Ask the HR Department: Spring is just around the corner. How can I better handle vacation requests from my staff this year?

By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

With spring and upcoming long weekends around the corner, people are starting to plan out their long-awaited summer vacations. How can employers handle the surge in vacation requests, while keeping everyone happy?

Start with a policy for requesting vacations days. This policy needs to clearly outline the process for requesting time off. By explaining the process, you are demonstrating transparency and fairness to all employees. Employers may want to include how far in advance staff must book vacation. Or how many employees can take time off at the same time.

Have an accessible shared holiday calendar. It will help staff avoid any vacation clashes. It would also be useful for employers to highlight blackout period dates, when no one can book time off.

Consider a first come, first served policy. Employers could also implement a “first come, first served” policy that will help make managing vacation requests easier. However, it could cause issues if not done properly

There are certain holidays such as Christmas where many staff would want to take leave. To avoid a surge in requests for the same dates, employers can come up with creative ways to divide popular holidays/days. For example, employers can implement a rotational system where everyone can take turns taking time off for certain days, making it fair for everyone.

Incentivize employees who are open to booking time off during quieter periods. An alternative method to manage a sudden influx of vacation requests is to incentivize employees who are open to rescheduling their time to quitter weeks. This incentive may include giving staff an extra day off or half-day. Some companies might also provide the flexibility to carry forward vacation days, in line with legislation in your jurisdiction.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.


Expert Advice of the Month: The responsibility of HR leads at a time of flux


Martina Pileggi is senior director for North American Business Partners at The Hillman Group, a fastener producer for the hardware, automotive, plumbing, and electrical markets.

Following a tough year for many vendors in the industry in 2023, HR leads are facing new challenges of their own. That’s the outlook of Martina Pileggi, who heads up HR for The Hillman Group in North America. Pileggi shares her outlook and concerns for HR leads as they work with their teams in a year that is filled with uncertainty.

An HR professional’s prospective has to be acutely aware of cost control, she says. When things slow down you have to think about cost control around labour, how or when to lay people off. She warns against being too short-sighted or too cost-driven when looking at laying people off. Don’t do anything without thinking it through, she cautions, as you don’t want to be caught short down the road when it’s time to add workers again.

“Because what goes up must go down. And if you’re stuck recruiting for all these positions, you’re now in a shortage of labour when it gets busy again.”

Pileggi offers some straightforward tips: Evaluate how long this problem will last. Do you have to lay off people? Do you cut people, or cut hours? Once people are gone, you may have trouble rehiring. “Those people you lay off are going to find another job. And maybe in three months, when you call them back, guess what? You have nobody.”

Effectively and responsibly managing the staffing needs of your company is, Pileggi says, the number one concern. “Yes, people are laying off, but you still need to have people working for you, and you still need to be prepared for what’s coming.”

She says HR has to work with managers to deal and cope with change. “And this a lot of change.”

Leaders on the floor talking with the teams are often overlooked by HR when it comes to providing tools to help them manage the changes. These leaders and managers have to be considered and HR has to work with them. Pileggi says your managers have to be evaluated for their own capacity as leaders. It’s really important now to take time to develop your managers. Don’t make the mistake, she says, of overlooking the need to support managers at this time.

“Taking care of the people who manage others is high level—to look at their capacity for change, their level of resilience.”

Do they understand what changes are occurring that affect your company? Can they repeat it back? Then do they understand how it’s impacting your business? Again, have them repeat it back in their own words to you. “What did you get from what I said?”

This approach applies to a company whether it has workers across the country like Hillman, or if it’s a small team. A true HR leader will bring everyone together and work with them all to understand the situation. “In a small environment it’s, in fact, better. Because that’s the team that’s holding it all together,” Pileggi adds.

“If your leaders don’t understand it, your culture will struggle.”


BSIA launches mentorship program to shape the future of the building supply industry


The Building Supply Industry Association of British Columbia (BSIA) has launched a pioneering mentorship program. It aims to address the challenges posed by the industry’s dynamic landscape, especially with numerous business owners entering retirement.

The association acknowledges the role mentorship plays in shaping the future of the building supply industry, so it’s made a big investment of time and resources to get this new program up and running. With it, the BSIA aims to elevate mentorship to a structured and essential component for the industry’s sustainability.

Carson Pue, a seasoned expert in coaching and mentorship, has been recruited to lead the charge in crafting the training platform for mentors. He is working with Sofia Friesen and together their expertise provides the foundation for the training program. It’s designed to empower mentors to build and expand on the skills that will foster growth in the younger generations.

A mentorship toolbox is included with the program, offering practical resources for mentors after the training is finished. The toolkit encompasses a wealth of knowledge, strategies, and best practices that mentors can utilize to navigate mentorship effectively.

Upon successful completion of the mentorship program, participants will be awarded a certificate, providing tangible recognition of their commitment to advancing within the building supply industry. This not only signifies a personal achievement but also highlights the value placed on mentorship within the broader professional community.

The BSIA hosted the Mentorship Introduction event for the first wave of mentees on Feb. 7. It was led by Pue and sponsored by PowerHouse Building Solutions and Crown Building Supplies.

Pue’s presentation sparked a sense of shared purpose and determination of all the opportunities that are ahead. As the event concluded, mentors and mentees alike left with a renewed sense of motivation and enthusiasm for the journey that lay ahead.

(For more information about the BSIA Mentorship program, please contact the BSIA directly or call 604-513-2205.)

Mindset is everything, says this sports performance expert


The Western Retail Lumber Association’s latest annual Building & Hardware Showcase, held in Winnipeg last month, featured a dynamic keynote speaker. Lauren Johnson is a mental performance coach and public speaker who has worked with top professional athletes, including the New York Yankees baseball team.

Her presentation at a morning breakfast event was titled, “Achieving Extraordinary Results.” It focused on one’s ability to turn plans into decisive actions through high-level decision making.

One of the things that keeps people from reaching the next level of empowerment and decision making is the impulse to hold onto old ways of thinking. Johnson challenged her audience to look at their own “maps” and question how to change that map to better confront change.

“You have to apply change to your old map,” she told the audience. If you’re not adjusting and not asking how everything is changing day to day, then your attitudes toward coping become out of date.

Often, people will stand by and let change happen without them. Even people who are willing to confront that change often hold off until the need is too great. “Don’t wait until there’s a big gap in where you are and where you should be,” she said. Ask yourself: “What did I do well? How can I do better? And what did I learn?”

But you can’t wait for someone to instill these attitudes in you. “You have to own these. Do them for yourself.” If you’re trying to please someone else or simply go through the motions, your efforts won’t succeed. “Development will only happen if you choose to do it.”

Johnson concluded by urging the audience to take responsibility for making change themselves. “If you want to be unstoppable, you have to be accountable,” she said. “Mindset is everything.”

Ask the HR Department: How can I help my team tackle seasonal blues?

By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

January, often associated with setting new goals and resolutions, poses challenges due to post-holiday and seasonal blues. Employers can implement several strategies to foster a positive workplace and motivate staff. If feasible, introducing flexible work schedules allows employees to better manage the challenges posed by shorter days and inclement weather, promoting a healthier work-life balance.

Incorporate wellness initiatives that prioritize both physical and mental health among your team. Make sure your team is well-informed about the available in-house resources dedicated to nurturing their mental well-being. If your company currently doesn’t offer an employee assistance program, make sure you provide information on external resources they can turn to for a holistic approach to well-being support.

Bring your staff together through team-building activities or themed events. These can help maintain a fun workplace, boost morale, and create a supportive work environment. Additionally, recognition and appreciation are powerful motivators. Acknowledging good work makes employees feel seen, valued, and appreciated. You can bring the team together by celebrating the success of their colleagues.

Lastly, open communication channels, where employees can express concerns and feedback, will ensure you provide a supportive platform, one that makes everyone feel heard and valued during the winter months.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.

Expert Advice of the Month: Every business needs at least two technology “heroes”


Donald Cooper is a Toronto-based speaker and business coach. Using his vast experience as a manufacturer (Cooper Canada sports equipment) and an award-winning retailer, Cooper has helped hundreds of companies in over 40 industries around the world to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose, and long-term profitability.

While tech is a fast-growing, ever-evolving aspect of business, it’s also engaging, challenging—and fun. But lining up the personnel to manage the tech side of your business can come down to identifying distinct roles that should handle tech. There are at least two quite different types of business technology that every business must embrace. Because they’re so different, it’s unlikely that one technology person will be an expert in both areas.

The first we’ll call “operational technology” that will help you achieve world-class operating efficiency in each part of your business. With every industry and market being so intensely price-competitive, world-class operating efficiency is your only hope of profitability. Do you have an operational technology hero?

The second kind of technology we’ll call “marketing technology” that will help you understand, serve, and communicate with customers as a group—and customers as individuals. This will include the technology of:

  • delivering extraordinary customer experiences
  • creating databases of customers, prospects, and key influencers
  • website creation and maintenance
  • communicating with customers through blogs or e-newsletters, social media, and apps
  • data mining (and lots more stuff that many of us simply don’t understand yet)

Now, it may not be quite that simple to break down for your company. In some businesses, there may be more than two types of technology that must be embraced and those businesses will need to align themselves with an expert in each of those areas. For example, in some industries, the technology of exotic new raw materials may be the key to success. In other industries biotechnology or nanotechnology may be key.

This business coach specializes in guiding leaders in home improvement


Tom Newton is an executive coach. As head of Trillium Executive Coaching, his focus is providing direction for the boss. “I help people—leaders who are growing in their position as they navigate change, helping them go from where they are to where they want to be.”

He has a firm grounding in the hardware industry, having been formerly with companies like ODL Inc., M-D Canada, and Colonial Elegance. From there, he pursued studies and got re-educated in a new career. He is now a professional certified coach (PCC) accredited by the International Coaching Federation, and has graduate certificates from Royal Roads University. His industry-specific background means he finds himself working with a lot of companies in the home improvement industry, and he admits he finds this industry more interesting than other sectors he has consulted with.

Newton has helped many home improvement retailers cope with the fallout of a flat year in 2023, following two years of explosive growth. As sales levels fell, company leaders have had to adjust big time. “In talking with sales and marketing people in this industry, it’s really tough to navigate that right now.” For him, the challenge is to help business leaders take meaningful next steps. “How are we going to invest in our leaders and how are we going to help them grow?”

Newton says his job is to help them find their way. “When you think about going to work, and who you work with and interconnect with, the coach should be the one person you can have a confidential conversation with, one that you might not have with your boss or even a close colleague.”

Innovative Calgary dealer pioneers high school student internships


Mitch Wile is the president of The Cedar Shop, a Sexton-affiliated contractor store in Calgary. He’s spent 51 years in the home improvement retail industry. With plans to retire next year, Wile decided to pay back the industry that has been so good to him. That’s why he provides mentoring for two high school students every year in an innovative internship program.

“We hear it all the time in our industry—businesses struggling to develop succession plans,” Wile says. “Retirement, hiring, and retention can all be scary words to hear or deal with. There is a solution to these problems and it’s the upcoming generations. There are passionate, eager-to-learn, and talented individuals out there. Like many of us, these young people need support, belief, and encouragement to reach their potential.”

Wile’s role now, as he sees it, includes offering that support. “As a leader in the business approaching the end of my career, I can be that person who helps to educate the next ones coming in.”

Last year, The Cedar Shop’s persistence paid off when the store became a part of the Calgary Board of Education Internship program. This was implemented in conjunction with the Alberta Government Careers program. Two Calgary high school students worked at the store on select mornings over 10 weeks to learn the ins and outs of the lumber business, “while also bringing their own ideas to the table,” Wile adds.

The students told Wile about the importance of TikTok to reach their age cohort. “I’d never even heard of TikTok!” Wile admits. The students were put in charge of managing The Cedar Shop’s TikTok channel. “The incredible success of our program with our two interns and the support of companies such as Metrie has convinced the government to finance this program for the next three years. I wish I had something like this when I was in high school.”

Last year, Wile presented the internship program at Sexton Group’s Alberta regional meetings. Six more Sexton members started looking to hire students. Two more Calgary students are all ready to begin the program at The Cedar Shop starting next month.

Ask the HR Department: What can I do to position myself for business success in 2024?


By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

As the new year unfolds, it’s a great time for businesses to reassess their objectives and strategies for the year. Starting the year off strong will not only help set up your business for success, but will also help build a solid foundation for growth and resilience. Below are some important tips for how businesses can kickstart the new year effectively.

Reflection is key. Learn from past experience, celebrate achievements, and pinpoint areas for improvement. This reflective analysis provides invaluable insights to foster continuous improvement and keep the businesses running smoothly.

Set clear and achievable goals. Plan out short-term and long-term objectives that are aligned with the company’s vision for the new year. Whether it’s releasing new tools or enhancing the overall business operations, well-defined goals serve as a road map for the business. It will also ensure that all projects point to one common goal.

Communication is crucial for any business. Whether you’re engaging with employees or customers it’s important to be aligned. Transparent communication creates a unified sense of purpose, rallying the organization toward common objectives.

Invest in employee development. Training programs and skill-building initiatives contribute to a more capable and motivated workforce. A well-skilled team is better equipped to adapt to market changes and enhance productivity.

We’ve all seen the increase in technological advances and the benefits associated with them. Embrace innovations that are relevant to your specific industry. Innovations in tech can enhance efficiency. That in turn will help you improve customer experiences and give you a competitive advantage.

The approach of the new year is the perfect time for businesses to reflect and set goals. By strategically approaching the new year, businesses position themselves for success, growth, and sustainability in a dynamic business landscape.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.


Expert Advice of the Month: A good boss is a good communicator. But it’s a two-way street


Pierre Battah is an award-winning author and workplace leadership specialist. He is a long-time workplace columnist for CBC/Radio-Canada, a TEDx presenter, a former senior manager in HR, and was previously an associate professor in management. He holds an MBA and several professional designations. He is the new executive-in-residence and moderator at the Wallace McCain Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and he recently received Rotary International’s highest distinction, the Paul Harris Award for outstanding contribution to the community. Battah’s book, Humanity at Work, Leading for Better Relationships and Results, won gold at the U.S. Nautilus Book Awards in 2020—and is a great read. 

When the Atlantic Building Supply Dealers Association reprised its annual HR Conference in November, bringing Pierre Battah back to the stage was a no-brainer. Battah had given a full workshop at the first ABSDA HR Conference in 2022 and it was nothing short of a goldmine of valuable information and insights.

This year’s presentation was just as engaging. Battah gave each table of delegates a set of tasks and challenges through the morning. At the heart of his talk was the need for communication. Not full-on all the time, but tailored to the situation. And that includes communication that addresses conflict within the team, something too many leaders are reluctant to face.

“We can lose people if we’re not prepared to have the difficult conversations,” Battah said. These tough conversations help get to the heart of which issues are divisive for a team. “A lot of what we do as managers is trying to get everyone on the same page.”

Those questions, he says, should be part of your communication style right from the start, including interviews during the hiring process. When hiring, be up front about the opportunities and the challenges that can be expected in the job and with your company. But be clear as well about the opportunities that will help the candidate’s career when she joins your company.

But good communication is a two-way street. That’s why Battah offers this bit of hiring advice: “Give 10 reasons why they’ll want to work for you. Then ask the candidate to provide 10 reasons why they want to work for you, as well.” Next, he says, wait for the answer. Let the candidate reply in their own way.

“We have to ask questions. Then we have to shut up. People need to be heard and listened to.”