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Leaders must make employee health a priority: Speaker

​Lifestyle practices of workers ‘critical to the success of our business’
By Amanda Silliker
Andrew Harkness WSPS
Andrew Harkness from Ontario's Workplace Safety and Prevention Services says CEOs need to take some time to think about how they can create a psychologically safe and healthy workplace. Tim Fraser Photography

It’s time for organizations to focus on employee health and well-being, and leaders play a crucial role in this, according to a speaker at the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network roundtable on Oct. 18.

“We have been around 100 years. We call ourselves a health and safety association, but I would suggest to you that we have been primarily a safety association so far,” said Andrew Harkness, strategic advisor, organizational health, at Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.

It’s up to the senior leaders to ensure they are fostering a culture where employee health is a top priority. 

“How are we treating our people? How are we making sure that they are both physically and psychologically safe in their work? And, in essence, how do we create a culture that’s going to be empowering and supportive of that?”

He went on to say that people don’t leave organizations, they leave their managers because they have the biggest impact on employees — and this all starts with the CEO.

“I honestly believe you have one of the most difficult jobs in the world in that sense because you’re under a microscope,” Harkness told the room full of executives. “We watch what you do. You lead by example — both on the good days and on the not-so-good days.”

One of the barriers in advancing employee health is that when there are budget cuts, wellness programs are often the first to be axed. 

“What we need to recognize is the health and well-being and the lifestyle practices of our staff are not nice to have, they are actually critical to the success of our business,” said Harkness.

CEOs need to take some time to think about how they can create a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, and they can’t get there without strong core values. At Modern Niagara, an institutional and commercial construction contractor, the core values are teamwork, initiative, determination, professionalism and passion. A huge part of the company’s culture is these core values and employees are expected to always uphold them, said Brad McAninch, CEO of Modern Niagara, who is based in Ottawa.

“If somebody at Modern Niagara violates these core values, it’s a bad day for that person and it’s addressed pretty quickly,” he said.

Modern Niagara puts a lot of emphasis on creating a positive culture, and it seems to be working. According to its recent employee engagement survey, 93 per cent of employees strongly agreed with the statement that they feel respected at work and five per cent agreed.

“Some of it is because of the amount of work we do in our safety department and creating a culture where… you can put your hand up and ask for help and feel very safe doing that,” said McAninch.

A positive culture is a key ingredient in creating a high performing organization, and it will benefit both the company and individual workers.

“We want our employees to know that when they come to work and go home, they actually will be healthier than if they didn’t come to work,” Harkness said. “The work experience will improve their well-being.”

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Comments (3)

  • President - Marty Dol
    11/1/2018 11:36:28 AM
    This was a great presentation by Andrew and it sparked interesting round table discussions.
  • President - Bill Fotsch
    11/2/2018 10:13:23 AM
    Given how accidents crush productivity and profits, a company wide focus on profitable growth will likely do more to improve safety than all the core values in the world. I have seen this happen at companies like BHP, a mining company, where safety is a huge issue. By getting all employees to think and act like owners, they not only monitor their own safety but also look out for others. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background:
  • Consultant
    11/5/2018 2:09:51 PM
    In my opinion this issue should not be classified or described as "safety" as it sounds very much like the bullying & harassment issue re-packaged from the last decade which was at 1st very much pushed by various labor groups. When you try include "workload" as part of safety it is definitely does not fit and would be a "labor relations" issue. Although "health" is part of health & safety it is not the role of safety when it becomes "depression" etc As well I feel a lot of the areas covered by this CSA standard should be covered by good management skills however at the same time it is not the employers responsibility to involved themselves in their workers "personal" lives other than to suggest potential resources covered through the benefits the worker has & the worker does have access to these resources without the employers involvement which many workers prefer. Lastly, I know in my years of experience the amount of employees that have been off work due to injury that msi was by far number #1 cause not psychological if you classify it as a hazard which I have reservations about as it will reduce attention on what I know as the true injury indicators statistically.