OHS Canada Magazine

Language matters: Speaking our way to a brighter future

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December 6, 2021
By Marcel Vander Wier

Health & Safety Human Resources Young Workers Civility Editorial Language Mental Health

A wider societal change is required to truly implement a fresh perspective on the power of words.

For workplace and community leaders, the responsibility is greater to uplift, upbuild and conduct work affairs in a positive manner. (zinkevych/Adobe Stock)

Words hold power — spoken well, they can empower or heal. Misspoken, deliberately or not, and they can undo years of good work.

The usage of language — and also, tone — in creating healthier, safer workplaces is an issue I’ve been pondering anew as the world undergoes significant change.

Reader comments on a wide variety of COVID-19 news and advice shared on our website comes to mind, as does the vitriol spewed by some against our nation’s current slate of leaders — a topic I addressed in my last editorial.

Theo Heineman’s year-long series on neurosafety has brought the power of language to the forefront, in terms of the work needed to become conscious of unconscious thoughts, beliefs and emotions — and rewiring your brain towards sustained behavioural change in the process.

As Theo notes in her final word for 2021, the workplace environment is a leader’s responsibility, and it’s imperative that managers make workers feel safe — including more time spent on praise and encouragement.


Our inaugural Psychologically Safe Workplace Awards, handed out in October, confirm this.

2022 winners discussed that the road to mental health can begin with a simple word shared with a direct report, expressing concern and support for his or her well-being.

Recognizing and (literally) speaking into the individual’s situation helps to reduce stigma and silence on matters integral to workers’ health.

In Saskatchewan, strides are being made against coarse language used in the workplace. Lobbying efforts by several women has prompted the government to propose legislation that any unwelcome action of a sexual nature constitutes harassment — words included.

If you do not yet have a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy in place at your business, this CCOHS explainer is a must-read.

A wider societal change is required to truly implement a fresh perspective on the power of words — that opportunity lies in education, and with the next generation.

The less coarse language and bullying mentalities we accept at an early age, the better society will be on a go-forward basis.

As a new coach in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, I was pleased to find that its orientation programming for leaders pushes back against the verbal criticisms and “old-school” coaching mentalities of the past, and instead promotes game strategy with emphasis on a healthier, more inclusive future.

Language matters — a lot. What we say and what we do are forever interconnected.

For workplace and community leaders, the responsibility is even greater to uplift, upbuild and conduct our affairs in a positive manner.

It’s up to us to ensure civility and decorum are a firm part of the future.

This editorial was published in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of OHS Canada.


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