Communication Leadership: Policy on the Fly

In this blog post we will examine the role of agency leadership in policy making “on the fly.”  We will look at four key areas where communication leadership can make a difference:  setting up a team, communicating with employees, clients, and stakeholders, and working with communities.

This week’s wellness suggestion is to “update policies and be advocates for policy changes.”   Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Indeed, keeping policy up to date is what leaders do when faced with economic, 5wellnessleadershipsocial, or health crises.  It is also a great approach to #wellness leadership because, as Paul Argenti points out, leaders “have a special role in reducing employee anxiety.”  That role often requires coming up with policy “on the fly.”

Among the iconic images of COVID-19, the flattened curve (representing a drawn-out but less lethal pandemic) is one of the most compelling.  It represents a strategy that by intervening with social distancing and other protective measures, the capacity of our health system remains strong.  Yet, even though the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services provide policy guidance, there are always care decisions to be made and communicated by agency policy leaders.

Agency policy leaders implement more than what’s written in government policy directives.  While roles, responsibilities, and resources are supposed to be spelled out before a health crisis, during a health crisis leaders are often forced to come up with policy on the fly.

What you say now can affect travel plans, containment measures, and mitigation:  all policies that, right now as cases and deaths rise, people want you to get right.

Leadership Communication and The Curve

If we look at the curve we are trying to flatten, we can see that the elements at play parallel the kinds of challenges facing agency leaders.

flattening the curve

See where it says “Healthcare System Capacity?”  One way to look at this image is to see your agency capacity in the same role as the healthcare system capacity (in this case, Alberta Health Services, city hospitals, clinics, and so on.)  Your policy interventions, communicated to your agency and sector partners and clients, help maintain operating capacity.

The Role of Agency Leadership Communication

We think of #wellnessleadership as modeled by national leaders, but agency leaders also play a role.  Local leadership is often the first point of contact.  As employees, clients, and community stakeholders work through national and provincial guidelines, questions will come up.  In fact, a resource from Canada Life suggests a few areas where local leadership can fill the information gap.

  • Threats to the premises or individuals.
  • Conflict in the workplace that may include violence, harassment or bullying.
  • Workplace disruption related to problematic substance use.
  • Business-related issues including hostile takeovers, closures, bankruptcy, etc.

The box below contains tips for being a good communicator in a crisis.  Remember, much of the communication you do during this time will be to reassure, maintain connections, show responsibility, and, if you are lucky, flatten the curve of anxiety that underlies everything.

Leadership in crisis

Guidelines for Communication Leadership

Everybody has their own style of communication that fits their leadership role. You should follow the three rules of effective risk communication–communicate often, establish trust through candor, and centralize (one message: many voices.)  If you are new to digital communication, check out Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy’s 10 Digital Miscommunications — and How to Avoid Them.  

Got your chops ready for digital communication, all set up with a camera and coffee mug:  Let’s start flying!  Here are some tips for communicating during the coronavirus crisis.  These tips are adapted from Communicating Through the Coronavirus, by Paul A. Argenti.

Don’t Communicate Alone 

We hear this phrase so often today, “We’re in this together!”  Well, make this real by assembling, probably using computers, a communication team.  They may not be standing behind you like they do on TV, but others play a role in what you say. The payoff is a greater chance of consistency in messaging.   I have a communication team for this blog.  I may not hear from them all the time, but I know they are there and I can reach them “on the fly.”  Check out our post on continuity planning to see how you can make you on the fly team part of your ongoing survival plan. 

Communicate with Employees, Clients, and Shareholders

Regular messages from agency leaders can go a long way toward demystifying the broad directives from GOA or Health Canada.  Inevitably employees and clients will have questions about how, when, and by whom.  Your guidance at these key points can help these audiences stay engaged and feel safe.  But we all know that this kind of communication planning needs to look at basic messaging strategies.

The following communication grid may prove helpful for you and your team as you work through your daily messaging options.

crisis communication grid with 5 handCommunication with Communities

No agency exists in a vacuum.  Argenti suggests using this time for some proactive community support.  In public communication, strive for messages showing cooperation with community support groups. He suggests these measures:

  1. Providing resources such as cleaning supplies or food for those in quarantine.
  2. Providing information to the local media to help to calm the communities down while also enhancing your organization’s credibility.
  3. Providing transparency about what is happening within the company rather than going radio silent.


Policy communication doesn’t go away during a crisis, such as the Coronavirus pandemic.  In the hands of savvy nonprofit sector leaders, it can become a key component in your strategy to strengthen your employee engagement, build communication team work, reassure clients and stakeholders, and reinforce community partnerships.  With a little planning most leaders can sharpen their communication skills and deliver messages “on the fly.”

Keep your communication channels alive… by following our blog! Just like us in the sidebar on the right on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

1understandingstressorsNext week’s topic is “Understanding stress triggers” which, you may be surprised to know, is about #understandingstressors.  See you then.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm

Up Periscope! COVID-19 Information for Non-Profits in Alberta

In these times when we are all “under the strain” it helps to know that professional associations have our back when it comes to providing relevant information about our general social shutdown.  The organizations below show us what COVID-19 means to the contract, child and family and disability sectors in Alberta.

In this post I will visit the web pages of the these associations in Alberta, giving a brief preview of the sources they feature on their websites.

  • ALIGN Association of Community Services (ALIGN)
  • Child and Youth Care Association of Alberta (CYCAA)
  • Alberta Council of Disability Services (ACDS)
  • Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS)

This scan was done online on March 24, 2020.  Up periscope!


This week’s wellness suggestion is to “make use of agency resources already available.”  Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Indeed, looking to employer agencies, is what helping professionals do in times when the situation–at any geographical level you wish to name–is changing rapidly, daily.  Where can agencies and employees go for the latest information sanctioned by their sector leaders?  It is a great time to #investinwellness because agencies need to work to keep clients and employees as safe as possible.

ALIGN 2020ALIGN Association of Community Services

This website contains two levels of information: one directing everyone to the Government of Alberta website; the other containing policy directives and practice guidelines, as well as links to social media channels available to sector stakeholders.  Here are the hashtags you might want to follow:   #AlignAb #Covid19 #Information #StayInformed.  The ALIGN Twitter feed @alignalberta can give you glimpses of how agencies are responding around the Province.

    • COVID-19 info for Albertans   This website is the “everything” source for Albertans and helping professionals.  If you scroll down you will find specific guidance for homeless shelters and other community service providers. The page is updated daily.   Because other sites refer to this important page, I will note but not discuss this link if it appears on other important sector website. 
    • ALIGN Communications  This web resource page should be required reading for Child Intervention Professionals.   It contains answers to most questions agency leaders and case workers have about child intervention response guidelines.  The contents of the latest date is shown in the image above.  Just click on it to visit the page.  Updated  information is indicated with  a “New”  image,  and is highlighted.  ALIGN COMMUNICATIONS 2020

Something that is part of the CI case work during these times is the duty to record and track confirmed cases.  Just how to do this is also addressed in the document, acknowledging the goal of child safety above all.  But for the case worker, knowing how to maintain social distance and handle cases can help reduce the  risk.

“Child Intervention Practitioners are being asked to record and track situations of confirmed COVID. Please report any information related to suspected or confirmed
a family that you are providing services to.”

Child and Youth Care Association of Alberta

    • The front page refers visitors to the ALIGN website and contains the words:  “Use this resource to keep yourself abreast of the changes as they happen.

Alberta Council of Disability Services

Pandemic Response Resources

This web page contains a links to a number of resources specific to the Disability Sector: in particular business continuity, and staff sharing.  Under staff sharing we find that, “Although staff training and skill sets may not always align, organizations are encouraged to connect regionally if they have available staff that may be able to be deployed to assist other service providers.”

ACDSThe Pandemic Planning Resources page contains information to help agencies plan to deal with, workplace issues arising from the spread of illnesses.”  It is not too late to plan for business continuity.


COVID-19 News and Updates

An Update on COVID-19 for CSS Service Provider Partners based on the ADM’s Communique to Service Providers (March 20, 2020).  This letter to disability service providers clarifies that information from The Ministry of Community and Social Services (CSS) updates will come primarily through ACDS.  This is an important site for those updates.  The letter contains the following important message about working to meet service needs.

“In order to support service providers be responsive to quickly changing circumstances, staff will work with you using your  existing  allocation to manage, adjust or move services as required to ensure client and staff safety.”  Letter from the office of the ADM of CSS.

Although specific practice guidelines are not spelled out in the letter, the intention seems to provide assistance when needed.

Annual Conference 2020

Didn’t get your registration in?  No worries:  “The ACDS 2020 Annual Conference will now be held on September 22-23, 2020.”  Check the page for details about registration, themes, and venues.

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters

COVID-19 Update  This page renews the pledge of the ACW to protect clients and shelter workers.  Here you will find

“We know that in times of natural disasters, there can be an increase in demand for shelter services as increased anxiety and external stressors accelerate and exacerbate domestic violence situations. Evidence from previous environmental disasters and pandemics suggest that domestic violence will increase during and following this health emergency. We are working with shelters to prepare to meet this need.”


It is a commonplace in risk communication that messaging should come from a single source, but through multiple voices.  Such is the information landscape for non-profits in Alberta.  The sites mentioned above are those voices of helping professionals in Alberta.

I know I speak for a great many thankful families and children when I say, “Thank you,” to the Helping Professionals in our province who plan wisely and sometimes put themselves at risk in these times for the sake of others.

I will leave you with this quote from the ACWS website that, I’m sure, expresses the commitment of these professionals:

As much as many of us are isolating for public health directives, there are as many reasons to pay attention to the wellbeing of those in your community and offer to help. COVID-19 UPDATE

Let your information needs find a source close to home… by following our blog! Just like us in the sidebar on the right on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

5wellnessleadershipNext week’s topic is to “Update policies and be advocates for policy changes” which, you may surprised to know, is about #wellnessleadership.  See you then.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm

Encourage Your Team to Ask for Support 03/20/20

This week’s wellness suggestion is to “encourage your team to ask for support.”  Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Indeed, working as a team, is what helping professionals do.  But teams, especially special-purpose teams like wellness groups, need support.  The Harvard Business Review puts it this way:

Teams do well when executives invest in supporting social relationships, demonstrate collaborative behavior themselves, and create what we call a “gift culture”—one in which employees experience interactions with leaders and colleagues as something valuable and generously offered, a gift.

3buildingteamsIt is also a great approach to #buildingteams  because teams can be created on the fly, such as a pandemic response team.

What kinds of teams need support?  

They all do, right?  But you don’t ask for help with the routine.  It’s the challenging teams that need support:  teams facing possible problems that others might want to ignore.

  • Change management teams.  Teams dedicated to moving ahead with agency-wide restructuring or reorganization, handling of building acquisition, or shifting management strategies require teams of representatives.  One study by a team in the US found “perceived team support” to be an important variable
  • Special-function teams:  quality, recruitment, events, wellness and health.  Special function team success is a matter of internal agency and team cohesion, but also support for the team, its reputation, its standing as something important.  Here wellness teams can suffer without continued leadership and agency support.

Considering support for teams reminds me to check continuity planning.  In these times of COVID-19, special teams–for monitoring site access, continuity planning, sharing schedules, preparing for mitigation, coordinating agency maintenance on short staff–are all over the place.  As time passes, these teams face challenges we can only imagine now.

What is perceived team support?

Perceived team support consists of human and technical resources, training, and a management system that enables the team to perform. Team need to be trained to do their jobs, and if they are not granted this support, they may not function as well.  They may not even understand the need for the team. Perceived support also pertains to the likelihood of team engagement when support is evidenced in action.

Support for the team is a really good predictor of team performance.  When we consider some of the obstacles to wellness, we can see how support is extra important in times of change.  The AVMA outlines some of the challenges that wellness teams face.  For example, teams have to maintain participation among members and stakeholders, keep measuring progress, make time, hande crises among members, and create a good team environment.

To keep its commitment, a wellness team needs its leaders to have its back.  For example, wellness can bring shifting financial strategies and benefits packages, which take some work to figure and deliver.  Let’s say a clearer understanding of stressors leads to WCB claims, job reassignment, and work re-scheduling.

Support is Key

Research done by Benefits Canada has shown that, “When unhealthy behaviour is identified early and support is provided, it is far more likely the behaviour can change before it worsens or results in a serious but preventable chronic condition requiring ongoing medication.”

Ask for team supportOne thing is to know that the challenges are and the variables–time, resources, goals–that your team faces.

To get a sense of what kinds of support a team needs to ask for, I looked at what Redbooth, an international “work smarter” company that organizes organizations, identified as the kinds of support we should expect.

  1. Ask leaders for guidance.  Ask them to revisit the big picture as a way to support goal orientation and everybody working in the same direction.
  2. Ask for decision support.  A team needs to both talk and act, which require decisions and backing.  Decision support means sharing authority, something challenging to many.
  3. Ask for communication.  As projects evolve, wellness projects, health initiatives, watch out for blocks in how people communicate.  Ask for tech support for media and other communication channels.
  4. Ask for rewards.  This should be easy, because recognition is a form of support.  But it sometimes gets overlooked.
  5. Ask to walk the walk.  This can be difficult, because here you’re asking leaders to set good examples.  Boozy parties to celebrate retirement make for fun, but don’t set just the right tone for healthy and proactive self-care among older employees.

Special teams, that might focus on wellness or pandemic continuity planning, need support in the form of personnel, resources, and communication.  Understanding the requirements of the team–the obstacles members might face–can reveal where teams might need to be encouraged to ask for support as a way of #buildingteams.


Networking During a Time of Social Distancing

In this article we explore ways to build your network while protecting yourself and your community during times of social distancing.  We look at 10 community building strategies.

This week’s wellness suggestion is “networking.”  Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Indeed, networking is what helping professionals do all the time.  The problem is, how do you “network” in a time of quarantine?  It is also a great approach to #selfcareideas because there are ways to use and grow your network that don’t put you at risk of illness.


What is networking

Networking  is about connecting dots:  connecting with others and others connecting with you.  The fact is that in times of health crises, such as we have with the Coronavirus situation worsening (as of mid-March, 2020), connecting is one of the most valuable things you can do.

In my work on pandemic flu factors in Edmonton in 2007 and 2008, I was fortunate to meet many concerned caregivers at Street Works and the Boyle Community Centre and also with the Edmonton Office of Emergency Preparedness and Community Services.  Working with these helping professionals, we developed guidelines for how agencies could use community networks to the fullest.  In this blog I will review some resources that came out of that Pandemic Project.

Sometimes a community’s response to health (or any) threats depends on its history, as in San Francisco in the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, which had recently experienced a major earthquake.  Often, as in the case of poverty stricken neighborhoods, emergency response is determined by class, income, and race.  For industries and health sectors, structural and economic determinants will affect the character of an emergency response.  This post speaks to the requirements of the non-profit health sector in Alberta.

First, a disclaimer.  The materials in this blog were written from interview transcripts and literature reviews.  For up-to-date and accurate facts about the current Coronavirus, please visit these official websites.

Ways to Network During an Outbreak

There only a few cases of Coronavirus  in Alberta at this time, but it appears that there are many in some parts of the world and it is spreading.  Canada is actually well prepared  for an outbreak, possibly because of the history of SARS.  And Edmonton is one of the best prepared cities in the country, possibly because of the strong community spirit here, and recent experience with meningitis in 2000. 

2 self care communityDuring “normal” times people aren’t interested in pandemic. Some people will stockpile food and supplies, but others will wait to be mobilized. Not that we should necessarily welcome it, but now is a great time to find out how communities mobilize. What you can learn at this time will tell you how your community will respond next time.

  1.  Connect.  Use this time to connect with members of your own community, whether it be a workgroup, physical community, virtual community, ethnic, religious, or housing.  This is a time when members wonder how they will pitch in to help each other and find themselves relying on their community. Communities can contribute by providing physical tools (flu kits hastily assembled, sharing information about cases, identifying at risk populations, and providing psychological support.)  
  2. Encourage wellness behaviors.  If you don’t already do it, ask clients, friends, visitors, children to be extra diligent about hand washing, sanitizing, social distancing (1 meter apart), and other outward indications of your intention to be well.  Follow the guidelines set out by Albert Health and Wellness for hand washing. Prepare to identify the primary caregiver in your family and make sure that person has protective gear: hand sanitizers, face mask that fits, alcohol or other sanitizing materials, and a thermometer. Get guidelines for making your own emergency kit from Canadian Red Cross.
  3. Listen.  You will hear, at meetings, public gatherings, spring sports events, and other occasions, people talking about epidemics and what to do.  Some of what you hear will be rumour. But the general drift of how people respond will tell you something about how communities will take things.  Try to assess the climate of trust, both of other community members, but also of health authorities and their messages. What do people say they want? Do they link the current outbreak with their flu shot experience? Do they feel prepared. What spiritual and/or psychological concerns do people have? You can find out what to listen for at the Thought Exchange’s blog on 5 Techniques to Increase Community Confidence can be helpful, depending on what you hear. 
  4. Inventory strengths.  One of the treasures of a community, as I have found, are the communicators, connectors, liaisons with public health, and opinion leaders. These are the natural leaders during an outbreak.  They represent the communication points in a community. Another important person is the website manager and newsletter editor. These people have ready-to-go communication lists that can come in handy when getting the word out.
  5. Use communication media.  Use whatever media you have to communicate. This includes:  phones, cell phones, health authority web sites, conversation web sites, forums, portable signs, posters.  A simple message is, “Community members should try to educate themselves about the flu.” Nobody is going to argue with this harmless message.  Spread it as much as you can. The idea, kind of like an “information vaccination,” is to encourage people’s curiosity and their concern in a way that helps them grow stronger. 
  6. Ripple communication.  Health authorities will present the official message to the community.  In Alberta that source is Alberta Health Services. The Outbreak Management site contains valuable information about preparedness for various disease outbreaks, including flu.  But the message people tend to really listen to is the one coming from a trusted and personally known source.  Send or forward messages to people you know, not necessarily to strangers. If you have call lists or email lists, use them to share (not instruct). Telling people to educate themselves and giving them resources helps them get involved.  Offer help if you can don’t expect everyone to get the information from just one source. 
  7. Asses risk. look at your family’s vulnerabilities: immune diseases, special needs (what the City of Edmonton Office of Community Emergency Preparedness calls “functional needs”), medicines, spiritual or psychological vulnerabilities and consider how to help these individuals. Most likely in a family, one person will take care of another.  Who lives alone in your community?    
  8. Educate.  Download and print brochures from Alberta Health Services (see site address above) and read them.  Put them in your neighbors’ mailboxes or flyer boxes. A special walk-around with a printed page can inform and help community members feel connected. Make them a certain color and brand them with your neighborhood name. This may not be a great time to have a face to face meeting, so making information available is really helpful.  Take advantage of the teachable moment that this outbreak provides.  If you have a meeting scheduled already, put infection control on the agenda. 
  9. Research.  Now is not the time to look over the workplace health framework provided in the Healthier Together from AHS.  You can use the outbreak event to find out what communication preferences your community has. Avoid asking questions people will not want to answer (“Do you stockpile food?”)  Most people who do would feel vulnerable if they answered truthfully.
    Questions to ask:

    • Do you have a cell phone?
    • Do you have Internet access?
    • Can you use text messaging? 
    • Do you communicate regularly with family? 
    • Where would you go for help if you got sick? 
  10. Plan for recovery.  After this outbreak is over, communities will be at a new level of self awareness.  Look to spiritual and trust leaders in the community to help “heal” and institutionalize recovery.  For example, identify a “flu person” and leave all the left-over signs, pamphlets, masks, and whatever, in that person’s basement or garage.  This simple act can reassure the community in the future. 


It seems contradictory, but networking in a time of social distancing can be a great way to bring communities together.  Think big about how your community communicates during times of stress and learn ways to come together.

Come together with us… by following our blog! Just like us in the sidebar on the right on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

3buildingteamsNext week’s topic is “Encourage your team to ask for support” which, you may be surprised to know, is about #buildingteams.  See you then.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm

Beyond Preparation: Continuity Planning for Alberta Non-Profits

In this special post  we look at continuity planning for nonprofits.  The focus is on resources for Alberta-based non-profits in human-service, child  and foster care and counselling, home visitation, disability services, and shelters.

Disclaimer:  This information is intended for use by helping professionals in Alberta non-profits who are concerned for the health of their clients and employees.  Readers are advised to consult government and health authorities for the most up to date pandemic information.  

It’s official:  The World Health Organization, as of March 11, 2020 declared the Covid 19 outbreak a “pandemic.”  Pandemics, we learn, have “phases” and you can read about them at WebMD.  As you can read on the GOA site on pandemics (and other public health emergencies) citizens are to “shelter in place” for the first 72 hours after any disaster or public health emergency.

Staying informed and understanding the potential challenges you may face in your community in the event of an influenza pandemic can help you to prepare for a variety of scenarios. Albertans can prepare for a pandemic influenza just as they would for other emergencies by preparing a basic emergency kit to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.  (My  emphasis)

This post is specifically for administrators and sector leaders who want their agency to survive the downturn that will be caused by this pandemic.  Those who already have plans in place may also wish to investigate current practices as they dust them off.

Basic Pandemic Planning

Here is a great resource for pandemic planning from the Government of Alberta for non-profits in Alberta.  You and your agency might want to look at all three of these checklists, as a way of making sure you have covered the bases for your group or agency.

Alberta Government Pandemic Preparedness Resources

What happens after 72 hours?  In these times of an uncertain future and public health hazards, human-service agencies look to continuity planning as a focus for action beyond preparation.

Continuity planning

Most of the sources below are for continuity planning for businesses, and agencies are businesses.  For the most part, planning for all businesses is roughly comparable, even the large and small.

Continuity planning

The key elements of a continuity planning are the following:

  1. Identify a continuity team
  2. Review essential services and operations
  3. List essential skills and emergency skills
  4. Identify issues and write action plans
  5. Identify plans for each essential skill
  6. Review with a preparedness checklist (here) or (here)
  7. Review with team members
  8. Revise, test, and update the plan.

These phases are explained in detail at the BDC site.  Here are some others that cover roughly the same points.

Business Continuity Guide  This Guide is primarily intended for use by Government of Alberta Departments, Agencies, Boards, and Commissions.

Alberta’s Ethical Framework for Responding to Pandemic Influenza  Companies facing ethical issues may wish to consult this guide.  It covers information about various responsibilities for making tough choices during pandemic times. 

Pandemic Planning Tool Kit  Ontario Chamber of Commerce  “A Pandemic plan can help your company be prepared against organizational downtime during a health crisis.”

Business Continuity  RJ Systems Ltd. is a consulting firm offering continuity planning for businesses in Alberta. 

Pandemic Influenza Response Plan:  Business Continuity Planning Tool Kit  This kit covers the 8 steps listed above.


Our goal in this post is to provide information specifically for administration and CEOs of helping agencies to assist them with getting through this extra-touch business time.  Closing down isn’t a free ride, and the saavy business owner and manager will look to the proven techniques of continuity planning.  Doing this will help ensure that when the doors open again it will be to a new normal of corporate responsibility and capacity.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm

Taming free energy: Clarify expectations and priorities

In this article we look at uncertainty and how it plays a role in stress assessment. We look at a stress-reducing information about jobs and duties that can help Alberta non-profit sector tame that free energy!

This week’s wellness suggestion is to “clarify expectations and priorities.”  Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Knowing what is demanded of you is the way to remove the stress of not knowing!  According to the publication Occupational health and safety & the non-profit sector: what you should know,  “It is important for non-profit organizations and their volunteers to discuss the hazards they may face.”  Let’s look at some ideas and resources that might inform such discussions about #understandingstressorsGOA worker rights

Quick spoiler:   Visit this link from the Alberta Workers Health Centre  to read up on the four rights of all workers.

  • The right to know
  • The right to participate
  • The right to refuse dangerous work
  • The right to be free from reprisal

The important point is that employers need to tell workers about their health and safety rights.


What is Stress?  

In the Healthy Workplaces research project, we used the Job/Demand or “bucket” theory of stress (see the video below).  According to this theory, the worker experiences stress as a responsibility that he or she has difficulty fulfilling.  Imagine a worker with a large case load being asked to take on the cases of a worker who quit.  That worker’s “bucket” just filled up…stressfully.  Things like lots of sleep, support from co-workers, and various tricks of the trade strengthen the worker’s stress response.

So #understandingstressors is all about knowing your job.  Not so fast.  An interesting article entitled “Uncertainty and stress,” (see below) in the 2017 volume of Progress in Neurobiology, can help us get at some of the underlying dynamics of stress and how it relates to unclear expectations, or, put a little differently, uncertainty.  It turns out the problem of uncertainty has been stressing researchers since the 1700’s.

To find the article referenced in this post, just Google the following:   Peters, A., McEwen, B. S., & Friston, K. (2017). Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain. Progress in neurobiology156, 164-188.

It may make one feel like, well, if stress has been around for so long, how come we don’t understand it?  Isn’t it common sense?  When you get into neurobiology can seem like the opposite of common sense.  A neurobiologist talking about stress is more confusing than a crackhead with a PhD.  Bear with me while I try to sort it out.

How does uncertainty relate to stress?

Following the research in “Uncertainty and stress,” stress is an adaptive response to information uncertainty.  “‘Stress’ arises in those people who are uncertain about” how we predict our future physical, mental and social well-being.  Taking this a step further, our brains see information we don’t know as “free energy:” a kind of loose ends, or unfinished business.  Think of a client who defies attempts to connect with you, counselor, or a challenging case load for anybody.  The “energy” that situations hold are possible outcomes.  Something is “going on” with these future outcomes, but you can’t control it and the potential for variation can drive you nutty.  Another word for it is “entropy.”

clarifying expectationsReducing free energy reduces “surprises,” unexpected variations, and other hazards to our psychosocial health.  How do we do that, hey?  Well, it turns out that the brain does secret calculations to try to master the unknown!  You heard right, the brain is capable of computing uncertainty in the work or social environment.  Once the brain identifies the uncertainty, it can use its beliefs  about uncertainty to mediate or reduce the stress response.  How does that work?

The stress reduction process, according to these researchers, is a matter of learning (acquiring information) that reduces our uncertainty about the future.  “Learning after stress can be interpreted as updating flawed beliefs about the world, thereby furnishing better predictions of future outcomes.”  Coming from an educational environment, I’m feeling less stressful already.  Less “free energy.”

The “Bayesian brain” to the rescue

Thomas Bayes was a mathematician in the 17th century who identified a process whereby a person can get closer to understanding something by, first, perceiving the world.  I perceive an unresponsive client and I think it may be because she has not been taking her medications.  So I make predictions about the case, make more perceptions, and revise the original perception.   If I see that her medication bottle is empty, then my Bayesian (calculating) brain will revise my theory of cause (“not taking meds”) and look for something else, such as (“meds don’t work any more”.)  This is called the perceptive inference.

The Bayesian brain

The other process that researchers since Bayes discovered is called the active inference.  The active inference is a second way to minimize errors, according to Peters.

“In perceptual inference, individuals strive to update their internal model of the world, while in active inference individuals change their environment (or their sampling of the environment) with the aim of better informing their beliefs about the world.”  “Uncertainty and stress,” page 171.

Active inference is sometimes called “explorative behaviour”  or, my favourite, “epistemic foraging.”  Here we voluntarily give up some of our control in order to seek solutions to stressful uncertainty.  So whereas one worker might question evidence, another worker might try out various solutions:  all in the cause of reducing uncertainty.

taming uncertainty smallWhat clinches these ideas for me is this quote from “Uncertainty and stress:”  “The certainty about what to do next manifests itself through a strong sense of control.”  (page 173)  So actions we take that might work can lead to a rewarding, fist-bump feeling of “I’ve got this.”  Who doesn’t want that?


Understanding stressors is the responsibility of all employers and employees in the Alberta non-profit sector.   Researchers show us that stress is both a feeling of being overwhelmed, and also a nagging energy of uncertainty.   Reality checks on our perceptions, and explorations of what might work both turn out to be useful, based on the built-in calculations of our amazing Bayesian brains.

Tame the energy of uncertainty… by following our blog! Just like us in the sidebar on the right on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

2selfcareideasNext week’s topic is “Networking” which, you may be surprised to know, is about #selfcareideas.  See you then for a discussion of how networking can be part of a package to address “presenteeism” in health workplaces.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm



Building Better Leadership Practices

In this article we look at the definition of wellness leadership and suggest strategies for growing leadership practice in your service agency.  It’s a win-win.

This week’s wellness suggestion is to “build better leadership practices.”  Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy.  Indeed, reflection on leadership, or any practice, is what helping professionals do to build the sector ground upReflective practice is a well used strategy, especially in home visitation contexts.  It is also a great approach to #wellnessleadership  because because leadership, specifically wellness leadership is so often overlooked.

5wellnessleadershipWhat is wellness leadership? 

Wellness leadership is often overlooked by people who think of “leaders” as being a top-level group of individuals who need to buy into (support) wellness.   In this article, I will focus on wellness leadership as a form of leadership that guides, organizes, encourages, and evaluates wellness programs.  Such an individual may already be on the Joint Health and Safety Committee, as defined by CCOHS, or the Social Committee, or the Wellness Committee–should you be so lucky as to have one.  This individual is charged with, or takes charge of, guiding repeated wellness interventions.

One of those interventions would entail improving his or her own wellness leadership practice.  And it is this that I take to be the meaning of the suggestion for this week:  How can we develop our existing leadership capacity to bring things like vision and commitment to our wellness program?  

To answer this question we will look at the roles a leader plays

According to the Wellness Culture Coaching Toolkit,  wellness leadership consists of fulfilling three roles:

  1. Pursuing a wellness vision.  Wellness leaders clarify and commit to a vision based on employee participation.
  2. Serving as a role model.  Wellness leaders walk the talk by adopting a healthy lifestyle.  Wellness leaders, Rachel Gutter reminds us, lead by example.
  3. Connecting to workplace culture. Large, hierarchical organizations are going to facilitate wellness leadership differently than small, flat and more agile agencies.  Communal break rooms will stay empty if the company culture is “eat at your desk.”

Among helping professionals, our survey in 2018 allowed us to report that over 35% of respondents in child and youth care saw “leadership” as a factor affecting their job satisfaction.  Leadership is a key factor in accommodating a diverse workforce, by giving each employee greater control over his or her work, and, in this way, helping balance work and life demands.  

Often when you discuss leadership the topic turns to power and power-sharing.  What good is leadership without the authority to do something? Leadership needs power to make it happen, so that followers, those convinced by charm and reason, of the righteous path (your path) feel engaged through your leadership.

The question them becomes, how can you grow leadership skills?  How can you teach it?  These are good questions, but we may want to look a little deeper.

Many human-service professional call for the building–defining, developing, and mandating–of leadership practices.  Such “home grown” practices represent agency identity, local employee engagement, and can lead to new levels of client satisfaction.

So, another way to ask our question for this article might be, how can our leaders critically examine existing practices and, with the help of other employees, contribute to the leadership toolkit?

Growing leaders

Growing leadership is also a popular topic in business communications.  Entrepreneur magazine lists 10 Ways to Grow Leaders in Your Business.  BDC bank takes another approach:  growing leaders within your company.  They offer 6 strategies for doing this:

  1. Learn to recognize leadership potential
  2. Rely on managers to suggest potential leaders
  3. Sell your vision and see who comes forward to support it
  4. Provide opportunities for leadership development in your strategic plan
  5. Monitor, measure, and reward leaders

It’s easy to see how these strategies would lead to finding and cultivating leadership in house.  For larger organizations it might not be so easy, because leadership roles are designated and organizational structures are set.

Whatever the size of your organization, sending leaders or leadership groups to the CCOHS Workplace health promotion site will provide you with tons of tips and guidance on leading wellness initiatives.  For a look at wellness and wellness leadership in Alberta in 2004, see the amazingly comprehensive and research-based ideas in an Environmental Scan of Workplace Wellness Programs in Alberta.  Specific leadership tips and ideas are presented in a podcast from CCOHS entitled “Leading your team to a healthier workplace.”

When it comes to growing leaders under an Indigenous paradigm, the BC First Nations Health Authority suggests that leadership should be based on a “nothing about us without us” axiom.  “Leaders must recognize that BC First Nations already have all that is needed for wellness.”  This approach parallels that taken in the Healthy Workplaces project, that leadership should be distributed, and seen as a responsibility of all.

“Guided by experience, awareness, vision, and respect for knowledge, leaders in Indigenous health and wellness lead teams that are open to new ideas and opportunities, while constantly incorporating cultural humility in the work.”

An overview of the “Ecosystem of health and wellness” within which leadership is nourished, can be seen in the image below which diagrams the wellness framework supported by the BC First Nations Health Authority.

Ecosystem of Health and Wellness


Knowing the core elements of leadership development is a start, and finding ways to grow leaders from within organizations is a great win-win for Alberta’s nonprofits.  It ensures that leadership is nurtured in the context of your agency, and it puts the right value on leadership for all employees.

Let your leadership vision find a home… by following our blog! Just like us in the sidebar on the right on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

1understandingstressorsNext week’s topic is “clarifying expectations and priorities” which, you may be surprised to know, is about #understandingstressors.  See you then.

For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.

The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members:Adv Comm