Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The full impact COVID-19 continues to have on businesses has yet to be determined as our economy slowly rebuilds.

 

But what is apparent is the realization that many workplaces can no longer operate as they once did as many employers navigate labour shortages and the creation of hybrid work models to accommodate employees who wish to continue working remotely.

“Everyone seems to be looking for this return to normal but if you want any semblance of normality than just keep dreaming,” says Julie Dupont, Principal Strategist at Cambridge-based Reimagining Leadership. “Employee expectations have changed, and the Great Resignation is an indication of that.”

While there are some reports indicating this phenomenon may not be as prevalent in Canada just yet compared to the U.S., there is cause for concern considering the results of a StatsCan Labour Force Survey outlined last month in the Globe & Mail indicate that Canadian employers were recruiting for about 875,000 positions.

 

To offset growing labour gaps and the emotional ‘trauma’ ignited by the pandemic, Julie says the need for employers to utilize their emotional intelligence skills has become paramount.

 

Emotional intelligence centres on understanding and managing your own emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively and empathetically with others to overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

 

Julie, who along with Laura Falby, Senior Director of People and Culture at Waterloo Brewing, will explore this topic further by outlining how meaningful dialogue can help create healthier working environments during our virtual event March 29 entitled ‘Emotional Intelligence: Strengthening Workplace Culture’.

 

“I think emotional intelligence skills have been important for a long time, but I think there is a real necessity for them now because people need to connect in different ways in order to feel like they can be human again,” says Julie, adding the many uncertainties surrounding the pandemic has had a huge impact on workplaces, even those where employees have remained on site. “It’s about how you handle the uncertainties out there, not just as a human being but as a leader, that is really going to make a huge impact on being able to get people performing again.”

 

Julie says ‘pampering’ and ‘babying’ employees is not part of it and that encouraging open conversations is key as employees re-enter the workplace or continue to work remotely. 

 

She admits for many employers, learning to use these types of skills may not come easy.

 

“It’s not something that is going to come naturally to anybody,” says Julie, noting these are hard not soft, skills that can be learned. “It is really a series of learned behaviours and the more you do them, with practice, they become easier because you start to change your mindset when you see the results of these conversations.”

 

She says listening to their employees is the first major step employers can take, not just dictating to them new post-pandemic work protocols. 

 

“The missing piece is the listening and really understanding what do your people need from you? Do they have what they need to be able to do their jobs well and feel supported and valued?” says Julie. “By using your emotional intelligence skills, they (employees) will take care of the bottom line, and they will be become more loyal to you and willing to go that extra mile.”

 

She hopes participants at our virtual event will not only be eager to learn more about emotional intelligence skills but realize how using them effectively can directly impact a business’ bottom line.

 

“If your people are leaving, who is getting the work done? How much does it cost the company every time an employee leaves or has to hire someone and get them up to speed?” says Julie. “What’s the cost savings or cost avoidances around that?”

 

‘Emotional Intelligence: Strengthening the Workplace’ takes place Tuesday, March 29 from 11 a.m. to noon. To register, visit: https://bit.ly/3Jn7lUM

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A ‘ding’ indicating a new text or email has arrived on your cellphone or laptop is often too tempting to ignore for most people, especially when it’s work-related and even if it’s outside of what’s considered regular work hours.

 

The creation of the Working for Workers Act, 2021 aims to change this by requiring employers to develop a policy related to the right for employees to ‘disconnect’ after work, as well outlines prohibition – with a few exceptions - on non-compete agreements. 

 

“Ultimately, it’s about mental health and making sure people can have that perspective on it and companies are supporting those decisions,” says Frank Newman, who operates Cambridge-based Newman Human Resources Consulting. “The end result is a more productive work environment, but we’ve got to change our habits because we’ve gotten so used to emailing or texting late at night.”

 

The new Act requires that as of Jan. 1 of any year, employers with 25 or more employees must have a written policy in place before March 1 of that year with respect to having workers ‘disconnect’ from their jobs. As it stands, employers will need to have a policy prepared by June 2 of this year.

 

“Most will start from scratch and there will be quite a few policies that can be impacted by this,” says Frank, adding employers could begin by examining any current hours of work, or overtime policies they may already have in place.

 

However, he says the process doesn’t have to be a daunting task and should begin with some clear discussion between employers and their employees around expectations, on both sides.

 

“This is a great opportunity to really have an open dialogue with employees and start working on the question of what can you do to increase their performance during office hours, and how do they feel about disengaging,” says Frank, noting it’s hard, especially for those working at home, from keeping close watch on their cellphones or tablets.  “This is not a ‘do or die’ policy that deals with laying off people or increasing wages. This is basically looking at the working environment to see if it’s productive and are employees happy and feeling comfortable after shutting down.”

 

He says many organizations are still trying to find their ‘groove’ in terms of hybrid working arrangements since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting there are simple steps they can take to improve productivity when it comes to managing a remote workforce.

 

“For example, look at the way we structure emails. Do you always put ‘urgent’ in the subject line? Do you copy all your co-workers in every email?,” he asks, adding some workplaces have created times during the week where no meetings are scheduled to give employees the chance to work, or encourages them to take breaks. “There is a whole bunch of productivity protocols that companies can look at as part of this. But companies need to be creative with this, otherwise people are just going to fall back into old habits.”

 

For starters, Franks says it’s imperative that companies define what are ‘regular’ working hours and the expectations they have for employees surrounding them. 

 

“But more importantly, it’s about how you define what those expectations are after working hours and during emergencies,” he says, adding this is especially important for companies with offices located in other time zones. “You also have to think about how you contact with people when they are on sick or maternity leaves, again, respecting their right to disengage.”

 

Also, Franks says companies must define if this policy will apply to everyone.

“For example, if you’re vice-president of finance you may not be able to disengage during off hours,” he says. “But obviously, the intent of this is to turn everyone off if you can which is very difficult in this day and age.”

 

In terms of setting up a policy, Frank says it should start with a shift at the management level explaining leaders of the company may have to try and curb themselves from sending emails or messages after hours.

 

“Even if they’re texting or sending emails among themselves at those times, that’s going to filter through the organization,” he says.

 

But ‘disengaging’ is only one aspect of the Act. Another is the banning of non-compete agreements that prevent employees from exploring other opportunities, apart from ‘C-Suite’ executives.

 

“This is a good thing,” says Frank. “But it could be a little challenging for companies because they could lose some of their talent to competitors.”

 

However, he says having a comprehensive policy in place could also become a valuable tool to entice new talent, a bonus considering the ongoing labour shortages in many sectors. 

 

“It’s also a positive way to be able to attract employees because many are looking for more time off and more flexibility,” he says. “Companies can develop these policies as a positive way to say this is our values and this is our work culture. There’s really no risk to this.”

 

However, Frank admits it remains yet to be seen how the Province can enforce this Act, noting it will probably fall under governance of Employment Standards.

“This is going to be a challenge,” he says. “Trying to get the government to respond at the best of times can be a challenge.”

 

For more, visit: https://bit.ly/3qtsMfP

 

 Working for Workers Act at a glance:

  • Require employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about employees disconnecting from their job at the end of the workday to help employees spend more time with their families. 
  • Ban the use of non-compete agreements that prevent people from exploring other work opportunities in order to make it easier for workers to advance in their careers. Help remove barriers, such as Canadian experience requirements, for internationally trained individuals to get licenced in a regulated profession and get access to jobs that match their qualifications and skills. 
  • Require recruiters and temporary help agencies to have a licence to operate in the province to help protect vulnerable employees from being exploited. 
  • Require business owners to allow delivery workers to use a company’s washroom if they are delivering or picking up items. This supports the delivery drivers, couriers and truck drivers who have kept our essential supplies and economy going throughout the pandemic. 
  • Allow surpluses in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Insurance Fund to be distributed over certain levels to businesses, helping them cope with the impacts of COVID-19.  
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For the first time since March of 2020, the Chamber hosted its first in-person Business After Hours event on Dec. 13 at Four Fathers Brewing Co.

 

It was a great opportunity for our Members to meet safely and reconnect with old friends and new ones.

 

We also took this opportunity to ask a few our guests the following question:

 

What will you remember the most about the pandemic?

 

 “Probably how well we can pivot. People can pivot and basically take a look at things and do things differently.”

- Tony Rossel, Best Version Media

 

 “I will remember missing community and just being able to meet with people and see faces and connect in-person,”

- Heid Brouwer, Galt Osteopathy

 

 “Endless Zoom meetings and learning how to facilitate meetings. It looks a lot easier than it really is. And that the number of kilometres I’ve driven has been cut in half. We’ve discovered some creative solutions and so much work is now being done at home.”

- Murray Smith, Blue Canoe Consulting

 

 “How poorly the government handled this. They contradicted themselves a lot initially with what you should do – wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, wear two masks, or get the AstraZeneca shot, or no you don’t need the AstraZeneca shot. They tried too hard without putting any thought into it and it just never seemed to work. I will remember that indecisiveness – everything’s fine, or no it’s not. They didn’t lead well, and I will always remember how poorly they led us through this.”

- Rick Gallinger, Top-Notch Concierge

 

 “I will remember how much I missed being around family and people. Sometimes it makes us realize how grateful we should be when everything is good because we take a lot of things for granted, and we really need to be more thankful and more aware and enjoy every moment that we can.”

- Maggie Herrington, Top-North Concierge

 

 “I just feel so fortunate that we were able to continue to stay open and look after our customers. I feel like we’ve been really lucky,

- Laurie Herald, Cambridge Tirecraft

 

 “The fact we couldn’t have in-person social events.  For me, I miss that interaction and I’m so excited that we are slowly getting back to reality. But the worst part has been looking at your family and friends losing jobs and having to stay at home. I have two stepchildren and the virtual learning was really hard for them. I think it was struggle for them and the teacher so I’m happy they are back in the classroom.”

- Stephanie Jane, Marketing Manager at Four Fathers Brewing Co.

 

 

 

 

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The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Releases

“Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers”

 

While concerns around workplace mental health predates the pandemic, COVID-19 has, without question, exacerbated the problem. Although most businesses recognize the importance of investing in mental health, few have put a formal strategy in place, creating a mental health action gap.

 

With the support from Sun Life, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released resources to help them close the gap: Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers and A Playbook for SMEs.

 

These resources provide employers of varying sizes with strategies and supports to help bridge the gap – from fostering a health-focused culture to effectively communicating with employees to encouraging staff to access free government resources.

 

“According to the OCC’s 2021 Business Confidence Survey, 89% of employers believed spending on employee health and wellbeing was a good investment. Yet, only 53% said they had a formal strategy in place[1] – a situation the OCC refers to as the mental health action gap. While these numbers have improved since the Chamber’s 2016 survey, the action gap remains,” said Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We know that mental health can be a challenging topic for businesses, but employers play a critical role in the employee health equation. We also know that inaction comes with a real cost.” 
 

Prior to COVID-19, poor mental health in the workplace accounted for:

  • $50 billion in direct costs per year, including health care, social services, and income support like short- and long-term disability claims;
  • $6.3 billion in indirect costs from lost productivity; and
  • 500,000 Canadians missing work each week due to mental health issues or illnesses.

“Many employers are looking for practical steps they can take and resources they can easily leverage to develop psychologically healthy and safe workplaces. We’re pleased to release these tools during Mental Health Awareness Month in partnership with Sun Life to help businesses address this action gap,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

To support employees’ mental health, the Playbook for Employers encourages businesses to focus on five key areas:

  • Develop a mental health strategy. This strategy should be linked to an organization’s equity, diversity, and inclusion plans and include performance measures to monitor progress.
  • Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture. Training and employee engagement can create a positive workplace culture.
  • Communicate widely and regularly. Continuous, two-way communication between leaders and employees is key to destigmatizing mental health and encouraging employees to access supports.
  • Ensure adequate resources for employees and their families. Supports should be varied, visible, and accessible – both in-person and virtually.
  • Prepare for hybrid work (if applicable). Consider what steps need to be taken in the long run for a hybrid work environment. Hybrid or flexible work environments can benefit employee mental wellness, but it is important to equip leaders and employees with the resources needed to thrive in this new way of working.

“Creating mentally healthy workplaces is critical to Canada’s long-term recovery,” said Jacques Goulet, President, Sun Life Canada. “Businesses have an opportunity to reimagine their roles – including how they support employees’ physical and mental wellness and improve company culture going forward. This Playbook for Employers serves to empower businesses and build a healthier, more resilient Canada.”

 

Read the Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers.

 

Read A Playbook for SMEs.
 

Thanks to our Exclusive Landmark Partner, Sun Life, as well as OCC members and mental health experts who contributed to the development of this resource.

 

 

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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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