We know we need to take care of our mental health, but what does that mean for small and medium-sized businesses?
There’s a new report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) that takes a deep dive into how smaller businesses are struggling to properly address mental health challenges within their team and as business owners. The report is called Mind the Gap: Addressing the Mental Health and Addictions “Echo Pandemic” in Ontario. The report outlines 21 recommendations for both businesses and governments to tackle mental health in the workplace.
It seems like an understatement to say the COVID-19 pandemic left a big impact on us. It impacted our businesses, communities, neighbourhoods, family connections, economy, cost of living, etc. There is hardly a facet of our lives that wasn’t impacted. Some of these have returned to normal, others will continue to have a lasting impact.
We have been talking about mental health long before the pandemic, but it took a growing problem and pushed it to the point of crisis. As stated in Mind the Gap: “The crisis disproportionately impacted small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), frontline workers and underserved populations like Indigenous Peoples and northern, remote, and racialized communities.”
According to the report, 69% of large businesses have a formal mental health strategy, while only 33% of small businesses have such a plan.
We no longer have the public health restrictions and the same anxiety about a spreading virus, but what we are left with is a mental health, “echo pandemic.” According to the OCC report: “In contrast to larger organizations, SMEs have limited capacity and resources to respond to the growing workplace impacts of the pandemic and have been placed at the forefront of the ensuing mental health crisis without adequate support.”
Mental Health is not just something for employees — many business owners are facing mental health challenges of their own. Some have watched their business that they have helped build for decades get decimated through the pandemic. They’ve taken on loans and the prospect of repaying them is becoming more daunting as the good times they hoped for haven’t materialized. Instead, they’re working more hours than ever as they struggle to hire while facing record inflation and more economic uncertainty. The life of an entrepreneur has always been one of stress and challenges, but the last few years have pushed this to a breaking point.
I encourage you to read through the recommendations in Mind the Gap. Without getting too much into the details, the suggestions for the business community include being strategic in how we invest in mental health in our workplace with progress that we can monitor and measure. We need a range of accessible mental health and addictions support programs for employees that reflect the diversity of our teams.
Our governments need to help make sure those mental health tools are available for businesses to tap into. It’s hard to refer people to services if the primary care sector doesn’t have the capacity to take it on. The report presents the need for additional supports to encourage more investment more in mental health including tax incentives and leveraging data to improve outcomes.
It’s time to move beyond talking about mental health and take strategic action that includes measurable goals toward a healthier workplace. It’s going to take action from both government and industry. We need to address the “echo pandemic” and mind the gap.
Guest Column from Jon Pole, President, MY BROADCASTING CORPORATION (In Peterborough, MBC Media owns and operates OLDIES 96.7, FREQ 90.5 & www.PTBOTODAY.ca)
It’s a snowy Canadian morning. The wind is blowing, and the temperature is frigid. At the end of a long laneway is a little girl bundled up waiting for a school bus that’s not coming.
This is the heart of local news. Making sure the community is up to date, informed and safe.
There has been endless chatter about the internet regulation bills C-11 and C-18, but no matter the side of the argument you’re on, the bigger question is the future of local news.
Local news is more than just reporting on “the news.” It is knowing the community, the newsmakers, and the real concerns on the street. To provide context to every story, you have to be an active member of the community. Simply put - you have to care. The leadership has to care. That’s how you build the trust to be “a news authority.” Big tech doesn’t impact your commitment to the community.
Suggesting that both Google and Facebook don’t care about our community or if we’re informed may not be perfectly accurate but it is not a huge stretch either. Have they run a food drive, showed up at the parade or been at a chamber event? No, of course not, and to be fair, that’s not their business model. It is however the job of the Canadian News media (if they want to be trusted by the community they serve).
Google and Facebook have jumped into the Canadian advertising landscape. Some reports show that Google and Facebook are taking half of all ad dollars spent. Last I checked, in Canada we are capitalists. Business landscapes change. Technology changes. How does the phrase go? “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Broadcasters who continue to support their communities with news and information are doing just fine. Radio doesn’t specifically need Facebook or Google to survive. Social platforms and Search are tools to market our brands (no different than any business), but they certainly don’t define us, nor do we have to use them. I know why the government is in this fight, but at the risk of offending some folks in Toronto and getting the Chamber in trouble, I will just say – I don’t feel threatened by Facebook and Google, and our teams have done a fine job using them, and a fine job not having access to them. They don’t impact on our business any more or less than our other competitors.
I believe the news has to be available where people are, which includes Google and Facebook. More importantly, no matter what the platform or delivery channel, the product has to be good and add value to the audience. Trust is not given by the consumer, it is earned.
Times change. Good operators that care about the community adapt and change. It can be hard in business to swing the ship, but change doesn’t mean you throw in the towel. I look at the August quarterly report from Yellow Pages Limited and see revenue of $62 million, their EBITDA for the quarter was 35% of revenue, their cash balance was $65 million and they’re paying dividends. While this may be dramatically different than 1985, that’s still a pretty good business. Heck, I didn’t know they were even still around! The point is, sometimes the world forces you to change the game plan. You either adapt or die.
Radio used to own school bus cancellations. That little girl at the end of the lane was our responsibility. Today, we still do cancellations, but Facebook, email blasts, and texts also provide the information. That’s ok with me, because at the end of the day – we don’t want that little girl out there freezing. While radio may have lost that sole ownership of bus cancellations, did the community suffer? Not at all.
The good news is, there are still endless stories that we can cover, investigate and report that the community cares about as much. It’s our privilege to do it. It’s our job to do the work and reinvent. Google and Facebook won’t impact our results, our drive or our coverage. While the intentions of C-11 and C-18 are to help Canadian media, I’m not sold they address the real problem.
Big change often starts from something much smaller.
In the Chamber of Commerce context, it often starts with an issue frustrating a local business. A local business person calls up their local Chamber of Commerce to explain the situation and offers some solutions on how the situation could be improved. That Chamber understands that this issue faced by a local business in the Peterborough region is likely having a similar effect on businesses in places like Lloydminster and Fredericton. We work with our local policy committees to draft policy resolutions.
Issues that are provincial in nature are submitted to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) with federal resolutions sent to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC). Once submitted, they get reviewed by committees and Chambers from across the county who then offer their perspectives which in turn help create stronger policy resolutions that are going to be more effective at making change on a large scale.
This last week Chambers and Boards of Trade from across the country met in Calgary for our annual convention, which included nearly 6 hours of policy debate. There we discuss, amend, and vote on policies that matter to businesses across the country. These resolutions cover a wide range of topics, from fertilizer to ice breakers, from tax reform to bio manufacturing, and from immigration to aviation.
If approved, these resolutions become part of the national advocacy platform of the CCC.
Each Chamber or Board of Trade is allowed to submit two resolutions to the CCC annually. Both resolutions submitted by the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce were approved thanks to a lot of helpful discussion and recommendations from our fellow chambers over the last few months.
Our resolution Assisting Small Business with Protecting their Data and Business from Cybercrime was put together with the help of a local IT firm and input from several chambers and their members who have IT expertise.
It recommends the Government of Canada:
1. Broaden the scope of the existing Canadian Digital Adoption Program (CDAP) or create a similar grant program focused on cyber security which will allow SMBs to access comprehensive cybersecurity products and services;
2. Provide specific annual tax credits for the ongoing support and maintenance required from Third Party vendors for SMEs that have satisfied the grant program to assess their technology;
3. Allow SMEs to write off 100% of their business investments in preventative cybersecurity-related software, equipment and other costs (support services and outsourcing costs) in the year those investments are made;
4. Provide a subsidy for training of staff on cybersecurity awareness programs; and
5. Create a SME Cyber Defence Fund that provides SMEs with the necessary support to improve their cyber resilience and close the cybersecurity investment gap.
Our second resolution, Creating a National Strategy Regarding Healthcare Credentials, was very similar to another submitted by Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. Together, we created an even strong policy resolution calling on the Government of Canada to:
1. Create a national strategy to assist provinces and territories in recognizing out-of-province and international healthcare credentials; and
2. Create a national proficiency exam that allows national labour mobility for healthcare workers new to Canada, currently working in a province, or newly graduated.
Approval of the resolutions is just the beginning. The next phase of is advocacy. Two years ago, we had a call from a local restaurant that was feeling anxious about being able to repay their CEBA loan and get the interest-free and debt forgiveness support it offered. That conversation led to a successful policy resolution, which led at first to a one-year extension to the program, and now to a further short extension – thanks in part to the advocacy of the CCC and its platform from its members. While we aren’t done advocating for further support through the CEBA program, we have a united national voice thanks to the voice of a local small business owner who had some valid criticisms of the program and offered helpful solutions.
Hopefully, these resolutions — which started from conversations with local businesses — will go on to create meaningful change for businesses across the country.
Approximately 1 million job seekers experiencing a disability in Canada are unemployed or under employed.
October is Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) and it’s a good opportunity to reflect on a sizeable segment of our population that is being underserved. Back in 2017, Statistics Canada reported 3.7 million working-age Canadians identified as having a disability, yet only three in five were employed.
While the number of job vacancies has declined over the year from its peak of over 1 million, there is still a gap of hundreds of thousands of jobs across Canada that employers are struggling to fill. Employers are eager to hire.
According to the Discover Ability Network, 63% of persons with disabilities do not require accommodations in their workplace. And when they do, the cost or shift in workplace setup is often offset by the productivity of the employed person.
There are more noteworthy statistics:
• 72% higher employee retention rate among people with disabilities
• Businesses hiring people who have a disability experience a 72% increase in productivity
• Inclusive businesses grow profits up to 3x faster than their competitors
• 22% of Canadians have a disability
• Inclusive workplaces are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
Hiring people with disabilities not only fills workforce gaps in your business, but will help create a thriving and profitable business with higher retention rates. What’s holding us back?
It turns out one of the biggest barriers is our mindset. An article titled Why Don’t We Hire People With Disabilities? by Angela Kryhul from the Smith School of Business, an affiliate of Queen’s University, gets right to the point. Part of the issue is that we all too often equate disability with an inability to work.
The article highlights three misconceptions:
• Few disabled people are qualified for, or apply to, job posts
• Accommodations are expensive and complicated
• There are negative impacts on productivity and workplace culture
There is a wealth of resources available to employers interested in hiring people with disabilities. The Canadian Association for Supported Employment offers training, resources, and toolkits for employers. The Government of Ontario offers programs, resources, tips and tools. Locally, we have organizations like Heads Up For Inclusion and the Council for Persons with Disabilities offering their expertise and resources working here in Peterborough and the Kawarthas. Our local employment agencies also offer a wealth of knowledge.
It’s time we get a bit out of our comfort zone, tap into local resources, educate ourselves and our teams, and update our hiring practices to include hiring people with disabilities. It will benefit your business, our communities, and our economy.
We have been calling for the federal government to re-work its conclusion of the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) for the last two years.
There was an initial one-year extension provided and then recently the Government of Canada once again announced it would be extending the deadline, only this time it’s by 18 days.
The CEBA loan program provided much-needed help to the business community early on in the pandemic with interest-free loans of up to $60,000, of which up to 33% would be eligible for loan forgiveness if the loan is repaid on time. The situation was quite different back in April of 2020 when it was rolled out. COVID-19 would continue to bring on public health restrictions that dramatically impacted businesses for the next two years. Some businesses and sectors were hit much harder by the pandemic and the public health restrictions than others. Some had to dig deeper to borrow more and some are still struggling to reach the profitability they enjoyed prior to the pandemic.
Just as the lockdowns and restrictions did not impact businesses equally, neither has our recovery. Even in recovery, the business community is trying to build back despite a shortage of labour, dramatic interest rate increases, inflation not seen in a generation, and now a potential recession.
Building back has not been easy for some businesses.
Back in 2021 the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce could see that while the CEBA program saved many businesses, it could also hold back many of the hardest hit businesses which are also the ones our governments pledged to step up and help.
Our 2021 policy resolution approved and endorsed by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and its membership called on the Government of Canada to:
1. Extend the deadlines for repayment of the Canada Emergency Business Account program by two years.
2. Make the forgivable portion of the loan available to all business that continue to have operations impacted by ongoing COVID-19 public health restrictions throughout 2021.
3. Allow businesses that continue to have operations impacted by ongoing COVID-19 public health restrictions in 2021 to be exempt from incurring interest prior to the balance of their loan being due.
Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce summed up the recent CEBA extension announcement well:
“Small business owners across the province continue to grapple with compounding effects from the pandemic, including labour shortages, declining employee mental health, rising inflation, and repayment of debt.
Yesterday’s announcement by the Government of Canada was a step in the right direction in support of Ontario’s business community who, during the most challenging times, demonstrated resilience and resolve. While businesses appreciate the extension, those hardest hit will continue to face challenges over the next coming weeks and months, given the shorter-than-expected extension to the interest-free repayment period.
More action is needed to ensure that Canada’s small business community can fully recover. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce looks forward to working with the Government of Canada on this and other matters important to Ontario business.”
As it stands, the businesses that are still struggling will not be eligible for the $20,000 loan forgiveness and will begin paying 5% interest on what they owe. The alternative is further borrowing to pay their debts to the government.
It’s important that those who can comfortably repay their loans do so in a timely manner. But those not in such a good financial position, many of which are local small businesses, should still have an avenue to access debt forgiveness and low
The Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce acts as a catalyst to enhance business growth, opportunity, innovation, partnerships and a diverse business community.