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After six months at her new job, Amira’s office went completely remote. At first, she welcomed being able to work from home and reclaim the personal time she used to spend commuting. The flexibility, however, seemed to come at a price.
To show her supervisors she’s just as productive at home as she was at the office, Amira makes sure she’s always available to answer calls and responds quickly to messages and emails – even if they come in well outside her working hours. With no clear separation between her work life and home life, Amira struggles to be present with her friends and family. She’s always a little fatigued, which makes it nearly impossible to get through her task list before her workday ends.
Stories like Amira’s are increasingly common in Canadian workplaces. To avoid the stress, fatigue, and burnout that come with being “always on,” workers need support from their employers to fully disconnect from work.
According to a Privy Council Office Survey from August 2020, 43 percent of workers in Canada check their work email outside of standard working hours. One in three answer work emails, calls or texts, and 28 percent perform other work-related duties. Many cite being available to supervisors and stakeholders as an expectation that comes with their job. Others send texts and emails in their personal time to manage a heavy workload, or due to irregular working hours.
Not being able to disconnect for a sustained period of time can lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety. There is also a concern that employers could reward workers who don’t disconnect with bonuses and promotions. These rewards unfairly disadvantage workers who are unable to remain connected due to family responsibilities, health reasons, or because they were not provided the tools to work remotely.
Disconnecting from work means having the ability to stop working and not feel obligated to respond to work issues outside of defined working hours. Having uninterrupted personal time and space away from work stressors allows your body and mind the opportunity to relax and recover.
Depending on the nature of the work, it can be easy or difficult to disconnect. Workers who are unable to work when outside the workplace (e.g., those in manufacturing or construction) may have an easier time leaving their work at the workplace. Workers that can easily continue working from outside the workplace (e.g., sales, finance, consultants, technical specialists, service providers, etc.) may find it harder to disconnect.
If properly implemented, the digital transformation of the workplace can have a positive effect on the quality of life of workers. Employers can promote the disconnection from work as part of their corporate culture and health and wellness programs. Additionally, employers can provide training and education on the importance of disconnecting from work and encourage and model these behaviours. If properly implemented, a workplace health and wellness program can have a positive effect on the quality of life of workers and help foster a healthy workplace culture.
Every member of an organization has a role to play in creating and supporting a workplace culture that encourages disconnecting.
By setting and communicating clear expectations, employers can help protect the health and well-being of their workers while helping to create a more equitable work environment for everyone. Organizations can also implement ‘quiet hours’ to reduce and discourage emails or meetings outside of standard hours. If an email is sent after hours, make it clear that a timely response is not expected outside of working hours. If a worker is regularly working outside of normal working hours, have a conversation and offer additional support, as this may be an indication of excessive workload, time management, or other concerns.
Managers and supervisors can lead by example by signing off when their working hours are over and sharing how they transition from work time to personal time. Not only does this demonstrate the organization’s commitment to protecting the health and well-being of employees – it shows that disconnecting properly isn’t a barrier to advancement opportunities.
Employees can support their peers by not routinely calling or emailing outside their regular working hours and indicating when a communication doesn’t need their immediate attention.
Disconnecting can start with something as simple as an end-of-workday ritual, like heading out for a walk immediately after shutting down your computer. If you have enough space at home, create a separate working room or area, and resist the urge to enter that space when the workday is over.
Organizations that promote disconnecting are not only safer and healthier, but also tend to be happier and more productive. Support and encourage workers, supervisors, and managers in their efforts to disconnect through policies, wellness initiatives, and education.
Post or share the infographic below, which offers tips for supporting workers’ need to disconnect and outlines some of the benefits of – and barriers to – disconnecting.
Tips and Tools
Imagine your workplace is a highly productive environment in which workers feel safe, respected, and valued; the work is challenging; the demands of the job are reasonable; there is work-life balance; and you involve your employees in their work and interpersonal growth and development. This is what is known as a mentally healthy workplace.
To effectively incorporate mental health at your workplace, commitment must start at the top with the involvement of all levels of leadership and all departments.
Here are ten ways you can encourage positive mental health as part of a comprehensive workplace health and safety program:
Additionally, make sure to provide education and training so managers and employees know how to recognize harassment, bullying, and other psychological hazards. Create space for co-workers to recognize and talk about mental health in general. Equip managers with the skills and knowledge to identify and respond to issues before they escalate.
Don’t forget to also support workers through changes. It's important that leaders and managers communicate effectively about changes and develop processes to manage them. Supporting good employee mental health contributes to a healthy workplace and can ultimately improve the health of both workers and the organization.
This summer the Government of Canada expanded the distribution of free rapid tests through a one-stop portal, making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses and non-profit organizations to find a local pharmacy that is distributing rapid antigen tests in their community.
More than 2,000 local pharmacies have registered, including independent pharmacies, Rexall, Sobeys and Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Increasing local distribution points makes it easier for small and medium-sized organizations to run workplace screening for their frontline employees.
These workplaces can also access rapid tests through their provincial/territorial government and chambers of commerce. Non-profit, charitable, and Indigenous community organizations can request rapid tests through the Canadian Red Cross.
You should still take part in your workplace screening initiative if this is advised by your local
public health authority. While vaccines are highly effective, there is still a small chance that even if
you are fully vaccinated you can become infected and spread COVID-19 to others.
Free rapid tests may be available for larger organizations via the same one-stop portal.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Return to Work: Setting up a Hybrid Workplace
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers got used to new remote work environments. With workplaces bringing people back in, it’s important to consider possible options. Learn more about hybrid workplaces and how to decide whether this model is right for your organization.
Podcast runs 6:54 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Podcast: Fighting Fatigue in the Workplace
CCOHS discusses the causes of fatigue and shares tips on ways workers and employers can fight fatigue in the workplace.
Podcast runs 2:27 minutes. Listen to the podcast now
New COVID-19 Resources
As workplaces continue to adapt to operating during a pandemic, many may be wondering, “What’s the best way to control COVID-19 in the workplace?”
No single preventive measure will be 100% effective on its own. The best approach to control COVID-19 in the workplace is to layer public health measures with workplace health and safety controls. To illustrate this, we can use what’s called the “Swiss cheese model.” As shown in this infographic, each slice of cheese (or barrier) acts as a layer of defense against the spread of COVID-19. Where one slice fails, the next slice may succeed in blocking the spread of COVID-19. With each added layer of control, the risk gets lower. Having too few layers may not be enough to protect your workers, so make sure to use as many layers as you can. Every layer helps reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
A combination of public health measures and workplace health and safety measures in a layered approach will give workers the strongest protection against the virus, helping prevent an outbreak.
Watch this video for more information on applying the Swiss cheese model to control COVID-19 in the workplace.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include provincial amendments in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Occupational Health and Safety Code (Occupational Health and Safety Act): Alta. Reg. 150/2020 repeals Section 246.1 Alternative equipment on 14/08/21.
Workplace Safety and Health Act: S.M. 2021, c. 16 amends the Act so that a discriminatory action is now referred to as a reprisal; the position of the chief prevention officer is eliminated; a referral for a reprisal must now be made to a safety and health officer within six months after the date of the alleged reprisal; an appeal of a decision made by a safety and health officer may be dismissed by the director if the appeal is frivolous or vexatious, or, in the case of a reprisal, if it was not referred to an officer within six months; and, maximum fines for offences under the Act are increased.
Industrial Establishments (Occupational Health and Safety Act): O. Reg. 434/21 has amended, for ease of use, the Table to section 7 to include a new column setting out exemptions, which were previously described in the body of section 7. Some of the circumstances and exemptions have been modified to clarify their meaning, and there are two new exemptions. Other additional administrative amendments include Sections 104, 105, and 106.2, which set out modular training requirements for workers in the logging sector, have been updated to reflect current training program names and numbers.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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