Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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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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As businesses continue to look forward as they develop staffing plans to tackle 2023, they may also wish to take a quick look back at new policies that have now been added to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

 

These include the right to disconnect legislation first unveiled in Ontario Bill 27 in December of 2021, and the electronic monitoring policy outlined in Bill 88, Working for Workers Act, 2022, and added to the ESA in April of last year.

 

The new policies – the subject of much discussion since they were first introduced - directly affect employers that employ 25 or more employees as of January 1 of any year and must be in place before March 1 of that year.

 

We reached out to Meagan Swan, an employment law expert at Pavey Law LLP in Cambridge, to offer insight on what these new policies mean for employers:

 

 

Q. What should employers be thinking about when it comes to timelines surrounding these ESA changes?

 

Meagan:  Employers were supposed to have these new policies in place last year, but as we know for some employers it takes a new year to really start thinking about what needs to be done in 2023. If an employer now has 25 employees, inclusive of all the employer’s business locations, as of Jan. 1, these policies are to be in place by March 1 of each year and provided to their employees within 30 days.

The government has been very reasonable about rolling out the new requirements and giving lots of notice in advance. As we start a new year, employers need to think, ‘do I now meet the employee threshold’ and ‘if I do, how do I create the right policy for my business’. 

The timelines each year do give employers a buffer to ensure they have any new policy reviewed before implementing them with employees.

 

 

Q. What are some of the steps employers should be taking regarding these policies if they haven’t already?

 

Meagan: The first step is to make sure they have the necessary policies in place by March 1 that work for their business. However, employers need to understand that these new policies do not give any new rights to employees. They are basically setting out what the expectations are when it comes to electronic monitoring and the right to disconnect. These policies are all about being transparent. 

An employer can tailor these policies to their business.  For the Right to Disconnect policy, an employer can outline the expectations for when an employee is required to review or respond to emails after hours or engage in other after-hours activities. 

An employer can also include exceptions in their policy to address urgent work that may arise. 

Communicating these expectations to employees is likely not new.  Rather, we are now requiring employers to have these expectations outlined in writing. I have seen some employers implement standard form policies – because there are lots of templates online – and then they end up restricting themselves more than necessary because many are very employee focused. 

These standard form policies don’t consider or address each employer’s specific business or its needs, so it’s important to obtain advice regarding the use of any template to see if it’s the right fit for your business. 

An employer should ensure their policy includes those exceptions and considerations needed for their own operations. Simply, an employer should consider obtaining professional assistance when creating their policies.

 

 

Q. What type of penalties could employers be facing surrounding lack of policy implementation?

 

Meagan: The government has not updated the regulations to include any specific penalties related to these new policies.  As of now, the standard complaint process to the Ministry of Labour is available to employees if an employer had not complied with its requirement to implement the policies.  This type of complaint will likely trigger a visit or communication from an ESA officer to investigate whether the employer is compliant.  If not, an Order requiring the employer to become compliant will likely be issued.

 

 

Q. Were there many changes to the Employment Standards Act in 2022 and did the pandemic play a role?

 

Meagan: COVID-19 has really pushed the government to implement new regulations through the ESA. For example, we had the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) regulation implemented to temporarily change the ESA rules related to reduction of hours, pay and layoffs.   We all know that the pandemic also required many employees to work remotely.  

Many of these employees began feeling the stresses of remote work and maintaining a balance between their home and work life. I believe the government was reacting to these pandemic related issues by implementing the requirement for employers to have Right to Disconnect and Electronic Monitoring policies in their workplace.

Many employers were hesitant at first and believed these polices would be onerous or would take away their ability to manage their own business.

But in reality, most of my clients have been able to implement policies that fit their business and it is now very transparent to employees what the expectations are for remote work and the monitoring of work.   

 

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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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On April 11, 2022, Bill 88 – Ontario’s Working for Workers Act, 2022 – received Royal Assent and became law.  We reviewed this new legislative change with local legal experts, Hina Ghaus and Tushar Anandasagar, of Gowling WLG (Canada) LLP.

 

“We discussed the proposed legislation, with a specific focus on workplace electronic monitoring policies, in a previous blog post.  At that stage, the legislation was still in draft form.  For the final version, we wanted to provide the members with an up-to-date overview of what actually applies,” says Tushar.

 

Here are the key takeaways:

 

Employers: “Electronic Monitoring Policy”

 

Bill 88 introduced new provisions into the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), which require all employers who employ 25 or more employees to have a written policy in place on electronic monitoring of employees.

 

The electronic monitoring policy must include:

  • information on whether the employer electronically monitors employees and if so,
  • a description of how and in what circumstances the employer may electronically monitor employees,
  • the purposes for which information obtained through electronic monitoring may be used by the employer;
  • the date the policy was prepared and the date any changes were made to the policy; as well as
  • any other information as may be prescribed by law in the future.

According to Hina, time is of the essence: “There are 3 key dates to keep in mind for the first year.  Employers who had 25 or more employees on January 1, 2022 must have this policy in place by October 11, 2022, and provide a written copy of the policy to existing employees by November 10, 2022.  In subsequent years, any employer who has 25 or more employees on January 1 of any year, must have a policy in place by March 1 of that year.”

 

“There are more requirements to consider regarding ongoing compliance, including when you will need to deliver a copy of the policy (once finalized) to your staff,” says Tushar.  “Employers must provide a written copy of the policy to all employees by no later than 30 days from the day the employer is required to have the policy in place, or for new employees, within 30 days of their joining date.”

 

There are additional wrinkles to consider for those businesses that utilize temporary help agency employees.  “For “assignment employees” (the ESA term for temporary help agency employees), they need to receive a copy of the policy within 24 hours of the start of the assignment, or within 30 days from the day the employer is required to have the policy in place, whichever is later,” says Hina.

 

During our last overview of the draft Bill 88, there was ongoing debate about this legislation and how it would be enforced.

 

According to Tushar, the “enforcement” mechanisms under the ESA are quite limited:  “Yes – the ESA contains several provisions which allow an employee to file a ‘complaint’ about this policy compliance requirement – but the grounds upon which the complaint can be based are very limited.  For instance, the ESA allows an employee to complain about whether a copy of the policy was provided in a timely manner, or not.”

 

Notably, there is no prohibition under the ESA which prevents an employer from engaging in electronic monitoring of one form or another. In fact, it is explicitly stated in the legislation that these requirements do not affect or limit an employer’s ability to use the information obtained through electronic monitoring of employees.

 

“As expected, there is nothing under Bill 88 which restricts an employer’s ability to monitor, or use the information obtained through monitoring, nor does it create a statutory “right to privacy” for employees,” says Hina. “There is no actual definition of ‘electronic monitoring’ under the legislation, although it is still early, and we could see clarification of this aspect of the law as we get closer to October 11, 2022.”

 

Tushar points out that the standard rules may not affect all employers the same way and pointed to the unique context of unionized workplaces.

 

“The ESA is only part of the picture. For many workplaces – notably unionized settings, a notable caveat applies where the parties to a collective agreement have negotiated language that permits or prohibits certain forms of electronic monitoring (in some cases referred to as a ‘surveillance’ clause),” he says.  “There is an extensive body of unionized case law that deals with the “reasonableness” of employee monitoring / surveillance – and that needs to be balanced with this new policy requirement.  We are actively assisting union sector employers with managing this issue.”

 

Finally, Hina notes that Bill 88 was just passed, and more is likely to be forthcoming from the province as we near October 11.

 

“We don’t have any codes of practice, guidelines or regulations (yet) on this new legislative requirement.  As with the ‘Disconnecting from Work’ policy compliance requirement, we may see the province publishing more on this issue over the coming months,” she says.

 

For the time being, Hina, Tushar and the rest of the team at Gowling WLG continue to diligently sift through the latest legislative changes. For further information, please feel free to contact Tushar at [email protected] and/or Hina at [email protected].

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While working remotely has created new opportunities for many businesses since the start of the pandemic it has also put a spotlight on some concerns employers must now address as they continue to adapt to the seemingly relentless presence of COVID-19.

 

Among these is time theft, an issue which human resource experts say was already well known in workplaces but has become more apparent since employees began working at home.

 

Time theft occurs when an employee receives payment for time that is not spent doing their work, which could include conducting personal activities during work hours or taking long lunch breaks without telling their managers.

 

While there doesn’t appear to be any clear financial amount this type of activity costs Canadian employers, according to the accounting software site QuickBooks, in the U.S. time theft costs employers at least $11 billion annually.

 

“In certain scenarios, where trust was not there to begin with when employees were in the office and proper procedures were not in place, this remote element has just amplified the gaps between employers’ expectations and employees’ responsibilities,” says Kiljon Shukullari, a Certified Human Resources Leader at Peninsula Canada. 

 

His colleague, Peninsula Canada Account Manager Victoria Vati, agrees.

“For real time theft to occur the action must include an overtly fraudulent act, such as altering a timecard, punching in for each other, failing to record or falsely recording hours on an attendance management system,” she says, adding much of this type of time theft can be alleviated by software and refers to a system from BrightHR her company relies on.

 

This system, which does have a ‘check in and check out’ component, also includes an array of features to assist employees and employers regarding scheduling and accessing various documents. “It’s software that can assist in everyday HR related practices,” she says.

 

But there are a variety of aspects to consider when it comes to time theft, which requires setting out proper remote working policies.

 

“Other activities, such as surfing the internet too much, to running errands during the day can be alleviated by proper oversight from management and setting proper expectations in terms of production from employees,” says Victoria, adding after nearly two years into the pandemic many employers should now have these policies in place. “But it’s a matter of how you monitor that without micromanaging because that trust goes both ways.”

 

She says transparency is key when it comes to creating policies to manage a remote workforce.

 

“If that wasn’t there to begin with, now is a good opportunity to implement them,” says Victoria.

 

Kiljon agrees and says establishing those ‘core’ documents – including contracts and employee handbooks – form the basics of a good working relationship which could reduce the threat of time theft.

 

“It’s easier when an employer and employee start a relationship. It’s a lot harder when employees are already part of the business,” he says. “Existing employees is where we spend a lot of our attention to begin with because for a new employee and employer they are already starting on the same page.”

 

Kiljon says when it comes to introducing new work policies, communicating them well and acknowledging potential concerns from employees is a good approach. 

 

“The employer needs to be open to that two-way conversation with their employees and then the policy can be updated because at the end of the day, the employer does have the legal right to introduce any type of policies,” he says, adding some may be more straightforward, while others could appear harsh. 

 

Whatever the policy, Kiljon says being open to questions from employees and setting the right expectations and clarifying what the outcomes are for non-compliance can go a long way.

 

“Those are key things,” he says.

 

Trust, says Victoria, is at the core of the employment relationship.

 

“A company should start with the position of trusting their people,” she says. “It’s all about fairness and consistency in how employers treat their employees.”

 

To help the situation, both say providing the necessary supports to employees who may be struggling working remotely is a great way to build a better and more productive working relationship. This could include helping them setup a backdrop for virtual meetings, or ‘recreating’ their office space at home by providing them with more equipment, such as a second computer screen.

 

“Employers need to be aware of the contexts their employees are working in at home,” says Kiljon, adding encouraging employees to communicate via video rather than an email or text is a good way to maintain a more personal approach to contact. “Also, congratulate them for their achievements and help them through their difficulties and always keep an open-door policy. These are things that will help.”

 

For employers looking to introduce or revamp work policies, Victoria recommends using the services of an expert will help them in the long run.

 

“Employers are expected to be HR and health and safety and labour law experts, and it’s next to impossible,” she says. “If you can get free advice that’s great, but ultimately if you want to make sure your business is 100% protected it’s best to speak with a professional, even if It’s a consultation.”

 

For more information on Peninsula, visit https://peninsulacanada.com

 

Tips to prevent time theft: 

  1. Install time and attendance software 
  2. Keep open lines of communication between all staff
  3. Improve accountability at work
  4. Be understanding
  5. Do away with paperwork (handwritten timesheets) 

 

A few facts from Benefit Canada:

  • A study by Aternity Inc. found overall productive decreased 14% between Feb. 3 to July 9, 2020, as high levels of remote work were maintained due to the pandemic. 
  • According to the 2021 Benefits Canada Health Survey of approximately 1,000 workers, 66% said they feel less connected to their co-workers and employers since switching to a remote system.
  • 73% of respondents said they weren’t satisfied with their jobs, while 74% said they have a high level of stress. 
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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 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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