Facing 2022: 8 Lessons Learned in 2021 about Health and Productivity

Facing 2022: 8 Lessons Learned in 2021 about Health and Productivity

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Does it feel a bit like Groundhog Day? As we began 2022, many employers and employees were preparing for a new hybrid workplace approach, but we seem to have started over again with lockdowns and online schooling. Are we now wiser and have learned anything from the last two years? Here are our learnings that might just help you through this ongoing saga. (Someone mentioned that this is a trilogy…let’s hope it isn’t one of those endless sitcoms that seem to go on and on, season after season!)

Lesson One: Workplaces are challenging where, when, and how we work.

Managers need to know how to support and engage employees in hybrid and virtual workplaces. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg and the metauniverse is our future. Zoom fatigue exists and isolation kills. A Robert Half survey reports the following: Nearly half (48 per cent) of senior managers in Canada give employees the ability to choose when they work, and nearly one-third (31 per cent) say they don’t mind if their workers put in fewer than 40 hours a week, as long as the job gets done. However, almost two-thirds of workers say they need at least eight hours a day to get their job done.

Zorra Township in Ontario and several other organizations across Canada have taken the step of allowing four-day work weeks (nine hours per day for four days), CBC reported. Is this our future to support employee work-life balance? Interviews with employees indicate that many see this as a way to manage childcare and burnout. We await the decisions of other workplaces as they become creative in how and where work is done.

The most challenging thing about our virtual work is knowing how to engage and support employees virtually. Check out our Manager Mental Health Training for tools and strategies.

Lesson Two: Employees’ health and safety matters!

Employees need the skills, support, and safety to do their work. We cannot run an economy without businesses, and we cannot run businesses without employees.

Make sure that you have taken responsibility for safety at the home workplace. This includes finding ways to improve the ergonomics and health and safety program in the home office. Between the need to retain motivated employees and the massive potential fines and civil liabilities for not having a safe workplace, employers will focus on workplace health and safety to an extent, which would have been astonishing even two years ago. Check out our ergonomics programs to support employees virtually.

Vaccination and infection control policies will become the norm. With the further spread of COVID-19 and the federal government and others leading the way with compulsory vaccinations, policies of “be vaccinated or get fired” will become de rigueur in corporate Canada. The courts will support this as it falls to public health policy as a guide.

Lesson Three: Having a well thought out accommodations process in the workplace is important.

This last year has taught us to consider accommodations for persons with medical conditions, accommodations for caregivers, and accommodations for persons with disabilities. Check out our Accommodation Strategies for a New World webinar scheduled for January 13th.

Accommodations in masking (use of PPE), mandatory vaccination, and caregiving have all challenged policies and procedures in the last year. As employers develop creative ways of accommodation, considering the work, the worker, and the workplace has been more important than ever. Gowan Consulting can help you assess your process of accommodation – send us a request or email us to learn more.

For many employers, late 2021 involved the introduction of workplace vaccination policies in an effort to bring employees back to physical office spaces in a safe manner. The rapid rollout of booster shots may lead to a change in the accepted Health Canada definition of “fully vaccinated,” which will require necessary amendments to workplace vaccination policies and procedures. We encourage our clients to make these changes as early as possible, should it become necessary, in order to give as much notice as possible to employees.

Lesson Four: Mental health relies on knowing what you can control and what you cannot control. Mental health is health.

Just when we think we are ready to move forward, something that we can’t control hits us between the eyes. We cannot control everything — accept and let go. Control the things you can control. We are starting to use words like languishing more often and realizing resiliency feels like we are blaming. Check out our worry and uncertainty webinar to learn more. Just talking about mental health is not enough. If you are relying on your EAP program to do it for you, it is time to build the skills in your team. Peer support programs work. Ask us about Gowan Consulting’s success coaching programs.

There are limited resources for mental health, and we are not using what we have correctly. Stigma is still a problem. The most important skill is asking for help. We need to be more supportive and compassionate and admit we cannot do this alone. The importance of regular, honest, and continuous communication from a leader allows the employee to know what they can control and prepare. We have also seen a decline in leader’s mental health as they struggle with how to navigate this new normal. Do your managers need support for their mental health? Do your managers know how to support employees in this challenging time? Enroll your team in our Manager Mental Health Training.

Lesson Five: Work and school is healthy… but the work has changed, leading to gig economy surges.

In the midst of lockdowns, the “great resignation,” and business closures, employers need to rethink ways to support employees in staying at work or returning to the workplace. For the millions that have lost jobs, we have seen an increase in distress, substance use, and anxiety. Those who are working are rethinking the meaning of work for themselves. Children (and their parents) are seeing the importance of social connection and in-person learning opportunities. Learning, creating, and connecting requires a creative approach to working virtually or in a hybrid workplace. Another reality is that, with people working from home for two years, the former social bonds created by daily workplace interactions have largely vanished. Employers’ loyalty to employees and vice versa have been significantly extinguished. Let us help to support employees in the stay at work and return to work process.

Lesson Six: Racism and inequality exist in your workplace and community.

It is important to recognize unconscious and conscious bias in your workforce and work systems. Address the systemic barriers that exist in your workplace through conscious system reviews, inclusivity training, and development of processes that ensure that you are consciously addressing the concerns of those facing microaggressions, systemic barriers, and bias in your workplace. Review of your company culture and programs is a start. In December 2021, RBC supported a free “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” training program from the First Nations University of Canada to understand truth and reconciliation steps. Check out our inclusive leadership and inclusive training programs for your DEI initiatives.

Lesson Seven: Disconnection from work is challenging when you work from home.

In the context of increased discussions surrounding employee burnout exasperated by remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on December 2, 2021, Bill 27, Working for Workers’ Act (the “Act”) officially became law in Ontario.

The Act requires an employer with 25 or more employees (as of January 1 of any given year) to ensure that it has a written policy in place for all employees with respect to disconnecting from work by March 1 of that year.

“Disconnecting from work” is defined as not engaging in a range of work-related communications so as to be free from the performance of work. The Act is otherwise silent on the content of the mandatory policy. Contact us to help with ensuring you have a policy and procedure to disconnect.

Lesson Eight: “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.” – Oprah Winfrey

Mindset is the only thing we can control. Start with a hopeful and positive mindset daily and keep looking for hope! Our hope for 2022 is that we build a world (whether meta or in person) that is compassionate, understanding, and supportive of all those around us. Check out our mental health programs and success coaching to see how we can help your organization.

For all the major health and productivity learnings of 2021, join us for our FREE update webinar on January 31st: 2021 in the Rearview Mirror and Lessons for 2022.


How the pandemic has some Ontario employers switching to a 4-day work week, CBC News, Lisa Xing, January 3, 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/four-day-work-week-pandemic-1.6278583

Survey: 48 Per Cent of Managers in Canada Allow Employees to Set Their Own Hours , Cision, November 10, 2021, https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/survey-48-per-cent-of-managers-in-canada-allow-employees-to-set-their-own-hours-836515726.html

Employee power and no room to hide for anti-vaxxers — my top workplace predictions for 2022, Lexology, Levitt Sheikh, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f82d264-38cf-42fd-8b56-48b8e5cf226d&utm_source=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed&utm_medium=HTML+email+-+Body+-+General+section&utm_campaign=Lexology+subscriber+daily+feed&utm_content=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed+2022-01-04&utm_term=

Workplace Law Year in Review (and Looking Ahead to 2022), Lexology, Aird & Berlis LLP, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=16d3bc8d-6e56-4715-a1a4-2e1dd699e054&utm_source=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed&utm_medium=HTML+email+-+Body+-+General+section&utm_campaign=Lexology+subscriber+daily+feed&utm_content=Lexology+Daily+Newsfeed+2022-01-04&utm_term=

How Can Occupational Therapy Help Employees with Disabilities?, Gowan Consulting, October 22, 2021, https://gowanhealth.com/how-can-occupational-therapy-help-employees-with-disabilities/

The Great Resignation and the New Work World – Recovery Planning, Inclusion and Accommodation, Gowan Consulting, November 19, 2021, https://gowanhealth.com/the-great-resignation-and-the-new-work-world-recovery-planning-inclusion-and-accommodation/

The Right to Disconnect: How the New Canadian Law Promotes Psychological Health and Safety, Gowan Consulting, December 10, 2021, https://gowanhealth.com/the-right-to-disconnect-how-the-new-canadian-law-promotes-psychological-health-and-safety/

Medical Documentation and Accommodation, Gowan Consulting, June 27, 2017, https://gowanhealth.com/medical-documentation-and-accommodation/

“I Can’t Wear a Mask” Part 2: Accommodations to Consider, Gowan Consulting, August 25, 2020, https://gowanhealth.com/i-cant-wear-a-mask-part-2-accommodations-to-consider/

Benefits and Pensions Monitor, BP Magazine, Industry News, https://bpmmagazine.com/news/

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