The pick-up hockey group strikes me as a quintessentially Canadian phenomenon. It comprises a group of casual players, usually not of extremely high calibre, getting together on a regular basis to play the game they enjoy.

Maybe there are pick-up hockey groups in small towns in Russia and Sweden and other countries, too, but I still think of it as a Canadian tradition first. There are probably games happening in every town and city from Victoria to St. John’s as I write this.

The key to a pick-up hockey group is that, because there is typically no referee, the game depends upon the commitment of each player to operate within certain unspoken boundaries. There are, I think, four key factors governing the pick-up hockey group and determining whether it will thrive.

First, every participant must understand and accept that for the group to be successful, everyone must be enjoying himself or herself. The game only continues to thrive if players (especially the most prized commodity, goaltenders) are happy enough to continue coming out to the rink – often at odd hours of the day and night - week after week.

Second, the mix of players must be managed in order to achieve and maintain the right overall skill level. Every player participating in the game must feel that he or she is participating and making a contribution to the game.

Third, players must be respectful of each other’s space and skill level. It’s (occasionally) a fast-paced game, and care must be exercised at all times, by all, to ensure that injuries and offences are kept to a minimum.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every player must be willing to abide by “gentlemanly” standards of play. That is to say that each player must moderate his or her own behaviour to ensure that the game is being played within the accepted rules of hockey. A cheater, who prospers at the expense of others in the group, ruins the experience for everyone.

It occurred to me that these same governing features can be easily applied to the workplace. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the workplace is no less of a social setting than a pick-up hockey game (although there tends to be somewhat more profanity tossed around at the hockey rink than in the average office).

The workplace is no less dependent upon the interest and enjoyment of the employees in being there. Work consumes such a chunk of our waking lives that there is no point spending it somewhere unpleasant.

From the perspective of the employer, all of the key factors of a successful business (efficiency, quality, productivity, etc.) surely must thrive in a contented, as opposed to acrimonious, workplace. When the workplace is not an enjoyable place, staff will vote with their feet by seeking employment elsewhere.

Key to that overall level of happiness in the workplace is achieving the right mix of staff and management. Each member of the team must feel that he or she has something to contribute and, of course, that the contribution is advancing the enterprise in some fashion. And, each employee must feel that the others are pulling their own weight as well.

Staff and managers must be respectful of each other’s space in the workplace as well as on the hockey rink. Although, in most workplaces, the sorts of injuries which occur tend to be emotional rather than physical, such affronts can be seriously damaging to the overall harmony of the group.

The workplace differs from the pick-up hockey game in the sense that there is a referee, of sorts, present. But most managers really aren’t tasked with watching the workplace like a hawk, ready to blow the whistle at the merest of infractions.

Nor should they be required to do so. The manager is more like the coach or general manager of a hockey team than a referee. Employees need to be able to function in the workplace setting on their own, without cheating on their fellow employees or on the system.

Some employees will take advantage of circumstances for personal advancement or even for malicious purposes against their fellow staff members. But for the workplace setting to thrive as a social entity, and as a business, employees also have to be willing to follow so-called “gentlemanly” rules of conduct so as not to aggravate the other participants. It’s all, really, about abiding by the “golden rule”.

There is one other common element of virtually all hockey groups and leagues. That’s the tendency to give every participant a nickname ending in “y” or “er” (as in ”Smitty” or “the Wayner”).

I haven’t quite figured out how that applies to the workplace. But, the next time your boss strolls by, perhaps greet her with something like, “Hey, Jonesy, get your head in the game, will you?”. Chances are she’ll let you know just how well she thinks rink concepts translate to the workplace.

Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log onto www.pushormitchell.com. If you have a labour or employment question for him to answer in a future “Legal Ease”, email him at smithson@pushormitchell.com. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.

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