Perspective Change
/ Author: Roberta Vriesema
/ Categories: Blogs, Newsletters, National /
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Perspective Change

When workplace frustrations arise, sometimes a little perspective change is needed.

By Roberta Vriesema, Representative

In your workplace, you can probably think of several questions you have where you can’t seem to get a clear response. Sometimes you’re told your problem or question is being dealt with—yet you don’t see any action at all.

Out of frustration, you call the union seeking support and answers. Your representative takes the time to investigate the situation, and later, lets you know that they can confirm matters have been reviewed and are being discussed. Yet you’re left dissatisfied, because from your perspective, nothing has happened and nothing has changed.

What’s going on?

To answer this question, let’s take an imaginary walk.

You are walking toward a large plaza area with a large fountain in the centre. The plaza is sunken, and a series of stairs circle the fountain. The air is filled with laughter, splashing water, and excited conversation. People are lounged out across the steps. It’s a lively and happy place.

Except you notice, across the plaza, a young woman with her face buried in her hands, clearly weeping. Glancing side to side, you see two other young people nearby. To you, it clearly looks like they are pointing at the young woman and laughing at her. Upset, you walk toward them.

As you start to round the fountain, you notice that there is a funny clown busking nearby. You realize that the crying woman was clearly not in the view of the laughing pair. You realize that the young people are pointing and laughing at the clown, not the young woman.

As the observer in this scene, what you understood and saw as fact changed as you continued to walk.

In your workplace, there are many times where you will not have the full perspective—likely because of confidentiality reasons. In the situation of accommodation or a grievance involving multiple bargaining unit members, what you know and what your steward and representative know can be very different. This can create friction, especially if you are a person who thrives on details and knowledge.

Let me provide you some examples of this from the first wave of COVID-19. As a representative in healthcare, I had a few work locations experience outbreaks. During that time, I got a lot of calls about empty work shifts and people expressing frustration with their coworkers. I heard comments like:

“I don’t know if I could work with that person again; because at the first sign of COVID, they ran from the building.” (In that case, I knew the member had a spouse who had finished chemo and radiation treatments the week before and was concerned for their health).

“I’ve got kids too and I can manage to work through this. Why can’t she?” (In this case, the member was a single parent who didn’t have any family in the area, and her daycare provider cancelled her contract because she works in long term care).

“Why is the union protecting that person’s job? They’ve got no reason to be off work due to COVID!” (In that case, I was aware that this member had experienced a severe mental health crisis triggered by the pandemic, which made them unable to work).

We should look for accountability and strive for work environments where the collective agreement and all applicable legislations and codes are upheld. It is important for each of us to take this responsibility seriously. Asking questions is a very valid way to ensure that the process is followed. The selection of your stewards is an important part of ensuring you have good representation.

At the same time, our individual perspectives are limited to the information in front of us. One of the greatest gifts you can choose to give your colleagues is grace and assuming the best when you don’t know (or need to know) everything. 

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