April 26, 2010 § 12 Comments

On April 28th, we will observe a National Day of Mourning as established by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The purpose of the day is in “commemorating workers whose lives have been lost or injured in the workplace.”  The CCOHS estimates that from 1993-1998, 14,190 people lost their lives due to work related causes.  In my books, those 14,190 deaths that could have been prevented.

On August 10, 2005, a police officer came to my door.  I had just come home from a 4 week trek through Italy and Southern France two weeks earlier to celebrate the end of my degree from the University of Alberta.  I had begun my job search as soon as I was back in the country and had an interview scheduled that day in Edmonton with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  I never made the interview.

I was just about to step in the shower when the doorbell rang.  I grabbed my housecoat and headed upstairs.  On my doorstep was an RCMP officer.  The next couple of minutes happened as if they were in slow motion.  Every word, every detail is etched in my memory.

“Do you know a Wayne Jacob Peters that was born October 21, 1978?” the RCMP officer asked me.

I looked at him a bit suspiciously as I replied “Yes, I do.  He’s my brother.”

The RCMP officer looked at me and said “I’m sorry, your brother has been in an accident.”

That sentence hung in the air for a moment before settling on my ears.  A million thoughts and questions raced through my head in the ensuing seconds about what could have happened before I answered “Oh my God!  Is he okay?”

I expected to hear that he had been in a bad accident and that we should get to the hospital right away.  Something like “Your brother was hit by a drunk driver and is in critical condition”  was along the lines of what I was preparing myself to hear.

But life doesn’t ever bring us the news we expect.  The RCMP officer looked right into my questioning eyes.  I could see the answer then before he even said the words, but even a split second of warning wasn’t any preparation for what I heard next.

“No he isn’t.  I’m sorry, your brother didn’t make it.”

I can hear those words as though the officer were repeating them in front of me now, they’re still that clear.   I looked at the officer in disbelief and all I could muster was “Are you kidding me?”  Of course, the answer was no.  Wayne Jacob Peters of Millet, Alberta, born October 21, 1978, was found dead the previous evening 90 km north of Slave Lake around 11 pm.

The RCMP officer proceeded to ask if there was anyone he could call for me.  My mom was in BC, but I got a hold of my dad.  He happened to be in Millet.  I now stood on the other side of the news.  Having to repeat the devastating information I had received only minutes earlier to my father was worse than hearing it myself.  As soon as he drove up, he rushed out of his truck and hugged me so hard.  At 23, that’s a lot of emotion to take in in only a few minutes.

After that news and that hug, a part of me shut down for a very long time.  It’s been only in the last month or so that I’ve began to understand the shock and trauma my system was subjected to, and that six years later, I’m finally able to start processing it.

The Workers’ Compensation Board proceeded with an investigation.  Wayne was a chemical engineer working in cathodic protection.  He was checking on a pipeline in Northern Alberta.  On August 9, 2005, he was to meet his coworker back at the motel they were staying at by 7 pm.  When he didn’t show up and wouldn’t answer his cell phone, his coworker knew there was something out of the ordinary.  At 11 pm, Wayne was found dead by the rectifier he had been checking earlier.  He had been electrocuted.

After reading the report from the Worker’s Compensation Board, no one party was at fault.  There had been several factors at play with regards to the voltage going through the rectifier, and the fact that Wayne was performing tasks only intended to be performed by a certified electrician, which he most certainly was not.  Mostly what I got out of reading the report was that his death, this work site “accident” could have been prevented.

Wayne was 25.  He had a bright future as a chemical engineer.  And now he’s one of 14,190 Canadians that died for no particular reason.

I’ve struggled for years with the suddenness of his death.  I tried to tell myself that I was fine, people all over the world go through this too.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to be angry with the rest of the world, after all, there were still people much worse off than I.  But in doing so, I didn’t allow myself to find a way to come to terms with what had happened.  When I heard an ad on the radio for The National Day of Mourning on April 28th, I felt like now I could give it a reason, even if it’s just to put my own mind at ease.  He died so someone else wouldn’t have to.

I often forget just how little it takes to prevent an accident.  Turning off your phone while driving, inspecting your equipment to make sure it’s safe, not performing a task you’re not specifically trained to do even though you may have done it before.  And then something comes up to remind me of Wayne.  And paying attention resurfaces as a priority in every task I perform.

My brother died so you and I wouldn’t have to, at least not from something we could have prevented. So, on April 28th, I’ll be joining people from over 80 other countries around the world not only to remember the dead, but to help protect the living.  I hope you’ll join us too.


Motivating takes more than me.

December 7, 2009 § 12 Comments

I had a Eureka moment the other day during a training session. Now the point of attending workshops and taking courses is to learn new skills be exposed to new ideas. In this case, however, one of my fundamental thoughts about being a supervisor was challenged.

It had always been my thinking that I can and have motivated people.

It turns out, I have only paved the way.

Kris Robins, one of the facilitators of the Essential Skills for Supervisors Program through Northern Lakes College, told our Staying Positive – Rewarding and Energizing Employees class last Thursday that, as supervisors, we can only create the environment where people will be motivated, we don’t motivate people ourselves.

I have to agree when it is put that way. You can’t wave your magic wand and, presto, your employees will be motivated.

I suppose that is much like the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

On the other hand, Kris noted, we can de-motivate people with a single action or word.

The class was asked to cite examples of what motivates and de-motivates us.

Motivating situations include the opportunity to make a difference, having varied and challenging assignments, a sense of pride in the organization, decisive leadership, the opportunity to learn, and the ability to reach new levels of achievement.

De-motivators cited include negativity, no flexibility, minimal or no communication, lack of variety, poor direction, bureaucracy, and employees thinking in terms of their own department and not the good over the overall organization.

I believe the best employees are self-motivated and our job as managers and leaders is to fuel their fire, to nurture their growth and to give them opportunities to succeed to even greater heights than they can on their own. Essentially, we need to take steps to eliminate items on the second list from our workplaces.

Enabling employee motivation to flourish must be an ongoing effort, not something we contemplate once a month or a few times a year.

Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar summed this up well.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.”

It was also interesting to note that many of the points cited on the de-motivator list are also factors in employee burnout.

I have been blessed with many good employees over the years, including when I operated my communications company full-time.

It is a thrill to work with people who are highly motivated. It is much like a sense of lighting a torch and then when your own torch flickers, having the employee regenerate your fire.

Working with motivated people is motivating to me!

It has always been my approach that I work with people, they don’t work FOR me. I contend that if people feel like they are stakeholders in the company, they will want the business or the organization to succeed just as much as you.

I am taking the Essential Skills Program to gain a certificate through Northern Lakes College.

There are nine components to the program, including:

Leadership – Giving Employees What They Need to Succeed
Effective Supervision – Directing, Coaching & Facilitating Employees
Communication – Getting the Message Across
Working Together – Building Effective Relationships in Your Workplace
Performance Management – Optimizing Results
Intervention – Managing Employees with Personal Problems
Resolving Conflict – Reaching Agreement at Work
Managing Time – Scheduling People, Paper & Priorities
Leadership – Giving Employees What They Need to Succeed

I’m eager to complete the program in the next few months and continue on to the advanced level. It is great to see how people from other workplaces operate and the challenges that they face. The beauty of this program is that while the facilitators provide instruction, you learn as much from others in the class.

When it comes to energizing my staff, it’s important for me to continue acquiring tools that ensure I’m providing the best environment possible – today and every day.

Part of that is providing those in my charge opportunities to thrive through their own growth opportunities.

That’s a given. I am a firm believer that when you quit learning, you quit living.

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