The value of a progressive discipline process

By Johanna Hildebrand, HR Consultant, HR @ Your Service

Progressive discipline, a key piece of performance management, is an inevitable and crucial responsibility for all managers and leaders, but it is a process many dread.

Progressive discipline can be a daunting task, but if we reframe the conversation and explore the importance this cycle plays in employee performance and organizational health, we can see the value that progressive discipline has in a leader’s toolkit.

Why Progressive Discipline?

A common misconception is that the purpose of progressive discipline is to justify a termination.

We frequently see leaders using progressive discipline as a pathway for termination, when the ultimate goal should be to have an employee with improved performance who is actively contributing to the success of their team and organization.

A secondary purpose of the progressive discipline cycle is documentation. HR professionals often promote the importance of documentation throughout the life cycle of an employee; progressive discipline is no different. Recording the process allows you to demonstrate that you have provided the employee with all the tools and support needed for their success within the organization. This helps you manage the risk to the organization and show the employee that you are invested in their success by outlining clear expectations for moving forward.

Do we really need a policy?

Ideally, your organization will have a progressive discipline policy in place, with the primary goal of supporting employee success and demonstrating how you will support their learning and growth.

A policy provides clear expectations for managers and staff, and ensures consistent application across your organization.  Recognizing that employees are valued members of the team, a policy will outline your organization’s commitment to establishing a system and culture of coaching and feedback to encourage improvement and development.

Progressive discipline cycle

The progressive discipline cycle is about creating opportunities for improvement. At each step, a leader should identify the concern, clarify expectations, and communicate next steps or consequences.

Step 1: Coaching Conversation

Coaching conversations may be a formal part of the policy, or an informal first step. Managers should use a coaching conversation to identify the concern or learning opportunity early on. The issue may not be serious at this point but is important for the employee to learn from it.

Step 2: Warnings

Generally, a policy will outline a few levels of warnings. Common practice is a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, and possibly a final written warning. Progressive discipline will move to the warning step after multiple reminders (or coaching conversations) with the employee, or if

  • the situation has escalated,
  • there is no demonstrated improvement, or
  • the incident is more serious.

Once at the warning stage, it is important that all documentation clearly defines the concern, the expectations for improvement, and the possible consequences if left unaddressed.

Step 3: Suspension

Sometimes incidents escalate or are so serious that a suspension may be issued, and the employee temporarily removed from the workplace. A suspension would be the result of the escalation of a serious incident or when an immediate consequence is needed for a serious situation.

Step 4: Termination (if necessary)

If you’ve exhausted all efforts to support improvement and the employee is still underperforming, termination is sometimes a necessary final step. If you come to this step, consider downloading our Best Practices for Notification Meetings Guide for tips and advice.

Where to start

When applying progressive discipline, you want to ensure that you have done your due diligence to address the root cause of the issue, whether that be lack of training, attitude, not following procedure, etc. Before applying discipline, gather all the information and establish the facts of the situation or incident.

Questions to consider

  • Has the employee behaved similarly in the past?
  • Are there any mitigating factors that may be affecting their performance?
  • Has the employee shown any improvement since the last conversation?
  • Were they set up for success? Were the expectations clear?
  • Were other employees put at risk as a result of the situation?
  • Was company property damaged?

Throughout this process, leaders must keep notes, capturing data and completing documentation. This may be formal (written warnings delivered to the employee) or a summary of notes the leader has taken to track the situation. The documentation will help you identify patterns of behaviour, keep employees accountable for their improvement and growth, and reduce risk and provide supporting evidence if decisions need to be made regarding the employee’s future employment with the organization.

Having the conversation

Follow-through and accountability are often the hardest part of the progressive discipline process. When conducting a discipline conversation, use a private space where you are unlikely to be interrupted. These conversations should be calm and straightforward. The intent is not to shame or accuse the employee. You want to make them aware of the concern and provide the opportunity for improvement. Be specific about what the concern is; you want to target the root cause. Engaging the employee in finding a solution can increase the likelihood of success.

Effective progressive discipline requires intentional work and effort, but the end result is worth it! Remember, the goal of a successful progressive discipline process is an employee with improved performance, who is actively contributing to the success of the team and organization.

At People First HR, we partner with organizations to create and maintain progressive discipline processes. This could include developing templates, creating policies and resources, supporting managers through the process, or talking through a performance situation with our HR OnCall service. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your organization!


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Why leveraging climate assessments can help set your organization apart in today’s labour market

By Brookley Susser, HR Consultant – Strategic HR Consulting

You would be hard-pressed to find an employer today unaffected by the current labour market trends. In a 2021 report, the Business Development Bank of Canada indicated that more than half (55%) of small and medium-sized enterprises are struggling to hire workers, and more than a quarter (26%) of those employers are also having difficulties retaining employees. Skilled workers are in short supply compared to the growing labour demand in many sectors, leading to a candidate-driven market. In this environment, employers must take steps to set their organization apart from the countless other companies in the market to meet the high expectations of candidates. Conducting a workplace climate assessment can provide the knowledge leaders need to do just that.

Understanding employee expectations in today’s market

Finding the right organizational ‘fit’, feeling satisfied, meeting intrinsic needs, and receiving fair financial rewards are all expectations in today’s market – particularly within the millennial generation (Workstars). As the workforce continues to trend towards younger workers, these ideals continue to be embraced and taken a step or two further with the rise of online business practices. This has changed the way we fundamentally define professions, work-life balance, and the employee-employer relationship.

Employees, regardless of generation or profession, were struck by the realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting many to re-evaluate their priorities; both personal and professional. The bar on flexible work arrangements has been raised for employers, and a rising number of employees now expect this within their role. This has caused organizational loyalty to decrease, with many workers looking for greener pastures that represent professional opportunity, flexibility, and additional compensation. In other words, people are looking for the right ‘fit’ and value alignment between themselves (and their families) with prospective employers. In 2021, 60% of Canadians said they would leave their current job for the same position at another organization for a 10% raise (Angus Reid Institute, 2021).

Graphic shows that the cost of employee turnover is influenced by recruiting, onboarding, training, lost productivity, and stress put on other employees.

Each organization’s status quo must be challenged to meet the expectations of what it means to be a top employer in this market. More than ever, employers must take a creative and intentional approach to how they choose to do business, to not only attract top talent but to keep it. In the article “17 Surprising Statistics about Employee Retention” TinyPulse reported that the average cost of replacing an employee who has exited the organization is equal to 33% of their annual salary. (This figure varies based on the skill level or specialization related to the position, as well as the existing succession strategies in place within the organization.) When we think of the cost of recruitment, onboarding, training, and the learning curve, not to mention the lost productivity and undue stress on remaining employees during vacancies, the total cost of turnover is staggering for most employers.

With all this in mind, retention strategy has never been a more relevant topic. Retention relies in large part on building and maintaining a healthy workplace culture to ensure employee satisfaction and engagement. Top leaders are championing a phase of corporate self-reflection, wherein they take the time to look inward, assess areas of opportunity, and formulate strategies to increase organizational health overall.

“Organizational health is the single greatest competitive advantage in any business.”

Patrick Lencioni

When we talk about organizational health, the common phrases or buzzwords tend to be centred on obscure concepts. How does one practically and systematically assess an organization’s current state, while also taking steps to positively influence corporate culture, or organizational performance, behaviour, and resilience? HR professionals will tell you that the key to achieving true organizational health is to take a holistic approach, embedding best practice approaches within all organizational strategies, operations, and functions. A logical place to start is to first understand the current state of your organization’s work environment, which can be achieved by engaging in an organizational climate assessment.

What is a Climate Assessment?

Unlike the weather-related definition of climate, organizational climate assessments (sometimes referred to as workplace assessments) are a strategic tool used to better understand workplace dynamics. Climate assessments lean into employee perspectives in a way other measures simply cannot. Ideally, the findings will highlight what employees feel the organization is doing well, but often the findings focus on the root causes of any perceived challenges within the workplace and recommend strategies to overcome these challenges; in turn, contributing positively to organizational health.

Objectivity within assessments of a sensitive nature is essential for success, which is why many employers opt to engage a third-party partner to lead the process. Employees are more likely to provide honest and transparent feedback about their workplace to someone who doesn’t work within the same walls. Best practice in climate assessment methodology includes a variety of tools to gather data. Some of the most commonly used tools include targeted surveys, focus groups, formal interviews and informal conversations with employees about the work environment. Approaches should be customized to best serve the assessment group and ideal project outcomes, and are influenced by group size and demographic, industry, and operational factors.

Facing the Realities

As climate assessments are a strategic tool, they can be leveraged for many different purposes. The reality is that most leaders don’t explore this option until there are identifiable concerns in the workplace that must be addressed. Key indicators that a climate assessment may be needed to address organizational challenges can include shifting trends in employee engagement scores, an increase in absenteeism, complaints, conflict, or employee turnover.

Key indicators that a climate assessment may be needed include shifting trends in employee engagement scores, an increase in absenteeism, complaints, conflict, or employee turnover.

In May 2021, upwards of 1000 employed (full-time) Canadians were surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute to better understand the current benchmarks in Canadian workplace culture. Results indicated that more than 36% of Canadians agree that senior managers don’t make an effort to listen to and connect with employees. Of significant concern, over 30% of Canadians believe that people get away with bullying at their organizations. Perceptions of this nature have a direct impact on employee engagement, and therefore organizational loyalty and retention.

These staggering statistics indicate that there may be perceptions amongst employees that leaders do not fully understand. It is important to understand that perception doesn’t always reflect reality within the workplace. Regardless of reality, perceptions of the work environment must be seriously considered, as that is what can make or break an organization’s image in the marketplace and impact future opportunities. Often, negative perceptions about a workplace are centred on interactions and experiences with particular individuals within that workplace.

Rob Sutton’s impactful book, “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” introduced the idea that there is a total cost associated with keeping employees within your organization that negatively impacts the engagement of others. There is a growing trend in companies to consider the Total Cost of Jerks (TCJ) impact on the workforce and workplace culture; what is interesting to note is that there is also a cost of not knowing or being aware of the ‘jerks’ within your workplace. Proactive approaches to understanding your organization’s workplace culture may be needed to assess and consider the TCJ within your organization.

Fostering a Strategic Mindset

More and more leaders are taking an intentional approach to creating a corporate culture and identity. Generating strong connections between an organization’s values, vision, and strategic plan, and how a business operates on the ground, are key to this process. Climate assessments are a robust tool for leadership to understand how employees feel about current operations and generate ideas for alignment at that functional day-to-day level of the business.

All climate assessments must be customized to the needs of the organization; each one should have unique objectives focused on the organization’s guiding principles, and main drivers of engagement.

objectives of climate assessments

As we all know, the best-laid plans for implementing change of any kind—culture related or otherwise—within the workplace aren’t always embraced unless there is buy-in from the outset. Organizations preparing for change may also proactively seek a climate assessment or a similar approach as part of the change management strategy. The ability to get a pulse on the current environment, employee perspectives and how they may feel about change before it happens is akin to the saying ‘always be prepared’ — it just makes good sense.

The Good (and the Challenging)

The people-side of business continues to challenge the most successful organizations. What we know is that when responding to the continuing demands of the market, a focus on organizational health can leave organizations better prepared to respond to these challenges. Remaining informed about the realities within your organization is an important part of responsible and strategic leadership.

Although climate assessments can be considered a significant investment for organizations that may not be actively experiencing challenges within the work environment, knowledge is powerful, especially when it comes to understanding how to  reduce the high cost of turnover. Climate assessments can contribute to impactful corporate self-reflection, the ability to build intentional corporate culture, and emerging as an employer who promotes both organizational and individual health and well-being.


About Brookley Susser

Brookley is an HR Consultant with the Strategic HR Consulting team. Working primarily within the realm of organizational health, she partners with clients on projects that focus on engagement, culture, organizational design, and performance.

Brookley is passionate about empowering leaders to develop and lead strong teams. Her HR practice is rooted in a solution-focused approach, utilizing effective communication, creative problem solving and high attention to detail to achieve results.

Today’s Talent Landscape – Getting Creative to Fill Open Roles

With the talent landscape remaining highly competitive — and no immediate end in sight — finding the right fit and skills for open roles within organizations continues to be a challenge for business owners across industries. To fill open roles, business owners will need to get creative and rethink how they hire.

Baby boomers retiring, high turnover and a lack of a talent pool to close the gap are contributing to positions staying open far longer than normal. Nojoud Al Mallees reported for CBC News that, “almost half of vacancies [remain] unfilled for 60 days. In 2020, only 36 per cent of job openings were open that long.”

This gap is causing a considerable backlog of work and burnout for those responsible to pick up the slack.

Creativity will be vital as we continue to see unprecedented numbers of employees leaving their current place of employment for ‘greener grass’. Business owners and hiring managers need to change how they think about the ‘perfect’ candidate for open positions.

Looking at candidates with a different lens

If your pool of candidates doesn’t meet the skills and experience required, try looking at prospective candidates through a different lens.

  1. Consider if they have shown an ability to learn and develop in past roles. A candidate who has been promoted at a company could be showing they are a capable learner and ready to take on new challenges. They might surprise you in an interview.
  2. Dig deeper into the work a candidate completed. If they are missing specific education or Canadian experience that you require, compare projects they have worked on in past roles with those required in your organization. The experience may be there, and a second look (and a chance provided to a newcomer to Canada) could pay dividends.
  3. Explore the possibility of ‘training up’. If a candidate would be a good fit for your organization but is missing some experience, consider training them to fill those gaps.

Exploring the internal pool

Looking inward instead of outward is another way to get creative and potentially retain your current workforce. Do you have rockstars in one area of your organization but are hesitant to move them into another? Perhaps now is the time to revisit your internal candidate pool and build your bench.

  1. Career conversations are intentional discussions with employees to learn about their personal career goals, align their aspirations with organizational goals, and enhance employee engagement. An effective career conversation can help you and your employee identify potential career opportunities in your organization.
  2. In addition to career conversations, providing employees with training and development opportunities is a great way to build up internal talent. Many organizations offer standard trainee programs or management trainee programs (check out these examples from Monster) to develop employees. Internal development through a customized program or job shadowing can help fill unique roles too.

These internal practices may help you find consistent performers you haven’t considered before to take on a larger capacity within your organization.

Support when you need it from People First HR

There is no denying it can be tough to hire these days. Reviewing your candidate pool with a different lens and considering your internal talent pool are two ways almost any organization can use to fill open roles.

If you need additional support with hiring and retention, People First HR is here. We offer several services in this area depending on your organization’s need, such as our professional and management recruitment services, Purple Squirrel Training Academy, career development training and career conversation workshops.


Linda Chammartin
VP, Professional & Management Recruitment

Drawing on a background of key operational people and sales leadership roles and with her strong experience in client services, Linda focuses her expertise in providing services to clients covering a wide range of HR challenges, initiatives, and people needs. Linda builds partnerships with a customer-centric approach and strives to provide insights and offer the best solutions that support the client’s goals and objectives.

Mental Health and the Impacts of Job Loss

By Liz Bilton, VP Career Management

Throughout May, we’ve spent time thinking about how job loss impacts our clients and their mental health. The decision to terminate an individual is most often made when the individual is no longer a fit for the organization or the role they were hired for.

With career transition support, many individuals come to this realization and move forward quickly. Others require further support and guidance. In addition to the one-to-one coaching, they rely on various tools, including access to SelfHelpWorks™, an innovative suite of eight online cognitive learning programs designed to assist and empower individuals to make positive behaviour changes while remaining completely confidential.  

When it comes to a client’s mental health, we are considerate of meeting them where they are, recognizing that we are career consultants, not counsellors. Our role is to support the individual as they regain their confidence and seize this as an opportunity to pursue a new role. A role that excites them and is a fit with their values, strengths, and interests. 

In their article titled Work, Mental Health and Our Role as Career Practitioners, Michael Huston and Dave Redekopp drew some important conclusions related to an individual’s work and mental health, including the fact that person-work fit is related to an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. The outcomes of the study showed that work is not only important for financial reasons but also for the expression of an individual’s interests, values, and identity. It is a source of social support and is critical in supporting other life roles. When work supports meaningful outcomes in an individual’s personal life it supports their overall wellbeing and mental health.

The opposite holds true if the work does not fit with their interests, values, strengths, and needs, and may hinder their success in those other life roles. The conclusion is that career development can directly increase one’s ability to find and develop a career path that matches their values, strengths, and interests, ultimately contributing to an individual’s overall mental wellness.

The importance of an employee’s mental health and impacts job loss can have on an individual reinforces the importance of having meaningful, well-planned and executed career development conversations on an ongoing basis. Creating the space for career conversations in your organization, will ensure the work your employees are doing is a fit for the organization, is aligned with their needs and career goals and is a proactive approach to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of the organization’s people.

Additional resources:

The role of career development in supporting mental health: 7 resources to check out

The importance of a well-planned and respectful notification meeting.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to your whole system. You can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that you would if you were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one. You can go through some or all the stages of grieving just as you would with any other major loss.”

We understand that it is not just about the job loss itself, but about how the individual was treated by their employer when they are told that their employment with the organization has ended. How the exiting employee receives this news and is treated during the process is critical.

Take for example, Marvel’s superhero actor Simu Liu. He publicly celebrated his 10 year anniversary of being terminated from an accounting role. In an Instagram post, he recounts the event and his feelings surrounding how it was conducted:

“A lady from HR and a security guard escorted me back onto the floor in front of the entire open concept office. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Nobody moved, offered a whisper of encouragement or even looked in my direction. I fought back tears of humiliation, grabbed my things, and never looked back.”

While he goes on to say losing his job with the firm ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him and it forced him to pursue his passion of acting, it doesn’t change the fact that this event deeply impacted him.

A well-planned notification

A well-planned notification includes:

  • A private space,
  • An appropriate date and time
  • Considering what you will say and how you will deliver the news, and
  • A plan for how departure from the building will happen

When leaders do not consider these items, on top of being a shock to the system, job loss can be a lifechanging event for an individual. Notifications are delicate situations, and how you plan for them is extremely important.

Our team works closely with you to review best practices for terminations. We help ensure that the exiting employee is treated with dignity and respect throughout the process. You have a lot on your plate. We are here to help you with the small details that make a big difference.


For more on how to hold a notification meeting, download our best practice guide.

Download our best practices for notification meetings guide

Cover image of best practices for notification meetings guide

Letting someone go is never an easy decision or conversation.

Whether you’ve gone through the experience before or it’s your first time notifying an employee of job loss, there’s a lot to think about to make sure it goes smoothly. Proper planning can help ensure the exiting employee leaves the organization with their dignity intact. 

Download our best practices for notification meetings guide for tips and checklists to help you plan for an upcoming meeting. For additional support, talk to one of our consultants about the value of a career transition program.

Download guide


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How to support your employees through seasons of change.

It’s natural for organizations to experience seasons of change, and 2022 is no exception. Thanks to the pandemic, on top of expected workplace growth and adjustments, there are additional challenges to work through.

Leadership teams are working on reopening plans, and many have retention challenges to address. Supporting employees through these changes is a must for leaders who wish to show they value their team members and understand their needs.

Here are four strategies that leaders can use to support employees through seasons of change:

  • Developing change communication plans,
  • Re-onboarding employees,
  • Holding career conversations, and
  • Measuring employee engagement.

Change communication plans

A thought-out communications strategy is crucial when supporting employees through change. Based on years of benchmarking research, Prosci suggests a coordinated approach to developing communication in times of change. 

Here are a few questions to consider when developing a change management communication strategy:

Who is delivering the message?

Too often, change communication comes from the project team. Research from Prosci found that employees prefer to hear about change from their immediate supervisor or the person leading change (change sponsor).  

More specifically, employees want to hear about the reasons for the change from the change sponsor and the personal impacts of the change from their own immediate supervisor.

Why is this change happening?

When planning change communication, you need to proactively answer the inevitable “why” questions. Clearly stating why change is happening throughout all change communications will help employees process and understand the importance of the change.

What’s in it for me?

No matter how valuable or critical a coming change is, if employees don’t buy in or support it, the change will not be as effective. Having employees who don’t support a change may cause turnover, sour the workplace culture, or impact productivity.

After addressing why change is happening, you need to share how it will benefit your employees. Keep in mind that there could be different benefits for different employee groups, and you may need to adjust the message for each one. 

How is the message being shared?

Prosci’s research identified face-to-face communications as the most effective way to share change management messages. Face-to-face meetings are great as they allow for two-way communication.

While face-to-face communication should be part of the mix, it is also important to communicate frequently, repeat the key messages and use a variety of channels to reach the audience.

Channels may include email, video calls (individual or team meetings), in person, intranet systems, and other online platforms for updates (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams chats).

Re-onboarding employees

While employees were hopefully onboarded during their initial few weeks or months on the job, a change in their work environment is an opportunity to reinforce aspects of the company culture and help orientate employees to the space.

“[Reboarding] will help create a continued positive employee experience and help further socialize them into the organization’s culture,” says Rebecca Zucker.

Who to re-onboard?

  • Employees who have worked remotely for an extended time
  • Employees returning from a leave of absence (such as maternity or paternity leave, disability leave, or sick leave)
  • Employees changing work locations 

What to cover in re-onboarding?

In her Harvard Business Review article, Zucker shared the following tips for re-onboarding employees.

  • Orientate them to the space: Update returning employees on things that have changed while they were away, such as changes in offices or new procedures.
  • Be thoughtful and welcoming: Providing a small gift, being open to answering questions, and being genuine through the process are easy ways to make a person feel welcomed. Avoid making it seem like you’re acting out of obligation.   
  • Connect them with a buddy: Zucker suggests pairing employees returning to the workplace with someone familiar with the office and culture. 
  • Integrate them into the workplace: To help make employees feel valued and a part of the team, announce their return to the office so others know they have returned / where they are working. You should also provide them with any changed policies, roles, or updates to their job description.

Hold career conversations to realign goals

Through times of change, our priorities and career goals can shift.

Career conversations are intentional discussions leaders can have with employees to learn about their personal career goals, align their aspirations with organizational goals, and enhance employee engagement. During seasons of change, holding an effective career conversation can help leaders retain top talent and understand where these individuals will fit in the organization’s succession plan.

These conversations are a proactive approach that helps leaders align employee development with business strategy and business needs. Instead of looking for opportunities outside of the organization, this approach encourages employees to stay, develop, and become a part of a strong succession plan.

Measure employee engagement

When workplaces are in a transition period, the stress of change can impact employee mindsets and cause employee engagement to dip.

When we contemplate how to accurately measure engagement, climate assessments and employee engagement surveys are two commonly used strategies to consider.

Employee engagement survey

Generally, employee engagement surveys aim to measure how employees are feeling about the factors that impact engagement in their role and with the organization. Engagement surveys can address:

  • Employee satisfaction: The level of contentment or happiness a person assigns to the attributes of their job/position, their organization and the general or overall way they feel about their employment
  • Employee commitment: The pride people feel for their organization as well as their intent to remain with the organization; their desire to serve or perform at high levels; whether they would positively recommend their organization to others; and their desire to improve the organization’s results.

Some avenues to consider exploring in a survey of this nature include how employees feel about their supervisor and leadership as a whole, their role, communications, teamwork, compensation, training, recognition, benefits, and working conditions. A well-designed engagement survey will provide accurate, meaningful, and insightful information which can be used to foster the development of high performing individuals and teams.

Focus groups are commonly used to take a deeper dive into the results of an employee engagement survey. This approach can allow organizations to understand the context of survey responses, which leads to more effective action plans to address areas of concern for continued employee engagement.

Climate assessments

Workplace climate assessments can provide a clear picture of the organizational climate and current challenges. Ideally, an assessment of this nature is delivered by an objective third party, to encourage employees to share their perspectives of the work environment freely and confidentially. Based on the size and setting of the organization, a combination of approaches could be used to gather employee perspectives, including online surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews. 

Employee perceptions of the work environment can then be analysed against relevant HR and motivation theories, and recommendations to improve employee engagement, work environment and conditions can be suggested for implementation. 

Whether from growth or outside forces, change is inevitable. Using the strategies shared above can help leaders support employees through seasons of change and support the health of the organization.  


Looking for more support? Let’s get in touch.

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How to develop your salary expectations (and discuss during a job interview)

Tara Gousseau, Senior Recruiter – Professional & Management Recruitment

It is a question many people dread during job interviews: what are your salary expectations? Whether an interviewer provides a range or asks you to share your expectations, the topic of salary is a conversation everyone should be ready to address. Simply put, you know your worth, your skills, and the value you can offer an organization. With a little bit of research, you can develop your salary expectations and be ready to answer the question like a pro.

Why you should use research to develop salary expectations

Anytime you are applying for a job, you should use research to develop your salary expectations. Don’t just pull a number out of thin air — take time to explore available information to create an educated answer. Even if you already know how much you would like to make at your next job, salary research before applying for positions can help guide your job search. The information you gather will:

  1. Give you a general idea, before applying, what the range/average is for a specific role within a certain industry
  2. Help you understand which roles/industries are more likely to offer compensation that meet your needs, and 
  3. Help you answer the question “What are your salary expectations?” when it comes up.

Salary factors 

When you start researching salaries for your desired job, you need to consider a few factors. 

  • Organization type (private, public, non-profit) 
  • Industry (finance, tech, health care, retail, etc.) 
  • City / location
  • Your level of experience

A salary range, along with other job aspects, can change depending on each of these factors. For example, a job in Vancouver is likely to pay more than a similar position in Winnipeg, as the cost of living in Vancouver is higher. Similarly, small to medium-sized or private firms potentially have more flexibility in their budget to negotiate salaries than perhaps a non-profit would.

Another factor to consider when developing your salary expectations is job responsibilities. Depending on the industry you’re looking at, you may see multiple job titles for similar jobs. Review the duties listed in the job description for a better idea of the salary range and level.

Researching salaries

Once you know what type of organization and industry you would like to work in, you can start your research. When researching salaries for your desired position, check multiple sources (online, peers, and recruiters, etc.) Exploring different sources will give you a clearer and honest picture of possible salary ranges.

Online resources, like Glassdoor, are a great place to start looking for salary ranges. You can see salary information based job title and your region. If you’re in a smaller market or are looking for a niche position, keep in mind, there might not be as many results, but it is a good place to start.

Next, if you’re comfortable, ask peers within your industry (but not within your own organization) what salary range they work in, along with their responsibilities. These conversations can help you develop your salary expectation based on more than just a job title.

Lastly, recruiters have a wealth of knowledge. If you connect with a recruiter hiring within your industry, ask them about typical salary ranges for your desired position. They also may be able to point you to some openings that are a good fit for your specific needs.

With all your research in hand, take time to think about what you need. Points to consider include: 

  • Current salary
  • Your skills
  • Research
  • Cost of living
  • Total compensation (benefits, flexibility in hours and work arrangements etc.).

Providing your salary expectations

You’re in an interview, and it’s time to talk salary. With your well-researched expectations in hand, you are ready for this conversation. Make sure to be honest during the discussion about how much you are expecting and your current compensation. If there is a large gap between what you are making now and your expected salary, be prepared to explain why.

If you’re not comfortable sharing a specific salary number, share the range you’d like to fall in. If you are in the right range the recruiter or hiring manager should let you know. You can also let the recruiter or hiring manager know you’re open to negotiation. This may be something you consider if you feel the role has the opportunity for growth.

To help you in this conversation, here are two answer examples:

  • “Through my research, I’ve found that the average salary for this position in this industry/region is between $80,000 and $90,000 and with the experience and skill sets, I would bring to the organization, I would want to be on the higher end of that range.”
  • “Based on my research, experience and skill sets, , I would be looking for $80,000 – $90,000. However, I am flexible and open to connecting further about the role and my experience before making any final decisions on compensation.

At the end of the day, you want to work with an organization that is a fit for your specific career and compensation needs. Researching, developing, and professionally communicating your salary expectations will help you have those conversations and find an organization and career that is right for you.


Tara Gousseau
Senior Recruiter
Professional & Management Recruitment

With her years of experience in partnering with senior leaders and hiring managers to fill their talent needs quickly, Tara understands the importance of building relationships and working with her clients in partnership. With a background in transportation and logistics, Tara brings her passion for matching talent with great organizations.

Best Practices for Setting Career Goals

By Jen Oleson, Manager, Operations, Career Management

Often the start of a new year symbolizes opportunity and change. It can also be a time to set new goals. Before we can look ahead to the opportunities awaiting us and determine what we want to achieve, we must reflect on the career goals we set and the progress made towards achieving them during the last 11 months.

Whether you have experience setting goals or are exploring the idea for the first time, below are some best practices for establishing and staying accountable to your career goals.

Why is setting career goals important?    

Before we explore some best practices of setting professional goals, understanding the importance of establishing them comes first. In general, setting goals is essential to personal development. In our personal lives, we set goals to improve physical, mental, and financial health. At work, we set goals to achieve professional milestones and improve our careers. Setting goals is essential to ensure progress in your career. When we set goals, personal or professional, we establish a framework that enables us to achieve them.

Best practices for setting career goals

1. Set short-term & long-term goals

We recommend setting short-term and long-term career goals to ensure successful results. Both goal types are integral to the overall framework of setting goals and when appropriately planned, empower you to take your next step.

Short-term goals are achieved over a shorter timeframe and support progress towards accomplishing long-term goals. They are like steppingstones, bridging the gap between the two-goal types. Timeframes for short-term goals can vary from a few weeks to a few months and may depend on the goal itself. Ultimately, short-term goals keep you accountable and motivated to the big picture.

Long-term goals are big-picture dreams. They are bound to an extended timeframe and require an element of strategic planning.

For example, a long-term career goal might be a promotion at work. If improving time management skills is essential to achieving the promotion, practicing time blocking in your calendar may be a short-term goal that supports your overall goal.

2. Be SMART about your goals

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. The Canadian Management Centre states the SMART concept was first introduced in the 1980s and continues to be an effective management tool today. Developing goals under the SMART framework ensures well-defined objectives are established and increases the probability of achieving them.

  • Specific: Focused and tied to a tangible outcome. Make a career goal as straightforward as possible. Answer the ‘what, why & how’ of the plan; what is the goal, why is it important, and how will you achieve it?
  • Measurable: Include measures to monitor and track progress. Measurable goals answer the when and how part of achieving the goal.
    • When will I know I have reached my goal?
    • How will I ensure I am on the right track to meeting it?
  • Achievable: When setting career goals, they should be challenging but still manageable. If you are focused on an out-of-reach goal or dream, it can be discouraging and lead to failure. When identifying objectives, ask yourself if they are realistic and whether you have access to the resources required to be succeed.
  • Relevant: Provides the framework to ensure the goal is relevant to where you want to go and is supported by resources you have today. Ask if the goal is relevant to overall career aspirations and achievable given available resources and the current environment.
  • Time-Bound: Set a target date for completion. When career goals are time-bound, they prompt action and align focus back to the desired outcome while staying on track to achieve it.

3. Stay accountable to your goals

Now that we have covered the importance of setting career goals, the difference between short- and long-term goals and the SMART goal framework, it is time to tie it all together with action and accountability. Staying accountable to goals is the secret sauce to successfully achieving them. What steps can you take to ensure accountability?

The People First Career Management team recommends these best practices:  

  1. Write your goals down. Writing down career goals (on paper or in a digital document) provides an opportunity to reflect and plan on each of the SMART acronym components and what you need to do to achieve the desired outcome. Once you have identified milestones and a timeline, write them down. Cross off your milestones as you reach them to help yourself stay organized and on track. 
  2. Prioritize goals & time management. Managing goals effectively requires prioritizing daily activities. Develop productivity and time management skills by prioritizing time and tasks using a time management matrix and time blocking. These approaches are proactive and effective in identifying how and where you have spent time. Prioritizing tasks and managing time is easier said than done, but it is important. When you understand and implement time management methods, you can focus on the right tasks while increasing productivity.
  3. Work with a career consultant or coach. To improve your confidence, provide structure to your goals and overcome mindset barriers, consider working with a career consultant or coach. Guidance from a consultant can help you reach professional goals much sooner than going at it alone. 

Setting career goals provides structure and a pathway to success. As you navigate career goals in the future, start by taking time to reflect on the goals you previously set to understand where you can improve in your approach to achieving them. From there, refine your goals or develop new ones using the SMART framework and be sure to implement accountability measures. A new year is a new opportunity to refocus your career goals!

Jen Oleson
Manager, Operations, Career Management

Jen believes that adopting an intentional and focused approach to one’s decisions and choices can lead to a more fulfilling and purposeful life. Her purpose and passion are to serve, inspire, and empower people and organizations to achieve their goals.

Key Decisions When Creating a Vaccination Policy

By Wanda Loewen – Manager, HR @ Your Service

As a human resource consulting practice, our HR @ Your Service team has been fielding many questions from organizations that are considering a vaccination policy for their staff. As these organizations reopen in some form, whether fully or partially, whether to create a vaccination policy is a question that can be rather daunting (even for HR!).

There is no cookie-cutter approach to designing a policy as no two organizations are alike. However, it is clear that these policies should be aligned with legislation and reflect the organization’s needs. Ultimately, the policy should state the reason for its existence, list accompanying procedures, and be easy for employees to follow — even if they are not happy or disagree with it.

Involving employees in drafting a policy may be best practice but that can open employers up to a range of opinions and potentially heated arguments. So, while some consultation may be wise, the policy should be carefully planned with a level of compassion and respect for the varying opinions. Those who can lend their wisdom include health and safety committees, operational representatives, individuals with customer lines of sight, and union representatives.

Reviewing literature surrounding this topic reveals the following key considerations when introducing a vaccination policy:

The safety risk involved with having unvaccinated employees at work

Under the safety legislation across provinces, employers are responsible for the safety of their employees. The pandemic has shown employers that they need to pay attention. Early on, safety protocols revolved around distancing, masking, hygiene, and managing outbreaks. With vaccines now fully available, employers are looking at how this tool can sharpen their approach to safety.

As with any safety policy consideration, employers need to consider the risk factors to their stakeholders. This includes the characteristics of customers and employees, such as vulnerable populations, as well as the type and length of contact to provide service. Identifying risk factors provides a basis for the type of policy required.

Employers should consider whether they can mitigate the risks involved in implementing a vaccination policy. One way to mitigate risks is to require vaccination, other ways include requiring regular testing and continued use of personal protective equipment, remote working, or modified shifts.

Applicable legislation that governs the business

The Federal Government has mandated vaccination for all employees who are federally regulated including air, rail, and marine transportation sectors. This is not a choice for employees. Other industries such as health care, education, and childcare workers have been provincially directed.

With these employers moving ahead with vaccination policies, there is also movement in other industries such as construction, banks, and professional services.

This does lead smaller businesses to wonder whether to jump on board with a full vaccination policy or whether they can sustain employees who have chosen not to vaccinate. The concerns range from the ability to enforce the chosen policy and the costs that may be incurred to accommodate employees who are choosing not to vaccinate, whether it is a personal choice or for a reason such as a health condition or religion. 

Selecting the right vaccination policy for your organization

Once an organization determines that a vaccination policy is their best course of action, there is a range of policies that businesses can choose from:

  • Full vaccination required of all staff without exceptions (rare and not usually recommended as this is the highest risk scenario since it does not allow for accommodations where acceptable).
  • Full vaccination required with exemptions and accommodations only provided in the cases related to protected grounds under the Human Rights Legislation of the applicable province (usually this would relate to a disability or religious ground).
  • Full vaccination required with exemptions and accommodations provided in the cases related to protected grounds under the Human Rights Legislation of the applicable province and for those who do not wish to have the vaccine for various other reasons.

The decision on which policy to create will be based on the considerations noted above. Consulting with safety experts and a lawyer is not uncommon as there are certainly arguments being made related to privacy and personal freedoms. Until cases have been tried in court and precedents have been set, there is a level of risk in these decisions.

Finally, consider what to include in a vaccination policy. Key elements to consider are:

  1. If it is a mandatory vaccination policy, what is the timeline for employees to comply?  How are they to show compliance — through self-declaration or by showing proof of vaccination?
  2. Access to employees’ vaccination status, and any associated medical information, should be limited based on the governing privacy legislation. Only those required to know an employee’s vaccination status should have access to the information and only for as long as the information is required.
  3. The necessity of the policy will dictate the type of policy required. Outlining the reasons for the policy should be noted for employees. Those who are vaccine-hesitant will want to know why it is required and any alternatives for accommodation.
  4. If employees are accommodated for any reason, make it clear what the protocols are for each case, as an employer would for any situation of accommodation. These plans are often individually based and will range from accommodation at home, to PPE protocols in the workplace.
  5. Provide a venue for continual review and updating as the pandemic is an ever-evolving situation. Ensure that updates are made when there are new requirements such as booster shots or new and acceptable treatments.
  6. Ensure employees understand the consequences of not adhering to the policy and who in the organization they can share any concerns with. Stay respectful of these concerns and ensure that communication lines are open.

With many organizations keen to open their doors to employees again comes the decision of requiring employees to be vaccinated or not. Consider the above recommendations as the return to the office is planned and ensure that your stakeholders have been consulted. This will confirm that a thoughtful and considerate approach is taken.

Finally, plan to be flexible. If there’s one thing we’ve learned to be certain with this pandemic, it is that change is just around the corner.


Wanda Loewen
Manager, HR @ Your Service

Wanda has been in Human Resources for over 25 years and has experience in a variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, financial and property management.  She enjoys developing initiatives that help organizations drive their employee experience forward in areas such as engagement, total rewards, talent acquisition, performance management, learning, HR technology, compensation and operational excellence.