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When young workers are given a fertile, supportive and safe environment in which to flourish, both sides benefit.Getty Images

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Ask Women and Work

Question: I’m a senior leader who works with many Gen Z employees. I’m finding it challenging to make our different work styles mesh. How can I make sure everyone works together successfully?

We asked Quita Alfred, costume designer for productions including Oscar-winning film Women Talking, to tackle this one:

I think it requires openness to learning on both sides. In the last six to eight years, it’s been so busy in our industry that we were literally grabbing people off the street. Many of those people were fresh out of high school. But I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the 19- to 21-year-olds I have worked with. They have a fantastic work ethic. They’re kind, they’re open, they’re smart. They have an amazing sense of integrity and justice.

What they often need is soft business skills, like how to answer a phone properly, how to shake someone’s hand when greeting them, how to put their phone down and look someone in the eye when they are talking to them. It’s not that they don’t know how to communicate, it’s that they do it differently. But particularly in the arts and entertainment industry, we’re still a ‘handshake and a look in the eye’ kind of industry. Your reputation is all you have.

I find that an intentional, crystal-clear expression of expectations about the following items (always within company guidelines) makes an enormous difference toward building a trusting and supportive work environment:

Workplace behaviour – This includes respectful personal interactions, zero tolerance for bullying behaviours, punctuality expectations and rules surrounding the use of technology, social media and group participation.

Performance expectations – This includes completing assigned tasks and projects punctually. If deadlines can’t be met for whatever reason, make it clear when communication should begin about this possibility: as soon as a problem is detected, not minutes before something is due. Explain the benefit of this. Supervisors should be welcoming and supportive of the younger worker coming to them with questions or concerns.

Professional presentation – This includes dress codes, communication styles (written and verbal) and representing the team/company in the best possible manner. Greetings matter, including handshakes, welcoming gestures and eye contact. Punctuation matters. Grammar matters. Emails should not begin, ‘Hey, just got your message.’ That is one of my hard rules. I sit people down when they first start working with me and say, there will never be an e-mail that comes from this office that starts with the word ‘Hey.’

When young workers are given a fertile, supportive and safe environment in which to flourish, the rewards for both sides are amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to watch people blossom in their careers because of these parameters and have received feedback from former young colleagues relating to this. Meanwhile, older workers are able to learn new technical and efficiency skills, enabling them to stay relevant in their fields. In my experience, very young workers are excellent and patient teachers who explain things well. They have opened worlds for me, helping me with research and tools that make our workflow easier.

In my work environments, ‘I need a UT!’ has become a popular phrase, meaning: I need someone ‘under thirty’ to come and help me sort this out. In these interactions, the more experienced worker learns something new, and the younger receives the respect and satisfaction of being able to contribute in a meaningful way. It’s a win-win.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at

This week’s must-read stories on women and work

How femtech companies are tackling gender health gaps while empowering women

Not many people decide to pursue a business idea while undergoing cancer treatment, but Rachel Bartholomew was determined to address the gender health gaps she uncovered firsthand.

After being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019, Ms. Bartholomew discovered that women were still using devices called dilators that were first designed in 1938 for pelvic floor rehabilitation. (This kind of rehab can treat issues including incontinence, pain during intercourse and organ prolapse after pelvic disease diagnosis.) She also learned how little information there was on women’s pelvic disease and other health conditions affecting female bodies.

“I was handed this 84-year-old standard of care that is handed out in all of our cancer centres across Canada,” Ms. Bartholomew says. “So I was like, ‘Okay, somebody’s got to do something about this.’”

Ms. Bartholomew founded Hyivy Health, a Kitchener, Ont.-based company whose first product is a Bluetooth-connected device called “Floora” for women with pelvic floor conditions.

Read about more entrepreneurs creating products that shine a light on women’s health.

Workaholism is unhealthy for companies. A call for managers to end the often-praised trait

Workaholics are prized by organizations. They seem to be more productive, so their addiction – unlike alcoholism – is viewed positively, even as a model for others to follow. Managers, who do the judging on employee performance, tend to be workaholics, so they have a bias to view workaholism as a shining trait.

But Malissa Clark, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, argues that’s dangerous and foolish. Workaholism is unhealthy – for the individual, their family and friends, and ultimately the organization. Costs to the organization include higher turnover and absenteeism. Workaholism, contrary to assumptions, is not related to higher performance. And in an era when the youngest recruits to companies have never known a world without constant connection and on-demand service – two hallmarks of today’s hustle culture – we need to fight against workaholism.

“Just as we can’t solve employee burnout by focusing only on self-care, we can’t address the negative effects of workaholism without first addressing the places demanding an always available, work-first talent pool,” she writes in Never Not Working.

Read why the compulsive work habits of workaholics can actually harm organizations.

From sap to success: How Wabanaki Maple is reclaiming maple syrup in Atlantic Canada

Like many recovering from heartbreak, on the heels of a difficult relationship Jolene Johnson went home. Not to the cities where she spent the first 28 years of her life – across southern Ontario, Halifax, N.S. or Saint John, N.B. – but to her father’s community, Tobique First Nation. Home to roughly 2,500 people in northwestern New Brunswick, she joined her parents there, who had recently retired to the community, and took up work on her sister’s small sugar farm nearby.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Johnson worked on a sugar farm every spring, collecting sap trickling down from more than 500 trees. During the off-season, she picked up shifts at a restaurant and catering business.

It was work that reflected her love of all things culinary. Whether she was cooking at home for her five siblings when her parents were out, or in restaurants later in life, Johnson loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they tasted something new.

Read about how Jolene Johnson’s journey to explore her heritage became an entrepreneurial enterprise.

In case you missed it

What just happened? The problem of ambiguous discrimination at work

Fresh off her master’s degree in environmental design from the University of Calgary, Ximena González took a part-time job as a receptionist at a planning firm.

“I’m a migrant from Mexico and I did not have experience in Canada working in an office, so I took this job because it was somewhat related to my field,” she says. She hoped to get a foot in the door and build a career.

While she answered phones and cleaned the kitchen, she observed that another receptionist, an undergraduate student, was helping senior staff with reports – a task that could lead to meaningful experience and a promotion. Ms. González asked about it and was told, “She’s here to learn.”

Ms. González was dumbfounded. Meanwhile, another staff member said to her, inexplicably, “Finally, we have a receptionist without aspirations!”

When she asked her immediate manager (a woman) and then a higher-up male boss about doing similar work, she was turned down. “I started getting angry,” Ms. González recalls. “[I wondered], am I being discriminated against?”

Read the full article.

From the archives

Sharing the spotlight: How one small business is helping others shine

Remember when we were all obsessively baking bread during the early days of the pandemic? Toronto’s Alice Tam channelled her lockdown energy into handcrafting her carbs of choice into a new business venture.

“I’ve always baked for family and friends; it was something creative to do while stuck at home,” explains Ms. Tam. “I kept seeing little businesses popping up during the pandemic.”

Ms. Tam took a leap of faith in her baking skills to become a newbie entrepreneur with the launch of Soft Dough Co. in July 2020, a Toronto-based bakery and delivery, featuring toothsome treats such as Basque burnt cheesecake, classic madeleines and black sesame cream cake. She also took on a new position as manager of growth marketing for Loblaw Digital.

But she wasn’t content to balance just two jobs – Ms. Tam also saw the need to make space for BIPOC businesses as she grew her own side hustle.

Read the full article.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on The Globe Women’s Collective hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback? E-mail us at

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