Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The health and well-being of its operator or owner is a critical, yet often overlooked element in the day-to-day operations any business. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and even some larger businesses hinge on the vision, leadership, and daily involvement of their owners.

 

But what happens if the owner suddenly falls ill and is unable to fulfill their role? It’s a situation, says Linda Braga, that many business owners do not think about.

 

“It’s not even at the forefront,” says Linda, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years. “I think there is a real lack of awareness because no one wants to think about facing an imminent illness.”

 

In fact, according to a recent StatCan figure, only 15% of business owners actually have a contingency plan in place for themselves in the event of illness.

 

“That’s very surprising,” says Linda. “In light of what happened with the pandemic and contingency planning, it is something that leaders should have in place.”

 

A contingency plan serves as a blueprint for maintaining operations when the owner is incapacitated. It outlines clear procedures and assigns responsibilities to other key team members to ensure that the business continues to run smoothly. This foresight helps prevent disruptions that can lead to lost revenue, decreased customer satisfaction, and potential long-term damage to the company’s reputation.

 

Demonstrating resiliency

 

“We know that in leadership resilience is the theme and having a contingency plan is just demonstrating a company’s resilience to ensure that they are not going to be impacted in a negative way,” says Linda, adding that for many leaders, their business is essentially their ‘babies’. “Wouldn’t you want to ensure if something happens that it is going to be taken care of?”

 

She believes fear of showing any vulnerability is not necessarily the reason many business leaders appear to be hesitant to put plans in place, but pertains more to a time management issue.

 

“They are just so busy with everything that they’re doing. It’s not their priority,” says Linda, adding some fully trust their team will be there to ensure the business continues to smoothly operate and leave no plan in place. “They have to realize when it’s not written in stone or a procedure that’s written out it can create ambiguity and lead to decision paralysis with the leaders and management that’s left behind.”

 

She says knowing there is a plan in place can significantly reduce stress and anxiety for the owner, their family, and the entire organization. It provides peace of mind that the business can withstand unforeseen challenges, allowing everyone to focus on recovery and continuity rather than crisis management.

 

“If you’re dealing with an emergency, why would you want to add any additional stress?” says Linda. “All of your top-level management should have a contingency plan in place.”

 

By preparing for the unexpected, businesses can safeguard their operations, protect their stakeholders, and ensure long-term sustainability. Every business, regardless of size, should invest time and resources into developing a robust contingency plan, securing its future against looming uncertainties.

 

 

Preparing for a scenario where the business owner suddenly falls ill and must take a leave of absence is crucial for ensuring the continuity and stability of the business. Here are several strategies a business can implement to be well-prepared for such a situation:

 

1. Develop a Comprehensive Succession Plan

This involves identifying key personnel who can step in temporarily and ensuring they are adequately trained.  The plan should include:

 

  • Designation of Interim Leadership: Appoint a trusted individual or a committee who can take over the owner’s responsibilities. This person or group should be well-versed in the business operations and decision-making processes.
  • Role Clarity: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the interim leaders to prevent any confusion or overlap of duties.
  • Emergency Contact List: Maintain an updated list of key contacts such as legal advisors, financial consultants, and major clients or suppliers.

 

2. Document Key Processes and Procedures

Having detailed documentation of all critical business processes is essential. This should include:

 

  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Document daily operations, workflows, and procedures for all key functions.
  • Financial Protocols: Outline how to handle financial transactions, payroll, and accounts payable/receivable.
  • Client and Vendor Information: Keep an up-to-date list of clients, vendors, and contracts with detailed notes on ongoing projects and relationships.

 

3. Implement Robust Communication Systems

Ensure there are systems in place for seamless internal and external communication:

 

  • Crisis Communication Plan: Develop a communication strategy for informing employees, clients, and stakeholders about the situation and how it will be managed.
  • Delegation of Authority: Clearly communicate the hierarchy and decision-making process to all employees.
  • Regular Updates: Establish regular check-ins and updates to keep everyone informed about the business status.

 

4. Leverage Technology

Utilize technology to maintain business operations smoothly:

 

  • Project Management Tools: Use tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com to keep track of ongoing projects and tasks.
  • Cloud Storage: Ensure all important documents and data are stored securely in the cloud, accessible to the interim leaders.
  • Remote Access: Set up secure remote access to critical business systems so that management can operate from any location if necessary.

 

5. Financial Preparedness

Ensure the business is financially prepared to handle the owner’s absence:

 

  • Emergency Fund: Maintain a reserve fund to cover unexpected expenses during the transition period.
  • Insurance: Consider business interruption insurance and key person insurance to mitigate financial risks.

 

6. Legal and Administrative Measures

Take care of legal and administrative preparations:

 

  • Power of Attorney: Assign a trusted individual with the power of attorney to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of the owner.
  • Review Legal Documents: Regularly review and update legal documents such as partnership agreements, bylaws, and contracts to reflect the succession plan.

 

7. Training and Development

Invest in continuous training and development of employees:

 

  • Cross-Training: Train employees to handle multiple roles and responsibilities to ensure versatility.
  • Leadership Development: Develop leadership skills within the team to prepare them for taking on higher responsibilities if needed.

 

 

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In the dynamic landscape of modern business, where competition is fierce and innovation is paramount, the role of effective leadership cannot be overstated. Among the many responsibilities of business leaders, one crucial aspect often stands out: conducting performance management reviews. These periodic evaluations of employee performance are not merely administrative tasks but essential components of a thriving organizational culture.

 

“People really need to have those conversations because quite often they’re operating in a vacuum,” says Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at HR2 Business Solutions, adding most people believe they are doing a good job and take pride in their work. "And in the absence of any feedback to the contrary, they go about their merry way with that. But you just can’t come around and surprise people afterwards if you haven’t had those conversation with them.”

 

Performance management reviews provide a structured mechanism for evaluating employee contributions and aligning them with organizational goals. By assessing individual performance against predefined objectives, leaders can gauge the effectiveness of their workforce in driving the company's mission forward.

 

This evaluation helps identify high performers who deserve recognition and rewards, as well as areas where improvement or additional support may be needed. Such insights enable leaders to make informed decisions regarding talent development, resource allocation, and strategic planning.

 

But how a manager or leader initiates the process should be done in a positive way, says Debra.

 

“When you say, ‘performance review’, sometimes I feel we can go down a negative road,” she says. “It has mixed messages for people, especially those who have had really bad experiences with those kinds of things. I prefer performance conversations.”

 

Setting clear expectations vital

 

Debra believes that employees want a clear understanding of how their performance is being viewed, especially when it may relate to compensation or promotions, and when they know that their work will be evaluated regularly and objectively, they are more likely to stay focused, motivated, and committed to achieving excellence.

 

By setting clear expectations and providing constructive feedback, leaders empower their teams to take ownership of their roles and strive for continuous improvement. This culture of accountability not only enhances individual performance but also cultivates a sense of trust and camaraderie among colleagues.

 

“Having those conversations is absolutely critical and managers and leaders need to get better at them because to be honest, many are not,” says Debra, adding some may lack the necessary training. “When you become a manager or move into a leadership role, it’s certainly not everyone’s forte to be very adept at having those difficult conversations.”

 

She says it’s easy to offer praise, but that performance conversations can be much more nuanced when it comes to outlining potential strengths and weaknesses. 

 

“At a minimum, the conversation should be about growth and where you want the role to grow and how do you help guide and mentor them, and what path they should be on,” says Debra. “A lot of times, the problem with people who don’t have performance conversations at all is that they don’t know what the expectations are, so there is a big gap or void, and they may not find out until it’s too late and a termination may be involved.”

 

Managers and leaders too busy

 

She recommends ongoing performance conversations can be far more effective and beneficial – especially for managers - rather than scheduling annual or even quarterly meetings.

 

“The No. 1 reason performance conversations are avoided is because managers and leaders are just too busy, especially if they take this on as a once-a-year project. Even half year or quarterly meetings can suddenly become a time management issue,” she says. “If you’re giving feedback on performance on a regular basis, where people are being guided and informed, it’s not a big scary thing. Even when there might be poor performance involved, you can accomplish it in ways where people are really receptive to it.”

 

Debra says a conversational approach can take a lot of the problematic parts out of the process for the leaders as well as the individuals, providing it’s done in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

 

“There should be some element of careful language and the potential for opportunities to help because sometimes you might have to provide feedback to someone who won’t have the skills set to make those changes unless you actually help put those things in place for them,” she says, adding there are tools available to help leaders who may not have the natural ability to have those difficult conversations. “I feel like conversations don’t happen as easily and as compassionately, or maybe as kind as they used to.”

 

 

Tips for business leaders to enhance their performance management practices:

 

Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define performance expectations for each role within the organization. This includes outlining key responsibilities, goals, and performance indicators. When expectations are transparent, employees understand what is expected of them, leading to better performance outcomes.

 

Regular Feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback to employees regarding their performance. Feedback should be specific, timely, and focused on both strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage open communication and dialogue to address any concerns and provide support for development.

 

Goal Setting: Collaboratively set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals with employees to align individual objectives with organizational goals. Regularly review progress towards these goals and adjust as necessary to ensure they remain relevant and achievable.

 

Performance Reviews: Conduct periodic performance reviews to assess employee progress, provide feedback, and identify development opportunities. Performance reviews should be conducted in a supportive and objective manner, focusing on accomplishments, challenges, and future goals.

 

Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees for their contributions and achievements. This can take the form of monetary incentives, promotions, or simply verbal recognition. Acknowledging employee efforts boosts morale and motivation, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

 

Training and Development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth to empower employees to reach their full potential. Development initiatives should be aligned with both individual and organizational goals.

 

Performance Improvement Plans: When performance falls below expectations, work collaboratively with employees to develop performance improvement plans. Clearly outline areas for improvement, set measurable goals, and provide support and resources to facilitate progress. Monitor performance closely and provide ongoing feedback and coaching throughout the improvement process.

 

Data-Driven Insights: Utilize data and analytics to gain insights into employee performance trends and patterns. Analyzing performance metrics can help identify areas of strength and weakness, inform decision-making, and drive continuous improvement efforts.

 

Employee Engagement: Foster a culture of employee engagement and empowerment by involving employees in decision-making processes, soliciting feedback, and recognizing their contributions. Engaged employees are more committed, motivated, and likely to perform at their best.

 

Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation: Regularly review and refine performance management strategies based on feedback, evolving business needs, and industry trends to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

 

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Providing innovative programming that assists women business leaders reach their full potential as well as further their professional and personal goals is something the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce continues to do well. This will be especially apparent at our inaugural Women’s Well-Being Summit: Investing in Yourself to Achieve Your Goals on April 24 at Tapestry Hall. 

 

The summit features an array of expert speakers sharing their insight on areas centring on the theme of total well-being, focusing on both physical and mental health, emotional intelligence, as well as financial wellness.

 

“Helping to build a healthier community has always been an important role of the Chamber, and that includes not only economic prosperity but societal prosperity as well,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Our Women’s Well-Being Summit fits right in with this role.”

 

Men are also encouraged to attend in hopes of creating more awareness and understanding in the workplace.

 

Greg notes that approximately 60% of Chamber Members are women and says the summit is the ideal extension of the many programs the organization already offers them.

 

Others include its popular Women Take Charge Breakfasts and Women’s Collective Series events, each featuring inspiring female speakers, plus the Chamber's annual Salute to Women in Business Luncheon which this year raised more than $13,000 for the breast reconstruction unit at Cambridge Memorial Hospital. To date, the Chamber has raised more than $143,000 from this event to benefit this important cause.

 

As well, its new Chamber Circles Program provides expert mentoring to women aimed at encouraging their professional and personal growth.

 

“Women business leaders play a significant role in our community and the Chamber is pleased to provide them with as many tools and supports as possible to ensure their continued success,” says Greg.

 

Summit speakers include:

 

  • Bridget Jensen of Better Bedtime will discuss the importance of good ‘sleep hygiene’ and how embracing your sleep-type sets the foundation for your day. 
  • Naturopath Dr. Henna Plahe will “break the silence” regarding menopause, offering valuable tips to navigating this natural life transition, especially as it pertains to the workplace. 
  • Ellyn Winters-Robinson, author, entrepreneur, mother, and storyteller will share her unique and positive insight on finding a transformative purpose in life after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Psychotherapist Carling Mashinter of Relationship Matters Therapy will look at self-acceptance surrounding the cultivation of emotional intelligence, providing summit participants with practical strategies to support personal growth.
  • Kathleen Beech and Jackie McMullen of Scotiabank will discuss the importance of encouraging women to build confidence in taking control of their finances and why a solid financial plan can benefit a women’s mental and physical health.
  • Chiropractor Dr. Mark Guker of ReAlign Natural Health Clinic will outline a comprehensive guide to aging naturally and gracefully and explore various aspects of women's well-being. 

 

Click here for more on the Women’s Well-Being Summit including information about the Early Bird registration price that is available until March 29.

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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

They are constantly under pressure to drive growth, manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure their organizations’ long-term success, which is something Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at H2R Business Solutions says has only been magnified in the recent years.

 

“Since the pandemic, some things have really changed. They changed during the pandemic and somewhat again since then,” she says, referring to a rise in negative conflicts which can lead to a toxic environment and even workplace investigations. 

 

“We’re seeing an unbelievable amount of those kinds of problems coming into play in organizations and have leaders coming to us because they’ve never had to deal with them before but are dealing with them much more often.”

 

She says employees have become more empowered with information, and that many are dealing with mental health issues and feeling ‘angry’.

 

“They may not be working with the same expectations in their jobs that they used to and for some people, there are more challenges as they deal with downsizing, and shifts,” says Debra, adding bigger workloads, and hybrid work situations could be adding to these stresses since they may no longer ‘align’ with what an employee wants.

 

As a result, she says many leaders are now seeing more employees who are willing to take employers to court, or a human rights tribunal, or filing a report with the Ministry of Labour.

 

“Leaders who may never really had many people issues to deal with are now finding they are faced with all kinds of these things just to keep the business going,” says Debra. 

 

She says the challenges can vary between the several generations of employees that are now in the workplace, noting there are still many benefits of having a multi-generational workforce despite potential issues.

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

“For a leader, becoming someone who has to manage all these things that come to play and the nuances and potential conflicts, plus the lack of time and resources, it’s very challenging,” says Debra. “When someone says being a leader can be a very isolating place, they are not wrong.”

 

She says leaders must first watch for warning signs and realize they don’t have all the answers.

 

As the demands of leadership continue to mount, it is vital for leaders to discover effective strategies to ease their burden and navigate their roles successfully, which Debra says can start with better communication.

 

“As a leader, you have to get comfortable with communicating. Employees want messaging and they want to hear it from the owner, CEO, or an executive,” she says, adding that a communication breakdown is often the key cause of any conflict, and that lack of management training could be the root cause. “When you do a job well and get promoted to management, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good people manager.”

 

As well, Debra says leaders can benefit from expert support from others who may have experienced the same issues they are facing, even those outside of a leader’s particular industry.

 

“I’m not a big fan of coaching for your own industry. You can receive a lot of benefits from working with a diverse support group,” she says. “Even if you feel like you’re an introvert CEO or leader, you might be really surprised how much that support is going to mean to you.”

 

And while some companies and industries are dealing with tight budgets, Debra says investing in training can pay off big time for a leader professionally and personally, as well as the organization.

 

“Those things are going to trickle down through an organization in powerful and impactful ways,” she says.

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, fearing that no one else can handle the responsibilities as well. However, effective delegation distributes the workload and fosters team development and growth.

By entrusting capable team members with tasks and responsibilities, leaders can free up valuable time and mental energy to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-priority matters. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but also about giving team members the opportunity to contribute and grow.

 

Building a support system

Establishing a support system of mentors, advisors, or fellow business leaders can provide valuable guidance and emotional support. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from those who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable.

Additionally, leaders should foster a culture of open communication within their organizations. Encouraging team members to share their thoughts and concerns can lead to more collaborative problem-solving and reduce the burden on the leader.

 

Embracing technology and automation

Automation can handle routine tasks, data analysis, and reporting, allowing leaders to focus on strategic initiatives. Investing in technology solutions that align with the organization’s goals and processes can significantly reduce the administrative burden on leaders. Moreover, data-driven insights can aid in making informed decisions and staying ahead of market trends.

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals and expectations is equally crucial. Unrealistic targets can lead to stress and burnout, as well as erode team morale. Leaders should work with their teams to establish realistic objectives and timelines. This approach fosters a sense of accomplishment and helps prevent the exhaustion that can result from chasing unattainable goals.

 

Continuous learning and development

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for effective leadership. Leaders should invest in their own growth by attending seminars, workshops, and courses relevant to their industry. Also, encouraging team members to pursue their own professional development can contribute to the organization’s success and ease the burden on leaders.

 

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The one constant thing business owners can count on is change, something the last three years have clearly shown.

 

But as business leaders continue to navigate in a changing economy shaped in the aftermath of the pandemic, many have not taken a moment to appreciate how resilient they’ve become.

 

“A lot of people haven’t been able to validate how many changes they’ve had to make doing business, and the transitioning and pivoting,” says Tracy Valko, award-winning mortgage broker and owner of Valko Financial Ltd. “They haven’t been able to look at their business, their goals and what they value in life and take the time to realize how resilient they’ve been.”

 

Tracy says in particularly, women business leaders are less likely to appreciate themselves and what’ve they been through and hopes to help rectify that by leading an informative and interactive workshop at our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset later this month at Langdon Hall.

 

“I still see so many women spending time second guessing their skill sets,” she says, noting men seem to have more resiliency and forgiveness for themselves when it comes to pivoting in business. “Women spend more time judging themselves, thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t speak up because someone’s going to say something’. I think in this world, especially now, women have to stand their ground and come together to support each other.”

 

At our Women Leadership Collective event Tracy will provide strategies for women to become more resilient by offering them a look inside what she refers to as her ‘resilient toolbox’ and share personal stories of what she has gone through creating a successful business over the course of the last 25 years. Besides being named one of Canada’s top individual brokers, she is also a published author and motivational speaker.

 

“I will provide a lot of different affirmations of ways to look at resiliency,” says Tracy, referring to her presentation. “A lot of people just don’t take the time to appreciate how far they’ve come and be able to pivot very quickly in an ever-changing world.”

 

Click here to learn more, or to register for our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset which takes places Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 9-11 a.m. at Langdon Hall.

 

Tips about a resilient mindset

 

Embracing Change and Uncertainty

A resilient mindset begins with the willingness to embrace change and uncertainty. 

 

Learning from Failure

Failure is a common part of life, and a resilient mindset allows us to see failure as a valuable teacher. 

 

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Resilient people focus on the positive aspects of a situation and avoid dwelling on the negative. 

 

Building Strong Social Connections

Resilience is not a solitary endeavor. Building and maintaining strong social connections is a crucial aspect of a resilient mindset. 

 

Setting Realistic Goals

While having big dreams is important, setting smaller, attainable milestones helps build confidence and motivation. 

 

Practicing Self-Care

Resilient individuals recognize the importance of taking care of their physical and mental well-being. 

 

Adaptability

Those with resilience are not rigid in their thinking and are open to new ideas and solutions. They can adjust their plans as circumstances change and are willing to try different approaches to achieve their goals.

 

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Resilient individuals are excellent problem solvers. They break down complex issues into manageable steps and work through them systematically. 

 

Seeking Support and Seeking Help -

Resilient individuals are not afraid to seek support and help when they need it. 

 

Maintaining Perspective

In the face of adversity, resilient individuals remind themselves of the bigger picture. They recognize that the current challenge is just a chapter in their life's story and that it will pass, making way for new opportunities and growth.

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The expression, ‘it’s lonely at the top’, may ring truer than ever these days as business leaders deal with a barrage of labour and financial issues which can not only affect their motivation but lead them to quickly becoming burned out.

 

In fact, Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index - compiled via a global survey of workers across multiple industries and companies - indicated that 53% of manager reported feeling burned out at work.

 

This doesn’t come as a surprise to leadership coach and expert Julie Dupont, Principal Strategist and Owner of Cambridge-based Reimagine Leadership.

 

“We know there has been a bit of a mass exodus with boomers leaving (the workplace) and the onset of COVID, but still leaders have been expected to achieve the same results with even fewer resources,” she says, adding the ‘doomsday’ predictions of a potential recession have just exacerbated the situation. “It’s no wonder they are starting to feel burned out.”

 

Like employees, Julie says a lack of motivation in leaders often manifests itself in either performance or attitude when it comes to work.

 

“With managers you will see a loss of enthusiasm in the goals of the organization because a motivated manager sees the vision and buys into it and wants to be part of it and rallies the troops to make it happen,” she says. “But when you start getting to that point of burnout or loss of motivation, you start feeling some apathy towards the goals of the organization. You become so busy trying to figure out what you’re going to do for yourself that the goals of the organization take a backseat.”

 

As a result, Julie says employees’ performance and growth is easily impacted since they are no longer being challenged.

 

“They get used to this of life just doing the bare minimum and it spirals, so it’s about not having opportunities missed because your manager just doesn’t have the capacity to perform.”

 

However, Julie says there are many ways business leaders can ‘reignite’ their motivation beginning with having the self-awareness to know what their triggers are when it comes to work.

 

“You can then be in a place to start taking steps to manage yourself when you start noticing the apathy and anxiety,” she says, adding keeping a journal can help, even creating a ‘gratitude’ journal. “Some people may say it sounds hokey, but it works and brings to mind things that are good in your life so it’s not all doom and gloom.”

 

Also, the need for self-management is key says Julie.

 

“Moods are contagious and if you’re that leader walking around with a cloud over your head all the time that spreads and can be very unproductive,” she says. “When your people see that you don’t care, why should they?”

 

Julie says when leaders receive the skills they need to make choices and handle stress, that helps build resiliency and suggests using the services of a professional coach as another option, especially if they don’t have anyone either personally or professionally, they can confide.

 

“Managers don’t always they feel there is someone at work they can confide in. They may feel they’re at the top and have to do it alone,” she says, adding a coach can become a great ‘thinking partner’ for a business leader. “This is a person you can off load to who isn’t judging you and there’s no repercussions to sharing your experiences, and they have the added benefit of having strategies or ideas that can help you overcome those hurdles.”

 

 

10 tips to combat leadership burnout

 

  • Know your early warning signs. Common burnout symptoms include poor sleep, loss of motivation, exhaustion, feeling every day at work is a bad day, increased irritability and engaging in escapist behaviours.
  • Increase your self-efficacy. Seek out coaching and professional development experiences to identify mastery experiences.
  • Empower your team and delegate more. Share your vision and purpose and reduce micro-managing.
  • Become more deliberate with your time. Use your leisure time wisely and seek out positive social support and sources of relaxation and achievement outside of work.
  • Take a break, 20 minutes a day. No texting, no internet, just you and an introspective practice (like mindfulness). Unplug out of work daily.
  • Rewind, reflect, remember.  Take time to remember why you’re doing what you do. What is your purpose?
  • Get the basics right.  Diet, sleep, and exercise.
  • Honestly assess your situation and work toward solutions. Ask yourself the following questions: How am I travelling? Am I doing those things? Why am I doing what I am doing?
  • Mentally remove yourself from the job. Step back and try to look at your job from an external objective point of view.
  • Manage your energy not your time. Work out when you are most productive and do important tasks then.

 

Source: HumanPsychology 

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Flexible work hours, new technology, and ever-changing workplaces has made it more difficult when it comes to setting healthy boundaries at work.

 

Factor in ongoing labour shortages and retention issues in many sectors, it’s now more important than ever for employers to create an environment where employees feel comfortable and productive.

 

“As people continue to move back into the workplace, you want to do it in stages. You don’t want to do it all at once,” recommends Carrie Thomas, owner of Nimbus HR Solutions Group, a Chamber Member. “Many people don’t really have a workday anymore they have a workflow, and we don’t even have boundaries and have let them all go.”

 

She says workplace boundaries can be broken into several categories, including physical, intellectual and emotional, communication, time, and priority and workload, and that each requires employers and employees to have a clear indication of what their work expectations are.

 

“If work performance isn’t where it needs to be, as a leader, we need to ask ourselves why? Does the employee feel comfortable here and does the task match?” says Carrie. “Are we having those candid conversations with our employees to say these are the clear expectations I need from you? Maybe I missed something on your onboarding?”

 

She recommends creating a 90-day commitment plan to ensure a new employee can get up to speed, and to give returning employees time to get back into the flow.

 

“If an employee was away from work for medical reasons, we would create a return-to-work plan and it would be gradual,” says Carrie, adding that most SMEs owners spend at least 90% of their time dealing with people and people problems and that using a professional HR company can help ease those stresses. “We like to put the power of a full-service HR department into the hands of the small business owner so they can focus on the business of running their businesses.”

 

 

The team at Nimbus HR Solutions Group Inc. – Carrie Thomas, Danielle Delnick and Janette McDonald – provided the following advice when it comes to creating healthy workplace boundaries:

 

How would you define ‘healthy’ workplace boundaries?

Healthy workplace boundaries are an agreement and understanding between the employer and employee on what a person requires to be effective, successful, and even over-achieve in their work.

It is a balance between the needs of the employee versus the needs of the business. Overall wellness impacts a person’s ability to produce quality work, the happier, more fulfilled and balanced a person feels the better the output from them. Investing in a health work environment and company culture is a more cost-effective solution as it promotes retention and ultimately lowers the cost of recruitment and training.

 

Examples:

 

  • Promoting break periods: We all know people who eat lunch quickly at their desk while they continue to work. Promoting actual break periods away from the desk/workstation.
  • Limiting over-time, unless necessary: If constant over-time is happening for your business, there’s a good chance you have a hiring need.
  • Ensuring over-time is paid correctly.
  • Setting clear working hours: Limiting communication TO employees outside of them (we know that legally they don’t have to respond, but we also know people are reading them and potentially stressing from home).
  • Work cellphones: Companies providing work phones that can be turned off outside of working hours that don’t go through to personal lines.
  • Clear communication and management of projects.
  • Keeping emotions out of interactions: We all have seen movies where the boss raises their voice, demoralizes, or bullies their subordinate. If an employee’s work performance is not meeting the expectations of the company, managers are not entitled to yell or belittle them. There is a more effective way to communicate with someone who has failed.
  • Open door policies: Providing an environment where managers encourage feedback, questions, and input from their team.
  • Having and promoting an Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”) with your Employee Benefits Plan.
  • Company employee appreciation events (balancing work/fun).

 

When people return to the workplace, or continue with hybrid models, what potential steps should employers take to make the transition smoother?

 

  • Consider completing the transition in stages. This would be especially useful if your team is moving back to a fully on-site model.
  • Take an employee census to determine how they will be feeling about the move back to onsite to give you a better sense of what the culture will be like.
  • Encourage team lunches to build up in-person comradery.
  • Adjust your dress code policy: If possible, consider implementing a more workplace – casual dress code that is professional and comfortable. For example, some companies have incorporated a “athleisure” dress code and even provided them with company branded comfy sweats.

 

How can an employer help employees communicate their needs?

Establishing rapport with employees: The more employees trust their employer, the more likely they are to communicate when experiencing any challenges.

Establishing rapport with employees immediately is an excellent way to encourage open communication.

For example, managers can bring lunch for their teams, and instead of discussing business, they can encourage everyone to share their interests and lives. This might be a modest gesture, but it can work as an excellent way to help employees begin communicating with each other.

 

  • Having an open-door policy
  • Have regular meetings with employees.
  • Provide context regarding assignments.
  • Listen to employees.
  • Avoid making assumptions.
  • Learn employees’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Regularly set expectations.
  • Provide constructive feedback.
  • Make roles clear from the start.
  • Choose a suitable method of communication.
  • Use tools to enhance communication: Keep in mind that messaging platforms, video conferencing, and e-mail are excellent communication tools but if you discover they're ineffective in your workplace, continuing to use them can result in communication challenges. If possible, try to take the conversation offline and speak to employees in person. Changing your communication method can simplify tasks and prevent miscommunication.

 

What are the signs that ‘healthy’ workplace boundaries may be lacking in a workplace?

 

  • Low retention
  • Employees edging on/experiencing burn out.
  • Lack of feedback from employees.
  • Hands-off management styles.
  • High sick calls/absenteeism.
  • Employees feel the need to answer emails regularly outside of work hours (and managers expect this).
  • Employees are unable to take vacation time, personal time.
  • Workplace gossip is rampant.
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Mental health in the workplace continues to be a major focus, especially as businesses continue to deal with labour shortages and adapt to hybrid work models.

 

“You have to prioritize it,” says Robyn Schwarz, Fund Development, Advocacy, and Communications Lead at Porchlight Counselling Addictions Services in Cambridge. “You have to see it as something you need to learn, the same way you need to learn anything else to grow your business.”

 

Despite the fact the pandemic is considered a thing of the past, she says for some fears and concerns surrounding COVID-19 – especially for those with ongoing health issues - continue to impact their mental health.

 

“I like to think the pandemic really escalated a lot of stressors and acted almost like a catalyst for things that were already just under the surface in our lives,” says Robyn, referring to it as “collective trauma” for the community in general.

 

She says for working parents who had to find ways to support their children through school lockdowns while trying to balance their work life, it has proven particularly hard as they face rising costs. In fact, according to a recent Wellbeing Waterloo Region report Cambridge residents, despite having lower income levels, work more hours to make ends meet. The report shows 6.2% work 55 hours a week or more at than their main job and a 28.3% of respondents work 20 or more hours a week at a second job.

 

“I think as a community, we’re trying to figure out what do our lives look after this while also really struggling cognitively with our brains,” says Robyn.

 

As a result, she says it’s important for employers to be able to read the signs an employee may be dealing with mental health issues.

 

“Looking at different behavioural changes can be really helpful,” says Robyn, noting that sudden tardiness, anger issues, or signs often associated with being a ‘bad’ employee could really indicate a mental health concern. “A mental health issue is one of those things that shows up so different with everyone and we all have different understandings of what emotional dysregulation look likes.”

 

As well, she says addiction issues could also be a byproduct as employees try to find ways to cope with anxiety and depression.

 

“A couple of things we’re hearing in the community is an increase in normalized addictions because many people were at home during the pandemic,” she says, referring to alcohol consumption. “That is something we’ve been really concerned about because it’s something you can hide really easily until it becomes life or death.”

 

As a result, she says creating a supportive workplace environment through trust and open communication is important for an employee to address their mental health issues.

 

“It’s all about finding ways to build those spaces into your work and obviously, every workplace is different. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this,” says Robyn. “It’s about knowing how to talk about mental health and being able to communicate that in a kind and compassionate way. Many employers themselves are also under stress and when an employee knows that they can mutually support each other.”

 

She says just sending employees emails with links to mental health resources isn’t enough, and in fact, could exacerbate the situation.

 

“In that case, you’re putting the onus on your employee to do something that they might not even have the capacity to do and you’re also creating a situation where they feel you’re actually giving them more work to do.”

 

Finding resources can be difficult, says Robyn, noting that private therapy in Canada can cost between $160 to $250 an hour, and that on average between six to 10 sessions are usually needed for a person to make any progress.

 

“Most benefit packages I know, unless you work for a very large corporation, cover perhaps $500 a year,” she says, adding Porchlight, which offers a variety of services, is a good place to discover local resources. “The system right now is a great big puzzle and is very confusing, so an organization like ours we can do the heavy lifting for people to help them access affordable mental health and addictions support.”

 

 

Recommendations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for SMEs

 

Develop a comprehensive mental health strategy

•    Develop a mental health strategy that is linked to your EDI strategy.
•    Measure baseline workforce mental health through qualitative (e.g., regular pulse checks and surveys) and quantitative measures (e.g., absenteeism, presenteeism, short- and long-term disability, etc.).
•    Set specific performance targets based on baseline data and the unique needs of your organization and employees.
•    Monitor progress to assess whether intended outcomes were achieved and what steps are needed to improve psychological health and safety.

 

Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture

•    Invest in mental health training to ensure leaders can recognize distress and support employees.
•    Pay attention to the quality of social connections and consider team building options (that adhere to public health guidelines) to foster camaraderie.
•    Encourage employees to practice self-care that includes daily relaxation to decrease stress and healthy habits (e.g., adequate sleep, exercise, etc.).
•    Consider small gestures of appreciation (e.g., a gift card or simple “thank you”), which can impact someone’s day.
•    Consider building a mental health committee or peer support program.

 

Communicate widely, regularly, and effectively

•    Encourage leaders to model open and authentic communication about their mental health challenges – to reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek support.
•    Create spaces for conversation between leaders and employees to share how they feel, check-in with one another, and build a sense of community.
•    Repeat key messages throughout the year to create lasting cultural change and using various formats (e.g., team meetings, posters, etc.)

 

Ensure adequate resources and supports for employees and their families

•    Ensure supports are varied, visible, and accessible – in-person and virtually.
•    Invest in leaders’ wellbeing so they can provide support to employees.
•    Support employees along the full continuum of mental health – from prevention to early intervention to recovery.
•    Review your company’s health plan with your benefits administrator to examine what supports you currently provide and what could be added.

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The Ontario government will launch a first-of-its-kind program June 1 to make free naloxone kits (and free training) available at workplaces where there is a risk of staff witnessing or experiencing an opioid overdose.

 

In 2022, there were 2,521 confirmed probable opioid deaths in Ontario, which represents a 12% drop in cases compared to 2021. Despite this, the number of deaths last year remains substantially higher compared to what was observed prior to the pandemic (2017-2019).

 

Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, restore breathing within two to five minutes, and allow time for medical help to arrive.

 

“Ontario, like the rest of Canada, is in the middle of an opioid epidemic made worse by a toxic supply of recreational street drugs,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, when the program was first announced last year.

 

According to a report released last summer by researchers from the Ontario Drug Police Research Network (ODPRN) at St. Michael’s Hospital, one in 13 opioid-related deaths in the province between 2018 and 2020 occurred in the construction sector. The reasons behind this, say researchers, are a complicated mix of pain management, job insecurity and having nowhere else to turn.

 

Bars and nightclubs have also seen increased opioid usage and accidental overdoses, often because of recreational drugs laced with deadly opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

 

For up to two years, Ontario will provide free nasal spray naloxone kits to businesses at risk of opioid overdoses through the Workplace Naloxone Program and free training needed to equip staff with the tools to respond to an opioid overdose.

 

Businesses can determine if they are eligible for the program and find additional information on accessing naloxone kits and training at Ontario.ca/workplacenaloxone. Once the requirement is in effect, Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development’s inspectors will take an education-first approach to enforcement.

 

 

We reached out to Tushar Anandasagar and Hina Ghaus at Gowling WLG to provide some legal insight as to what this new legislation will mean for some businesses:

 

Q. What prompted the Province to introduce this OHSA legislation?

 

A. The province is recognizing that the ongoing opioid crisis is affecting workplaces across the province – something needed to be done.

Opioid overdoses may be preventable or possible to delay (to an extent) – the province has adopted the role of educating employers on steps they can take to recognize and reduce the severity of overdoses.

These measures also have the effect of reducing the load on the healthcare system – the province is pushing for early triage and prevention rather than escalation.

We’re already doing many of the same things when it comes to allergies – for instance, many workers with severe allergies are already carrying around EpiPens.

Many social changes start at the workplace – there is a good chance that we will start to see this protocol (or something similar) extending beyond the workplace.

The opioid crisis is ubiquitous - we have already seen other provinces discussing the adoption of similar requirements for workplaces.

 

 

Q.  Is there a possibility the free training and access to the kits could be extended beyond two years and could funding be provided by another source?

 

A.  Definitely. Our sense is that this is just the start.  There are numerous benefits associated with early prevention rather than treating severe overdose cases via the healthcare system. A stitch in time saves nine.

 

 

Q. Are workers legally required to make their employers aware they could overdose?

 

A. Not by operation of statute – the onus is on the employer to spot a potential health and safety issue and create systems to make the workplace as safe as possible.  Of course, nothing prevents a worker from voluntarily disclosing a substance use disorder to their employer. Aside from statute, employers may be able to establish early warning systems via fit for duty policies – such a policy would require the employee to report to work while not under the influence of an impairing substance. Employers are then responsible for enforcing the policy.

 

 

Q. What kind of privacy issues come into play with this legislation?

 

A.  An employee’s disclosure of a substance use disorder is considered strictly confidential information – the employer should be prepared to treat this information as it would any other medical information received from an employee

Appropriate protections should be put in place to safeguard the information – shared with only those managers or supervisors who “need to know”.

These issues, and sample scenarios, are discussed in the province’s updated guidance on naloxone in the workplace:  https://www.ontario.ca/page/naloxone-workplace

 

 

Q. What are potential concerns surrounding this legislation, if any, that managers of workplaces deemed as at-risk should be aware of?

 

A. There are risks associated with non-compliance with the OHSA – for instance, primary liability may result if the employer doesn’t run through a naloxone kit risk assessment to determine if there is a risk of a worker overdosing at work.  Every employer is required to do this.

There are also risks associated with running a deficient risk assessment or ignoring risks that come to the employer’s attention – for instance, an employee self-discloses that they have a substance use issue, and the employer does nothing.

Another consideration is what could possibly happen if a worker administers naloxone and the recipient has, for instance, an allergic reaction – as per the province’s current guidance, the Ontario Good Samaritan Act should kick in to relieve workers of liability when they are administering naloxone in good faith.

 

 

Q.  What should be the first steps an at-risk workplace should take when it comes to introducing this program?

 

A. Every workplace needs to run through a naloxone risk assessment – employers may wish to engage a third party to demonstrate that they have done this, as needed.

If naloxone risks are detected during the risk assessment, the employer should plan for implementation by referencing the OHSA guidance published by the province – this will necessarily mean engaging with staff, the OH&S rep, the JHSC, etc.

There are specific training requirements which need to be in place, which have been referenced within the province’s guidance. As needed, the employer should also prepare to procure naloxone kits – there may be free naloxone kits available depending on the sector the employer operates within.

 

 

Q. Can workplaces not deemed ‘at-risk’ access the program?

 

A.  All workplaces can access the Province’s guidelines and training resources. As for the free naloxone kits and on-site training, we know the Province is initially focusing on high-risk workplaces. In future we may see an expansion of the training programs and free kits to non-high-risk environments.

 

 

Q. Is it difficult to make changes to the OHSA?

 

A. Yes and no – some changes are met with objection from employers (and employer associations), trade unions, and other stakeholders (e.g., fine increases, doubling of limitation periods, etc.). It really depends on the type of change that is being made.

 

 

Q.  How will compliance of the legislation be monitored?

 

A. Effective June 1, 2023, we can expect standard MOL audits for employers – they will ask about naloxone kits in the same way that they currently ask about harassment policies, etc. There may also be acute responses triggered by workplace accidents – for instance, if there is a serious workplace accident and there is some indication that substance use disorder may have contributed to the situation, the employer’s risk assessment may be called into question, and they may be found not to have complied with these new OHSA requirements if they failed to identify reasonably apparent risks.

Once again, employers will need to be mindful of proving that they have undergone a risk assessment (document, document, document), particularly if they have concluded that there is no risk in the working environment.

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The concept of a four-day work week has been gaining attention in Ontario, thanks in part to the decision by at least seven municipalities that are now offering their staff the flexibility of that option.

 

But the merits of such a system, which has become commonplace in many European countries including Denmark, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands, is the subject of much debate among critics and advocates in North America.

 

While there are those who believe implementing a shorter work week is impossible in many sectors resulting in additional costs for overtime or hiring more staff, not to mention placing more stress on employees to get their work done in a shorter time frame, others insist such a system creates a better life balance and overall sense of wellbeing that can inspire increased productivity.

 

“There has been a lot of upheaval in workplaces which has opened the doors to rethinking arrangements,” says Ellen Russell, Associate Professor of Digital Media & Journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University and a labour market and economics expert.

 

She believes the next generation of employees may not understand the need to have arbitrary time limits placed on their work hours. “If there is not a reason then my guess is these future workers would really find it strange to be so arbitrary for no apparent reason,” says Ellen.

 

This is a subject Joe O’Connor, Director and Co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence (WTRCE), is more than familiar.

 

As the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global, which has been leading four-day work week trial programs with businesses worldwide, including 10 in Canada, he is a strong believer in the concept and through the WTRCE has been partnering with organizations to support their transformation to a shorter work week.

 

His organization is a proponent of reduced work hours schedules, not just a compressed model where employees are required to work 10-hour days four days a week.

 

“Arguably, post COVID-19 quality of life is now the new frontier of competition,” says Joe, adding for many workers it means more than compensation. “One of the things I have observed is the shift towards embracing shorter work weeks has happened at all three traditional layers of the organization.”

 

He believes business leaders have become more ‘open’ to it because they see the potential benefits in terms of attracting and retaining talent, and that many managers are more comfortable with this type of system because they are now familiar with measuring outputs rather the length of time people spend at their desk.

 

“For the employees, it’s really the demand effect. The value people have placed on time as a benefit has greatly increased because of what people experienced during the pandemic,” says Joe.

 

But he is quick to point out there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to implementing a shorter work week.

 

“This is not something that should be implemented the same way from business to business, and industry to industry,” he says, adding in larger organizations work models could even vary between departments. “There will still be a need to facilitate different kinds of irregular work patterns based on business needs and employee preferences.”

 

Employee support is key says Joe when it comes to implementing such a drastic change, which means taking a hard look at how an organization operates, noting that introducing a shorter work week could be met with fear and skepticism.

 

“This is something that really works in organizations with very strong work cultures,” he says, adding going through a thorough evaluation process can galvanize a team as efficiencies are found so they can accommodate that addtional time off. “There is a real collectiveness at the heart of this and it relies on a commitment within teams and departments to find ways to change how they do things together to make it a success.”

 

Joe is confident within the next few years shorter work weeks will be the norm in sectors like information and communication technologies, software companies, and financial services. He also notes that two Canadian law firms, YLaw in B.C. and The Ross Firm in Ontario, have both switched to a four-day work week, something many in the legal industry deemed would be impossible due their current billing systems.

Joe says YLaw accomplished this shift by finding efficiencies in its operations and the latter firm did it by implementing a fixed fee billing system.

 

“My prediction is that in five years’ time, this is going to be the norm in some sectors and in 10 years it’s going to be more common than a five-day week,” says Joe, adding the potential is there to implement this concept in many sectors, including manufacturing. “I think there is an opportunity here for proactive leaders and strong organizations. Now is the time to really set yourself apart from the competition.”

 

 

Pros of a four-day work week

  • Productivity may increase
  • Workers can take care of medical and other appointments on their days off
  • Recruitment and retention may be easier by offering flexible work hours
  • Reduced stress and a better life-work balance, allowing employees more time for other activities and hobbies
  • Commuting less by employees could have environmental benefits

 

Cons of a four-day work week

  • For hourly paid jobs, employers should check if they will need to pay overtime if staff work 10 hours a day
  • If may be difficult to find daycare open for a 10-hour day to meet childcare needs
  • Working longer days or trying to complete tasks in a shorter timeframe could have health impacts
  • This may not work for all industries, such as farming, customer service and restaurants
  • Ensuring customer and client coverage can require scheduling employees over different workdays

 

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