Performance Managing the Narcissist

What is a narcissist?

Roughly 1% of the general population suffers from the DSM-5 recognized Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [i] Those with this condition must be supported and accommodated with guidance from medical professionals. Performance management, including various progressive discipline streams, is rarely appropriate under those circumstances. To be clear, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not the focus of our discussion today.

Instead, we focus on trends, traits and behaviour prevalent in today’s workplace culture.

A more significant proportion of the population has narcissistic traits (again, this is in contrast to the DSM-5 disorder). In fact, to varying degrees, narcissistic traits are increasingly dominant within the general population, at a rate currently sitting at 65%[ii].

Evolving Safety and Employer Liability Concerns

This discussion does not intend to come from a place of judgment. Nevertheless, we must not turn a blind eye to those who act on the impulses arising from a narcissistic disposition, negatively affecting their behaviour towards others. This behaviour can create significant workplace challenges, resulting in psychological and emotional harm which is possibly compensable via Workers’ Compensation legislation. This dysregulated and harmful behaviour is what we intend to discuss today.

Possible Causes,  and the Self-Esteem Movement Connection

So, what is narcissism? Narcissism is described as “an exaggerated opinion of one’s contribution to society or group, otherwise known as excessive self-love or even egocentric personality. The Psychology Dictionary describes narcissists as ‘[i]ndividuals who express a strong self-love and exaggerated self-opinions.’” [iii]

Many may assume a causal relationship between the pervasiveness of social media and increased narcissism in North American society. Given our present-day context, many are under the impression that the prevalence of social media is the primary factor in society’s narcissistic trend. Studies show that while social media may indeed be a platform for the narcissist, social media is not the cause of the trait. [iv] Studies show that narcissism has more to do with social networks closer to home, with tendencies normally ingrained by the time one is thirteen years of age.

Academics and clinicians realize that increased narcissistic traits in society are partly due to the self-esteem school of thought. Unfortunately, this doctrine is not grounded in being better but instead in thinking one is better than others. [v] The self-esteem school of thought was pervasive for roughly 20 years, and even supplanted into North American school curriculums.

Understanding the Narcissist

Narcissists tend to think highly of themselves and want others to do the same. Furthermore, they also want to feel superior, while exerting power over others. They are highly manipulative and deploy tactics to get what they want. When confronted with barriers to these objectives, they often become angry and resentful and seek retaliation.

Britannica elaborates that the “Narcissists’ positive but insecure self-views lead them to be more attentive and reactive to feedback […] However, not just any response or feedback from others is important to narcissists; they are eager to learn that others admire and look up to them. Narcissists value admiration and superiority more than being liked and accepted. Studies find that narcissists’ self-esteem depends upon the extent to which they feel admired. Moreover, narcissists pursue admiration from others by attempting to manipulate the impressions they create […]They make self-promoting and self-aggrandizing statements and attempt to solicit regard and compliments from those around them. They also respond with anger and resentment when they feel threatened by others. They are more likely to respond aggressively on such occasions and derogate those who threaten them, even when such hostile responding jeopardizes the relationship.” [vi]

The Narcissist at Work

So now, let us set the stage for the narcissist at work.

Narcissists are typically self-centred, lack empathy and understanding, and have disproportionate, aggressive or passive-aggressive reactions to criticism. Narcissists often expect things to go their way and may act out, even retaliate, if colleagues do not reinforce their desire for special status and treatment within the group. They will often not hesitate to depart from past or present truth to defend their self-worth—their self-esteem.

Also, as part of the ruse, Narcissists like to be associated with higher-status people” [vii]. They seek to associate with those superior in title or status within the organization and treat those higher in the organization chart much differently than they would equal or subordinates. This inconsistency can sometimes tend to create a “blind spot” even for seasoned managers— at least for a while.

Summaries from Experts

As Industrial Relations and Human Resources practitioners, we are not psychologists.

We necessarily rely on the research of others versus personal expertise. Kindly indulge as we pause to share a few summaries about narcissism, directly from experts.

Manfred Ket de Vries writes, “Furthermore, narcissistic individuals have a strong sense of entitlement. When they don’t receive the special treatment that they believe they deserve, they become very impatient or get quite angry. Given their self-serving mindset, it’s difficult for them to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. Empathy doesn’t come naturally. As narcissists are quite thin-skinned, they have difficulty handling criticism; they very quickly feel hurt, overreact, and get defensive.”[viii]

The narcissist would rewrite history, as Theodore Millon put it, “…to freely transform failures into successes, and to construct lengthy and intricate rationalizations that inflate their self-worth or justify what they believe is their right…” [VII] Theodore Millon and Roger Davis pointed out that narcissists “…remember the past as they would have wanted it to occur, not as it actually happened.” [ix]

Two review articles in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Russ et al., 2008, and Caligor et al., 2015) note that NPD may…encompasses three major subtypes, with varying degrees of clinical severity and prognosis…[the less severe]…is less likely to have psychiatric comorbidity and may not necessarily meet the functional impairment criterion for NPD, except during periodic crises or unexpected failures (such as losing a job or undergoing a divorce). They appear to be outwardly successful and generally maintain their ego stability, but they still maintain an essential NPD personality structure; issues with entitlement and self-centeredness may lead to interpersonal issues and exploitative, unempathetic behaviours.”

Containing the Narcissist

If you notice an employee acting in this way, remember it is a complex issue. A multi-pronged approach will likely be necessary. Before we get into coaching tactics, let us spend a moment on containment. This is essentially harm reduction. It is crucial to keep in mind that it is our other employees who will most likely suffer the wrath of the unmitigated narcissist.

There is power in numbers. Creating a strong team environment can neutralize the behaviour and set a stage for encouraging peer feedback, supported by leadership. Feedback from the group dynamic may be a more receptive forum for the narcissist than feedback from one individual. [x] Safe, group work settings are environments in which those with narcissistic tendencies will respond. Their need for affirmations will drive their engagement with the group’s peer regulation and cultural norms. [xi]. However, it is important to avoid putting narcissists on teams with teammates they can dominate. That would allow the behaviour to fester and will only positively reinforce the undesirable behaviour. [xii]

Our job is to manage the narcissist while maintaining the physical and psychological safety of the rest of our team… “a manager’s biggest worry should not be losing their narcissist; it should be that other team members will be the ones to resign, tired of the way narcissists need to be catered to. It’s hard to deal with a narcissist’s sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and need to feel special.” [xiii] Until the narcissist learns to regulate their behaviour consistently, it will be a precarious balancing act to manage the narcissist, protect their safety, and inspire patience within the rest of the team.

When things go awry…

As is normal through working within an organization, micro-blunders happen. While (fortunately) not all places have office politics akin to contact sports, even the tamest environments involve:

    • Inadvertent slights between co-workers;

    • Unequal or inequitable distribution of credit or gratitude for jobs well done; or,

    • Assigning real or perceived blame when outcomes differ from expectations.

Offices are not sanitary lab environments. They are human and thus, messy (some more than others). Real or perceived slights will happen. It is not a question of if but rather, when.

Those prone to narcissistic tendencies, who lack the mindfulness and coping skills required to regulate reactions, will start to run into trouble when these slights occur – even under reasonably healthy workplace conditions. This is when reactions become disproportionate, and it is when work colleagues are more likely to notice disruptions from the individual.

These everyday slights are likely overly felt by the narcissist. As author Kristin Neff explains, “Any threat to [their] mental representation of who [they] are, therefore, feels like an actual, visceral threat, and [they] respond as powerfully as a soldier defending [their] very life.” [xiv]When narcissists receive put-downs from others, their retaliation can be fast and furious, even violent. Narcissistic anger serves an essential function for the narcissist: it deflects negative attention away from the self toward others, who can then be blamed for all the dark emotions being experienced.” [xv] And, as James McDonald Jr (a lawyer) pointed out, “When the narcissist ultimately fails, the fall will be long and hard. Litigation is likely to result, so it is essential that the narcissist’s performance problems, disruptive conduct, and abuse of others be thoroughly documented as they occur.” [xvi]

Organizations and managers will need to adopt thoughtful and deliberate practices when confronted with these situations.

Performance Managing

Managers: Prevent the Narcissist from Hiding Out on Your Blind Side

How the narcissist treats their superiors often differs remarkably from how they treat those lateral to them and also from how they treat their subordinates. Managers must be on-guard for the possibility of one of their direct reports hiding out in their “blindside.”

Suppose an employee always seems to have the correct answers for you but consistently experiences relationship trouble from co-workers and their subordinates. It would be wise to reserve judgment and do a little investigation.

Narcissists are people-pleasers to those in elevated positions, so they will be skilled in sending their manager comforting signals about their performance. There are reasons why organizations promote narcissists before their true character becomes apparent. While it is an overused phrase, “trust but verify” makes sense in this case. It is worth investing effort to understand the perspectives of coworkers or subordinates who may be having a difficult time with your employee. The last thing you want to do is enable a narcissist to sit on your blind side, operating under your authority, while leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Be wary of requests for special treatment. It is a common sign you are dealing with a narcissist, and giving in will only reinforce the behaviour. Also, conceding will create resentment among other team members.

If performance interventions are required, take a structured approach and determine what performance management or discipline stream you are on. Stick to a linear discipline stream unless new facts come to light that inspires you to change course. A transparent, and frankly boring, performance management approach will be helpful later. If possible, remain on a linear progressive discipline path (Step 1, 2, 3). Take notes and keep a personal file. These files don’t lend themselves well to culminating incident justifications, mainly due to the subjectivity associated with interpersonal strife. If things go sideways, it is likely to get litigious.

We recommend against reinforcing behaviour by succumbing to the narcissists’ desire for special treatment[xvii], maintaining a principle and rules-based approach, and keeping to straightforward performance management messaging.

Failure to do this leaves you vulnerable. When you become a threat to the narcissist, they will retaliate against you and exploit any weaknesses you have revealed to them while handling the file.

Having the Discussion

State the Issue, knowing it will likely be taken very personally (Have an HR staff person Witness the exchange)

When confronting the narcissist, be direct. Take extra effort to separate the behaviour from the person as you explain your concern. Example: “You bring much skill and passion to the team. Reacting versus responding and talking at or about people instead of to them is causing a great deal of friction. That behaviour is creating problems for our department and preventing us from meeting our objectives. Your gossipping and emotional, impulsive responses must stop. We need you to take a moment before responding to gather yourself. We need you to raise concerns directly with your co-workers and avoid gossiping. Can you make these adjustments?”

Describe what you will MONITOR and Book a Follow-Up Meeting

Example: “Unless something comes up from a safety or ethical perspective, I want concerns you have with others to be brought to my attention with the other person present so that we can all talk about it together. That way, you can also see how I communicate while we get out of the practice of talking about,  rather than to our colleagues. I will try to provide a good example for you. Also, I will drop in to observe a few of your team meetings over the next couple of months. Let’s get together in May to check in and review where we are at with this. If you have questions, want coaching or support in making this behavioural change, please drop in.”

Continue to check in, and offer positive feedback whenever the manager sees authentic effort on the part of the employee to change. Remember, people usually exhibit and cement narcissistic tendencies by thirteen years of age. It will take effort and focus for the employee to adjust their responses and communication style. For instances where behaviour is not changing and is causing safety concerns or psychological harm to work colleagues, escalate dispassionately using sound progressive discipline practices. Managers need to protect themselves by keeping good records and having witnesses available for critical discussions where possible.

Try Not to Further Oppress the Oppressed

Lateral Violence and its Coexistence with Maladaptive Narcissistic Behaviour

We recommend that companies and managers consider the broader issue of lateral violence. This type of violence may be suppressed through preventative measures and talking spaces. If unmanaged, it may have to be addressed as an after-the-fact mitigating factor weighed against Occupational Health and Safety obligations to ensure employees are free from physical and psychological harm.

There is no doubt a significant overlap between the maladaptive narcissistic behaviour and “Lateral violence [which] is a term that describes the way people in positions of powerlessness…direct their dissatisfaction inward toward each other, toward themselves, and those less powerful than themselves…Lateral violence is believed to occur worldwide in minorities and particularly Aboriginal peoples…” [xviii] “Lateral violence is the expression of rage and anger, fear and terror that can only be safely vented upon those closest to us when we are being oppressed.” In other words, victims of a situation of dominance turn on each other instead of confronting the system that oppresses them. The oppressed become the oppressors. [xix] It is also “a form of bullying that includes gossip, shaming and blaming others, backstabbing and attempts to socially isolate others.” [xx]

 This is particularly accurate in instances of colonialism, trauma, and intergenerational trauma; these must be addressed and recognized as complex issues. “Research suggests that as many as 95% of bullying [experienced by Aboriginal People] occurs amongst Aboriginal people themselves.” [xxi] This should not be surprising as, “[t]he roots of lateral violence lie in colonization, oppression, intergenerational trauma, powerlessness and ongoing experiences of racism and discrimination, factors mainstream bullying programs do not take into account.[xxii]…[Society]…can (inadvertently or deliberately) create the environment for lateral violence through a lack of recognition and engagement and by pitting groups against each other.[xxiii]

Employers need to look inward to check their organizational health. Have an honest look to see if factors at work inflame or exacerbate the issue. While employers must address bullying and psychological harm individually, the systemic aspects will only improve through holistic organizational, community and individual approaches.

Getting a handle on Lateral Violence

Within the organization, and preferably before and separate from specific occurrences, “[n]aming lateral violence is the first step towards exerting control over it, and [is in itself] an act of prevention.[xxiv] Therefore, awareness campaigns, communications, sharing circles, and peer discussions can significantly improve and de-risk this issue. “To tackle lateral violence, Richard J. Frankland suggests that you “out it. Name it for what it is, a destroyer of Indigenous culture and life. Publicly admit it is happening and then take steps and measures to deal with it… Find ways to deal with it, end it, eradicate it from our lives and communities.” [xxv]. “Others suggest to apply traditional ways of resolving disputes, such as learning and healing circles and shared care.” [xxvi]

More companies are “being made aware of lateral violence and the effects it can have on their staff, as well as the overall performances of employees. Businesses are taking this problem seriously, and people who are caught engaging in acts of lateral violence could find themselves being reprimanded or dismissed from their positions.” [xxvii] “Awareness of the problem is the first step in resolving it and, like sexual harassment, lateral violence should be discussed with employees so that they are aware of what it is and how to report it if they are victims of it or see it happening. Preventing lateral violence will help create a more harmonious atmosphere on the job.” [xxviii]


Narcissism is prevalent in today’s workplace, with an estimated 65% of the general population estimated to possess narcissistic traits to varying degrees. It is almost the case that if you can’t spot the narcissist in the room, you’re probably it.

Promoting and allowing space for healthy discussions within your workplace, ensuring all employees’ safety, including psychological safety, assists managers and companies in meeting this issue with maturity and compassion.

Workforce Delivery Inc. thanks you for your time today and wishes you all the best on your journey.


[ii] Self-Compassion, pg. 147



[v] Self-Compassion, pg. 140




[ix]Millon, T. and Davis, R. (2000), Personality Disorders in Modern Life, Wiley, New York, p. 294. In





[xiv] Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion (p. 151). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

[xv] Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion (pp. 143-144). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

[xvi] McDonald, J. J. (2005), The Narcissistic Plaintiff, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4, p. 97 in













When the Whisper Network Stops Being a Public Service

When the Whisper Network Stops Being a Public Service

September 24, 2019, |Bullying, Compliance, Harassment, Human Resources, Sexual Harassment, Workplace Respect

Inspired in part by Samantha Ip and Alisa Kaletsky of Clark Wilson LLP, in an article Published on

Facts: A professor at a Canadian university shared unproven allegations of sexual misconduct/harassment about a former colleague to that former colleague’s new employer.

This triggered a lawsuit against the university for defamation.

In propagating the unfounded allegations, the court found that the professor was acting “on behalf” of the university—this attached responsibility of that professor’s lack of discretion to the university itself. Also (pertinent to this case), it afforded that professor access to a funded defence for herself in response to the defamation lawsuit under the university’s liability insurance plan.

Taken in the best light, the loose-lipped professor may have felt she was acting in the capacity of a Good Samaritan. 

When sharing information about a former employee or colleague is less, a rule of thumb is usually less is better than more; stick to the facts. And, as this case demonstrates, the known facts. 

Also, not that I would want to defend or be an apologist for poor behaviour; one might want to pause for a moment and at least consider that the former employee has presumably already paid a steep price for their mistake, that being, losing their job. One might want to ask, “why then is it necessary to attempt to harm or ruin a person’s career or further trample on their dignity?” Before engaging in any gossip, employees need to ask themselves, does this support, detract from, or is it neutral concerning the target person’s dignity? I’ve witnessed many unrelenting Good Samaritans transform into bullies this way.

This reminds me of Michelle Rempel’s description of the whisper network at the height of the Me Too movement. The whisper network is what happens when organizations fail to confront sexual harassment directly. (Usually) women are left to their own devices to suppress or ward off the behaviour. They use the whisper network to warn each other of unmanaged dangers in the workplace, such as “Don’t be in an elevator alone with that guy.” For a time, and unfortunately, it is still the case in some places, that is the only mechanism available to women to protect themselves in their workplace. To those in that situation, I pray for your safety and hope you get to work with a good employer someday. 

On the other hand, many employers have robust mechanisms for addressing sexual harassment concerns and behaviour. Where that is the case, a formal approach through HR (or the sexual harassment policy owner within the organization) is the preferred tactic to deploy in responding to instances of real or perceived harassment.

It is credible and available, and this formal approach is preferred over relying on the “whisper network.” 

Further, once an organization with a credible sexual harassment policy and investigative framework addresses the issue, vigilante lateral gossip targeting the accused is no longer a public service—it’s just toxic gossip that is an affront to the dignity of those involved and creates unnecessary risks for the employer. 

And when wrong:

  • it is serious;
  • it is defamation;
  • it has major consequences;
  • it creates harm; and,
  • people will (not surprisingly) sue.

This is a complex area of employee relations and human resources. As you may have surmised, this article is more of a discussion and less prescriptive than other articles we have submitted. Each case must be addressed on its own fact set and circumstances. 

Employee Secretly Recording Others At Work Results in Termination

I enjoyed watching law and order/crime TV dramas as I grew up. There would be an episode involving a character secretly recording another from time to time.

Then a court would throw out the evidence. Justice denied! It made for heartbreaking yet exciting TV.

Just like many laypeople, that led me to, for a while, believe that recording someone in secret was illegal in every circumstance, or at least would be unreliable as evidence.

Then, inspiring high school and post-secondary educators introduced more nuance. They taught us that recording a conversation was generally not illegal if at least one person recorded is aware of the recording. Like most, I absorbed that into my psyche and moved on.

As an HR practitioner, I have not experienced an abundance of co-worker-to-co-worker covert recordings. When it came up for me, the admissibility of evidence of the recording was rarely the focus.

For instance, an individual recorded roughly 40 hours of his supervisor undermining and directing racial slurs toward him. We didn’t adjudicate the issue of whether the person should have been recording. Instead, the facts backed by the recording motivated us to fix the situation. Fixing the situation included confronting the superiors, firing the supervisor and getting our chequebook to settle the targeted employee’s grievance.

In other files, a person being harassed or intimidated or bullied records another in secret from time to time. In these files, the recording often will assist in credibility assessments when comparing competing testimony from the target and the bully. The necessity for these recordings makes sense, as bullies are sly and often tricky to gather objective evidence of the behaviour.

The legality of the recording is not the only factor to consider in the employment context. The appropriateness of the recording is also an essential factor. A recent BC Supreme Court Case added another nuance. Under this fact set, an employee extensively recorded private and personal conversations with co-workers and supervisors. Findings of fact did not substantiate reasons given by the employee to justify the excessive recordings. The court found that the secret recording activity violated the trust required for a functioning employee/employer relationship and was grounds for dismissal.


Employers need to tread carefully and cautiously when considering covert recording discipline. Factors such as the extent of the recording and that the recordings included co-workers’ personal information contributed to the court’s decision. Also, the court did not substantiate the reasons the employee relied upon to justify the need to record.

Employers would be well served to get in front of this and consider setting expectations surrounding secret recordings at work by creating a policy.

We recommend legal advice if an employer intends to discipline or terminate an employee recording.

For employees, this feels like it should be a public service announcement. Many are under the impression they can record conversations without negative consequences. That is not the case. And, call me sentimental, but I have this strong preference that when employees behave in a manner that could put their job in jeopardy, they should be aware of that in advance. So govern yourself accordingly.

Why Safety Rules Must Be and Be Perceived as Reasonable

Safety Rules: Like many controls on safety-sensitive worksites, our preferred line of defence is to eliminate or completely control hazards through design and engineering. Administrative controls must mitigate residual threats that companies cannot, for lack of a better phrase, engineer out of the work process. Managerial measures include controls levered by training, policy and procedures and personal protective equipment requirements. Together they are designed to motivate or encourage employee behaviour to eliminate further, mitigate or control residual safety risk.

We rely on safety rules and rule compliance for many reasons, including to protect employees’ safety. To set and administer rules effectively, we pay heed and study the realm of human behaviour.

Many industrial safety-sensitive sites operate on a reasonably authoritative chain of command structure to organize and execute work. However, due to the often large geographic footprint of industrial worksites, usually in dynamic, open environments exposed to changing factors, companies must rely heavily on autonomous rule compliance, which means that individuals follow the rules when not in the line of sight of one who directly supervises them. Thus, safety performance relies on the cultural norms and buy-in of teams working to keep each other safe. Individual compliance and peer enforcement rely on a hearts and minds approach or buy-in into the rule. This requires leaders to explain and inspire, rather than solely direct and instruct safety leadership when setting and administering controls. Therefore, we need to be willing to get into the questions. Why is a rule essential? What prompted management to install the expectation? Why is it in my interest and my coworkers’ interest to follow these rules? And, what makes this rule reasonable? These are the types of questions that need to be embraced and explored with crews to achieve a hearts and minds buy-in. If our team does not understand why a rule is made or does not believe it is reasonable, things can go wrong.

To illustrate, I’m going to reflect on one of my favourite courses at university. It was lead by a quirky history professor who studied a phenomenon called jury nullification in early English common law. He referenced heavily Thomas Andrew Green’s book, Verdict According to Conscience. During this time, England defined murder by statute. Hence, the courts were not authorized to find anything inconsistent with the statute’s definition of murder. The crime of murder was described as a death where a human had contributed to that death. If a court found that someone had committed murder, the automatic consequence was capital punishment. It was a capital offence, and within this construct, there was only one defence, which was self-defence. Self-defence was also very rigidly defined. The individual relying on self-defence had to be smaller than the would-be attacker, had to be wielding a smaller weapon, or the individual that was fallen had to have been wielding a more deadly weapon than the individual relying on the self-defence. A person depending on the defence also needed to be unable to escape the would-be attacker. All three of these things need to be in place for a jury to find a person not guilty by self-defence.

My professor and historian Thomas Andrew Green was appropriately suspicious of how this may have played out in real-life in jury trials. They compared jury trials’ findings of fact during that timeframe against the facts issued by coroners reports in the same cases.

They found discrepancies between the coroner reports and jury findings of fact. Case in point, one coroner report found that the husband walked into his home where he found his wife with another man. A struggle ensues. The husband used a knife to stab the man. The man dies. A jury in the same case found the following. The husband encounters a man outside of his home. The jury found the man had an axe (the axe, appearing out of nowhere), and the husband, while trapped against the edge of a cliff (which also appeared out of nowhere), was unable to escape. The jury concluded the husband used the knife to defend himself against the man wielding an axe.

In that case, the jury didn’t find that the rule was reasonable. The jury did not find the consequence suitable. Hence, rather than issue an unjust ruling leading to an unjust consequence, the jury searched for and found the facts required that would enable them to rule the individual not guilty by self-defence. So essentially, the jury nullified the unreasonable rule. Thomas Andrew Green refers to this as jury nullification.

The same can happen to us if our workers do not believe that our safety rules are reasonable or reasonably administered. Leaders must continue to accept questions regarding why we do the things we do. Invest in the effort to explain and inspire because failing to do so may result in our safety rules being nullified out in the field when we’re not looking.


A prime example of this points to the Alberta Construction Industry’s experience in administering the COAA’s Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace: Alcohol and Drug Guidelines and Work Rule. Earlier versions of the model relied upon almost exclusively peer and front line supervisory administration of the rule in two basic scenarios: 1) a relatively prescriptive post-incident testing rule, and 2) a more subjective “reasonable cause” testing rule. Often, owners and safety representatives found a 20-25% non-negative result from post-incident testing (a lagging indicator as an incident or near miss would already have occurred). One in five or one in four safety incidents occurred concurrent to the presence of alcohol and drug levels higher than that allowed under the safety-based work rule. The forgoing coincided with a low-level of the frequency of peer or supervisor-initiated reasonable cause tests (a control arguably more preventative than the post-incident testing).

Hence the discretionary aspects of the safety rule were nullified.

Upon further explanation, peer and front-line supervisors were reluctant to administer the rule for three key reasons: 1) discomfort confronting one on their substance use, especially with the stigma attached to alcohol and drug use and abuse, 2) they did not feel the testing regime was fair in respect to the marijuana panel, which measured levels associated with use on personal time away from work, and 3) they did not believe the consequences associated with a positive test were fair for those who recreationally used marijuana. As a result, many employers who installed the Canadian Model on their worksites had a significant portion of their work rule nullified by its workforce, drastically reducing the safety efficacy of the practice, which was its primary purpose in the first place.

There are answers to the concerns of peer enforcers and front-line supervisors. However, in that case, leaders were not equipped to demonstrate the rule’s reasonableness or appropriateness. The rest was history. Supervisors and peers’ reluctance to administer the reasonable cause portion of the Canadian Model prompted owners to impose site access testing to fill the void in preventative controls regarding their Alcohol and Drug Administrative controls.

2020 Initiative and Industrial Relations List for With People Inc.

Inventory of service activities delivered to clients in 2020, a report by Sam Kemble

A Word from the Executive Operations Officer 

We diversified our client base and service offerings during the year, added capacity, strengthened our balance sheet, and improved our processes. We supported organizations to meet extraordinary and complex challenges through various service offerings.

We are inspired by our client’s character, understanding and compassion towards their employees, union partners, and stakeholders, all during a year that could strain any relationship. We are grateful to continue serving industries and enterprises in Canada.

We wish all well as we approach the New Year.

Respectfully submitted,

Sam Kemble

Executive Operating Officer

Industrial Relations – Negotiations

This year in industrial relations, we bargained collectively with various Building Trade unions in Saskatchewan, CUPE in Edmonton, Unifor in Windsor, and UFCW in Edmonton. Also, we engaged in First Nation Mutual Benefits Agreement Negotiations West of Edmonton.

Industrial Relations

We continue to deepen our service and experience in general industrial relations through grievance administration, progressive discipline support, collective agreement interpretation, group lay-off and bumping-process support, coal-to-gas transition supports, recall list administration, temporary layoff supports, arbitration case management, contracting out, severance liability included in a temporary layoff context, right to refuse unsafe work in a COVID-19 context, pension plan and health benefits and insurance administration, and common employer and successor employer analysis.

Policy Development

We engaged in robust alcohol and drug policy development and costing models, participated in public policy creation and review through the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, and developed several policies and practice documents in employment administration.


Ongoing training and workshops were developed and delivered, covering performance management, labour and employee relations, industrial relations, anti-harassment, bullying and violence. Work continues to migrate these modules to an online delivery format for broad and safe accessibility.



Significant time has been invested in enhancing our craft recruitment process, including modules for equity hiring and onboarding. We supported clients to develop a 48-hour rule hiring process to coincide with hiring hall scenarios. Cost models have been developed and simulated for craft sourcing, recruitment and onboarding for numerous multi-year projects. Our firm provided direct recruitment support for a plant south of Edmonton, a shutdown near Regina, road construction in Calgary, a pipeline in BC, a plant west of Edmonton, an institutional project in Terrace, recruitment for project administration in Northwest BC, a manufacturing facility south of Edmonton, several residential projects in the Greater Vancouver area, an infrastructure project in Lloydminster, and a roadbuilding project in the Greater Vancouver area.

We have adopted a positive bias into our recruitment process that prefers Indigenous, BIPOC and women candidates.


2020 brought the need to support clients with Covid-19 response measures, including service for essential service employees, implementing masking, hygiene, and physical distancing policies while restructuring work arrangements through staggering shifts and rotating site presence protocols. Various sick and other leave provisions required interpretation within a pandemic context. We also ensured rights and obligations to refuse unsafe work were adequately adhered to within a COVID-19 context. The pandemic also brought unique factors requiring a considered review of human rights and employment statute-protected accommodations, including leave and work accommodations. Many employers also found it necessary to navigate both the in and the out-of-work-from-home transitions.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be of service during such challenging and dynamic times. 

Industrial Relations – Operations / Execution

We engaged in front-end engineering and design (FEED) support for significant capital projects’ workforce delivery and the management component. We increased our forecasting and costing analysis capacity and conducted field execution productivity studies, developed project costing studies, and conducted labour posture comparison studies for construction and maintenance. We developed and supported wall-to-wall craft recruitment models. 

Justice and Social

We provided Jordan’s principal policy, advice, and advocacy within our social justice portfolio. We developed Treaty-based education agreements and policies.

Together with expert volunteers, we are about to release an employer mental health and wellness practice document.

We commenced service to the Board of the Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

As a firm, we are taking an aggressive approach to positive bias recruiting to ameliorate disadvantaged and historically disadvantaged groups’ inequities.


With People Inc. Internal Capacity

In 2020, the firm increased recruitment, project controls, human resources and data science capacity.

We made investments in achieving a CPHR Certification, investigative report writing training, first aid training, and Principles of Health and Safety Management.

We afforded access to professional coaching to staff to increase career development and the strength of our team.

We created an operational contingency reserve for our operations to de-risk the potential for Covid-19 to impact our staffing levels. We also adopted an accounting policy to carry a fully funded severance liability on our balance sheet.

Throughout 2020 we continue to develop apps for release in 2021, including a force ranking app – 90% complete, a witness credibility app – 70% complete, a quantum of discipline review app – 70% complete. Also, we rebuilt our workforce applicant tracking and onboarding system – 70% complete.

In the ongoing interest of advancing awareness and education in human resources and employee and industrial relations, we maintained our educational Blog, Podcast, and Video Channel (hosted on YouTube).

Visit our homepage for more information about our human resources and industrial relations firm with offices in Edmonton, Alberta, Prince George and Victoria, British Columbia.

Systemic Racism and the Cave Analogy

Today we discuss Plato’s cave analogy and systemic racism in Canada. Like many, we in our firm accept that systemic racism exists throughout Canada and is interwoven into our institutions.

This statement comes neither from a place of judgement nor is it presented to suggest castigation of those subject to the system’s influence within which we all reside.

 Accepting that many forms of racism are prevalent throughout our society is simply an appreciation of the state of things, without judgment – and from there comes, a choice and perhaps, hopefully – a commitment.

 We write this within weeks of May 25, 2020. During this time, much has been in the news which illuminates the pervasiveness of racism in many forms in our institutions, including within our police forces. The police are no worse or better than most of Canada’s institutions.

Recent events reinforce that responsibility to get it right increases exponentially for those who exercise authority, and at times, force over others.

 And as Ibram X Kendi emphasizes in his 2019 book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” getting it right must be viewed, relatively, from where we are at. So, given where we are today, getting it right starts with acknowledging there is a problem. Sadly, for some (but not all) senior leadership positions within police force administration and police member associations, acknowledging that there is a  problem is more than they are willing to offer at the moment. Rather, some choose to deny it with vigour.

 We intend to explore this denial and anchor our discussion; we will reference Plato’s Cave Analogy in his classic, “Republic.”

In the Cave Analogy, Plato considers three people bound in a seated position in a cave with their heads affixed staring at a wall, for their entire life. Light enters from behind them from the mouth of the cave. From time to time, animals cross the mouth of the cave and cast shadows onto the wall they are facing. The three never knew differently, so what they were witnessing on the cave wall, was to them, an accurate reflection of life and reality.

Eventually, the bindings of one of the three came loose. With muscles that had yet been used, the escapee slowly struggled and eventually made their way to the cave entrance.

Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, the escapee experienced a great deal of pain. Eyes that knew only darkness and shadow were exposed to the sun’s bright light for the first time. Soon, the eyes adjusted, and the escapee witnessed the wondrous beauty, fullness and truth of the world.

After exploring, the escapee returned to the cave, wishing to share the freedom and revelation with the escapee’s former cave mates.

The escapee removed the bindings of the cave mates, and they struggled but moved towards the mouth of the cave. As they approached the mouth of the cave, sunlight struck their eyes, causing immense pain. Immediately, they asked why the escapee would cause them such pain and resented the escapee for it.

Ultimately, the pain of exposure to the light and the pain of accepting the truth was too great for the cave mates. Angrily, they hone in on the escapee, whom they stoned to death for causing them such pain, following which, they returned to their seats in the cave to carry on staring at the shadows on the wall.

Racism, including systemic racism, exists in Canada. Despite this, people continue to choose to deny that fact. We should not be surprised. As the cave analogy shows, holding contempt for information that challenges previously held beliefs is human nature. Such denial is neither right nor necessarily permanent.


And what of the visceral, conditioned emotional responses and attacks that come with such denials? Many in pain seek to destroy. They wish to focus their anger towards someone or something, to stop the exchange of information, and then, they wish to carry on living in their cave- in their distorted reality. They choose to deny the existence of systemic racism.

To be racist, that being, “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” Or, to be antiracist, that being, “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their action or expressing an antiracist idea.” Objectively, it is impossible to reduce racism without acknowledging that systemic racism exists.

[Ibram X Kendi, 2019]

You’ll note that neither choice represents a static position, both choices describe one engaged in action…being static is not an option.

When looked at this way, this is a journey to embark upon and has nothing to do with permanent condemnations. So given recent events, we choose to, in a non-judgemental way in terms of where we are at today, actively seek new information to permit our eyes to adjust, for the alternative is to stay blind and hurt.

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