#MeToo is only one symptom of what is ailing the arts workplace

No one working in the Arts has failed to cheer the fresh air blowing in the window in the wake of the #MeToo movement but there is also a ripple of disquiet about what’s NOT being said about the atmosphere that has allowed abusive environments to flourish and the broader subject of abuse and bullying in the sector. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Continue reading

"Ends Justify the Means" Dilemmas in the Not-for-Profit Workplace

I have been thinking for some time about how we monitor and resolve ethical dilemmas in the non-profit workplace and how we could assure that public money is well-spent.

In the not-for-profit and arts world I believe we set ourselves up to be uniquely vulnerable to the pitfalls of ethical systems based on utilitarianism.  This is the ethical system in which the “good of the many” always outweighs the “good of the few”, a system that becomes challenged when the means are not ethical in and of themselves. In not-for-profit workplaces we think about “Ends” all the time.  Right on the top of all our literature and websites we spell out the “Mission”.  We are focused and passionate about the mission of our organizations, whether it is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless or assuring the survival of a classical orchestra.
Into all this passion and energy for achieving worthy goals comes a number of roadblocks that can make us, as non-profit staff and managers,  feel that government funders, sponsors, regulatory bodies, are treating us unfairly, stacking the deck against the success of our organization to achieve our mission.   Those challenges include: the preference for funding projects and program costs, over needed support for core operations; shifting priorities and programs from governments and foundation funders; narrow program objectives that don’t match the needs of the communities we serve. And some days we feel like if we hear the word “innovation” one more time, we’ll scream.  We twist our programs pretzel shaped to try to qualify for those innovation grants when, really, we think that the way we have always done things is probably pretty soundly based on best practices.


Between the passion to do good and the frustration about roadblocks that seem illogical, unpredictable and insurmountable there sneaks in a philosophy of the “end justifies the means”.

Whether we bend the truth a little bit in our funding application to make our planned activity seem like a better fit, or we move expenses in accounting lines to shift expense from administration to program and marketing, we are embarked on a slippery slope. Tensions mount in organizations when doing whatever it takes to get or keep funding pushes staff members beyond their comfort levels.

These are not victimless crimes.  Public dollars, the reputations and health of workers, the continuation of programs and services that the public counts on are jeopardized when organizations foster a culture of unethical expediency.  Staff members feel helpless in organizations where they are not just asked but required to do unethical things:  back-date mail machines to send in applications after funding deadlines, forge a signature because someone is unavailable, spend all their time working on one project that they are not funded to work on and neglect the work they are funded to do (a common way of shifting funds from one program to the other surreptitiously),  directly shift funds from one program to another without the funder’s knowledge, invent statistics,  report fundraising costs of a special event fundraiser as a “program” cost,  report expenses of one project as the expenses of another, double and triple raise project revenues for one pet project while reporting a reasonable budget in each request, over-spending ridiculously on one area. . . all things that have been sanctioned in organizations I have worked for in the past.   Yet there is little over-sight of non-profits and whistle-blowers at the staff level often have their careers ruined while they sometimes see the non-profit manager who forced the questionable or outright disgraceful practices be backed up by non-profit boards and even to be recognized with national awards.

Any solutions have to deal with both the problem and its causes.

 Adequate funding of basic operations of non-profits that are operating effectively in the public good will stop the need to fudge program costs to cover operations.

I could say that Boards should stop propping up corrupt leaders but . . . that’s not going to happen. The “friends of X” board is alive and well everywhere. I have come to the conclusion that there needs to be tougher regulatory bodies at the provincial and federal level that will investigate allegations of mismanagement of publicly funded non-profits. Working with very well-managed and ethical non-profits has given me  perspective on the insidious harm that unethical non-profits do to workers, funders and programs.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Note to Factory Theatre Board: Please reinstate Ken Gass and stop the foolishness

UPDATED: After a prolonged and unsettling out-pouring of outrage, Ken made an announcement that he believed the theatre needed to move on under new leadership.

I only came across this news (don’t know how I missed it) when I saw Ken Gass’s job posted on Work in Culture and wondered what the story was, had he retired, or whatever.

I just signed the petition in support of re-instating Ken. I first met Ken when I was a theatre student and a play I wrote was selected for one of Factory’s reading nights at the old JCC. At one point I was shortlisted to work with him as General Manager at the theatre and we hit it off famously and stayed in touch. I regret that I didn’t get the job but couldn’t argue with the fact that I had only a small amount of experience with facility management and the building renovations were most important at that juncture. Whatever one thinks of his particular merits, there is a more important issue:  Arts Boards in Toronto need to be told that the arts public does NOT want them to treat dedicated arts leaders and staff in this fashion. Arts organizations are not US corporations and we should not be sending our arts leaders to the door with their belongings in a shoebox.

Here’s some press:

Change.org|How to Start a Petition

by Steve Kupferman, NATIONAL POST 

“Artistic icons weigh in on Factory fallout”
by Glenn Sumi, NOW MAGAZINE

“Factory Theatre boycott: Michel Marc Bouchard pulls his play”
by Richard Ouzounian, TORONTO STAR

“Playing at Small Theatres- The Handyman Special”
by Kate Taylor, GLOBE & MAIL

“Factory Theatre founder Ken Gass pursuing legal action against board”
by Richard Ouzounian, TORONTO STAR

“Playwrights Judith Thompson, George F. Walker and others seek boycott of Factory Theatre”
by Richard Ouzounian, TORONTO STAR

“When should a board fire itself”

“Petition urges reinstatement of Ken Gass at Factory Theatre”
by Richard Ouzounian, TORONTO STAR

“Why many are calling for Factory Theatre’s board to resign”
by Steve Fisher, THE TORONTOIST

“Petition calls for reinstatement of Ken Gass, resignation of theatre board”
by Kelly Nestruck, GLOBE & MAIL

“Gass’ dismissal from Factory shocks Toronto theatre world”
by Kelly Nestruck, GLOBE & MAIL

“Factory Theatre dispute far from over” Toronto Star

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Delegation # 1: Why managers are afraid of delegating.

The first in a small series on the management art of effective delegation.

When you talk to unhappy employees and ask them what is wrong with their jobs or their relationship with managers,  the leading issue is usually poor delegation techniques.  In the arts and non-profits we are often working as managers having no business training in supervisory management and as employees we are working with bosses who may be wonderful in their fields but don’t know the first thing about managing people.

Why do so many managers fear and avoid delegation?

# 1.  Fear of loss of control.The inexperienced and insecure manager is afraid that if they don’t do everything themselves things will spin out of control and they will lose authority to shape projects.  Let’s examine this fear:

  • If you recognize this as your own fear as a manager, remember that you have the power to require employees to check in with you, report progress, and you can set the schedule for completion of stages in a project to build in time for edits and tweaks you feel are needed.
  • Delegate from a sense of your own power and your fears will fade

# 2.  Fear/Dislike of employees stealing credit or sharing the limelight.  

Let’s look hard at this fear:

  • Just as your organizations failures ultimately reflect on you as a manager, so do the successes
  • A part of maturing as a manager and human being is learning to enjoy your new role as a mentor to a new crop of professionals.  Their successes are your successes.
  • If an employee truly tries to steal credit or becomes unduly competitive, that is a separate issue that you can deal with, ultimately you have the power to fire them so why be bothered by small expressions of ego?

#3.  Don’t feel you have time to teach employees how to do the delegated work or supervise them:

  • If you are feeling time crunched, only effective delegation will get work off your desk so a small hump of extra work will pay off in the long run
  • Part of delegating the task can be assigning the employee to job-shadow, read, take a course, do online tutorials to acquire skills.  You don’ t have to take on all the training yourself. 
  • While a lot of supervision might be needed the first time an employee takes on a job, it will decrease markedly the next time. 
  • Delegation and supervision IS your job as a manager.  Likely all the work on your desk is really not your job and needs to be delegated. 

 #4  Worry that your employees will make mistakes, use methods you don’t approve of, generally goof up something.

  • Employees will make mistakes and that is a part of learning.
  • Planning for training and supervision and scheduling to allow for error correction is part of your job as a manager and part of your effective delegation strategy.

 When you feel these fears coming on (and we all have them as managers) remember the gains that will come to you as an effective delegator.  You will develop happy, productive employees who not only think for themselves but regard you as an effective mentor and supervisor, someone they can go to for advice without fearing their project will be yanked away from them.  You will be enhancing your own reputation and chance of advancement.  You’ll free up time for your own innovative, non-routine tasks which require your unique expertise.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Boundaries, clock-watching and values-based management

Consider this scenario that is acted out in workplaces every day:

You need to leave on time for once because of family plans. It’s busy at work and your boss says, “Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been the sort of person who doesn’t watch the clock at work because I prefer to just get the work done”. It stings because your self-image has always been that of a hard-worker but there is nothing in the current situation or workplace that motivates you to stay late.  What has changed?  Is it you?  Is it the job?

Getting to understand your own values helps to answer with confidence about the balance you have between commitments to work and to other parts of your life and what you need in order to give more time to work.  As a manager, knowing your employees values helps you negotiate for the flexibility and extra effort you may need for a project.

Understanding what are core expectations for your position is the starting point. While you might have regular work hours, some contracts have language that requires a flexible schedule or extra hours in peak periods. It is only when we are asked to exceed the language in our agreement that we need to consider where our boundaries lie. While we like to give ourselves labels like “dedicated”, healthy individuals have limits about the amount and type of work they are willing to do on their own time and the conditions under which they find it reasonable to put in extra hours. If you don’t know your own priorities you could find yourself agreeing to work you’ll resent or saying “no” to an opportunity that might be congruent with your goals. Neither of these outcomes is good for you or the workplace.

What motivates you to take work home, put in hours over the weekend, or stay late to finish a project? For me I know that I will volunteer to work on projects that involve learning new skills that are congruent with my goals and interests. I’ll also burn the midnight oil for a project that I’m given ownership of that I can add to my resume folder in future. Affirmation goes a long way with me also. Even if there is nothing in it for me, I’ll do extras when I feel appreciated.

As a manager, you need to know what your employees value and use that understanding to motivate appropriately.  This is a part of values-based management.

  • Employees motivated by financial security will go the extra mile for raises, promotions, contract renewal
  • Employees with a thirst for learning will be motivated by staff training or time for taking on new work with steep learning curves
  • Those with interests outside of work, family, hobbies, enjoying nature will be motivated by time-off in lieu of overtime hours
  • Praise, recognition, and simple thank-yous motivate most of us, but are often the most neglected motivational tool in the management toolbox. 
Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New idea in the fight against false self-employment

Here’s a new strategy for activists who want to fight back against this employment problem in Canada.

When businesses represent workers as self-employed when they meet all the requirements of employees, who should know better? Who should advise the employer that they are taking financial risks? Who is charged with the responsibility for ensuring that companies don’t get socked with unexpected costs like paying back EI and CPP for several workers?

If your past or present deadbeat employer retains an accountant or has an accountant on their Board of Directors, why not file a complaint to that professional association. These individuals are supposed to be the financial watchdogs for the company’s who employ them or the organizations that ask them to sit on their board of directors. If enough accountants are made the subject of complaints on this issue, perhaps the whole profession will wake up and treat this seriously.

If your company employs a CA find your provincial Chartered Accounting organization by visiting The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants or if your company employs a CGA visit The Certified General Accountants of Canada to find your provincial association and complaints process.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Has a Canadian employer deprived you of contributions to EI and CPP?

If you’ve been a victim of the growing problem of false self-employment there IS something you can do.

While legitimate self-employment has some benefits for workers, too many vulnerable Canadian workers are being deprived of access to EI benefits when their jobs end and also deprived of employer contributions to their CPP making affected workers poorer when they retire.

When this happened to me I was very discouraged to find very little information available to help me. When I did find out that I could ask CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) for a determination of employment status, I was still discouraged by reports that this process could take 1 or 2 years before making its way through the bureaucracy.

I was angry. My employer was a non-profit, charitable organization supposedly concerned with social justice yet was treating employees inequitably and additionally ripping off the social safety net of the country. After friendly persuasion and patience got me nowhere, I decided to take action. I had been vocal about the inappropriateness of a staff member being paid as a self-employed contractor for some months without any notice being paid.

When I presented my employer with “Employed or Self-Employed a document from CRA, I succeeded in having my employer contributions started but the employer was still resistent to paying back contributions owing. I followed up by filing the appropriate CRA form to request an employment status ruling. So I am happy to report that my case was settled in a mere one month with the employer required to pay back CPP and EI payments.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Maybe because yesterday was my birthday I’m thinking about the ageism that I’ve been encountering in recent years.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission asks the following:

Have you ever encountered questions, such as…

“Do you really think you could handle this job? You know it takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Besides, we are looking for someone with career potential.”

“You don’t need this training program. At your age, what would the benefit be?”

“Well, you are getting on. What do you expect at your age?”

When I read this I had to say, “Oh wow, have I!” About as soon as I turned 50 I began to hear exactly those remarks from some employers.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission tells us that “Such comments reflect ageism — an attitude that makes assumptions about older persons and their abilities and puts labels on them. Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young. Age discrimination is a consequence of ageist attitudes.”

I love the language about a tendency to design society on the basis that everyone is young. I remember a conversation that I had once with a younger co-worker who was asserting quite vehemently that a particular activity she was coordinating would suffer if older adults were included with younger adults–because it would be “less fun”, the older adults would “feel uncomfortable” and be “less adaptable” and other generalizations. Boy, does that run contrary to my own real life experience. From the time I was a teen myself, some of my best times and growthful experiences have been obtained participating in groups with a healthy mix of ages. No generation is without its fun and adaptable members and no generation has cornered the market on sourpusses either!

It’s worth repeating, “Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young”. Oh, that makes me feel so sad, because I’ve always loved the company of the very young and the very old in my life. Yet I recognize that in the media, in advertising, in the structure of many activities we create this false generational rift. And the less time we spend with people of other age groups the vaster our ignorance and prejudice becomes.

One of the places where I most run into ageist assumptions is in the area of technological literacy. I often find employers and others making inaccurate assumptions about my computer savey. When they become aware that I am very computer literate, surprise is expressed. I’ve been complimented on being a “life-long learner” as though normal computer literacy in the workplace is unusual for a 50-something worker.

Again, my own experience is just the opposite. Those of us that came into the workforce around the same time as computers or just before, had to struggle with DOS, write batch files, work in word processing programs using on-screen codes that were the pre-cursors of html, and have a hands-on knowledge of our computer’s system configuration. With this experience, we are well-positioned to trouble-shoot problems, learn and understand html code, and design and work with databases. By contrast I have trained a number of young workers whose sole computer experience has been gameplaying, surfing the Internet, and email. While those young workers who have specific business training generally come to the workplace well prepared to use business applications, many employers hire young workers from other programs of study assuming computer knowledge that is simply not there. Often it is those of us who have been in the workplace for some time who train these workers to mailmerge, make mailing labels and to use desktop publishing programs.

I have been told that mature students entering the community college system in Ontario, are more likely to be exempted from an intro computer course on the basis of their scores on a test of computer knowledge than students coming to community college directly from high school. This does not surprise me although it flies in the face of the myth that any given 12 year old is more computer literate than any given 50 year old.

So I found it thought-provoking to read the information sheet located on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website. There’s a printable pdf version of the sheet available–suitable for posting in any workplace. Worried that posting such a sheet might be unwelcome in your workplace? Do you really want to work for an employer who discriminates on the basis of age and is blind to the strengths of older workers?

Let’s post this sheet broadly about the land and make sure that everyone knows that ageist remarks aren’t just tasteless and baseless–they are a violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Employed or self-employed? False-self employment is a growing poverty and equity issue for women workers.

Asked recently by the LEAF National Committee to complete a survey that included a recommendation of an issue warranting study by this national organization working in the area of women’s legal issues, I suggested the issue of false self-employment. This is a growing issue for workers, affecting far more women workers than men, and one where women have found it difficult to obtain reliable information.

In Social Determinants Of Health: Canadian Perspectives, published by Canadian Scholars’ Press in 2004, Dianne-Gabrielle Tremblay’s analysed the effect of globalization upon employment security.

She looks at the “new boundaryless careers” — no longer based on a vertical promotion ladder but instead nomadic with horizontal movement and new forms of organization and collaboration: team work, networks and virtual communities.

While this flexibility may be positive for certain sectors, she writes, it entails “precariousness, lack of stability and the lack of a career for others” as well as “`false’ self-employment, that is those who are dependent on one or more order-givers.”

The whole concept of “job security” is in doubt, she suggests, and this is a major factor in health and well-being. Furthermore, she notes, “This is especially the case among Canadian women.”

In the same year, 2004, Dr. Karen Hughes, author of Female Enterprise in the New Economy published by University of Toronto Press presented to the Canadian Standing Committee on the Status of Women. She identified false self-employment as a growing problem in which workers had neither the flexibility and empowerment of true self-employment nor the security and benefits of an employee entitled to the protection of Employment Insurance and CPP contributions. And when women have worked under a false self-employment arrangement and lose their jobs or retire, they are poorer than those women who had an employer who contributed to EI and CPP as required. So this really is an issue affecting women’s economic health and equity in our society.

I’m surprised that two years later, it is hard to find a lot of information about false self-employment while it is a practice that continues to grow in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

While more than half of self-employed workers report that they are involuntarily self-employed and would prefer employment, it’s fair to note that true self-employment works well for a lot of women. They are able to set their own hours, accept as many or as few jobs as they like, work flextime, work from home in some cases, while they are able to take appropriate tax deductions for their business expenses: tools, office, car and travel costs. Taking these deductions, they can invest in their own RRSP plan and also build savings to offset periods of shortage of work. This is a viable work choice for these workers.

How does false self-employment differ from this scenario? False self-employment occurs when the employee answers a job ad and the employer says, “you understand this is contract work?”. This can be confusing. Many prospective employees might think that this only refers to the time period of the contract. That this is shortterm work. However the employer will then use meaningless codewords like “service agreement”. What the employee is being told–whether they understand it or not–is that if hired they will be expected to perform like an employee (work regular hours in the employer’s place of business, use company equipment, not accept work from other employers, be subject to company rules and evaluation procedures, etc.) BUT they will not have income tax deducted from their paycheque, no EI benefits will be paid on their behalf, and no CPP contributions will be made.

The worker may be misinformed that this is a legal practice or convinced that “everyone is doing it” in a particular business sector. The worker may be misinformed by the employer about the way that a lack of employee status could be of benefit to the worker–strategies that actually involve tax fraud and liability for the worker.

The employer engaging in this employment practice is breaking Canadian tax law, plain and simple.

The pamphlet that outlines the difference between an employee and the self-employed is available for download here. In brief summary: if you work more than 50% of your paid work hours in the employers’ premises, if you use their tools, if you report to a boss, if you can’t accept other contracts, if you can’t determine your own hours of work, if you are paid a wage rather than taking profits from your business, if you can’t hire someone else to do your job for you (sub-contract) then–you are most-likely an employee under law. If you are a Canadian worker and believe that you are an employee but your employer is classifying you as self-employed to avoid paying benefits you can file a form to request that Canada Revenue conduct an investigation to determine your employment status.

Who are the employers who are engaging in this shoddy practice–dodging paying their fair share towards the social safety net in our society? It’s surprising but a number of non-profits and arts organizations supported in a large part by government grants are among the worst offenders. There seems to be a mindset there that because their cause is so important, it’s okay to treat workers in a cavalier fashion, and that any worker who wants even the minimal protection afforded Canadian workers is somehow selfish and less-dedicated to whatever “cause” the organization supports. Or, in some cases, the organization’s Board of Directors has a misguided notion that they will be less financially responsible if they avoid having an employer relationship with a lone administrator or general manager of a small non-profit. Boards may believe that they have less financial risk by mis-representing the employment relationship. Sometimes there is a belief that it will be easier to terminate a worker if unsatisfactory or if a grant ends.

But what’s the truth?

First, organizations who espouse high ethical principles should start with their own workers and contribute to the overall health of society just on principal. But pragmatically, when organizations or companies misrepresent the employment status of workers they are not helping themselves but rather exposing themselves to financial risks. If it is found that a worker’s status has been represented, the employer can be forced to pay both the employee and employer’s share of all remittances owed to the Receiver General for the employment period in dispute. Rather than skinting the government and saving money, the employer may have to pay double. In addition, any action the employer takes that may be in violation of provincial labour law can be liable to penalty if the Employment Standards branch rules that the worker’s status was that of an employee under law. Companies have to ask themselves whether fooling some workers some of the time into believing that they have no rights if they sign a self-employed contract (while working as employees) is worth the financial risks, potential bad publicity and plain bad karma.

But what if the worker wants to represent their work as self-employed?

Certainly it might be very tempting for low-income earners to want to avoid paying their share of income tax and benefit contributions. But is it fair of employers to lure gullible, cash-strapped and ill-informed workers into a dangerous deception? If these workers fail to pay taxes at all, hoping to slip under the radar, they are liable to huge fines and back taxes at a future time. If t
he worker misrepresents themselves as self-employed and claims self-employed deductions such as computer, office supplies, home office and car expenses, they will have a huge problem supporting these deductions when it becomes clear that they spent their full work day in the employer’s premises, using the employer’s equipment. The worker is forced to lie through their teeth and take all the risks of that in order to gain the benefits of the self-employed status that the employer has falsely assigned to them. Not only is the employer lying but the worker is tempted, even coached by some employers, to lie in order to avoid a crushing tax bill. Should the worker refuse to lie, pay their taxes as the employed person that they were under the definition of Revenue Canada–while being unable to produce a T-4 slip as required–alarm bells will ring and once again the employers who thought to avoid responsibility, cost and make their lives simpler–will find their lives suddenly very complicated.

I’d like to see LEAF and other women’s and workers’ rights organization make more information available on this subject and where warranted take employers to court. I see education as key because I believe that both employers and workers are very misinformed on this issue. When government-supported non-profits engage in this practice it seems doubly wrong. It’s a case of biting the hand that feeds you. Provincial and federal governments are losing money for social programs when workers are forced into false self-employment. I’d like to see policies in place that require the re-payment of government grants by organizations who avoid their financial responsibilities to workers. I’d also like to see clear employment protections in place for workers who whistle-blow on employers engaged in employing workers while not affording them their legally required employment benefits.

I’d welcome emails from anyone facing this situation and I am considering ways of taking this issue forward politically. If there is any group out there already doing this, I’d like to know about it!

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
Print Friendly, PDF & Email