Keeping Pace and Staying Safe in the Changing Workplace

“Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living”

For a growing number of Canadians, however, these words just don’t ring true anymore. More workers are now employed on part-time, temporary, or contract basis, holding multiple jobs, or are self-employed. Non-standard work arrangements, along with other shifts in the labour market such as an aging workforce, an increase in women working, new technologies, and even global warming, are all impacting our collective health, safety, and well-being.

The employers who prepare for the seismic shift in the workforce that they will face over the next several decades and who keep pace with these emerging issues will realize the biggest gains, and their workers will be the most likely to stay healthy, safe, and productive.

The changing work landscape

Since the mid-60s, Canada has seen fundamental shifts in its economy, society, and families. While organizations seek to attract and retain good employees, they are faced with a declining labour market. This labour force shortage will arise as the massive baby boomer generation retires and companies compete to hire the smaller pool of “baby–bust” employees – potentially leaving employers unsure of how to find a safe balance between fewer experienced workers and an influx of millennials entering the workforce.

Canadians are also working more. A 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada indicated that the average worker in their survey spends 50.2 hours in work related activities per week, with many knowledge workers regularly taking work home to complete in the evenings (54%). As work takes up a bigger and bigger chunk of our lives, it’s becoming more difficult to pay attention to other important matters – our families, our downtime, and our general well-being.

Many workers are now checking their work email on their mobile devices and at home. Automated processes allow workers to focus their attention anywhere and to multi-task. At the same time, we are spending more time than ever sitting in front of a computer in low-activity, sedentary jobs. While changing technologies and systems can make tasks easier and faster, they can also introduce new health and safety concerns to workers.

And these concerns are not just of the physical kind. Changes in the workplace can take a toll on employees’ mental well-being, leading to increased stress, burnout, and illness. Organizations are recognizing the need to eliminate the stigma around mental health and to encourage “mental fitness”. Implementing programs to support workers with the same priority given to both mental and physical wellness is becoming increasingly important.

Safe and healthy workplaces make good business sense

Leaders need to adapt in order to navigate the difficult terrain ahead. Winning the “war for talent” and achieving true “work-life balance” is about much more than a few HR polices. It is about recognizing the strategic importance and value that comes from having an engaged and responsive workforce, and about nurturing an organization that firmly supports work-life balance.

Establishing a corporate culture that fosters a healthy, positive environment brings many rewards, including more trusting relationships between employees and the employer, a more enjoyable work setting, and happier workers who feel encouraged and rewarded for their hard work. In a knowledge economy where people are the largest and fastest growing expense within most companies, this positive culture is critical to both organizational success and the bottom line.

Add your voice to the national conversation

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is hosting a two-day national event on The Changing World of Work that will bring together subject experts, health and safety and HR professionals, employers, and representatives from labour and government to discuss how the evolving workplace affects our collective health and safety. Session highlights include:

– Globally recognized humanitarian advocate and former international president of Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders James Orbinski will deliver an keynote on his extensive work in the field that will enlighten and inspire.

– Acclaimed work-life balance researcher Dr. Linda Duxbury offers insights on how employers can avoid drowning from the tsunami of demographic change that’s taking place in the workforce.

– Human and organization performance expert Dr. Todd Conklin will discuss operational learning for safety, exploring a fresh approach to safety management based on new principles that go beyond blame, errors, and strict compliance.

In addition, experts will explore the health and safety implications from the latest findings on sex and gender, climate change, mental health, and other emerging concepts. Delegates will actively participate in discussions on how to effect positive changes in worker health, safety and well-being. After all, workers of all ages and backgrounds are more likely to be attracted to work and remain working if they feel their environment is safe and supportive. A healthy workplace benefits everyone.

The Changing World of Work Forum takes place February 29-March 1, 2016 in Vancouver, BC. The registration fee includes all speaker sessions, networking and interactive events, and lunches. For more information about the event or to register, visit http://ccohs.ca/events/forum16/.

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