conversations, and ask them directly what it would take to make them comfortable enough to return to the office. You may not be able to incorporate every idea put forth, but you’ll likely hear some excellent ones that will only serve to improve the working environment as you work your way back.

Also, one final tip on that note – don’t call it ‘return to work.’ Return to work is a legal term for those coming back from a layoff, and for any team members who were formally laid off then it would actually be a return to work. Most of your staff though have likely been working from home almost the entire pandemic while simultaneously juggling health and family responsibilities, so the phrase ‘return to work’ suggests that they’ve been on one long extended vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring suggestions outright will only harm office morale…”


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Implement those good suggestions

Listening to your team is helpful, but employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring those employee suggestions outright will only harm office morale, and lead to employees believing that their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.

Employees likely have good reasons for wanting to implement some sort of hybrid or flexible office/home model. While employers are required to accommodate employees who have significant child or elder care obligations with no other reasonable workaround, many employees have likely amended their living situations during the pandemic in order to better balance work and home life in general. Some have even taken advantage of the hot real estate market and moved further out of the city since they’ve begun working exclusively from home.

See how many of the suggestions are actually feasible to implement, even if they’re better suited for a later date. Your employees will be more inclined to stick with a company that they know is sticking with them.

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Focus on Health and Safety First

Even if all COVID-19 mandated protocols are suddenly lifted, it would be foolhardy to rush headfirst back into full occupancy. The initial mandated maximums will likely be at a 50% of office capacity, and even those should be heeded with caution.

Take the extra time to plan out your physical space. Make sure that employees can sufficiently distance from each other, and that contact is minimized unless necessary. Rules may be amended to allow employees to eat at their desks so that they are sufficiently distanced, or even recommend off site dining until conditions improve. Mask mandates should still be encouraged to avoid unnecessary transmission. Lastly, confirm with property management that the premises will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis to help allay employee’s fears.  

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Stay flexible!

 We all learned lessons over the past year and a half about workplace flexibility. Practically overnight we improvised home offices, shuffled our schedules, upended our social lives to move entirely virtually, and learned that nature has crazy ways of breaking our rigid plans.

That flexibility will be just as important in returning to an office. Scientists are already speaking about a likely fourth wave of infections this Fall, even though it’s predicted to be smaller and less catastrophic given our high vaccination rates. Even still, infections will continue, so flexibility means planning around the fact that employees may be off for several days because they or a relative have contracted the virus. Flexibility also means that provincial guidelines may change, and capacity regulations may increase or decrease accordingly. It is well worth having several plans in place in order to account for a variety of scenarios.

Lastly, when it comes to the vaccine, privacy is paramount.

Canada has benefitted from great adherence, but the reality is that not everyone will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some have religious objections, others are medically inadmissible, and others may be refusing for personal reasons. 

The law is still being ironed out when it comes to this specific vaccine, and it may take a few years still for cases to move through the legal system. Generally speaking though, employers should tread cautiously when it comes to implementing vaccine policies that would attempt to either mandate vaccines, or punish those who don’t receive them. Exceptions must always be made on human rights grounds, including disability and religious freedoms, but there are greater concerns as well. Courts have generally ruled in similar situations that such policies are only acceptable in safety-sensitive workplaces, and an office environment will likely not meet that threshold. 

Instead, keep doing what you’ve done so far – encourage employees to get vaccinated, and offer them ample opportunity to do so. If an employee is unable to receive the vaccine and concerned about working from an office, examine if working from home or some other protections may be reasonably available. Employers are required to accommodate employees on the grounds of disability and must do so discreetly, so consult with one of our team members if you need any guidance on making these arrangements.

Return to office planning isn’t an easy task, but we are here and ready to help. Our fractional HR team is available to serve as your HR professionals. We can offer guidance on how to best re-integrate your team into the office environment while focusing on keeping everyone safe and secure. Remember, in-person collaboration may be beneficial to your company, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of health, safety, or team morale. Contact us today to set up a consultation.


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Why you Need to Hire for Values Over Skills

Why you Need to Hire for Values Over Skills

If your business has ever done sales then you’ve done the work of defining your ideal client. When your salespeople can picture their dream customer, fewer such opportunities will slip through the cracks. Whether your ideal client is the perfect buyer for your product or someone who could really use your services, they are very likely to be someone who will recommend you to others. 

Have you tried applying this same approach to your hiring process?

You may have a very clear sense of when you’re speaking with an ideal client, but what about your ideal job candidate? 

The job market uses broad terms like ‘culture fit,’ but what the heck does that even mean? 

Outside of checking the traditional boxes available on a resume, how do you know when you’ve found the right person?

Believe it or not there IS a right type of candidate, and identifying them goes way beyond how they present ‘on paper’. 

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Aligning Values

Do you remember the days when you were applying for jobs? Aside from asking about your experience, you were probably hit with predictable scenario questions about your past experiences in difficult situations or asking how you might handle a hypothetical. Either way, the question required you to think on your feet and formulate an answer using your intuition as a guide.

That’s because the interviewer wasn’t invested in the outcome of the situation in your example. They were interested in your behaviours and outlooks because those things are great indicators of your values. No surprise, a candidate whose values align with the company at which they are interviewing has a higher chance of success – both in interviewing and in the role itself.

For example, if honesty is a top priority in your organization then you’re going to search for candidates that can demonstrate that they value honesty in everything that they do. At Castle HR, we look for candidates who have Grit (read as: Hustle & Heart), so we know they will give their best effort and care about the results. We ask questions that reveal “gritty” qualities and elicit stories that demonstrate working towards success. That’s a great indicator that they align with our values, and will succeed in our environment.

Apple specifically seeks out happy, calm, easygoing personalities to work in their stores. Expert knowledge about technology is less important because it can be learned.

Predicting Success

Many of us have not been into an Apple store for a while, but we know what the experience of the store is like. But what about the people working there? Have you ever noticed that even though the store is always full of customers, the employees seem cheerful and unfazed? No matter how frenzied the activity around them, Apple employees are famous for maintaining this happy sense of calm and staying upbeat.


man passing an apple store

Amazingly, this isn’t because Apple employees are all technological wizards that gain comfort from having all the answers always, or that they love standing on their feet all day answering the same questions over and over again. Apple employees are happy working at Apple Stores in large part because Apple hires the type of people who would be happy being just about anywhere. 

Apple specifically seeks out happy, calm, easygoing personalities to work in their stores. Expert knowledge about technology is less important when considering a candidate because it can be learned – and of course they’ve developed processes to download that information. Rather, it’s the soft skills and personality traits that are harder to learn and say much more about a person’s values. Speaking broadly, those easy-going employees at Apple value positivity and kindness, and you see that in how they interact with customers. 

We see parallels in the legal world, too. In some areas of law that focus on litigation, lawyers and hiring managers look for students and junior lawyers who are bold, passionate, and strong-minded. The reasoning is the same: they can teach a young lawyer the fine details of the law, but the passion that it takes to get on one’s feet in court and advocate for a client can be daunting, and is harder to learn because parts of wanting to be that advocate come from your values.

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Know Your Subcultures   

A candidate who does not align well with your company’s values is unlikely to be a great fit on any of your teams. That should be pretty obvious. But looking at this in the opposite direction presents an interesting distinction: 

Your company has core values, but each team can have its own sub-set of values too. And just because someone matches with the core values does not predict that they will be a good fit for the subculture of any given team.

Imagine a respected company, with a team of successful salespeople that has a reputation for being a bit abrasive. On this team, the ability to push people’s buttons is important. The kind of drive for success it takes to treat people this way is a value of the sales team subculture. But you wouldn’t want someone like that on a team that highly values empathy. Imagine them taking customer support calls! Yet both teams and their very different subcultures must coexist within this organization.

For another example, consider a team of developers compared to a marketing team. The former might value adherence to rigid industry standards and best practices, while the latter could prioritize exploration and unorthodox approaches to new problems. 

It’s easy to see how hiring for alignment with your company values and for the subculture of the role’s team are both important.

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The Takeaway

Values are the pieces that you cannot instill in the venue of new hire training. They come from within, and are very difficult to change. If a person’s values do not align with your organization’s, they are probably not the right fit no matter how strong their technical skills.

Know the values that your organization prizes and behaviours that demonstrate them. You’ll need to figure out what interview questions will uncover whether a candidate shares those values.

Later on this month we’ll be taking a closer look at interviewing, and how to assess if that promising-on-paper candidate really is the right fit for your company, and for the team they would join. In the meantime, we are available to assist you at any time with your HR needs. Our fractional HR setup means that we do not need to be onsite to be able to lend a helping hand. Contact us today to learn more about our services.


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When did you REALLY last check in with your team?

When did you REALLY last check in with your team?

This time last year, all eyes and ears in HR were focused on employee mental health. We were in the midst of a difficult pandemic with no clear end in sight. Employees in all industries were thrust into work-from-home (“WFH”) scenarios with little advance warning, and into setups that simply were not conducive to a functioning home office environment. Worse still, school closures and virtual schooling meant most working parents were left doing double duty, suddenly forced to teach grade school curriculum as well as maintaining their standard job duties.

Employers were broadly understanding and sympathetic. While government subsidies helped businesses to keep paying rent on the physical premises that were now suddenly vacant, employers made great strides in accommodating employees. Allowances were made for flexible hours to allow for midday parenting and household necessities without any penalties for interrupted workflow. Managers would smile politely if a toddler or pet wandered into a videoconference, understanding full well that their employee was likely pulling double or triple duty. Most importantly, employers recognized that their employees’ mental health was perilous due to the multiple stressors they now faced, and employers had no hesitation checking in and offering to help.

Fast forward one year later.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

While an end may now be in sight, the pandemic is still not over. Working parents have dealt with another year of on and off school closures, with working while teaching now becoming the new normal. Employees everywhere are suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue,’ physically exhausted from having to appear bright and chipper on video conferences day after day to maintain the appearance of good health. They have been burdened by the stress of worrying about variants, procuring vaccines, caring for relatives, and attempting to slowly navigate what a post pandemic world might look like.

So when was the last time that you really checked in with your employees, and asked about how they are coping with the pandemic after 15 grueling months?

While external stressors such as the now-known ‘pandemic fatigue’ may be outside of managerial control, employers and managers are still responsible for how it impacts their employees’ health.

It’s in your best interests to do so. Companies that have a more engaged workforce are likely to be 78% more profitable, 40% more productive, and even have a higher valuation than their competitors who are not making those same efforts. It is unquestionably more challenging to keep a workforce engaged when you are all physically separated and undergoing significant stress, but that is all the more reason to try. 

Despite the pandemic, maintaining employees’ overall health and wellbeing is still an employer’s responsibility. While external stressors such as the now-known ‘pandemic fatigue’ may be outside of managerial control, employers and managers are still responsible for how it impacts their employees’ health. 

Under the law, employers have a ‘duty to inquire’ if they suspect that a mental health issue may be impacting performance. Taking automatic disciplinary action without stopping to question the situation first and if it may be related to disability (including mental health and addiction, all fall under protected human rights grounds) may have serious consequences. If an employer terminates a poorly performing employee who was later found to be suffering from a mental health issue, that employer could be on the hook for significant human rights damages depending on the circumstances. 

But the conversation about mental health doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. There are solutions available that can promote a positive and healthy work environment, and can address small issues before they become chronic problems in your workplace.


woman holding a magnifying glass

First: Open your eyes

Recognize the signs of burnout in your employees, and learn to catch the warning signs before burnout becomes chronic and habitual. Encourage your employees setting boundaries, especially in precarious WFH setups that offer little physical separation between a makeshift home office and a larger home life. Remember, not every employee will have the physical space to work in a separate room from where they cook/eat/relax/sleep. 

Make sure that your expectations of working hours are clear, and encourage employees to walk away and recharge during those non-working hours. If you do start to notice unhealthy habits or patterns in your employees’ work hours or work spaces, make sure that you speak with them to figure out a solution. Addressing the problem early can help avoid serious negative impacts on mental health and productivity. 

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Second: Give a little bit

Remember that just because we are over a year into the pandemic, your employees’ home lives and personal needs may have changed over the last 15 months. Babies have been born and children have grown up who now have different care needs than they did last March, as have relatives who may be ill, or other personal circumstances that have arisen. While you can largely expect your employees to stay working during working hours, remember that employees are simultaneously juggling complex home needs throughout their work day. A bit of compassion and creative flexibility will likely encourage them to remain productive, and avoid employees burning out from unrealistic expectations. 

Have honest conversations with your employees, not just a cursory ‘are you okay,’ but ask them what you can do to improve their mental health. Take a look at your employee benefits package, and consider revising to make sure that it incorporates their suggestions. Increased days off or flex time, sponsored gym memberships, and benefits for counselling can all be helpful. Even a low-cost solution such as sponsored memberships to mental health apps such as Calm or Headspace can be helpful. 

black man explaining problem to female psychologist

Third: Promote good mental health

Make no mistake, this goes a step beyond simply opening up the dialogue. While you may not be a mental health professional, there are plenty of low-cost or no-cost resources available where you can direct all employees, so that they have the right tools when in need. Check in with employees regularly, and be genuine when you do. Ask them if they need more support to manage or balance their workload; the question alone may offer them a sense of relief knowing that they are supported. 

Take a hard look at your company culture. Are your values being respected, or do they need to be revamped to meet new accommodations? Do you promote and value the connections formed between coworkers? Is it a culture where expectations are made clear, and resources are promoted if anyone begins to feel burnout? If strained mental health is a common problem then a cultural shift may be in order. Remember that good mental health should be seen as a priority alongside any other in the business, and not just a waste of time or pleasant afterthought. Participation is key.   


At Castle HR we are passionate about workplace mental health because we’ve been there ourselves. We have worked in environments in the past that promoted high performance over wellness and balance, and we remember what it’s like when adequate supports are not in place. Our team of fractional HR professionals understand how much good workplace mental health can mean to a small organization, and we’re experienced in building and implementing solutions that help your team thrive. Contact us today to learn more about our services. 

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How to keep your team’s spirits high over the 2020 winter season

2020 has been like looking both ways before crossing the street, and then getting hit by an airplane!

We are now in the middle of the second wave of COVID-19, many of us feeling the effects of shut downs, and winter is coming.

We all know the next few months will be different; starting with no Halloween parties and questions about whether or not to Trick-or-Treat this year…

The holiday season is going to be different too. You might not be able to meet with loved ones over the holidays. I’m not even sure about my own plans, as my parents are in a high risk situation. It hurts me to think about not spending Christmas day with everyone in the kitchen cooking and laughing, trying to tune out my dad’s horrible singing, and then eating so much that we need a nap.

After the holidays, I usually start dreaming about being on a beach. I’m drinking a colourful beverage and smelling jerk chicken in the air (yes, my dream beach is in Jamaica!). Sadly, this year it doesn’t look like I’ll be living that dream. 

Inability (or the inadvisability!) to travel is one of the big changes that we need to keep on our radar. Having a week or two circled on the calendar helps you get through the days when you’re shovelling a driveway or bundling up again to go outside.

Fortunately, there are ways that employers can help their teams still have some fun and human connection to lighten the mood over the next few months. Here are some ideas we’ve collected and that our clients have suggested (with a careful eye to avoid going too heavy on Zoom-based activities!):

We’d love to hear from you on what your team is up to and we will keep updating this document with your great ideas!

As we’ve been saying this whole time… we can get through this together!

We got this!

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Celebrations

Halloween Costume Party

You can still hold an annual Halloween Contest….this time with a virtual twist!

Imagine doing a company specific theme or small teams/department doing team costumes. Just have your team send in their Halloween costume photos or videos and hold a vote for the best in any number of categories: scariest, funniest, best use of technology, best pet costume, etc. 

Prizes are a great chance to get creative too. Anything goes, from the traditional gift cards and trophies to naming a Slack channel or choosing a costume category for next year…

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Holiday / Year End Party

Holding the annual holiday party will be a little different this year, as you likely won’t be able to celebrate all that you have accomplished as a team in person.

It is important for leaders to still make an effort to show appreciation to the team and here is one great idea that we’re loving:

The Great Gift Swap:

Granted, this one is done over Zoom, but so fun that the usual Zoom fatigue of meetings doesn’t really enter into it. 

Let’s say you have 20 employees. You buy 20 gifts of roughly equal value and label them 1-20. Each employee generates a random number from 1-20 and that is the order in which they will pick an item. 

One person will host this and have all the gifts there, or can have envelopes with the gifts to be purchased and shipped directly.

The first person chooses an item from the list, then the second person can either choose one of the remaining items or take the first person’s item. 

Going down the line, each person gets a turn to choose anew or take someone else’s item – repeating the order as many times as needed. The game ends (and everyone keeps what they have) when 1) each person has a gift and 2) someone chooses to keep rather than swap – locking in the choices for everyone.

It’s great fun!

Fun and Team Engagement

Here are a few ideas, apps and companies that can help bring some engagement and energy to your team.

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Recharge Your Batteries

Headspace – Meditation App

MasterClass – What would YOU want to learn?

The Great Courses – More amazing educational opportunities

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Shared Food Experiences

Wavy – Team building activities done virtually
(Think: Cooking classes or Trivia Nights)

Thriver – Team Meal Delivery and other experiences
(Great for Team Lunches)

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Focus on Fitness

Strava – Running Challenge 

Count.It – App for overall fitness challenges

Glo – Home Yoga 

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Shared Food Experiences

Wavy – Team building activities done virtually
(Think: Cooking classes or Trivia Nights)

Thriver – Team Meal Delivery and other experiences
(Great for Team Lunches)

How to keep your team’s spirits high on winter seasons

Other Ideas

Synervoz’s Switchboard – Watch a live sports games
or other events together with their app

Weekly Zoom-Free Days –
Choose a day where your entire team goes fully dark on Zoom.
No calls or meetings, so everyone can enjoy some focus time