Journalist and radio host Kathy Gretsinger announced the start of this year's conference. She marked it as a "very important day," and welcomed representatives of the Squamish Nation to the stage.
A Traditional Squamish Welcome
Dressed in a traditional headdress and shawl, Audrey Rivers, an Elder of the Squamish Nation, accompanied by her daughter Sheryl Fisher, blessed the delegates with the words, "I pray for guidance and solutions in this gathering. I give thanks to the Great Spirit for the resources to bring you here today." They closed with a song of guidance and protection that was used by the Squamish Nation when paddling their canoes on a journey. It was a beautiful acknowledgement of the journey many delegates took to attend this conference, and the collective journey we take as we seek to improve psychological health in the workplace.
An Opening from Margaret MacDiarmid
Following Audrey Rivers was Hon. Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Labour, Citizen's Services and Open Government, who said about stress in the workplace,
In nine years, she said that her job has changed tremendously -- she went from being a family doctor in Trail to Minister of Labour. But she said that what hasn't changed in nine years is the importance of mental health in the workplace.
Drawing on her background as a doctor, MacDiarmid said, "One of the most profound kinds of pain is the pain that goes along with mental health difficulties," she said. "We focus more on physical health in our society, but we don't often think about the whole person, which includes mental health. There's a link between mentally healthy employees and a healthy workplace."
Mac Diarmid shared that from a government perspective, change was underway. Right now, BC workers compensation legislation provides for mental stress in acute situations. But government is now acknowledging that mental stress disorders can arise over time at work, that it's not only about acute problems. There are plans to amend the Workers' Compensation Act to support this kind of change. She added that while government has a responsibility, as do unions, as does WorkSafe -- unless we all work together as a partnership, mental health in the workplace won't work the way we want it to, saying, "We all have a personal responsibility."
Judy Moore, Chair of CMHA BC Division Board, emphasized the importance of all sectors working together for better mental health. She acknowledged the value of having representatives from all sectors: unions, business, employers, healthcare, non-profits. She also emphasized the importance of lived experience, of family experience, and encouraged delegates to tap into their passion and humanity when learning about mental illness.
"Working together today means leaving our formal job titles at the door, and learning from each other: the people on the stage, the people at our tables, the people with whom we share meals," said Moore. "And then we need to take that learning and make changes happen when we return to our workplaces next week and tomorrow. Happy Learning."
To close the opening remarks, Lloyd Craig, Chairman of the Business Roundtable for Workplace Mental Health and Chair of the Bottom Line Conference Steering Committee, shared the top five priorities for psychologically safe and healthy workplaces.
1. Overall Corporate Culture and Ingrained Values
Empathy, respect, understanding, and support were emphasized as core values. Conflict, high stress, harassment and bullying doesn't get the job done. "You have to get the culture right -- culture does beat strategy every time. Build the right culture and you will have the foundation for success," said Craig.
2. Management and Leadership Style
Leaders must be selected, trained, and rewarded for fostering mentally healthy leadership. Leadership that is authoritarian or autocratic knocks the life out of an organization every time.
3. Workload Management and Work Scheduling
Workloads much be balanced with resources including time, and flexibility is very important.
4. Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is an essential component of an healthy culture. Employees must be supported to take vacation and days off, and they must be acknowledged as peoples with families. Furthermore, leaders must model these behaviours.
Although it sounds like a cliche, better communication is key. Employees must know that their managers, supervisors, and shop stewards are accessible and that what emplyees share will be confidential.
By the end of the day, Craig said that delegates would be "challenged" to see what they could take back to their workplaces.