June 2013


Digital Communication in the Workplace

Before the widespread use of computers, the invention of the Internet and the creation of smartphones, written communication in the workplace was slower, more civilized and less frequent. People either spoke directly to one another or sent letters.

Today, digital is the favoured form of communication in the workplace, and employees are receiving and sending written messages at a rapid pace. So the question is – how do you ensure the increased quantity of digital communications doesn’t sacrifice quality?

How to optimize your office email

Sending an email? Slow down! Brevity and speed have become synonymous with digital communications, especially with the advent of text messaging and Twitter’s famous 140-character limit. But what may be acceptable via text or social media may not be appropriate in the office. Instead of truncating words, omitting punctuation and using acronyms, take a moment to carefully craft your message with proper sentence structure and ensure you hit all the key points. Remember, just because you can send an email in less than a minute doesn’t mean you should.

Review and edit. Incorrect spelling, bad grammar, incomplete information and an edgy tone are not uncommon in the world of corporate emails. However, by taking the time to review and edit your emails, you’ll come across as thorough, thoughtful and professional, which ultimately builds credibility. Conversely, sloppy, curt, unprofessional emails can hinder effective communication and tarnish your professional reputation, especially if this is your typical email style.

Write like you speak. In the interest of time, people often neglect to filter their email correspondence the same way they edit their speech. The result can be curt, tonal, bossy, rude or confrontational, often when that’s not the intent. So before you hit send, ask yourself: Would I say this to the recipient’s face, and would I be comfortable if my manager read it? If the answer is no, rewrite your message.

Question the mode of communication. Okay, it’s true – email is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to deliver a message, but is it always the most effective? Before drafting an email, consider if there is a more effective way to deliver the message. Perhaps a phone call or face-to-face meeting will achieve what you need and help to build relationships in a more meaningful way.

Relax! At some point in time, everyone will receive an email that gets them fired up and on edge. Usually the tone of the message is to blame, even though this was not the intent of the sender. Instead of letting it get the better of you, take a deep breath and remember that there was probably no malicious intent behind the email; it was likely just caused by speed and brevity. Why not pick up the phone or drop by your colleague’s desk to clear things up? Chances are it will quickly diffuse your negative feelings and, again, help to build inter-office relations.

Email fun facts

  • Approximately 294 billion emails are sent every day globally
  • In 2012, the typical email user wrote 41,368 words – the length of a novel!
  • In 2012, the average email user received 5,579 emails
  • The busiest time to receive emails is 11 a.m. on a Tuesday

Effective communication in a culturally diverse workplace

At its core, cultural diversity is about accepting and respecting people’s differences and understanding that everyone is unique. The same can be said for communication. To do it well, you need to understand your audience and craft your message in a way that will make the most sense to them.

When that audience is culturally diverse, the challenge is to understand their differences and be sensitive to how your message will be received.

Four ways to communicate better in today’s diverse workplace

  • Use clear language. When you are communicating with a culturally diverse audience, keep your language clear, concise and straightforward. Avoid jargon, slang terms, euphemisms and colloquial expressions. For example, you could say: That sales report was fantastic! Instead of: That sales report was a slam dunk!
  • Understand differences in body language. You may be surprised to learn that different cultures have very different practices when it comes to non-verbal forms of communication. For instance, in most countries, people do not greet each other by shaking hands, and some cultures find it disrespectful to engage in direct eye contact. Additionally, some cultures have different comfort levels when it comes to personal space and touching. When in doubt, leave at least one arm’s length between you and your colleagues, and keep your hands to yourself.
  • Practice reflective listening or paraphrasing. When in conversation, paraphrasing or repeating the message back is a good habit to get into. This will help clarify meaning and eliminate issues that may surface as a result of misunderstanding. The same is true of written communication – paraphrase to clarify any doubts you may have.
  • Be open and inclusive of other cultures. Although it is natural to gravitate towards others who share our preferences and traditions, getting to know your fellow co-workers from culturally diverse backgrounds can help build relations, and open up your world to new experiences. Bear in mind that they may be new to this country and have challenges of their own, as they try to navigate a different language, customs and way of life.

Communicating effectively in a culturally diverse environment requires tact and sensitivity – valuable life skills to have. Find out more about communicating effectively in a diverse workplace through your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

How culturally diverse is Canada?

  • Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in North America, along with New York and Los Angeles
  • According to Statistics Canada, 26% of Canada’s population will be foreign-born by 2031
  • English and French are the most commonly spoken languages in Canada, followed by Chinese, Punjabi, Spanish, Italian and Arabic

Longevity Risks for Employers

Despite tastes for beaver tails and poutine, Canadians are living longer than ever before. And if you’re an employer with a DB pension plan, it probably means that you’ll be paying pensions to your retirees for longer than you expect.

These additional pensions mean an increase in going concern and accounting costs–possibly of 5% to 10% according to a recent Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) webcast. This increase in costs is the result of current longevity assumptions not keeping up with actual experience.

What do the numbers tell us?

Whenever we talk about life expectancy, it’s helpful to look at what’s actually going on around the world. The accompanying charts show actual male and female life expectancy at age 65 for Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom over the last 80 years.

A few interesting observations:

  • Canadians continue to outlive our cousins in the U.K. and the U.S. At age 65, Canadian men are living about 0.8 years longer than American men and about 0.7 years longer than men in the U.K. At age 65, Canadian women are living about 1.2 years longer than American women and about 1.1 years longer than U.K. women.
  • Both the U.S and the U.K. have come out with new longevity assumptions in the last year. These new longevity assumptions result in longer life expectancies than the assumption that most Canadian pension plans are using. That is, even though Canadians are actually living longer than folks in the U.S. and the U.K., our longevity assumption implies we are not living as long!
  • The rate at which Canadian life expectancies are increasing is higher than it’s been before. That is, the life expectancy line is becoming steeper and steeper. When the current Canadian longevity assumption was created close to 20 years ago, this trend wouldn’t have been as obvious as it is today.

Given these two observations, it’s not surprising that the current Canadian longevity assumption hasn’t kept up with actual experience and needs to be updated.

The current Canadian longevity assumption

The accompanying charts show that a 65-year-old who retires today will live longer than a 65-year-old who retired 20 years ago. Pension plans realize this, and most are assuming that members will continue to live longer in the future. The tricky part is estimating exactly how much longer members will live.

For the past 20 years, the only real choice that plan sponsors had was to use Scale AA to project future increases in life expectancy. Scale AA was developed in 1994 by looking at U.S. experience between 1977 and 1993. As mentioned above, it hasn’t kept pace with recent experience.

As such, the CIA is producing a new table using more recent Canadian data. The new table is expected to be released in 2013 and could result in an increase in going-concern and accounting costs of between 5% and 10%, depending on the plan’s characteristics. The increase in solvency costs is expected to be lower as many insurance companies are already reflecting increased life expectancies when they provide input for the annuity proxy guidance.

Managing longevity risk

The good news is that there are several solutions available in Canada to help plan sponsors protect themselves from future life expectancy surprises:

A buyout annuity — an annuity contract that transfers the pension plan’s liabilities to the insurance company. The insurance company makes pension payments directly to plan members and takes responsibility for all investment and longevity risk associated with them.

A buy-in annuity — a newer development in Canada that shares many of the same characteristics of annuity buy-outs, including the transfer of longevity and investment risk to the insurance company. Under the buy-in, no top-up contribution is required for an underfunded pension plan, and an accounting settlement is not triggered (although each plan sponsor should confirm this with its auditors).

Longevity insurance — it’s becoming quite common in the U.K. but is rarer in Canada. It allows a pension plan to protect itself from unexpected increases in longevity for a group of plan members. If plan members live longer than expected, the pension plan receives payments from the insurance company to cover the cost of the additional pensions payable. This solution is ideal for plan sponsors that are comfortable with their plan’s investment risk and are only looking for longevity protection.

With Canadians living longer and the rate of future longevity improvement unknown, employers will have to spend more time thinking about longevity risk and ways to make it less of an issue for their pension plans.

excerpts provided by: Brent Simmons (Benefits Canada May 2013), Shepel fgi June 2013


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