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Communication and support are crucial for workplace wellness during COVID-19

"We encourage our members to ask their staff to take a break and go for a walk. Businesses across the province have adapted by working remotely. They know mental wellness has been critical at this time."

Ken Kobly sits on a chair in the garage of his Beaumont home and begins a Zoom call on a laptop with the five other employees of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC).

"We always ask, 'What are you doing and how are you doing?'" said the president and CEO of ACC, an agency that advocates for the 126 chambers across Alberta.

Kobly said the daily morning video call is crucial to the well-being of the small team, forced out of its downtown office by COVID-19 back in mid-March.

"We will also ask everyone to have their word of the day. Someone might say 'slammed' – if they are feeling really busy – or 'sunny' if it's a nice day," said Kobly, who said the regular virtual interaction has helped maintain a positive work environment.

He follows a similar philosophy when speaking with individual chamber offices.

"We encourage our members to ask their staff to take a break and go for a walk. Businesses across the province have adapted by working remotely. They know mental wellness has been critical at this time."

It's a different story for a Sherwood Park woman who works at a large oilfield-related company in Edmonton. She told Great West Newspapers that protocols were followed when COVID-19 hit, but not much more.

"They put out the government stated conditions, supplied hand sanitizers and masks," said the woman who did not want the company named or to be identified. She added, "I asked for a screen for my desk, which they complied to. We clock in, work, clock out – go home. The company does the minimum requirement on everything."

At the Calgary Public Library, communication has been crucial to maintaining workplace wellness during the lingering pandemic.

"We introduced an employee engagement team. We are asking our staff, 'What are some areas we could do better?'” said Mary Kapusta, director of communications at the library.

The group provides "valuable, ongoing feedback regarding communications and work culture."

She said the lingering pandemic has made it challenging for the 745 employees across the 21 branches.

"When we reopened in July, we had some welcome back measures which included a coffee and a chat," said Kapusta, adding about 20 per cent of the staff continue to work remotely.

"We would talk to the people working at home to make sure they were set up correctly. Do they have a healthy set up at home?

"The library is reflective of the community. There is so much uncertainty right now. Our team wishes they could do more," she said.

Kapusta said the CPL also provided a series of measures for employees, including "shift changes, leave of absence to support unique employee circumstances due to COVID."

St. Michael's Health Group, a non-profit society that manages four care/senior facilities in Edmonton, Spruce Grove and Vegreville, introduced a series of steps to ease the burden on their 400 employees, said president and CEO John Kopeck.

"We know our staff are under tremendous pressure and stress and to provide extra breaks and distractions we have held ‘treat’ days," said Kopek, adding ice cream, surprise meals and gift draws are among the smile-inducing offerings.

He continued, “If staff has to stay home because of their child’s school being closed or any other such scenario, that has been unquestionably accommodated."

While COVID-19 protocols have been paramount at the facilities, which accommodate more than 300 residents, mental wellness remains crucial for staff and residents.

Kopeck said St. Michael's has a voluntary Employee Assistance Program, designed to help employees and their immediate families access a variety of counseling options.

"In addition, we employ a social worker and pastoral care co-ordinator, both of whom are available for residents and staff as may be needed."

Kopeck praised the teams at all four facilities, saying, "Our staff has been amazing."

"We acknowledge how stressful this has been for all staff in every department, but we are so proud of how well we have all managed."

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.

Gary Poignant

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