Ask the HR Department: How can I protect my employees from extreme heat this summer?

By Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Advice Manager,

HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

Provinces across the country have been experiencing above-average temperatures, resulting in heat warnings. Ontario has had its fair share of extreme heat warnings, and now British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are experiencing record-breaking heat waves of their own.

So far, there have been over 100 heat warnings and with tens of thousands of staff working outdoors in this industry, it’s crucial for employers to do everything they can do to keep staff safe. In fact, it is their legal responsibility to do so.

To address these challenges, employers can implement comprehensive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of staff.

Providing adequate hydration. Ensure that all staff have access to plenty of cool drinking water and encourage regular water breaks to prevent dehydration.

Schedule work strategically. Schedule staff to work during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon. This will help to avoid peak hours under the sun.

Offering protective clothing. Encourage staff to wear lightweight, breathable, and light-coloured clothing, as well as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Provide sunscreen to protect from harmful UV rays.

Implement a heat stress prevention program. It’s important to implement a comprehensive heat stress prevention program tailored to the specific needs of the worksite and tasks.

Have an emergency plan. All workers must be informed of the location of first-aid stations and be aware of emergency procedures. First-aid supplies should be stocked, and emergency contacts must be readily available.

A global leader in HR and health & safety consulting, Peninsula has been supporting small and medium businesses for 40 years. We are trusted by over 140,000 SMBs globally. In Canada, we helped over 6,500 SMBs with tailored HR documentation, 24/7 employer advice, and provide employment management software. We pride ourselves on delivering a service that mitigates risk, adds value, and allows businesses to focus their time on what matters most.

Expert Advice of the Month: Listening skills for retail leader, part 2


Portrait of Deborah Craven President of Longos for the Cover of Canadian Grocer magazine

Last month, we summarized a presentation by Deb Craven, president of Longo’s grocery chain in southern Ontario. Craven was giving a talk on how she increased employee engagement at Longo’s when she was appointed president last summer—and how she plans to keep it increasing in the years ahead. Here, we present some more of her ideas, this time on effective listening.

Craven started by looking at the employee engagement numbers, which Longo’s had collected, by department, for a number of years. Employee engagement can be defined as the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker has toward their job. Obviously, in retail, a low level of employee engagement will kill traffic, sales, and ultimately the company.

Longo’s was (and is) a highly successful regional chain of grocery stores, but it was the stalled employee engagement levels that bothered Craven the most. She reported to a Retail Council of Canada HR seminar that the number of Longo’s employees that said they were engaged was 67 percent in 2023 and 2022, down from 69 percent in 2021.

Craven knew that Generation Z are entering the workforce en masse. This generation, born between 1997 and 2012, is motivated by being heard. If they have good ideas and insights, they will shut down and find another job when they feel they can’t express those ideas. Craven decided to listen to her workforce first, before prescribing any changes.

Here are some tips for being a better retail leader by really working on your listening skills. Craven tried to practise all of them. Something must have worked because Longo’s is heading in the right direction again on employee engagement.

Maintain eye contact. Giving an employee focused attention by looking right at them while they are speaking is highly important. Head nodding and a relaxed posture present a non-verbal way to say that you are paying attention. Glancing at your phone while an employee is making a point is almost a guarantee that you will have non-engaged employees.

When listening, do not focus on what you are going to say next. One management expert called this the difference between being “interested” and being “interesting.” It’s not about you. It’s about the employee.

Check your understanding. Summarizing what you think you’ve just heard is the most important part of replying, when the employee has finished. (Craven advises using pregnant pauses, leaving silences, when an employee has stopped talking—to encourage the real nugget of their communication to emerge.) The employee will feel heard, and they will correct any misunderstandings you have had about their points.

B.C. lumberyards take proactive measures for staff in the heat of summer


The summer of 2024 has already proven to be a scorcher. Environment and Climate Change Canada is forecasting continued heat through the remainder of the summer, leaving many retailers with the challenge of keeping their teams cool and comfortable during prolonged heat waves.

Lumberyards in particular face unique challenges due to the outdoor and physical nature of the job. Many companies are taking steps to keep their teams safe and educated.

Michael Allen, co-owner of three-store B.H. Allen Building Centres in B.C. (North Vancouver, Powell River, and Salmon Arm) said he has seen the effect of extreme heat on his employees the past two years.

A study by Loughborough University in the U.K. entitled “Workers’ Health and Productivity Under Occupational Heat Strain” found that 30 percent of workers reported productivity declines due to heat stress, with an average 2.6 percent drop for every degree increase above 24° Celsius.

Allen said his company has taken steps to make working in the lumberyards safer. Provision for adequate shelter and hydration was immediately improved.

“We have covered drive-through yards in two of our locations, so that helps to get [workers] out of the heat,” he said, adding that the company has also taken steps to enhance his team’s comfort during excessive summer heat, as well as throughout the year.

“We have store-supplied water 365 days a year, and in some cases, we have installed air conditioning in our outdoor kiosks,” he said. The company also takes measures to make beating the heat fun. “On really hot days, we will offer an ice-cold popsicle or two for all the employees.”

Allen noted the company takes protecting its staff seriously and advises wearing proper sun protection all summer long. That includes using sunscreen regularly and remaining hydrated.

(See also Peninsula HR’s hot weather worker tips at the bottom of this newsletter.)

This big box manager proves that when you take care of staff, you take care of sales


The Covid pandemic threw the entire retail sector for a loop, but it was particularly challenging for big box stores, who had to deal with staff shortages and restrictions on the categories of merchandise that could be sold.

At Lowe’s Whitby, which has since become RONA+ Whitby, store manager Paul Santos had the job of ensuring that his team had the support they needed to provide customers with the care they required. That included recognizing their talents and offering opportunities for advancement where appropriate.

As consumer anxiety and frustration mounted during the pandemic, staff needed more than solid product knowledge, and the team at Whitby rose to the occasion. They were able to provide an extraordinary level of service under the circumstances, which contributed to RONA+ Whitby receiving the Outstanding Retailer Award last year in the Large-Surface Retailer category.

At this store, the holistic approach to training goes beyond learning in-store. A student incentive program rewards returning summer students with up to $500 per year. They can also benefit from a tuition reimbursement of up to $1,500 dollars annually.

Meanwhile, the store’s sales doubled over the past decade—even logging gains in 2022, when much of the industry was starting to soften. With a staff of more than 150 people working in a store that’s 150,000 square feet in size, Santos recognizes the value of developing his people.

He’s proud to note that over the course of his career at Lowe’s and then RONA+, he has seen three assistant store managers(ASM) promoted to store managers and five associates promoted to ASM. Ten of his associates have been made department managers and two ASMs have gone on to roles at the district level.

“A very important part of my job is to identify talent within the store and ensure associates have the opportunity for advancement, reaching their career and financial goals,” said Santos, “and bettering their lives as well as the lives of their families.”

Ask the HR Department: It’s Pride Month. How can I create a more inclusive workplace?

By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

June is Pride Month. It’s all about recognizing and celebrating the diversity that strengthens organizations and the vibrant LGBTQ2+ community. It’s also a great opportunity for businesses to come together and set high standards of their commitment to inclusivity and diversity within the workplace.

By setting a high standard, organizations aim to inspire others to follow in their footsteps in creating an inclusive workplace. How to create an LGBTQ2+ inclusive workplace?

One of the most important steps employers can take to support the LGBTQ2+ community is to create a culture that is welcoming, accepting, and supportive of diversity. This can involve several different strategies, including:

  • Developing an anti-discrimination policy that explicitly includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected grounds.
  • Providing regular training to all employees on issues related to diversity and inclusion, including LGBTQ2+ issues.
  • Ensuring that all employees are aware of the company’s commitment to creating a safe and inclusive workplace culture and encouraging them to report any instances of discrimination or harassment.
  • Celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion through company-wide events, such as LGBTQ2+ Pride Month celebrations or other cultural events that are important to members of the LGBTQ2+ community.
  • Providing resources and support for employees who may be struggling with issues related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, such as counselling services or access to support groups.

Inclusivity enhances business success by improving employee engagement, expanding market reach, and building a positive brand reputation. It leads to better decision-making and drives financial performance by leveraging diverse perspectives and creating a welcoming work environment that attracts top talent and loyal customers.

A global leader in HR and health & safety consulting, Peninsula has been supporting small and medium businesses for 40 years. We are trusted by over 140,000 SMBs globally. In Canada, we helped over 6,500 SMBs with tailored HR documentation, 24/7 employer advice, and provide employment management software. We pride ourselves on delivering a service that mitigates risk, adds value, and allows businesses to focus their time on what matters most.

Expert Advice of the Month: You’re in charge. It’s important to listen!


Portrait of Deborah Craven President of Longos for the Cover of Canadian Grocer magazine

Deb Craven is the first non-family member to be president of Ontario grocery chain Longo’s. She came to Longo’s five years ago—where she is now president since June 2023—after a stint in Calgary as senior vice-president of finance for two of Canadian Tire Corp.’s biggest brands: Sport Chek and Mark’s. She recently gave a presentation on how Longo’s management lifted employee engagement.

“Listening is a core competency. People don’t do it very well.”

Those blunt words were at the core of Deb Craven’s recent presentation on Longo’s “listening” project, in which the 39-store southern Ontario grocery chain conducted meetings with its various departments to find out what employees really felt about their jobs—and what could be improved.

Craven made the remarks at the Retail Council of Canada’s HR conference, held in April.

When Craven, a grocery industry outsider, arrived at Longo’s, one of her first challenges was changing the employee engagement numbers. They had stalled.

For years, Longo’s had made it a habit of measuring employee engagement through a survey sent out to all 6,000 of the company’s employees. The percentage of Longo’s employees that were engaged—a measure of employee morale and job satisfaction—had been 68 percent in 2020, 69 percent in 2021, and then 67 percent in 2022 and 2023. “We were stuck,” Craven said.

Liz Volk, the grocery chain’s chief human resources officer, pointed out to Craven that those were just numbers—without much context. There was a need to dig deeper into the stalled numbers and find out what was holding employees back. Volk proposed “listening sessions” with the staff and Craven agreed.

To get useful information, it was decided to focus on specific departments of the firm for each session. The distribution centre staff, which had “been through the ringer,” Craven says, after a recent massive expansion, were chosen for an early listening session. The engagement numbers had actually gone down in the warehouse.

Craven and Volk agreed to “engage with them and listen to them. Let’s not assume we know what the problem is.”

The virtual platform Microsoft Teams was chosen for the first session, Craven said. This was a mistake. “It was a long hour. A lot of crickets. The lesson was: don’t start a new initiative where you hope to get feedback on Teams!”

Subsequently, live sessions were tried. “Holding the sessions in person is well worth the investment.” Employees were arranged at tables of four, with a leader from each table reporting to the larger group. That arrangement provided anonymity, Craven said.

Listening sessions have been extended to most departments at Longo’s, including marketing, merchandising, HR, supply chain, and others. “We’ve seen significant improvement in the engagement survey we just completed with our DC team.”

Craven, as a new president in an unfamiliar industry, said that the sessions gave her confidence.

The upper management, of course, had presuppositions about what was holding the employees back from full engagement. “We thought it was salary/compensation,” Craven said. “But it wasn’t.”

For any retailers thinking of trying their own listening sessions to see what can be improved, Craven had some tips for senior leaders. “Leave pauses [when people are speaking]. Don’t fill in those pauses with your interpretation of what you’ve heard. Have a good poker face. Prepare for a lot of emotions. Have someone as a scribe so you can focus on the conversations.”

IKEA backs its new financing plan with financial skills tools


It’s one thing for a retailer to tout its affordability for customers. And offering financing terms can be a useful tool to support that stance. But how about providing financial literacy to help consumers manage the money they’re investing in your products?

That’s exactly what IKEA Canada is doing. Financial services are now available in IKEA Canada stores nationally. In keeping with the company’s desire to make life more affordable for Canadians, IKEA Canada is collaborating with Royal Bank of Canada to launch purchase financing to its customers called “PayPlan by RBC.”

This pay-over-time program gives in-store customers access to financing with no hidden fees, says the retailer. It’s now available at IKEA stores across the country, with additional plans for online customers to be able to access PayPlan by RBC purchase-financing starting this month. It offers customers flexible payment options at rates ranging from no interest to 9.99 percent.

Canadian residents over the age of majority in their province of residence are eligible to apply for a PayPlan by RBC instalment loan and will receive an immediate decision following a soft credit bureau inquiry that doesn’t affect their credit score.

But it’s not stopping there. The company is committed to supporting the financial wellbeing of both its co-workers and customers. In support of the development and launch of IKEA Financial Services, IKEA Canada has integrated financial literacy tools and training available through the McGill Personal Finance Essentials course for co-workers across the organization.

It’s a free online course and features segments that include an introduction to personal finance, tips on budgeting and saving, and how to understand debt and how to borrow money. There are also segments on investing and understanding real estate. There’s even a bonus module on cryptocurrencies.

(To discover more about McGill’s personal finance tools, developed in association with RBC and The Globe and Mail, click here.)

Celebrating retail career opportunities: How Pet Valu attracts retail talent


Photo courtesy of Pet Valu

Farheen Visram is director, talent and training, at Pet Valu, Markham, Ont. This specialty pet retailer has grown to over 600 stores, making it the largest pet store chain in Canada.

Pet Valu has to hire very high-quality staff. After all, it faces fierce competition, at often lower prices, from box stores, WalMart, grocery stores, and, yes, hardware stores. Pet Valu needs pet lovers and pet experts on its staff. Visram shared, at a Retail Council of Canada human resources conference earlier this year, how it gets them.

The days of getting hired in a retail role, being handed the corporate folder, then being dropped onto the retail floor to fend for yourself are over, Visram says. “We have to rise to the challenges of long-term growth in our workforce.” That starts with a Pet Valu training program that motivates, educates, and persuades employees that there is a potential lifelong opportunity at Pet Valu.

The company has established a program to develop staff as “ACEs.” They are Animal Care Experts, a designation that is attained by employees after months of study at Pet Valu. Visram explained what the process of training frontline staff involves.

Every employee at Pet Valu who reaches the 180-day mark, with self-paced learning online as well as manager training along the way, has a graduation ceremony. Training involves animal health, animal psychology including problem behaviours, nutrition, accessories, and services.

“We’ve got ACEs that are now owners of franchises,” Visram said.

But one of the things that is most difficult to teach—whether in the pet industry or in hardware and home improvement—is how to sell. “Coaching people on how to sell is not as easy as we thought,” Visram admitted. “We found that managers are saying, “I know how to sell the products but how do I communicate that?”

So Pet Valu has ramped up its personal sales training, to coach the coach. “We start with our managers. We need to make sure they are well equipped to talk about the growth opportunity.”

Ask the HR Department: I need to add seasonal staff for the summer season. Any tips?


By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

Home improvement retailers are familiar with the need to rely on seasonal employees. It helps meet customer demand without stressing out staff or affecting service quality. Although seasonal workers are only typically hired for a short period of time, this type of employment still poses many questions. It’s essential for employers to have the right policies in place to avoid any workplace issues.

Do seasonal workers need to have an employment contract? Employment contracts are still needed, even for a brief term of employment. Contracts benefit both the employee and employer as they paint a clear picture and help to avoid confusion of what is expected, especially surrounding the duration of employment for seasonal workers.

What rights do seasonal workers have? Seasonal workers are protected under the same legislation and have many of the same rights as full-time staff. This includes minimum wage, overtime, vacation pay, and hours of work. Seasonal workers are also covered under health and safety, human rights, and worker’s compensation legislation.

How important is it to be clear on job expectations and responsibilities? There are significant risks associated with not clearly outlining the duration of employment. The employer may be liable for more notice of termination (or pay in lieu thereof) than expected if they don’t have a clear contract in place. They may be at risk of constructive dismissal if they lay off the employee between seasons without their employment duration.

In other words, without clear and unambiguous direction, the employee may think it’s a permanent position rather than seasonal and take the seasonal layoff as an indication that they are being terminated or constructively dismissed. Critically, if employers don’t take necessary steps, courts and tribunals may agree with the employee.

A global leader in HR and health & safety consulting, Peninsula has been supporting small and medium businesses for 40 years. We are trusted by over 140,000 SMB globally. In Canada, we helped over 6,500 SMBs with tailored HR documentation, 24/7 employer advice, and provide employment management software. We pride ourselves on delivering a service that mitigates risk, adds value, and allows businesses to focus their time on what matters most.

Expert Advice of the Month: How Orgill is focusing on training managers better


Laura Freeman is executive vice-president of human resources and chief human resources officer for Orgill Inc., the Memphis-based hardware distributor that serves independent hardware and building supply dealers worldwide, including hundreds in Canada.

The value of taking care of employees can’t simply be addressed with attitudes or platitudes. Your managers need the skills to push awareness and sensitivity down to the shop level. For Laura Freeman, who heads up HR for Orgill Inc., that means a dedicated program of training the trainers.

“How do we help train and educate our managers? It’s interesting at Orgill, because historically someone who’s a really great employee gets to be the manager,” she says. But the sales skills or engineering skills that get those individuals to the next level don’t necessarily prepare them with the people skills to round out that new role.

“We’re doing a pretty large effort around helping train our managers and our supervisors who have day-to-day contact with our employees.”

Freeman says a new initiative to train supervisors and managers being rolled out at Orgill’s distribution centres. Curriculum in the new program spans a range of different competencies that are important for leading their teams effectively and “helping them be successful with the workforce.” That includes an extra full day for new hires during the onboarding process that puts the manager in a shadow role on the shop floor. The result, says Freeman, is a better connection with new hires—and increased retention.

And the program is not a one-time thing. “You have to go back and reinforce it,” she stresses. Yes, it takes some additional time, but it doesn’t really add costs and the return on that investment of spending a bit more time with those hires over the first 90 days has increased retention.