Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
The global pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in the workplace this year. Many Canadians are working remotely, balancing jobs and families or coping with isolation. Others remain in the workplace, navigating health and safety protocols as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Canada.
In the midst of this uncertainty The Globe and Mail, in partnership with Morneau Shepell, hosted Solving Workplace Challenges on October 21, a half-day virtual event highlighting strategies to support employee mental health, wellness and productivity. The event also provided an opportunity to recognize the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace category winners and honourees.
A recording of the full afternoon of discussions is below. The video includes panels, interviews and remarks from category winners of the Employee Recommended Workplace awards. Hear their views on how they are responding to the pandemic and preparing for the months ahead. Highlights from the discussions appear below the video.
Highlights from the afternoon:
1). The pandemic has caused a rise in mental illness
Average mental health levels today are equivalent to the worse one percent of the population before the pandemic, said Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell. Since the pandemic began his organization has seen a 30 percent increase in suicidal ideation in the calls coming in to the organization’s employee and family assistance plans. The company takes close to one million calls per year – not a small sample size. Individuals are dealing with anxiety, isolation, difficulty focusing and burnout, he added, emphasizing the need for employee supports.
2). Flexibility is critical to wellness
Employees who have supportive employers tend to have higher mental health index scores, noted Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research, analytics and innovation with Morneau Shepell. That support includes flexibility, recognizing many employees are multi-tasking at home by caring for family members. It’s key to recognize working from home by choice is far different than being forced to work from home due to physical distancing, she pointed out. Employee health assessments are important, along with resiliency training and tactics for coping with stress.
Julie Gaudry, head of group life and health with RBC Insurance said employers and employees need to know what supports and resources are available to them. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) and wellness supports aren’t always used. Sometimes, it’s a case of individuals not being aware of what the programs offer so her team has been using webinars and other tools to help business leaders know what to do and how to support employees.
3). Work-life balance requires more attention
Maria Cartagena is senior vice-president of people with Kira Systems, a tech start-up that has grown and added employees through the pandemic. Ms. Cartagena shared how employees were reporting a blurring of the workday into the night. They were reluctant to take vacation for fear of returning to a barrage of unread emails. Kira implemented company-wide shutdown days. Once a month since the pandemic began, “everyone stops moving at the same time,” Ms. Cartagena said. Managers also realize the workday is no longer 9 to 5. Many employees are working in pockets of time, in and around caring for family members, she added.
4). Talent pipelines and corporate culture boost diversity
In parallel to the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement is raising awareness among businesses about the need to do better on inclusion and racial diversity. During a panel discussion, Wes Hall, executive chairman and founder of Kingsdale Advisors, said too much talent is sitting on the ‘bench’ and not being given a chance to contribute. Mr. Hall founded the BlackNorth Initiative with a mission to end anti-Black racism with a business-first mindset. The initiative has drawn support from the leaders of more than 300 companies who have pledged to take meaningful action on inclusion.
Donna Pascal, vice-president of human resources and talent management with Dynacare, a medical laboratory services company said diversity has to start at the top. There are three people of colour on Dynacare’s executive team so employees can envision themselves in a leadership role. Recruiters at the company are diverse, well-trained and aware of the risks of unconscious bias. She urged more focus on the education system and business partnerships with youth organizations to ensure students are streamed into good career paths.
In a similar vein, Leslie Woo, CEO of CivicAction in Toronto said a good talent pipeline brings more diverse candidates into the workforce. CivicAction has a partnership with LinkedIn to help young people – who typically don’t use the platform – to access jobs and networks. The organization has also created the HireNext program for businesses of all sizes wanting to hire young talent, including BIPOC individuals (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). Inclusive job descriptions are also important. Young candidates may not have years of experience but can often learn the required skills on the job, she added.
5). The digital transformation is well underway
A panel of technology and HR experts discussed the ups and downs of the new virtual world, including Zoom fatigue and the challenges of creating and maintaining corporate culture without face-to-face interaction. Mara Notarfonzo, assistant vice-president of compensation and benefits with CAA Club Group said technology is making it easier for employees to access health and wellness services. Before the pandemic, CAA had launched telemedicine services and online mental health therapy – well-timed for employees who are now able to access the supports from home.
Jonathan Kreindler, co-founder of Receptiviti, a technology company focused on using artificial intelligence to track employee engagement and wellness, said working from home could be the biggest social and human study in history. We’re months into the change but it’s really only the beginning. Before the pandemic, our focus was on tracking how individuals were doing. The focus must now move to tracking how the workforce as a collective is doing, a big mind shift for business.
Steve Mast, president and chief innovation officer with Delvinia, a research and insights company, said data is useful for tracking wellness. Delvinia recently partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on a series of national surveys on mental health. Loneliness was a commonly cited experience for those working from home but also for employees in workplaces such as grocery stores who despite being around people, are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and interacting less with customers. The survey results are freely available and have been downloaded by more than 600 organizations to date, Mr. Mast said.
Watch the full recording above.
Solving Workplace Challenges was presented with support from Morneau Shepell and RBC.