Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

As vaccinations continue to rollout in the fight against COVID-19 and infection numbers in Ontario continue to drop the thought of reopening businesses and schools is on the minds of many.

 

After more than a year of restrictions and strict safety protocols the prospect of returning to the workplace looms closer, and for some, so does a growing sense of anxiety.

“There is quite a bit of apprehension around the thought of going back to work. It really depends on the person,” says Grace Brown, Clinical Supervisor/Registered Psychotherapist at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries, explaining an extrovert, introvert or ambivert, will react differently.

 

“If you live in a very active community, you’re probably going to feel stronger and feel more prepared because you have supports – like child care – in place,” she says. “I also think the anxiety level will be determined by the safety protocols each organization has in place or is intending to put in place.”

 

Kate Urquhart, a Psychotherapy Clinical Intern at Carizon Family and Community Services in Kitchener, agrees.

 

“Having timely information is going to be such a key thing because there has been such ambiguity since the pandemic began,” she says, adding employers need to ensure they have a plan in place that can address the concerns of their returning employees. “People can’t plan if they don’t know what they’re getting into.”

 

Even with lower transmission rates and vaccinations, she says COVID-19 safety protocols will still be in place at workplaces when the province reopens and that these should be clearly conveyed.

 

“It’s about making sure those are clearly communicated so that people who have anxiety can feel confident their employer is taking all the appropriate precautions and that people with less COVID-19 anxiety must also follow those same protocols,” says Kate.

 

Grace says people should also know their own limits when it comes to dealing with this pandemic and that being proactive rather than reactive when the times to come to return to the workplace is the best way to reduce stress or apprehension. She suggests staying informed with the latest Ministry of Health recommendations is a good first step.

 

“It’s not going to be very helpful for people to reduce their anxiety if they are waiting for their boss to tell them what’s going to happen,” she says. “I think that is going to cause much more anxiety than if you researched on your own and know what your personal limits are and proceed accordingly.”

 

But even with proper safety protocols in place, walking back into the office may prove to be difficult for many says Carizon Psychotherapist Dan Young.

 

“Even though we may be going back to a situation that might be similar, we’ve all been changed by this,” he says, adding grief and loss will play roles as people come to terms with their emotions when they return to the workplace.

 

This could involve the tangible loss of a co-worker who passed away, or a potential career move an employee may feel they missed because they had to stay home to care for children or an elderly relative. As well, Dan says some employees may just no longer feel comfortable with the physicality of being around other people again in an office setting.

 

“For businesses, the challenge will be how do they recognize that they need to do something to support people,” he says. “There is no one size fits all.”

 

Kate says many returning employees may also suffer from ‘survivor’s guilt’.

 

“We’ve all been through, or are still going through, this huge worldwide traumatic event,” she says, adding some may feel they don’t have the right to complain when others appear to have lost so much more.

 

“I think that needs to be addressed. It’s OK for you to complain,” says Kate. “Everybody has lost something, and your losses are real for you. You need to come to terms with your own personal losses in order to take that step forward.”

 

She encourages employees to access potential workplace EAPs or mental health resources in order to find help.

 

“Even if you feel just a twinge, you don’t have to be in a crisis state to reach out,” she says.

Grace says reaching out to employers about instituting a gradual return to work can also be explored if someone who no longer can continue to work remotely is concerned about a sudden return to the office.

 

“It’s my hope this will open an ongoing dialogue and communication between employers and employees versus mandates that don’t take into account everyone’s different situation at home,” she says, adding empathetic employers will see higher productivity and better retention rates. “If an employee gets the sense an employer is very much just about producing that’s definitely going to feed into anxiety and stress.”

 

Dan says providing employees with choices is empowering and that changes in the workplaces should be expected.

 

“We know it’s not going to be the same,” he says. “We’re not going back to the way it was before.”

 

In preparation, Grace says everyone, especially those with children, should be talking about what life may look like when things begin to resemble ‘normal’ again.

 

“Talk to them about their concerns and expectations, even what they might be looking forward to because that may have to be adjusted as well,” she says, referring to the possible need to continue wearing masks in schools or getting vaccinations. “Communication is going to be very important.”

 

As well, talking to a professional counsellor is also a good option.

 

“Now is the time to connect with a counselling agency before the rush in order to not only prepare yourself, but provide support for your children,” says Grace. “Anxiety is a real thing and pretending it doesn’t exist actually makes it worse so everybody should start talking about the reservations they have and be supportive of each other.”

 

For more, visit https://fcccnd.com or https://www.carizon.ca

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The concept of remote working was something many employers never entertained, or wanted to entertain, before the world changed in March of last year. 

 

“A lot of people didn’t think working from home would work so there was a huge amount of skepticism as people went into this,” says Frank Newman, owner of Cambridge-based Newman Human Resources Consulting. “People were pretty suspicious.” 

 

However, he says the fact what some considered to be an ‘experiment’ is working out so well has resulted in new issues. 

 

“People may be reluctant to go back to the way things were so it’s having an impact on companies, and even an impact on home sales as buyers ensure their house has a home office.” 

 

As well, after more than a year operating in this new reality many employers may have productivity concerns when it comes to managing a remote workforce and continue to look for ways to ensure staff is performing at their optimum best. 

 

“What I have told my clients first of all is that people are not going to be 100% as effective working from home. They are going to be subjected to certain amounts of distractions, or disruptions,” says Frank, adding 95% effectiveness is a more likely figure. 

 

He says there are ways companies can help employees achieve their goals, without monitoring emails or logins or using various types of tracking technology. 

 

“If companies are trying to manage their employees’ work each minute of the day that’s not going to be very successful,” says Frank. 

 

Instead, he recommends setting out clear expectations in an agreement. 

 

“Do they have clear performance expectations and what are they accountable for delivering on a daily, weekly or monthly basis,” he says. “For example, if an employee is working from home does the manager expect a response to emails within an hour or 24 hours? It’s important to create some service level of expectations so people can gauge their performance and also managers can ensure employees are accountable for those standards.” 

 

Regular communication is very important says Frank, noting that ‘blasting’ employees with emails is not the answer.  

 

“For managers, to worry about whether employees are checking their emails is not necessary,” he says, adding platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack are great tools to cultivate engagement. 

 

“This is really the time to make sure you’re connecting with your employees if you’re worried about productivity,” he says. “That (productivity) will be the first thing to go if people are not engaging. They’re going to ‘check out’.” 

 

Lack of engagement is one of many warning signs experts say can indicate an employee working remotely could be struggling. Others can include unusual errors, poor work quality, missed deadlines, increased sick days, or being withdrawn during team meetings, in some cases keeping their cameras turned off.  

 

“They may stop volunteering for things and that’s a key sign, especially if you have someone who was always keen in the past to put up their hand and volunteer,” says Frank, adding  

the occasional one-on-one meeting can be very beneficial for both parties as long as it’s not conducted in an intrusive way.  

 

“Make sure you’re checking in on your employees to see how they’re doing, not just from a work point of view, but to find out how are things for them at home. Are they struggling trying to work with their kids at home?” 

 

He says this could lead to talks about mental health – which should be documented on the part of the employer – and possible supports or tools that could increase their productivity, such as an additional monitor or a new office chair. 

 

Keeping a company’s work culture thriving is also very important which is why Frank says many of his clients are utilizing a variety of ways to ensure employees stay connected. 

 

“I have one client that holds a virtual reality ‘drink’ every week for its employees,” he says, adding another client hosted a very moving online memorial service to celebrate the life of an employee who had passed away from an illness. 

 

“I’ve also been encouraging my clients to provide a physical appreciation for their employees,” says Frank, noting a coffee mug or a gift card can go a long way to keeping the lines of communication open. “And include the spouse because for many of us, the spouse is the one who is seeing all the work that we do.” 

 

He says many employees working remotely may now be ‘re-evaluating’ their career choice, which could spell trouble for some companies. 

 

“People will remember how companies behaved during this time and if you’re not taking the time to connect, there’s going to be a price to pay at some point,” he says. “Once the pandemic ends, I suspect we’re going to see a huge spike in people who are discontented with their jobs and say now is the time to move on.” 

 

For information, visit https://newmanhumanresources.com 

 

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It’s been just over a month since the first batch of rapid antigen screening kits were distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs through a pilot program created in partnership with the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce and Communitech.

 

And since that time, close to 2,000 of these SMEs (under 150 employees) are now offering their workers the opportunity to screen twice a week, with more placing their orders via our ‘www.chambercheck.ca’ (recent winner of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Power of the Pivot Award) site every day as businesses continue to look for ways to navigate their way through this pandemic.

 

The program is now being rolled out provincially and nationally thanks to the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce who are currently working with other Chambers and government leaders to ensure all SMEs have access to this valuable ‘weapon’ in the fight against COVID-19.

 

“In my 20 years with the Chamber, I can’t think of another program in the Chamber Network that has had a much impact on business as this program has had,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “I’m so proud to be the Chamber where it started and was piloted because it gives me confidence in our ability to deliver national programs that are innovative.”

 

He says the need for rapid screening to identify those who are asymptomatic was first noted by members of the BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region) during the early days of the pandemic. The team, which Greg serves on with representatives from the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, Great Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Communitech and Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, was formed 13 months ago to assist local businesses address COVID-19-related challenges.

 

“We knew testing and more testing was key when it comes to controlling the spread and understanding its impact on people and the economy,” says Greg, who credits Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman with procuring the kits from the Federal Government who were distributing them at the provincial level in long-term care facilities and larger essential workplaces only.

 

“They (Province) really didn’t have a mechanism in place to get them out to smaller and medium-sized businesses,” he says, noting the two local Chambers joined forces to assist once the Province approved that screenings could be conducted by non-healthcare providers since the procedure is not as ‘evasive’ as a PCR test. The Abbott Panbio Antigen kits provided through the Chamber program are more than 90% effective.

 

“We knew we were part of a pilot project to determine if this was feasible and acceptable and workable in every jurisdiction in Canada,” says Greg, adding bringing the screening kits directly to workplaces rather than have employees visit a secondary location to be screened, was clearly the best option.

 

He likens the journey to building an airplane during mid-flight.

 

“We kind of built the program in real time, not unlike on what’s happened during the pandemic,” says Greg, adding the Chambers have also developed a ‘playbook’ which is being used as a guide for other Chambers to help them set up their own programs.

 

Locally, orders are placed at www.chambercheck.ca and volunteers prepare the kits for pick‐up at the Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A representative from each SME responsible for supervising the self‐screening collection onsite is needed for the initial pick‐up and receives video training to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits. Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results and the accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen results in a positive for COVID‐19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“This program is not intended for employees working at home,” says Greg, noting Ontario’s current Stay at Home Order clearly indicates even those employed by an essential business, must work from home if they can. “They’re already  safe at home, so they shouldn’t be coming into the workplace.”

 

He says rapid screenings are voluntary and admits that some employees, for personal reasons, may be hesitant to take part.

 

“But you could remind them that it’s not about them, this is about the people who work around them,” says Greg, adding when someone tests negative, they feel more confident and comfortable working around others and being around their own families. “We’ve noticed through this whole process that this has become more of a mental health tool as much as it has become a medical tool.”

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The importance of rapid screening in the battle against this pandemic has been seen as the preferred weapon of choice near the top of the wish-list of health experts and members of the business community since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected more than a year ago.

 

Thanks to the recent introduction of our pilot project that is seeing thousands of Abbott Panbio Antigen screening kits distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs (under 150 employees), many local businesses now have the capability to conduct rapid screening.

 

“If all businesses would jump on board with this process, then we would be able to keep a better eye on the virus as well as the variants,” says Cynthia Fernandez, owner of Accurate Auto Appraisal in Cambridge.

 

She is among at least 1,500 businesses in our region that have utilized the free kits through the www.chambercheck.ca website since the initiative was launched April 5.

 

The goal of the program, created through Health Canada and in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Communitech, is to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals in effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

Volunteers prepare the kits for pick-up at Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. and in keeping with all the necessary safety protocols, a designate from each SME receives video training when they pick up their kits that explains how to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits.

 

“We know that rapid screening has always been the key when it comes to curbing the spread and having these kits is a great way to assist our SMEs get back on track after a difficult year,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

Cynthia agrees.

 

“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to still go to work (outside of the home) and know that it’s still a very real possibility,” she says, referring to the threat of contracting the virus. “Everyone who works for Accurate is very receptive of the screening and it provides a peace of mind for them and their families as well.”

 

Shimco President and CEO Peter Voss has discovered the same after utilizing screening kits for his staff.

 

“Employees have commented that they feel safer now coming to work, and they are more comfortable going home to their families now,” he says, noting they are conducting the recommended two sets of screenings every week.

 

In accordance with safety protocols, if a screen results in a positive for COVID-19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“Our employees see it as a positive addition to our already strict COVID cleaning and screening procedures,” says Sara Chamberlin, Human Resources Manager at Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre.

 

At Swift Components Corp., Managing Partner Kristen Danson says having the kits has instilled confidence in her employees, including two additional hires the company made after she picked up her first order of kits the day the program was launched.

 

“Initially, when I said to them it was onsite work, they were quite cautious which is to be expected when starting in a new workplace,” she says. “(The kits) have really helped the new people to our organization see that we are taking this seriously and we have a process in place to control things.”

 

Besides helping employees, having a rapid screening process in place has also inspired more confidence for the clients of these businesses.

 

“For vehicle appraisal, it is very calming for the customers that we need to see in person to know that any of our appraisers that come out to see them are in fact negative, as well as vaccinated,” says Cynthia. “We are so very blessed to be able to have access to them; I feel that it has been a helping with anything that we need to see in person.”

 

The majority of those who’ve accessed the kits say the process is relatively easy to navigate in terms of ordering and administering them.

 

“You have to find a way that works in your system,” says Kristen, explaining how at Swift Components the first round of screenings were administered in a boardroom. “It took forever to rotate people through. But then we realized we have a cart with wheels that we were able to take out into the production area and literally do the screenings on the shop floor.”

 

She says this simple change expediated the process considerably.

 

“You just have to look at your process and space and figure out what works.”

 

Kristen says her company has picked up a second order of kits.

The initial orders provide businesses with two weeks of screening kits, but most are interested in obtaining more.

 

 “Should we use the supply we have been given, we will be requesting more as we continue to promote the benefits of the program to our team,” says Sara.

 

Peter feels the same.

 

“I know it’s not possible currently, but I liked to do the screenings daily if there was enough supply,” he says, adding his employees are screened before they even enter the building.

Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results after each occasion and the accumulated data will be reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly.

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This year, the conversations around proper mental health resources and funding are more important than ever.  A recent poll shows that 40 percent of Canadians have reported their mental health declining over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the continued enormous pressure and strain families, employees and employers have been dealing with. There is no question this pandemic has taken a toll and as we continue to navigate a second wave and ongoing lockdowns, now more than ever it is important we take a moment to remember our own needs and support each other to get through these challenging times. While we are physically apart, no one is alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

 

We have put together a list of resources that business owners, employers and employees can use to help navigate and manage mental health when it comes to our daily lives, the workplace and longer term tips and tricks. You can take a look at our full list of health resources here and even more resources from Bell, here.

 

Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada provides mental health resources and direct access to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone calls.

 

Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a hub of credible information and resources about maintaining mental health during this time of crisis and supporting people managing a mental illness in this new context.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health by Canada Life

Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website is a leading source of free, practical tools and resources designed to help Canadian employers with the prevention, intervention and management of workplace mental health issues.

 

Lumino Health Stress and Anxiety Guide from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform, which is free to use and available to all Canadians, features a wide variety of mental health information and tools, including a Stress and Anxiety Guide that helps Canadians easily navigate to resources that fit their needs.

 

Workplace Mental Health Solutions from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions website provides organizations and their plan members with relevant resources that support all stages and needs, including free mental health e-training and industry-leading thought leadership.

 

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Report outlines solutions to tackle the backlog in healthcare and ensure all Ontarians have access to timely and appropriate care

 

 A recent report from Ontario’s Auditor General has put the spotlight on virtual care.

 

 And although telemedicine sites have been in place for decades in Canada, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of virtual care in Ontario.

 

“In primary care, upwards of 80% of visits were conducted by phone or via video virtual platforms in the first wave,” says Dr. Sharon Bal, Primary Care Physician Lead for the Cambridge-North Dumfries Ontario Health Team.

 

Dr. Bal, who also took on the role of tri-chairship for the Health Sector Control Group which has been co-ordinating a five-hospital response to pandemic, has seen firsthand how virtual care has assisted patients throughout the crisis.

 

“In long-term care and retirement homes, virtual visit pilots allowed physicians to liaise with staff more easily. And in area hospitals, tablets facilitated ‘visits’ with family members and caregivers, and were essentially to ensure compassion and humanity in the face of COVID-related restrictions.”

 

Virtual visits have enabled more and more Ontarians to continue accessing quality health care while not exposing themselves to the virus. The latest report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) network, which includes the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario, underscores the need to permanently integrate virtual care into Ontario’s health-care system.

 

The Chamber network believes permanent integration of virtual care – which saw temporary measures used during the SARs crisis - into the health system will ensure all Ontarians can access timely and appropriate care, plus alleviate some of the pressure facing the system, such as reducing unnecessary visits to the ER.

 

According to Canada Health Infoway’s September 2020 survey, 60% of health care visits with primary care physicians and specialists were conducted virtually at the onset of the pandemic.

 

The report notes that given the uptick in virtual care usage, the resurgence of the pandemic in a second wave, and an uncertain timeline for a vaccine, a more permanent and comprehensive solution is needed.

 

“Long before COVID-19, Ontario’s health-care system faced numerous pressures and growing costs. By empowering patients to manage their health while at home, virtual care has the potential to reduce the strain on primary care providers and hospitals, lessen the backlog in care, and protect frontline workers from exposure to the virus,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “We are calling on the Government of Ontario to consider urgent policy reforms such as modifying the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent and effective delivery of virtual care in Ontario.”

 

The report explains that, while the implementation of temporary billing codes in March 2020 allowed physicians to conduct virtual visits, these temporary codes were a stop-gap measure and have limitations.

 

The report provides the Government of Ontario with four recommendations to ensure virtual care is not only permanently integrated in our health-care system, but is more equitable, accessible, and widely adopted:

 

  1. Develop a comprehensive framework for virtual care in Ontario.
  2. Modify the existing fee code system to allow for the permanent delivery of virtual care, and provide physicians with training and knowledge supports to allow care to be delivered virtually.
  3. Focus on equity to improve access to virtual care, including ensuring all Ontarians have internet access so that the expansion of virtual care options does not exacerbate inequities for patients in rural, remote, northern, and Indigenous communities.
  4. Support employers’ continued investment in virtual care for their employees that expand beyond care delivered virtually though the health system.

 

These recommendations were developed with the OCC’s Health Policy Council, a group of expert practitioners and industry representatives.

 

The report explains how virtual care is not solely about convenience for patients, but it also benefits the health-care system as a whole. Further, virtual care should be viewed as one modality in which health care can be delivered, and should continue to complement, not replace, in-person care.


“Primary care recognizes that a ‘new normal’ with options that include both virtual and in-person visits will be ideal,” says Dr. Bal, noting innovations like these need to become a permanent part of health care delivery in Ontario with the correct supports.  “Technology as a barrier will need address and future focus should be integrated solutions across the community and acute sector, as well as ensuring health quality.”

 

For more on the virtual care report, visit: https://bit.ly/3oJtIcw

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Depression. Anxiety. Addiction.

 

These issues have intensified over the course of the last few months as COVID-19 continues to take its toll on our mental health, just ask Angela Englander, a registered psychotherapist and trauma specialist who operates Ways to Wellbeing Therapy in Cambridge and Tillsonburg.

 

“I’ve had clients who were perfectly stable pre-pandemic and now have completely fallen apart,” she says, noting some are in the healthcare profession which is facing much strain as this health crisis continues. “I’ve talked to a lot of doctors and nurses who want to go on leave. These people are the webbing of our health system and if their mental health crashes, everyone is going to fall through that gap.”

 

Identifying what mental health is, as well as trauma and therapy, will form the base of her discussion at our YIP Growth Learning series event on November 19.

 

“People have such a small amount of knowledge they’re working from when it comes to mental health,” she says, adding the amount of stress people are under right now is skyrocketing as the second wave of the pandemic appears to be escalating.

 

According to a CTV report, a recent federal study has highlighted a jump in alcohol and drug use during COVID-19, as well as an increase in opioid deaths. Also, according to that same CTV story, overdose calls in Waterloo Region have spiked higher since August and 68 people have fatally overdosed so far this year compared to 63 deaths in 2019.

 

Angela says at the start of the pandemic in March adrenaline was high as people went into ‘crisis mode’, putting their emotions on the backburner as they adapted to this new reality.

 

“But the bigger risks will be over the next year because that excitement and adrenaline has started to wear out,” she says. “People are starting to feel more hopeless and facing depression and anxiety.”

 

Angela says the approaching winter will only add to that negative situation since unlike the past few months, many won’t have the option to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and nicer weather.

 

“I’ve already talked to people who say they’re experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and are already getting their winter blues and we’re only in October.”

 

Besides current concerns such as increased addiction issues and a rise in suicides, Angela fears the ripple effect of COVID-19 could manifest in other mental health problems over the next several generations.

 

“Many people may become germaphobes or even become agoraphobic,” she says, adding people must learn to accept the negative emotions they may be facing now in order to deal with them in a healthy way.

 

“We are a very emotion-phobic society. The truth is you have to be willing to step towards those emotions and feel them and accept the reality that is.”

 

During her YIP presentation, Angela hopes to break down how the brain functions into several categories pertaining to mental health and outline how trauma works.

She intends to provide participants with some valuable takeaways.

 

“They’re going to get a lot of self-awareness and coping skills,” says Angela, noting more typical coping skills such ‘date nights’ with a partner or hanging out with a few family members may not be sufficient enough for some during this pandemic.

 

She says self-care and emotional awareness will play key roles in the presentation in hopes of giving people more understanding.

 

“No one is above this virus,” says Angela.

 

Our YIP Growth Learning series virtual event ‘Mental Health for Young Professionals’ sponsored by Deluxe will take place Thursday, Nov. 19, from 9-10 a.m. For more, visit: https://bit.ly/34OBryG

 

 

 

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When COVID-19 struck and Ontario went into lockdown many beds at the two shelters the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region operates were left empty.

 

However, this was not something that CEO Jennifer Hutton admits she was glad to see.

 

“We really saw a significant decrease,” she says, referring to the number of women and children who seek refuge from domestic abuse at Haven House in Cambridge and Anselma House in Kitchener. “But what was keeping me up at night was worrying about what was actually going on in those homes. The abuse that was pre-existing was likely worsening, especially when you add in the additional stress and financial worries.”

 

Jennifer estimates the shelters, which provide 90 beds between them, saw their occupancy rates drop in the early weeks of the crisis to around 40% to 50% capacity compared to the usual 90% as well as a reduction in calls to access their resources. 

 

“There’s research to prove that violence against women does tend to increase during times of stress,” she says, adding there was a great deal of uncertainty when the pandemic struck which made it even more difficult. “There are already so many barriers in place for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. Then layer it with increased uncertainty, and often women have to think about their children, so it’s hard for them to plan for the future.”

 

Besides encouraging via social media for friends and family to check in with loved ones they fear might be at risk of abuse, the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region launched a chat feature on its website to provide women with a tool to safely connect with their services.

 

“There had been talk about it (chat feature) but now more than ever we needed to do it quickly,” says Jennifer, noting the system was up and running within a 48-hour period. “Now, a woman might be able to pull up our website discreetly on her phone and send us a quick message.”

 

Having the ability to reach out and connect during the pandemic is vital says Grace Brown, a psychotherapist and PAR (Partner Assault Response Program) Facilitator at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries. 

 

“One of the key factors that allows the abuse to continue is the person feels isolated,” she says.

 

In terms of isolation, Grace says feelings of loneliness is something she has been seeing during her counselling sessions, which have been conducted virtually or by phone, as the COVID-19 situation continues. 

 

“A lot of clients I work with talk about intense feeling of loneliness and isolation because before the pandemic they could be out with friends and doing all these fun things to offset this solitude,” she says. “If you’re more on the extrovert side of the scale, you’re probably struggling a little more.”

 

Grace says for single people who have been isolating on their own, they face a variety of anxieties which could lead to depression. And for couples who were having challenges in their relationship prior to the pandemic, she says the crisis likely has made the situation even worse.

 

“There’s only so much walking away one can do when you’re supposed to be quarantined,” says Grace, adding couples need healthy communication during this time. “Choose your battles.”

 

She offers similar advice to families, who also may find nerves becoming frayed as physical distancing rules continue to slowly ease.

 

“For most, it’s the lack of access to external fun things that really are making so many people frustrated and anxious,” says Grace. “In the old days, it was called ‘Cabin Fever’.”

But she says there are many successful examples of things couples and families have been doing to cope, besides connecting virtually with family and friends. 

 

“People have really been recapturing some of those old school entertainments, like jigsaw puzzles and board games. It’s been really neat to hear from some of my clients on how they’re making it work with that they have at home,” says Grace, adding some ‘super busy’ families are appreciating the fact they can take a break together.

She says self-care is essential at this time, starting with the basics like eating healthy, exercising and getting the right amount of sleep.

 

“I often describe it to my clients as emotional shock absorbers. Stress is always going to be in our world in varying degrees, so the more you have self-care that’s your shock absorber,” says Grace, explaining self-care comes in many different forms. “It’s really about focusing on yourself for a moment and doing anything that brings you a sense of calm and a sense of renewed energy.”

 

She tells her clients, especially women, that’s it OK to put their needs first once and awhile. 


“I caution them this (pandemic) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we don’t know how long it’s going to last so you’ve got to preserve your energy.”

 

At Haven House and Anselma House, Jennifer says, as predicted, capacity levels have climbed sharply to near capacity in the last few weeks once the province began to reopen. She says strict protocols are in place to keep staff and clients healthy, including temperature checks twice daily and making masks mandatory for all staff members.

 

“The shelters themselves are very busy,” says Jennifer, explaining the women and children staying there aren’t venturing as much into the community to connect with family and friends due to the pandemic. “There’s a lot of activity and not many places for them to go, and we have some pretty stringent rules in place.”

 

Despite COVID-19 and the precautions, she encourages women who are experiencing domestic abuse to reach out, even those who may not be sure if they’re ready to leave.

“That’s OK. They may just want to meet with someone to ask questions, or get some information,” says Jennifer, adding the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region offers outreach programs. “I always suggest they get some guidance on how to make a safe exit plan.”

 

She says research shows the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when they are planning their escape.

 

“It can become quite unsafe for a woman if her abusive partner thinks she is going to leave,” says Jennifer. “Things can really escalate at that time.”

 

Visit  wcswr.org  or fcccnd.com for more information. 

 

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What do you expect to find when you return to work after being isolated for the past few months by COVID-19?

 

Chances are it will not be the same workplace you left behind, says Human Resources consultant Frank Newman.

 

“If you just assume it will be like walking back into the office it’s not going to be that way because everyone’s expectations have changed,” says Frank, who has more than 40 years of experience in human resources to draw from and has spent the last six running his own firm called Newman Human Resources Consulting.

 

He compares the COVID-19 crisis and what we have dealt with as being similar to what astronauts face returning from space while learning to readjust to the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

“We’ve all been in the safe ‘cocoon’ of our ‘spaceships’ and suddenly we’re exposed to another environment,” says Frank. “Companies will have to take this very seriously.”

In terms of working under new guidelines and policies to ensure physical distancing, he expects many workplaces will now operate within a ‘blended’ work culture with more people working from home than ever before.

 

“You’re going to be in the office one day and half the people will be there, and half the people won’t be there,” says Frank. “It’s going to be very challenging for companies on how to manage their culture because we’re so used to having everyone in the office.”

 

Building trust, he says, between not only the company and its employees but between the employees themselves, will be key in effort to make this shift work.

“We’re going to not only have to have the right physical safeguards, but better processes in place as to how we communicate with each other. What will be the expectations if I’m working from home and my colleague is in the office? Do they have to respond to my emails in 15 or 20 minutes?” says Frank, noting there will likely be physical changes in offices also when it comes to sharing resources. “Are people even going to be comfortable putting their chicken pot pie in the microwave to warm up knowing others use it?”

 

He says it is inevitable there will be employees who may be petrified at the thought of being back in the workplace and others who will be completely callous, perhaps not respecting physical distancing guidelines or refusing to wear a mask.

To prevent these situations from escalating, Frank says there are a few steps companies can take ahead of time.

 

“They should provide as much advanced communication as possible to let everyone know what the rules of the road are,” he says. “Then they really have to figure out what’s the rhythm of work they want as people come back and how it applies for those working at home and the people working at the office.”

 

Frank says managers should aim to meet with their team, whether in person or virtually, at least once a week once people start to return and even ahead of time.

“It’s important for managers and other people to check in with their colleagues,” he says, noting some employees will be dealing with mental health issues. “We’ve all been through so much turmoil with this and some may have suffered severe losses during this time.”

 

Franks says enhanced benefit plans will be a big help to not only current employees but as a great incentive to recruit new employees. Also, he said ensuring new recruits have a space at home to work could become part of the norm during the hiring process should another lockdown occur.

 

“We need to be prepared for this at any point in time,” he says, adding companies may also be expected to reimburse employees for equipment to work from home, such as laptops and enhanced internet.

 

Frank also recommends the creation of ‘time free zones’ for those working at home, allowing them a period to complete tougher tasks uninterrupted by emails or virtual meetings.

 

“We’ve been absolutely deluged with communication at this time,” he says, referring to the numerous emails and regular Zoom calls many people working at home have been dealing with. “It’s actually draining our productivity.”

 

For more information, contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352, or visit www.newmanhumanresources.com

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Erin Moraghan describes herself as a born mover.

 

As the founder of Revkor Fitness + Lifestyle Training in Cambridge, she has made it her vocation to help others become ‘movers’ after leaving a healthcare philanthropy career in Toronto in 2013 to make this happen.

 

Her passion to assist others centres on promoting workplace wellness which came about after a decade of working in healthcare.

 

“We can’t get through stressful times without wellness at the forefront,” says the wellness expert.

 

The current COVID-19 crisis is clearly one of the most stressful situations facing all us, not just economically but emotionally and physically. In fact, experts are predicting a ‘tsunami’ of mental-health issues to develop in wake of this pandemic.

 

At our next YIP virtual workshop ‘Better Work Life Balance for Young Professionals’ on May 21, Erin will offer advice and tips aimed at empowering participants with the tools they need to reduce stress and improve productivity.

 

But more importantly, she hopes to inspire them in work and life.

 

“The entrepreneur culture often celebrates the non-stop grind,” says Erin. “But the reality is, rest and a calm, controlled mind are in the key to managing challenges and staying on course.”

 

She has already helped thousands across Canada by initiating programming focused on preventing and minimizing chronic pain and depression by embracing the power of mindful movement.

 

Erin can highlight some simple habits that can help accomplish amazing results, such as nutrition shifts to alter productivity, an eight-minute morning mindset practice that can ‘train’ your brain to be goal-centred, and a few suggestions for more quality sleep.

 

“This is the information you need to get and stay on track, striving strong during this unforgettable time in history,” she says.

 

Our virtual YIP (Young Innovative Professionals) session ‘Better Work Life Balance for Young Professionals’ takes place Thursday, May 21, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

 For information, please visit:  https://bit.ly/2WCBOXU

 

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers these tips to creating better work-life balance:

 

At Work

  • Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take even a ten-minute break every two hours and overall, you will get more accomplished.
  • At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
  • Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
  • Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications. Don’t be available 24/7.

 

At Home

  • Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
  • Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else. Let the rest go.
  • Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
  • Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
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