OHS Canada Magazine

We’re getting stronger with every hill we climb: Restoring trust with staff is the next ridge

January 23, 2023
By Kiran Kapoor/Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS)
Health & Safety Kiran Kapoor WSPS

Photo: CPPZone/Adobe Stock

Do you remember the exhilaration of sledding down a big hill, only to realize as you glide to a stop that you have to turn around and climb all the way back to the top?

That’s a little bit like the experience we’ve had over the last few years. Just when we feel the rush of one victory, or it seems like we might achieve some semblance of stability, we realize there is yet another hill to climb.

There have been a lot of hills to climb.

Moving through the pandemic, protecting our businesses from the ups and downs of the economy, deftly manoeuvring through supply chain issues, managing digital transformation, and revamping policies and procedures to keep customers and employees engaged — all are hills we need to ascend. And there have been and will be many more.

In reality, we were on this ride long before COVID took hold; the pandemic just served as an accelerant.


Back in 2014, we were talking about how we would manage and satisfy the needs of five different generations in our workplaces. For more than a decade, we’ve been working to figure out how we can create more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces to attract and retain top talent. And, of course, technological advances and shifting expectations have had us strategizing digital transformation for many years.

We haven’t been in this alone. Our employees have been right there with us.

Some of them have thrown their hands up and gotten off the sled completely – choosing to retire, pursue other passions, or just leave the workforce for a while. Others are “quietly quitting” because they are burning out from endless twists and turns, and they have lost faith in us to keep them safe.

Now as we face another climb — designing how we will work together in the future — we need to restore trust by being flexible and inclusive and engaging employees in the process.

Employees who have the option to work remotely and those who don’t must feel they have an equal voice in the redesign of how we work.

An adaptive leadership approach has been shown to help organizations and people thrive in the face of adversity. One of the core tenets of this approach is encouraging creativity and innovation to design the way forward. Adaptive leaders embrace experimentation and taking smart risks and recognize that mistakes facilitate growth.

Like people, organizations are diverse, so it will take time to identify and right-size solutions for your organization. For smaller businesses, finding an approach that works will likely require even more creativity.

PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears 2022 report talks about the importance of power in our workplaces, and the need for employers to recognize employees as a force multiplier or detractor with the power to fuel or stall growth-driven strategies.

A recent article published in Steelcase’s Work Better Magazine stresses that to be successful in designing workplaces of the future, leaders need to remember that “Inclusive design is not an outcome – it’s a process.” It also highlights that instead of taking a cookie cutter approach, we need to “provide people with a range of experiences that allow them to select what best suits their needs.”

Flexibility is an important lever. We need to let go of old paradigms and embrace new approaches to design workplace cultures and environments that help us attract and retain employees and protect their physical and mental health and safety.

The unknown can be daunting and downright scary at times for leaders and our teams, but we can take some comfort in knowing we’re all in the same place. No one has this all figured out or knows what is coming next. We don’t have enough experience in our new world of work.

However, we’ve proven that we’re tenacious and we’re becoming very nimble and adept at navigating highs and lows. I believe if we continue working together with our teams and adopt an adaptive leadership style, we will succeed in creating safe, vibrant, inspiring workplaces and the hills we climb won’t seem so steep.

Kiran Kapoor is vice-president, service delivery at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) in Ontario.





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