The Weird Effect of Bill 148 on Small Business Company Culture

Blog located in Culture, HR Solutions, Small Business posted on February 20, 2018

There are many ways to measure the health of a business. Robust growth, profits, market-share, or vigorous productivity are a few. And of course, company culture measures such as low turnover, and a low tally of employee sick days are also important indicators of a company’s good health. But how important overall is a small business culture as a measure of its health?

Culture is the key factor that affects all other KPIs; if your company is not doing as well as you, as the business owner would like to see, the symptoms of frail morale and low employee engagement may be playing a contributing role. But, before you can fix it, you need to understand what you’re dealing with.

Now that it’s unlawful to require a doctor’s note, the result of Bill 148’s Enhanced Leave of Absence Entitlement, this is a critical time to examine the health of your culture and employer-employee relationships, says Toronto-based HR Consultant Aline Ayoub.

No more doctor’s notes

Business owners can’t expect a 100% attendance record from all your employees. Being sick is part of life! Asking an employee to present a doctor’s note as proof of illness might deter staff from faking it to sneak an extra vacation day. But think about what it does to morale! Even if an employee was genuinely ill, not only did they have to schlep to a doctor’s office to obtain a note when bed rest would have been the best medicine, but they were forced to prove their honesty and trustworthiness while already feeling vulnerable. That’s not exactly fostering a culture of trust between employee and employer – although that was the practice in the past.

To attract today’s top talent, this policy now will backfire for reasons beyond Bill 148. Smart employees will research a potential employer’s online reputation and will steer clear of those with dated, disrespectful cultures.

Reoccurring absenteeism points to deeper problem, especially for owners of small businesses. It can be tricky to determine the real reason behind regular absenteeism among some staff. It might be related to an individual’s genuine health issues (which you’re also not allowed to ask about, by the way). Or, it might be a red flag that something within the company, and its culture, is ailing.

If your employees are looking for ways to avoid coming in to work, then business owners need to understand why this is happening. As part of this process, the business owner must hunt for the triggers and then address them immediately. The policy you will develop must be aligned with the type of organization culture you wish to promote: will it be supportive or disciplinary? If your business culture has been disciplinary, it is prudent to begin to evolve this culture to a more trust-based environment. A problematic company culture can contribute to frequent absenteeism, resulting in lower productivity and poor morale.

What culture do you want to promote?

You cannot expect a 100% attendance record from all your employees. Being sick is part of life! But how you react to reoccurring absenteeism is up to you. In fact, the policy you will develop should be aligned with the type of organization you’re promoting. Think about the impact frequent long-term absences will have on your business. These factors should influence how you draft your policy and when to ask for a doctor’s note.

Since Bill 148 has prompted many changes to workplace HR policies, it’s time to review your sick-leave policy and make building trust and loyalty with your staff a top priority. Aline Ayoub warns small business: “If you skip this step, business owners will watch low morale and mistrust spread faster than the flu.”

Heavy-handed solutions no longer work

It is essential to have a clear, well-documented sick-leave policy in place regardless of the size of your organization. The policy should outline what is expected from an employee in relation to absence due to illness (whether short- or long-term). Aline recommends to work with your staff to organize back-up teams, so there is always someone who can pick up the slack if a key player is suddenly (or occasionally) away. Having defined back up support teams can help alleviate unexpected backlog and eliminate confusion. Encourage regular, formalized communication among team members so everyone knows where projects stand and what takes priority.

Transparency through conversation

Stress is a well-known cause of so many ailments. Not only is it reflected in mental health, but in physical manifestations, too. As a key leader in your business, you’re likely very familiar with stress and its effects. Let’s agree that Bill 148 has probably added new layers of stress on businesses! As a business owner, perhaps you’ve tried to hide your own concerns with the impacts of Bill 148 on your business. Maybe you wonder if you’ll have to lay off staff, or close the business altogether? Let’s be honest with ourselves…employees sense your concerns. They pick up on subtle cues, and this in turn causes them stress and can lower office morale. If they suspect the company (and with it, their livelihood) is in danger, morale will flat line, bringing productivity, engagement, and innovation down with it. And individuals who fear losing their jobs might already be hunting for new ones. Now is not the time to lose your best workers.

The solution, recommends Aline Ayoub, is to open the door to communication. Allow your staff to understand your concerns and invite them to be part of a creative solution. Town halls, suggestion boxes, and surveys can help bridge a larger audience; try small group and one-on-one meetings to get more granular feedback. You might be surprised at the variety and quality of solutions you’ll find throughout the ranks. It’s easier to make changes that stick when those who have to live with the change have been part of the design of the change. Seek the advice of a human resource expert to ensure your new measures align with Bill 148; especially since the new labour laws are triggering so much anxiety. Take the changes thrust on business by Bill 148, and use this time to transform your company culture with input from your employees; communicate the larger business issues which they can help resolve through the process of updating your HR policies. If you create a safe environment for employees to share their ideas with you, you will take an important step toward alleviating their uncertainty and fear.

Better Recruitment Process

If addressing these issues doesn’t work and you feel you need to check on your employees whenever they call in sick, it might be time to hire fresh blood. Aline Ayoub, a Top HR Consultant in Toronto, can help you focus your efforts on recruiting candidates who are a better fit for a healthy work environment.

If you instill trust by giving your employees more latitude in their jobs, and weed out any bad apples, then managing sick days will become much easier.

Clues to Business Culture Health

Have you taken time to assess the culture of your business? It’s easy to get bogged down by day-to-day tasks, but a leader can (and should) take time to walk about the operations, observe your workforce, and listen to their comments on processes and challenges they face in doing their daily work. Is the layout of their workspaces conducive to collaboration? Do you see enthusiasm? Frustration? Or worse, apathy? Does the collective personality of the staff jive with the future direction of your business?

This is a strong starting point to diagnose your company’s culture. Your people have been reading and talking about the social media reaction of Bill 148, stories of business closures, and clumsy missteps from some major retail brands. All of this bad news is having an effect on employee optimism for many businesses. This is your opportunity as the business owner to get on top of the bad news and resulting weakened workplace confidence, create a culture that embraces the changes, and invite creative collaboration.

Not sure where to start?

Small Business Owners must also be HR Experts! 
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