Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Demonstrating resiliency

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

1. Develop a Comprehensive Succession Plan

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

 

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

 

2. Document Key Processes and Procedures

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

 

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

 

3. Implement Robust Communication Systems

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

 

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

 

4. Leverage Technology

Utilize technology to maintain business operations smoothly:

 

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

 

5. Financial Preparedness

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

 

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

 

6. Legal and Administrative Measures

Take care of legal and administrative preparations:

 

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

 

7. Training and Development

Invest in continuous training and development of employees:

 

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

 

 

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Dealing with toxicity in the workplace can be detrimental to employee morale, productivity, and overall organizational success. 

 

For business leaders, addressing this issue requires a combination of empathy, clear communication, and proactive measures to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.

 

“Ultimately, it’s going to affect your bottom line because you’re going to spend a ton of money on recruiting talent because you’re going to have a revolving door,” says Carrie Thomas, a human resources expert and founder of Nimbus HR Solutions Group.

 

It's essential to identify the root causes of toxicity within the workplace. It can stem from various sources, such as authoritarian leadership styles, irresponsible behaviour of employees and managers, unrealistic performance expectations, lack of transparency, or a history of punitive actions. By understanding the underlying factors contributing to fear, leaders can develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

 

“You have to find a balance. How do you maintain your employees and give them some input on things?” says Carrie. “But that’s where trust comes from. Change comes from the speed of trust.”

 

Address issues promptly

 

However, finding that trust can be difficult when leaders are faced with challenging issues surrounding time theft and absenteeism, especially after many businesses introduced hybrid work schedules. Employers must address these issues promptly and effectively to maintain a healthy work environment and ensure the smooth functioning of their operations.

 

“You have to nip the bad behaviour in the bud,” says Carrie, noting that inaction can easily demoralize other employees. “You can put policies in place because if one person burns that bridge it’s going to make it crummy for everyone else and the leader will have to deal with it.”

 

To offset potential issues that can lead to a toxic environment, she recommends leaders take a closer examination of the work culture which may require immediate attention and says creating an employee engagement survey can be a good starting point.

 

“If employees chose not to answer, that immediately tells me you have a culture of fear in your workplace because they don’t want to speak up,” says Carrie, adding in this situation HR assistance may likely be required. “But you have to ensure the HR person can handle the situation in a confidential and professional manner that follows the rules on how you handle an investigation or a complaint because there are laws pertaining to no retaliation.”

 

As well, she also suggests leaders visit the work review site Glassdoor to get a sense of what may be taking place at their company.

 

Good mechanisms needed

 

“I remember saying at the beginning of COVID, the businesses that will come through this is because their success in retaining people will solely be based on how they treated their staff during the pandemic,” says Carrie. “So, there are a lot of employers right now saying they can’t find anyone. But if you weren’t kind to your employees then, nobody will want to work for you. I call it the ‘tainted talent pool’. If people see a job continuously posted, they’re not going to want to touch it.”

 

She notes the ‘new’ generation of employees in the field are not apt to remaining in a job if they deem the work environment as toxic.

 

“Sometimes they may try and discuss their issues once, or even twice, with an employer but if they see no change, then they’re gone,” says Carrie, adding addressing concerns is imperative for leaders.

 

As well, she says having good mechanisms in place such as weekly one on one meetings are good vehicles to diffuse potential issues before they start affecting the entire team, especially when others may see their co-workers not adhering to the rules.

 

“I always say leadership is a shared responsibility,” says Carrie, adding ‘skip level’ meetings with a higher level of management may also be required to solve some of these issues. “But this falls in line with an open-door policy and being honest and transparent.”

 

 

A few key issues business leaders may encounter when dealing with a toxic work environment:

 

Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Toxic work environments can lead to decreased morale and disengagement among employees. This can manifest as increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates, all of which can have a negative impact on the company's bottom line.

 

Negative Organizational Culture: Toxicity often stems from underlying cultural issues within the organization. Changing entrenched cultural norms and behaviors can be difficult and requires sustained effort from leadership to promote a more positive and inclusive culture.

 

Legal and Reputational Risks: Inappropriate behaviour such as harassment or discrimination can expose the company to legal liability and damage its reputation. Leaders must take swift and decisive action to address such issues and prevent them from escalating.

 

Loss of Talent: Talented employees may choose to leave the organization if they feel unsupported or mistreated in a toxic work environment. Losing key talent can disrupt business operations and hinder long-term growth and success.

 

Difficulty Attracting New Talent: A reputation for being a toxic workplace can make it challenging to attract top talent. Potential candidates may be wary of joining a company with a negative work environment, leading to difficulties in recruiting skilled individuals.

 

Impact on Leadership Credibility: Leaders who fail to address issues related to toxicity may lose credibility and trust among their employees. This can undermine their ability to lead effectively and diminish their influence within the organization.

 

Productivity Loss: Toxic work environments can impede productivity as employees may be preoccupied with workplace conflicts or feel demotivated to perform their best. This can result in missed deadlines, decreased quality of work, and ultimately, reduced profitability for the company.

 

Resistance to Change: Addressing toxicity often requires implementing changes to organizational policies, procedures, and cultural norms. Resistance to change from employees who are comfortable with the status quo can hinder efforts to create a healthier work environment.

 

 

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What began as a sunny spring day 50 years ago would end in a disaster causing millions of dollars in damages in the city’s downtown core, leaving lasting memories etched in the minds of many long-time residents.

 

The Grand River flood on Friday, May 17, 1974, lives on as a pivotal moment in Cambridge’s history because it showed not only the power of community spirit but the resiliency of local business leaders as they rallied back from this major disaster.

 

“Everybody was helping one another, no doubt about that,” says Murray Garlick, retired business leader and former board president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (The organization had been created in 1973 by the merger of the Galt and Preston Chambers of Commerce and the Hespeler Retail Merchants Association).

 

Murray, who owned the former Barton’s Men’s Shop at 51 Main St., recalls returning to work after lunch that day from his new home in Blair when he received an emergency message from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Not only was he Chamber board president at the time, he also was serving as chairman of the Downtown BIA and was that organization’s key contact for the GRCA in case of an emergency. 

 

“I got the call in the early afternoon that we were going to have at least two to three feet of water on lower Main and Water streets,” says Murray. “Driving to the store, water was coming onto Blair Road and by the time I got downtown, the Main Street bridge was shaking because the water was so intense.”

 

The spring melt, plus a 50-mm rainfall across the top of the Grand River watershed had created prime conditions for major flooding.

 

Merchants warned about the flood

 

Springing into action, he began going door-to-door warning the downtown businesses about the looming disaster urging them to start preparing.

 

The Chamber’s general manager, the late Don Faichney, did the same after also learning of the flood around 11 a.m. and asked the Waterloo Regional Police if they had a megaphone to inform residents of the impending disaster. The police did not have one.

 

“I would say half the people I contacted told me I was out of mind,” says Murray, who went back to his store and began moving his stock onto higher racks and to the second level. “By the time I called my wife (Susan), the carpet at the front of the store was starting to get wet and the water began seeping in. We just locked up and headed to higher ground.”

 

According to a 2014 article in the GRCA’s GrandActions newsletter, by 7 p.m. that night, the Grand River was rushing through downtown Galt at a rate of 1,490 cubic metres per second, nearly 100 times the normal summer flow. Floodwaters engulfed parts of Paris, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, and left about four feet (1.2 metres) of water filling Galt’s downtown core.

 

Murray says many of the merchants who were affected ended up waiting out the disaster at the Iroquois Hotel, which had been located at the southwest corner of Main and Wellington streets and was destroyed by fire less than a year later.

 

He vividly can recall seeing the floodwaters pouring into the former Right House building located at 60 Main St. 

 

“I remember the floodwaters filling up the store and then bursting through the front doors dumping water all over the top of the lower end of Main Street,” he says, adding at that point, it became a matter of ‘wait and see’ until the floodwaters began to recede later that evening.

 

The cleanup began almost immediately, says Murray, describing how he and Don used snow shovels to remove the silt left behind in his store by the floodwaters.

 

“Everybody went back to doing business the best they could and got cleaned up as best they could, and did what they could with their merchandise,” he says.

 

In fact, in a Cambridge Times article Bill Couch, who was the ‘retail chairman’ of the Chamber for the downtown, was quoted as saying approximately 90% of the 45 businesses that were severely flooded were back in business with their doors open soon after.

 

Financial impact hits hard

 

“Many brought their merchandise on to the street since it was nice sunny weather. Some of the goods were very dirty, and they knew they would have to reduce their prices,” says Murray, adding he was grateful when the City finally closed Main and Water streets to traffic. “The silt was so bad on the roads and all these people driving by to have a look were raising all kinds of dust and the merchandise was getting filthy.”

 

During this time, the financial impact of the disaster was being tallied.

 

In a Cambridge Times article published a few days after the flood, Right House manager Elmer McCullogh estimated damage to the store was at least $750,000. Major financial losses were also reported by many larger downtown businesses and industries, including Dobbie Industries Limited, Mannion’s Quality Furniture, and Canadian General Tower Limited.

 

“The monetary figure on our losses will be substantial. Plastic material can be cleaned up, but General Tower got a hard kick in losses of some paper products, materials and cores,” said Gord Chaplin, former president of the company, in a Cambridge Daily Reporter article. The late Francis Mannion was also quoted in that same article stating his company suffered at least $100,000 damage to the building and stock.

 

Being located on a floodplain, many businesses did not have flood insurance.

 

“It was just too expensive,” says Murray.

 

In the end, the total damage amount in Cambridge was pegged at approximately $5.1 million (the equivalent of $33 million in 2024), with approximately $2.9 million suffered by small businesses and residences, with industries facing $1.9 million in damages. These figures do not include cleanup.

 

Calls for compensation surfaced almost immediately, as the scope of the disaster continued to unfold.

 

Former Ontario Premier, the late Bill Davis, toured the area four days after the flood and eventually heeded demands for financial relief by unveiling a compensation formula where the Province agreed to provide $4 for every $1 raised by the Grand River Disaster Relief Committee.

 

“The province feels a deep sense of concern for those whose properties who have suffered from the Grand River flood, and the measure of relief we are announcing today is a direct reflection of that concern,” he was quoted in a Cambridge Times article.

 

Public inquiry held

 

As well as compensation, calls for a public inquiry were also growing as anger over how the disaster unfolded grew, much of it aimed at how the GRCA handled the situation when it came to warning of the disaster.

 

To assist, the Chamber’s general manager sent out a questionnaire to all citizens who suffered flood damage to gauge how they were warned of the impending disaster. Of the 546 that were sent out, 320 responses were returned with the results indicating a severe lack of notice had been received.

 

“One can understand the bitterness of the large number of victims who had no notice or had inadequate notice. A flood warning system must be devised to give citizens reasonable notice of a threatening flood,” wrote the Hon. Judge W.W. Leach in the conclusions of his 1974 Flood Royal Commission Report. “I have been critical of the City Engineering Department, the City Administrator, the Police, and the Fire Department, for the role they played in the flood warning system. However, in all fairness to them, once the city was in flood, they performed outstanding services to the citizens. This extended right through the clean-up.”

 

Despite any controversary in the aftermath, Murray can still recall some lighter moments during the disaster, including how he found his friend, the late Aubrey McCurdy, wading through three feet of water in his flower shop trying to retrieve flowers for a Saturday wedding.

 

“I told him he had to leave, and he said, ‘No, I have to finish this’,” laughs Murray.

 

And even when Aubrey told a Cambridge Daily Reporter journalist a few days later his store suffered a $10,000 loss, he still found a reason to remain positive.

 

“The flood did have its good points,” he was quoted as saying. “It showed how unified merchants are and highlighted a spirit of co-operation never seen before.”

 

 

Grand River Flood facts

 

  • GRCA issued a prediction for Galt at 9:15 a.m. for a five-foot (1.24 metres) rise of water during the afternoon to a probable height of 16.7 feet (5 metres).
  • The flood affected at least 75 businesses and caused approximately $6.7 million in damage (the equivalent of $36.9 million in 2023) across the Grand River watershed, cleanup not included. 
  • By noon the Fountain/ Blair Road intersection was closed to traffic.
  • Highway 401 westbound was closed due to culvert washout and traffic was backed up more than 24 km. 
  • Highway 24 was closed by early afternoon.
  • Floodwaters flowed over the bridges at Concession, Main and Park Hill.
  • The low-level railroad bridge (Holey Bridge) on Water St. South was completely submerged.
  • Many of the dramatic photos taken during the flood occurred at its peak between 2:45 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.
  • Floodwaters crested at 6 p.m., reaching a height of 18 feet (5.4 metres) – 16 feet above the Grand River’s normal height at that time of year.
  • No major injuries reported, although 45-year-old Norm Taylor spent close to 10 hours in a tree before being rescued by a helicopter. 

 

Flood prevention measures 

 

  • The flood accelerated and added significant control elements to the development of a Grand River beautification program announced by the Cambridge Greenbelt Committee in September of 1973. The initial stages of the plan called for the creation of a park running along the east bank of the Grand River from Park Hill Road bridge to the old Carnegie Library at Dickson Street. Buildings standing along that portion of the river were to be purchased and demolished and replaced by parkland.
  • In 1980, city council approved an $8.2 million flood control project that would see earth and concrete barriers built along the banks of the Grand River. Two years later, council also endorsed a $317,220 flood control program calling for the construction of a berm from Mill Race Park to Dickson Street. Also, the GRCA introduced its extensive Grand River Water Management Plan which included improved forecasting and monitoring tools, taking into consideration the localized effects of climate change.

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Summit speakers include:

 

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

 

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

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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

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

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

 

Building a support system

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

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

 

Embracing technology and automation

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

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

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

 

Continuous learning and development

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

 

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This blog represents the second part of a two-part series on protecting your business. 

 

Operating a business is difficult enough in the current climate, especially as business leaders navigate ongoing economic, labour and supply chain issues. 

 

As a result, keeping their businesses secure and safe from potential criminal threats may not be front and centre, suggests John Burdett, President of Seamless Security Inc. in Cambridge.

 

“Times are difficult for everybody and there are cost pressures for everybody,” he says. “Security is typically not the first thing people want to spend money on, but at some point, if people are calling me, they realize they do have a need for it.”

 

That need appears to be becoming more apparent, taking into consideration local crime statistics. According to the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS), since January 2023 to the start of December 2023, officers responded to 21 reports of robberies at commercial properties – not including banks or financial businesses – and 338 reports of commercial property thefts, excluding shoplifting incidents. The WRPS’ 2022 annual report indicates a total of 286 robberies.

 

At the Chamber’s Conversations That Matter lunch Jan. 25 at Tapestry Hall (Tap Room), former Waterloo Region police chief Bryan Larkin, now Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services RCMP, will discuss the impact crime rates have on the local business community. 

 

“Many of my clients are larger warehouse and distribution facilities, but I’m seeing the issues with them going down and issues with smaller businesses going up,” says John. “There seems to be less internal theft issues and a lot more external theft issues happening these days.”

 

But when it comes to security systems for smaller businesses, he recommends operators may wish to start small.

 

“You really want to know how you’re going to use your security system, especially if you don’t have one already,” says John, adding having an expandable system is a good course of action. “You can always add to it later if you have the right system in place. People don’t have to necessarily spend the bank on their system. But, if you have millions of dollars of inventory to protect, you’re probably going to spend a bit more.”

 

He says deterrence is a key factor for many businesses when it comes to selecting a security system.

 

“Anything to try and get that person to ‘move on’ before they commit the crime is going to be the optimum outcome,” says John, explaining he works closely with potential clients to determine their specific needs. “A few tweaks to what you already have may be sufficient to achieve your goals. It depends on the issues you’re trying to combat.”

 

That ‘tweak’ could also include procedural changes to the way a business operates which he says could minimize the threat of potential losses.

 

“What do you keep on site? What is visible from the window? What type of lighting do you have? There are all sorts of these types of factors that come into play,” says John, adding a theft may be less detrimental to the business compared to the after-effects. “A business could be out of business for a couple of days while they replace windows, or if their point-of-sale systems have been smashed. This could have a bigger financial impact on the business than the actual theft itself.”

 

Security tips for businesses

 

1. Check Doors and Windows

Consider installing doors made from reinforced wood or steel. If your doors are made from glass, roll-down safety gates may be an option. You could also consider reinforcing frames with metal plates and reinforced strike boxes. If you have a room where a safe or other valuables are stored, consider investing in stronger interior doors for these areas.

 

?2. Upgrade to Smart Locks

For an added alarm system, smart locks can help as a measure for improved access control. As an additional benefit, smart locks can keep access records, so you know who is accessing which door at different times.

 

3. Install Alarm Cameras

With strategically placed cameras, you can capture important evidence against potential shoplifters, violent criminals, vandals, burglars, and employees that may commit crimes. Also, CCTV cameras offer considerable value because they are one of the most effective crime deterrents. 

 

4. Manage Valuable Assets

You could rethink your practices when it comes to handling cash. When you consider expensive equipment or high-value inventory, you need to think about how you store these items and anything of exceptional value should be kept out of sight from the windows when the business is closed.

 

5. Improve Exterior Lighting

Consider adding lights in areas that are dark and make sure your side and back exits are well lit. Installing motion lights in areas that do not see much traffic may also help. Smart lights can mimic the activity of an occupied structure, and this will give burglars the impression that there are people there when the building is empty.

 

6. Nightly Safety Protocols

Set a specific routine for closing time and teach it to any employee who may need to close the business for the night. Your nightly safety protocols should consist of checking and locking all doors and windows, securing valuable assets, checking different areas of the property for small business security issues, setting the wireless alarm, and more.

 

7. Install Affordable Alarm Systems

Even if your business already has an alarm system, you may want to consider its age. Surveillance system technology has come a long way in the last few years, and there could be significant benefits to upgrading to a smart alarm system that is customized for the needs of your business

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

10 tips to combat leadership burnout

 

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

 

Source: HumanPsychology 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

How would you define ‘healthy’ workplace boundaries?

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

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

 

Examples:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How can an employer help employees communicate their needs?

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Develop a comprehensive mental health strategy

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

 

Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture

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

 

Communicate widely, regularly, and effectively

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

 

Ensure adequate resources and supports for employees and their families

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Pros of a four-day work week

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

 

Cons of a four-day work week

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

 

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