Happy, healthy and engaged – building a culture of leadership and well-being in the workplace

Canadian-Irish business leaders outline their priorities for fostering an exceptional employee experience.

The headlines shout ‘The Great Resignation’ or ‘The Big Quit’ – a dramatic framing of the most profound disruption in the global labour force in recent history.

In Canada, the Robert Half Salary Guide for 2022 found so-called Great Resignation trends ‘accelerating’ towards the end of 2021.

The survey found:

  • Employees feel underpaid. Half of workers (an even 50%) think they’re earning less than they deserve. Millennial professionals (56%) and women (54%) are the most likely to feel short-changed.
  • Workers may walk without a pay rise. Nearly one in five employees (18%) would consider quitting their job if they don’t get a raise by year’s end. Gen Z (35%) and Millennial (28%) workers are even more likely to make a career move if their salary doesn’t increase.
  • In-demand roles are commanding top dollar. Employers need to pay competitively and be willing to negotiate to secure the best talent sought-after talent. And 35% of employers are offering signing bonuses to entice new hires.

The survey also found that flexible working, employee well-being programmes and a progressive management culture were all becoming stronger factors in career choices.

Here in Ireland, ICBA members Morgan McKinley released analysis in the New Year that predicted salaries in certain sectors of the Irish jobs market could increase by between 5 and 10% in 2022, with increases of 15-20% likely for a wide range of in-demand specialist skills.

Morgan McKinley believe that four-in-five people are considering a career move in the next six to 12 months as they reassess what they want from their lives and careers in the post-pandemic era.

But is it the Big Quit or the Big Reset?

For some experts, a less dramatic reading of where we are now indicates that millions of people are not simply ‘quitting’, but that they are reconfiguring their career paths. And shifting priorities.

Some are leveraging the current hiring crisis to get into better positions. Others have decided to work for themselves – the number of self-employed workers in the US has risen by half a million since the start of the pandemic and continues to rise.

What is certain, is that companies are now facing into a very challenging period, where they will have to navigate the ripple effects of the pandemic – and profoundly re-evaluate how they attract and retain talent.

For business leaders like Miriam Manning, Director of Human Resources at TELUS International Ireland and Desmond O’Sullivan, Director of Customer Experience and Director of PMO at Optel Group, both of whom are members of the ICBA, the key is building a happy, healthy, highly-engaged workforce.

Speaking to the Ireland Canada Connection Podcast series, both Miriam and Desmond outlined their core principles and strategies for building a well-connected, happy and motivated workforce – as well as ensuring there was leadership at all levels not just from the top down.

TELUS International has 50,000 team members globally with over 2,000 of those based in Ireland. The company was recently recognised for having the Best Health & Wellbeing Strategy – (for a Large Organisation) in the Irish HR Leadership & Management Awards.

And for Miriam Manning, their culture is built on solid ‘pillars’ – which are clearly defined and implemented by and for management and employees across the company.

“We have created 5 pillars of well-ness which highlighted across the business.” Miriam told the Ireland Canada Connection Podcast.

“They are nutrition, exercise, sleep, mental health and having fun.”

Miriam says these pillars, established almost three years ago, are not just slogans painted on the walls. TELUS International uses internal panels, external experts and employee feedback to assess progress and provide practical, real-world support and advice.

“We would have an occupational health advisor who is at the core of our wellness team and when we were all in the office, we would regularly have well-fests, where our catering team would serve nutritious food and there would be advice on healthy eating.”

“On the mental health side, we would have regular panel discussions, we have external experts that can come and be on these panels along with our business leaders, who can listen, as well as promote and facilitate mental well-being.”

Miriam Manning

These well-fests have continued over the work-from-home period, along with the mental health panels and other initiatives.

“We have a mental health first-aid team, with over 40 qualified first-aiders, who can get really involved with employee well-being.”

“When we all left the office and started working from home, our mental-health first-aiders created a space on our internal comms, and if anybody needed support, they could find all of the information they needed, as well as a form to fill out to request support.”

Desmond O’Sullivan of Optel Group told the Ireland Canada Connection podcast that there has to be real engagement with employee well-being and satisfaction throughout the organisation, from senior executives down to line managers.

And he said the pandemic has refocused minds on what really counts for people.

“The pandemic, worldwide, has amplified the idea that people are working for more than a paycheck.” said the Optel Group Director of Customer Experience.

“People inherently want to do good for their fellow citizens, for their communities, it’s one of the core values of being a human being.”

“When you walk into our offices, anywhere in the world, you’ll be greeted by a mural, depicting the children of the people who work on that site.”

“And that’s there to remind us all that what we are doing is more than a job, or sole goal is to try and make the world a better place for all of those children who are on that wall”.

Desmond said leadership, when it comes to employee well-being, often begins with just giving people the space, time and tools to follow their instincts.

“If a company gives employees the means to make a difference, to do good for people, they will take that idea and they will run with it.”

Desmond also believes in fostering a culture of honesty and straight-talking.

“When our managers have one-on-one meetings or scrums, we encourage them to ask direct questions,” he said.

“There is nothing wrong with asking people; ‘how are you feeling?’ ‘Have you any issues you would like us to help us with?”

“Too often we assume that people are doing OK. We encourage our employees to talk about these things, they are at the forefront of what we do, not pushed into the background.”

Goldy Hyder is President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada and has wide experience in business, public policy, and in the not-for-profit sector.

He told the Ireland Canada Connection that through the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, he’s stayed in constant contact with business leaders as they have navigated what are, in so many ways, unprecedented times.

And he said that when it comes to the most effective leadership, one quality in particular, has stood out.

“The number one quality that comes to my mind is empathy,” said Goldy Hyder.

“These are leaders who are focused on their people, from the time that this happened, they had to shift immediately to the safety and well-being of their employees, the safety and well-being of their customers.”

The Business Council of Canada chief likened the experience of coping with the pandemic to being in mid-air, flying an airplane, where you suddenly have to reconfigure all instruments while still staying airborne.

And he says the best business leaders have ‘worn their hearts on their sleeves’, showing empathy with employees and customers, listening to their needs, responding with practical help and calm purpose.

“They have kept going to ensure that people had food on their plates, that the lights stayed on, that they could go to an ATM machine to get cash, defer their mortgages if they needed too”.

“This is far more than anybody could have planned for and it has shown the importance of clear leadership, bringing the team together, developing a plan and executing it.”

Goldy Hyder believes that when this time of emergency is over, the businesses and executives who have shown empathy and clear, calm leadership will have learned some very valuable lessons for the future.

Listen to the full conversation with Miriam and Desmond on The Ireland Canada Connection Podcast Series.

The Ireland Canada Connection is produced and presented by Patrick Haughey of AudioBrand.