Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The office holiday party is making a big return.

 

According to RSVPify – an online RSVP and event management platform – pent-up demand following two and half-years of pandemic protocols, plus current staffing retention challenges facing many businesses, has many employers looking for ways to reward staff and perhaps create a more cohesive workplace environment.

 

But finding just the right solution to host an office holiday gathering can often be difficult for those in smaller workplaces.

 

“They basically have very few choices and often go to a restaurant for dinner. But if they want to have a little bit more, something with dancing and entertainment, it can be very difficult for companies with 10 or 30 people to do that,” says Spiro Dracopoulos, Business Development Manager, Bingemans in Kitchener.

 

As a viable and fun alternative, Bingemans is once again offering its Holiday Gala this year on Dec. 16 to provide smaller companies with an option to enjoy an evening out together.

 

“We just want to give smaller business the chance to come out and have a special night,” says Spiro, describing the event which features great food and dancing, plus the chance to meet people from other businesses.

 

“They (companies) feel it’s great value,” he says, referring to the gala which prior to the pandemic attracted anywhere between 400 to 500 people. This year Spiro expects about 250 will attend. “We will build it back up again and I hope in a year or two we’ll be back up to where we were before COVID-19.”

 

In Cambridge, Tapestry Hall is also playing host to smaller businesses with its Making Spirits Bright event, also on Dec. 16, featuring seasonal musical treats and Big Band sounds by the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and their special guest the Bob De Angelis Trio. The event, sponsored by the Souder Family, will also feature not only a wide selection of music, but a four-course meal and dancing.

 

Jillian Monaghan, communications manager for the CSO, says this kind of community collaboration fits in nicely with the organization’s mission.

 

“Our mission really is connecting the community through the power of music,” she says, explaining how the CSO – founded in 2002 – works with many community partners to create sponsorships that bring even more culture to Cambridge.

 

Jillian sees Making Spirits Bright as a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Gaslight District and downtown, noting how much has changed in the last 20 years in terms of new businesses and the arrival of the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture.

“A lot of things have been going into the downtown core and it’s really a pretty exciting place right now,” she says.

 

 

Making Spirts Bright

 

The event, which has a ‘Great Gatsby’ party theme, kicks off when the doors open at 6 p.m. and features an incredible four-course meal, themed out with bougie favourites of the 1920s.

 

“Big Band was definitely part of the dancing revolution in the Roaring Twenties,” says Jillian. “And the featured band the Bob De Angelis Trio is quiet well known and offers really fun music.”

 

She says members of the CSO, which can number between 35 to 45 professional musicians depending on the performance, will perform four sets throughout the evening.

 

“We’re encouraging our musicians to stick around afterwards so people can meet them,” says Jillian, adding this performance is a bit different than the CSO’s usual concerts which this year includes an event called East Coast – Holiday Treats and More, on Dec. 10.

 

She says tickets for that concert start at around $10 which makes it more ‘family friendly’ in terms of price point.

 

“The Tapestry Hall event is a little bit different because a high-end dinner is included,” says Jillian.

 

To learn more, visit Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

Holiday Gala

 

The Holiday Gala at Bingemans will feature a buffet consisting of three entrees, a DJ spinning dance tunes, door prizes and bottles of wine can be purchased, as well as drink tickets.

 

“We have a fabulous buffet dinner,” says Spiro, noting that planning began in September.

 

The event begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. A late-night snack rounds out the evening. “There’s definitely going to be lots of food. No one will go away hungry,” he jokes.  To learn more, visit Bingemans.

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Quiet quitting, thanks to viral posts on social media, has become a term very familiar in workplaces worldwide.

 

It describes the phenomenon of employees who no longer go above and beyond by doing only what is expected in effort to maintain jobs that may no longer interest or inspire them.

 

This disengagement from work has grown exponentially since the pandemic. In fact, the 2022 State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup shows only 21% of employees are engaged at work.

 

“We’ve come through such a crisis over the last couple of years. To some extent, I think we’re over it now, but it has forced people to make different decisions about work, especially if they were burnt out already,” says Frank Newman, CEO of Newman Human Resources Consulting, who will explore quiet quitting at a Cambridge Chamber of Commerce webinar Dec. 1 entitled Is Your Team Quietly Quitting?

 

He will not only touch on some of the top reasons why employees quietly quit as well as the warning signs but provide insight on how employers can alter their work environment so they can not only attract but, more importantly, retain employees.

 

“You want to make sure you create the best work environment as possible,” says Frank, acknowledging the existence of an “employees’ market” due to labour shortages.  “That really means taking a very critical look at your work environment. Do you know what people need? Is it benefits? Is it better management? This is the ideal time to do an employee survey or workplace assessment to provide you with some sort of tool you can use to get a fix in terms of what are you going to fix first.”

 

He says this process may not prove to be a comfortable experience for some workplaces, however, insists this information can go a long way in assisting an organization set benchmarks regarding branding, image or even compensation.

 

“There are so many changes happening right now and if you don’t understand where you’re going or where you’re at, it’s pretty hard to make any progress,” says Frank.

 

He also recommends employers conduct exit interviews, formally or informally, to get a sense of why an employee has decided to leave.

 

“Make sure you understand what people are feeling. Also, spend some time with your newest employees and ask them what attracted them to your organization.”

 

Frank says in the age of social media, it’s important to encourage people who leave to remain an ambassador for the organization adding that bad reviews tend to get more traction than good ones.

 

“Organizations need to think about that as they manage those who are quietly quitting and those who suddenly walk out the door,” he says. “I always encourage my clients to search various job boards to see what’s being said about them.”

 

Frank admits it’s a tough time to be a manager right now, noting that employees have become much more critical on how their companies are managed than they were in the past.

 

“People looking for work have so many options out there now, and if you’re a hiring manager, it’s putting more pressure on management to get work done with less resources,” he says, noting the difficulty this causes employees who are now required to pick up the slack due to staffing shortages.

 

However, Frank says he’s optimistic as the economy continues to readjust following the pandemic there will be less quiet quitting.

 

“As companies get smarter in managing their businesses and people, I think you’ll see less of that," he says.

 

Work Trends Facts:

  • Burnout is a big risk in the workplace, especially amongst younger Gen Z professionals aged in their 20s, research shows. A survey of 30,000 workers by Microsoft showed 54% of Gen Z workers are considering quitting their job.
  • In its 2021 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum ranks “youth disillusionment” as eighth of 10 immediate risks. Findings include deteriorating mental health since the start of the pandemic, leaving 80% of young people worldwide vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and disappointment.
  • Workforce data from organizations including McKinsey & Company suggests 40% of the global workforce are looking to quit their jobs in the next three to six months.

Source: World Economic Forum website

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While the phrase ‘quiet quitting’ has recently entered the vernacular of many business organizations thanks in part to recent social media posts, the concept itself is not exactly new.

 

“We’ve been researching this issue for a long time with respect to motivation and performance,” says Dr. Simon Taggar, Professor of Management in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University, noting previous generations used expressions like ‘deadwood’ or ‘retiring on the job’ to describe the phenomenon of employees who’ve given up the notion of going above and beyond in the workplace and only do what is expected of them.

 

Dr. Taggar says the concept, which can mistakenly evoke images of an employee ‘slacking’ at work, really centres more on the notions of engagement and disengagement, and how committed they are to their job, using the bare minimum approach which doesn’t lead to termination.

 

“I think increasingly people are becoming disengaged. We’ve always had an increasing trend in disengagement,” he says, referring to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 which indicated that only 13% of employees worldwide were actually engaged in their jobs.

 

In North America, that number was 30% compared to 24% in other countries like South Korea, Australia, and Japan. “The people that are disengaged are now getting a whole bunch of attention.”

 

While COVID-19 sparked a major economic movement in terms of job shifts and losses, Dr. Taggar says many ‘quiet quitters’ continue to stay put in their jobs – unless something they deem is better comes along - due to a sense of continuous commitment to their work. He says unlike those with a passionate commitment to do the best job they can, or even those who feel an obligation to stay, ‘quiet quitters’ approach their jobs using a more transactional rationale.

 

“They look at as ‘I’m here because I have to be here’,” says Dr. Taggar, noting financial and personal circumstances are mitigating factors in their decision. “It’s almost like being in jail.”

 

However, he says in some circumstances, having ‘quiet quitters’ on the payroll does not make much of a difference.

 

“There are some jobs out there that really don’t need a huge amount of motivation,” says Dr. Taggar. “The design of the job itself is the control mechanism.”

 

However, he says increasingly many jobs in North America now require employees to be more motivated as they navigate strategies on their own.

 

“Our competitive advantage in Canada is having highly educated and motivated employees having complex jobs. That’s the source of our competitive advantage,” says Dr. Taggar, noting there are many signs pertaining to those who are ‘quietly quitting’. “As human beings, we’re very good at figuring out to the degree someone is motivated or highly engaged in the workplace.”

 

Signs that someone may be ‘quietly quitting’ include not assisting colleagues, not being prepared at meetings, absenteeism, not going above and beyond when it comes to serving customers or staying away from company social events.

 

“A positive workplace climate is created by people who are passionate and want to be there and love their jobs,” says Dr. Taggar.

 

He says communication is key when it comes to dealing with potential ‘quiet quitters’.

“No one ever enters an organization they want to be in thinking I’m going just going to be continuously committed,” says Dr. Taggar. “Humans aren’t made that way. We want to be passionate. We want to spend our lives doing something valuable that makes us feel good.”

 

He says it all boils down to the expectations an employee has when they join an organization, referring to such things as promises of a better work/life balance.

 

“When people’s expectations are not met, it’s called a breach of their psychological contract,” says Dr. Taggar, adding this breach can quickly alter someone’s passion for the job. “You’ve got to maintain people’s expectations because when you lose that trust, it’s harder to gain that trust back.”

 

As well, he says asking for feedback is imperative to foster a workplace culture that will keep employees engaged, noting that allowing a work culture to grow organically can create issues and misunderstandings.

 

“If you invest in them and make them feel like you care and are developing them, they will be committed to you,” says Dr. Jagger. “You’ve got to have that constant communication and constant culture building so people can make sense on what’s happening around them.”

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The number of employees returning to their workplaces has been steadily increasing since the start of the year, according to stats recently published in the Globe & Mail. However, as the months pass not all may be thrilled with the notion of going back to the office.

 

“We are hearing mixed reviews about returning to work and that has to do with both employee preference as well as the expectations that businesses put in place prior to the pandemic,” says Peninsula Canada Account Manager Victoria Vati, adding that if a business didn’t have a working from home policy in place prior to COVID-19 not many put one in place when staff began staying home. “This created confusion for staff who have been productively working from home for the last year or two, and now they are expected to return. Many of them feel as though it is not necessary to be there in-person and are pushing back.”

 

Victoria, an HR expert, says it’s imperative that workplaces ensure they have something in writing outlining what the expectation is for employees when it comes to returning to the workplace.

 

“It can be tricky to navigate this area completely,” she says, noting that some businesses have found it more lucrative to have employees work from home removing the financial need for physical office space. “Others may opt for a hybrid solution because they have the resources to accommodate and support both in-house and remote workers.”

 

When it comes to hybrid working, the JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle) Workforce Preferences Barometer report released in June notes that from among just over 4,000 office workers surveyed in 10 countries – including Canada - this type of work model was expected by 60% of respondents, with 55% already utilizing a hybrid approach.

 

The report also indicated that 73% of these office workers are going into the office at least once a week, an increase of 5% compared to March of 2021.

 

To ensure a hybrid model works, the report states that six out of 10 employees expect to be supported with technology and financial assistance for expenses linked to remote work and outlines the need for a ‘holistic’ approach to management since 25% of those surveyed felt isolated from colleagues, with 55% stating they missed the social interactions of the workplace.

 

“Many employees are mentally, physically and emotionally drained from the last two years,” says Victoria, adding that many employers are also feeling ‘burned out’ trying to juggle the day-to-day issues of operating a business amid financial worries and ongoing labour shortages. “The burnout is a little different for them, but they are facing it as well.”

 

She says not overworking their employees and themselves is very important.

 

“Employee retention right now is key for all employers. It is important for employers to provide support to their staff in as many ways as they possibly can. If an employee now suffers from anxiety due to the pandemic and would like to work from home on certain days, the employer has an expectation to (within reason) explore options to assist that employee. If remote working is not possible, then providing the employee with resources and guidance on where to turn to for help is also very important.”

 

Working for an employer that focuses on their health has become very important to many, as outlined in the report which states 59% of employees expect to work for a company that supports health and wellbeing and now rank them as the second biggest priority, after quality of life and before salary.

 

“It is important for employers to evaluate and understand the needs of the business and weigh the pros and cons of remote working,” advises Valerie, noting the recent implementation of Ontario’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation is a great way to build transparency and trust in these changing work environments. “By enforcing this and educating staff on what their rights are, employers can create a culture of excellence and finding what works for both the business and staff.”

 

Visit Peninsula Canada for more information.

 

 

At a glance (Source: JLL Workforce Preferences Barometer)

  • Hybrid work has reached an ‘optimal point’ – 60% of office workers want to work in hybrid style today and 55% are doing so already (These figures were about 63% and 50% a year ago).
  • 55% of employees alternate between different places of work every week (+5% vs. March 2021).
  • 73% of office workers are going to the office at least once a week (+5% vs. March 2021).  26% exclusively in the office.
  • Six in 10 employees expect to be supported with technology and financial assistance for expenses linked to remote work. Less than four in 10 currently benefit from these types of initiatives.
  • Enabling hybrid work shows your people that you are flexible and empathetic employer – This workstyle is especially appreciated by managers (75%), Gen Z (73%) Gen Y (69%) and caregivers (66%).
  • Only 48% of the workforce believe that their company is a great place to work today.
  • 38% would like to work in an office that is designed sustainably.
  • 27% could leave their employer because they do not share the values promoted by their company.
  • 59% of employees expect to work in a company that supports their health and wellbeing. This is now ranked as the second priority at work, after quality of life and before salary.
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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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The decision to retighten restrictions in Ontario in hopes of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and a rapid increase in hospitalizations has once again left businesses scrambling to make ends meet.

 

But with these latest restrictions, which includes cancelling in-door dining in restaurants and implementing capacity limits in the retail sector until Jan. 27, the lack of solid financial supports to assist businesses get through this latest wave is creating a great deal of frustration.

 

“If the government wants businesses to be compliant and agreeable with restrictions and be part of the solution to end this pandemic, then they are going to have compensate business,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The Province has done a very poor job of doing that from the onset of the pandemic.”

 

A similar sentiment is shared by his counterpart at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

“We are all doing our part. Now, the government needs to do their part,” said Ontario Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rocco Rossi in a Jan. 3 media release. “What additional steps does the government plan to take over the next 21 days and beyond?”

 

Greg says he welcomes the introduction of an Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant announced Jan. 7 that will see eligible small businesses receive $10,000 throughout these current closures as well as electricity-rate relief but believes more supports are needed.

 

“It may be enough for three weeks they are proposing, no question about it,” he says. “But if the closures are going to be in place longer than three weeks, which I hate to even say, they’re going to have to up the ante substantially. Businesses are at their most vulnerable time right now and business owners are at their wit’s end and at the end of their bank accounts.”

 

An application portal for this program is expected to open in the coming weeks and eligible businesses include:

  • Restaurants and bars;
  • Facilities for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities (including fitness centres and gyms);
  • Performing arts and cinemas;
  • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
  • Meeting or event spaces;
  • Tour and guide services;
  • Conference centres and convention centres;
  • Driving instruction for individuals; and
  • Before- and after- school programs.

Also, those eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and are subject to closure under modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program. 

 

“The government can’t hesitate and must ramp up supports as quickly as possible, and as robust as they possibly can,” says Greg.

 

Greg says the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program unveiled before Christmas, which aims to provide eligible businesses with rebate payments equivalent to 50% of the property tax and energy costs they incur due to current capacity limits, doesn’t work for many businesses.

 

“Right now, many businesses that don’t have a separate tax or hydro bill because it’s included in the rent they pay will be ineligible to get that recovery,” he says, adding the mid-January timeline announced by the Province before it activates the portal for businesses to even apply just adds to their growing financial burdens. “The portal was already available after the government initiated a property tax and hydro rebate program a year ago. They should have opened this up right away.”

 

In response to these restrictions, the Ontario Chamber Network sent a letter Jan. 6 to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy calling for the following:

  • Extend the Small Business Support Grant for a third round targeted towards all businesses whose revenues are directly and/or indirectly impacted by current public health restrictions. Eligibility should include businesses previously eligible for the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant and businesses losing revenue because of restrictions affecting their clients (e.g. food service suppliers); 
  • Work with the federal government to increase rental subsidies provided under the newly expanded Local Lockdown Program like the enhanced Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by public health restrictions; 
  • Immediately open the recently announced portal which would allow businesses to access rebates for property taxes and utilities, accompanied by rapid disbursements for eligible business expenses; 
  • Expand access to rapid antigen tests and PCR testing, with priority given to Ontarians unable to work from home, both to limit unnecessary isolation time and allow workers to demonstrate eligibility for paid sick days and other supports; 
  • Work with financial institutions and the federal government to forgive loans for businesses most severely impacted by public health restrictions. 

While the urgency for immediate assistance is needed, Greg says he fears these supports won’t be released quick enough to assist businesses, noting many of whom were starting to realize significant growth in the latter part of the summer and early fall.


“There are so many small businesses that have mounted a great deal of debt and it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to survive,” he says, adding for many it will be like starting from square one. “And we all know the survival rate for small businesses in the first five years is low.”

 

As well, he says businesses that have been around for a decade or two and were in ‘growth mode’ prior to the pandemic are also facing tough times ahead.


“It’s all been taken away from them now and the government just doesn’t seem to be there for them,” says Greg.


While he says while stricter health measures may be needed with this more easily transmissible COVID-19 variant, the line between science and politics has become somewhat blurred.


“There is a divide between science and politics and the two can never come together simply because politicians are trying to please the masses and science is trying to avert the predictable and therein lies the difference,” says Greg. “For the most part, I think government has been trying to take the science data and apply it to political realities and that’s never going to create a good scenario for anybody.”


He says there were measures the Ontario Chamber Network called upon the Province to take prior to the start of the second wave, such as mask mandates requiring surgical-grade and N95 masks being a requirement in public.


“Again, we still don’t have that,” says Greg. “I think there were other measures they should have invoked many months ago that would have probably put us in a better position going into this latest wave. The reality of the situation is the government has become so reactionary they tend to take longer to make decisions.”

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A shortage of rapid antigen screening kits threatens to hamper the ability of local Chambers to assist Waterloo Region businesses stay safe over the next few weeks, says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Since the start of April, the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers have been working with Health Canada and the Province to provide free self-screening kits to small and medium-sized businesses throughout our Region.

 

Since that time, more than 700,000 of the kits have been distributed, not to just to Chamber members but all SMEs with less than 150 employees. The goal of the program was to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Up until December, everything was running very smoothly, and people were ordering kits and they were keeping workplaces safe,” says Greg, noting a provincewide shortage has altered that at very critical time for businesses. “There are a number of workplaces that are in a very vulnerable situation that are essential and it’s very important they screen employees every couple of days. You can’t have an essential business close their doors for 14 days.”

 

The Chamber initiative, which began as a pilot program and was quickly implemented provincewide by other Chambers through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce network, is waiting on a delivery of approximately 150,000 of the kits to fulfill orders placed by businesses through its Chambercheck.ca portal.

 

“But the fact of the matter is we have at least 1,600 businesses who are now waiting in the cue to get their kits and we don’t have any,” says Greg, noting that leaves approximately 70,000 employees in Waterloo Region without access to rapid screening until at least mid-January.

 

“Even when we receive our order that still won’t be enough because to test that many employees we need at least 280,000 kits,” he says, explaining proper screening requirements call for employees to use the kits at least twice a week.

 

The Chamber’s last order of 50,000 kits – a week’s supply - arrived Dec. 6 and was quickly allocated to businesses or re-allocated to other businesses (including restaurants) if they were not picked up. 

 

“We know there are many workplaces that have to have them,” says Greg, adding a decision by the Province to distribute a single box of screening kits containing five tests to students over the Christmas break may not have been the best method. “It’s a great idea, but not enough has been handed out. Five tests aren’t enough and there isn’t a real strategy attached for their use and to even retain some tests for going back to school. Just handing them out is no real strategy.”

 

He says distributing through workplaces has been a great way to reach more people. 

 

“We’ve always said from the very beginning of this to the Province that about 63% of Ontarians are in workplaces so if you make rapid screening kits available for employees you have the potential to reach 63% of the population,” says Greg, noting not all employees may wish to take part in the screening program unless it was mandated. 

 

He says it would have proven cheaper for the Province to distribute more screening kits to workplaces and even curtail the resale of the kits for exorbitant amounts online.

 

“The BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region), along with the Chambers, started encouraging the Province to do rapid screening in May of 2020 and it took them almost a year to get out and going because we stepped up to the plate and said we would do the pilot program,” says Greg. “We literally wrote the playbook so they could pass it on.”

 

He says running the free screening program through the Chambers has also ensured all the necessary safety protocols are followed.

 

“We have all the safeguards in place to make sure these kits are being used correctly and continue to be accessible to answer any questions if businesses have had a problem,” says Greg. “It really has been a seamless program, but now we’ve seen an unnecessary pause during the most critical time for these businesses.”

 

For information, visit Chambercheck.ca

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The decision by Premier Doug Ford’s government to extend its COVID-19 sick days program has pushed the issue of paid leave back into the spotlight for many employers and their employees.

 

The province announced Dec. 7 that it’s COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit, which require employers to provide up to three paid days off related to the pandemic and was to expire at the end of December, will continue until July 31.

 

But what happens after that date remains unclear, especially as the pandemic continues to drag on.

 

“In terms of what we do going forward, this is a question that deserves debate and discussion because on the one hand, there is a sound rationale to having a program like this in place, but the government can’t be footing the bill for everyone endlessly,” says Daniel Safayeni, Vice-President of Policy for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “And on the other side, small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis and the cost of doing business has gone up.”

 

He says it is worth noting the government budgeted $1 billion for the provincial program and that less than one-tenth – approximately 10% - has been used since it was launched last April. Under the program, employees receive a maximum of $200 per day, with the province reimbursing the employer. To date, employers have submitted more than $80 million in wages for sick pay claims for more than 235,000 workers.

 

“What we’ve seen in the numbers, on average by those who’ve used it, is no more than two sick days,” says Daniel.

 

The idea of transitioning this support to a more permanent sick day program of 10 days is something the Ontario Federation of Labour has been lobbying the provincial government to implement. In fact, a poll conducted by Envrionics Research in the last two weeks of November of 2021 indicated that 80% of the 1,210 respondents supported the Federation’s call for 10 permanent employer-paid sick days. 

 

“It is far past time for Ford’s Conservative government to finally do the right thing and introduce permanent, adequate, employer-paid sick leave and Ontarians overwhelmingly agree,” said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President, in a Dec. 9 post on the group’s website. “The Worker Income Protection Benefit is temporary and inadequate. While Ontarians face the rise of a new COVID-19 variant and flu season, we urgently need this common-sense health measure to keep ourselves and our communities safe.”

 

But rising inflation and budgetary constraints faced by many businesses at this time would make implementing such a permanent program difficult, which is why Daniel says careful discussion is imperative.

 

“Ideally, there is a balance that can be struck in some future version of this program (Worker Income Protection Benefit) in which the government can still support these three sick days, particularly for smaller businesses that are in-person and don’t have the remote capabilities or don’t necessarily have the resources to fund an additional benefit like this,” he says, adding many larger businesses may already have sick day policies in place. “Perhaps there is some evolution that can occur for those that don’t, and that expense is eventually transitioned over to the employer. But this stuff needs to be done in consultation with the business community and the timelines need to match the economic backdrop.”

 

Daniel says implementing a more permanent paid sick leave program should not be part of any election promises.

 

“Right now, it’s getting mixed up within the context of an election,” he says. “It also has to be thought of within a broader package of benefits and compensation that employers are providing.”

 

And while the pandemic continues, especially for workplaces like smaller manufacturers, Daniel says the need to extend this program is important.

 

“The other backdrop to this is there is a war on talent and labour shortages and you’re seeing businesses trying to compete in the benefits they offer and to try and be an attractive place to work,” he says, adding providing a safe workplace for employees should remain the top priority right now, especially in the ‘essential’ sectors of retail, administration, and manufacturing. “It’s in no one’s best interest for a business to be in a situation in which they are risking the health and safety of their employees and by extension, the continuity of their business operation.”

 

Daniel says now is the time to investigate where this paid sick day benefit program can lead.

 

“It was wise of the government to extend this program, but let’s use the time we have between now and July to determine what the next step for this will look like,” he says. “As a Chamber network, we need to continue to do more work to understand where our members are at this time and what avenues for us going forward could be used to have a productive solution in place.”

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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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Like many other business leaders, Valet Car Wash’s Mike Black found himself forced to make some hard decisions when COVID-19 struck.

 

“As things started to close down and we started to navigate our way through this as a business, we had to layoff about 100 employees which is something we’ve never done in 30 years,” he says, referring to the business he began building on Eagle Street North back in 1990 which has now grown to include eight additional locations.

 

Luckily, he was able to continue to operate portions of his business with a reduced workforce. However, not all wanted to continue working due to personal reasons, which Mike says was a difficult choice for them to make.

 

 

“We respected and understood that,” he says, adding those who did continue to work would be instrumental in keeping the business going. 

 

Mike decided some action was needed to recognize these employees.

 

“I said to my managers, ‘I will make sure the employees that stuck through this and allowed us to keep our doors open and still have a business when the other employees come back will be compensated and I will figure out away to thank them’,” he says.

It was at this point he says came his ‘aha moment’ and devised a plan.

 

“We used the wage subsidy (CEWS) to pay every employee who worked from March 16 to May 3 and a special COVID compensation ‘bonus’ of $4 per hour on top of their regular hourly rate,” he says, adding he did not reduce their regular wages. “We calculated all their hours worked during that time period x4 and whatever that amount came to, we purchased gift cards of their choosing.”

 

Mike says the employees could select up to three different cards, with the only stipulation being they could not be VISA or MasterCard gift cards.

 

“I wanted to give them something that helped the economy at the same time,” he says. “It really wouldn’t do much good if it just sat in a bank account.”

 

Approximately 50 employees utilized the cards in a variety of ways. For example, Mike says one purchased new beds for her children, another a new couch for her living room, and another who is studying photography bought a new camera. As well, another purchased a variety of foods from Zehrs to create a special meal and treats, something that employee had not done in months since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“It’s been great to hear those stories,” says Mike, adding these purchases are a great way to stimulate the whole economy. “It works the whole supply chain.”

 

He describes it as a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

 

“The employees are happy, and it’s kept us in business,” says Mike. “When you have multiple locations, you really depend on your staff.”

 

Valet Car Wash Cambridge is located at 2396 Eagle St. N. (behind Greg Vann Nissan), or visit washmycar.ca for more information. 

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