Here’s to all the jolly old Saint Nicks

My daughter Clare with Santa

Last week, I took Friday off to do some Christmas shopping. I happened to walk past the mall Santa who was sitting alone on his red throne with his mask half-dangling beneath his snowy white beard.

A young family was just leaving, and I thought how sad it was that he was sitting there all alone. Usually there would be a line-up a mile long to see him, and I shouted, “Hi Santa” and gave him a big wave on the way by.

I started thinking about all the COVID Santas. Most of these guys are in their 70s, putting their health at risk letting tiny unvaccinated toddlers and babies sit on their lap to keep a time-honoured tradition alive and create special memories for their families.

We always knew Santa was a hero, but this year he’s earning his black buckled belt in kindness.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank everyone who dons a red suit this time of year to make a child smile. Thanks Santa! (And if it’s not too much trouble, if you can add to your list an end to COVID in 2022, that would be great!)

The secret to driving up vaccination rates in Canada

Poster of Peterborough Public Health Unit marketing campaign, Get a Shot to Take a Shot

Every day, we track the numbers, both good and bad–the number of COVID cases and people in the ICU (our hearts go out to you friends in Alberta), and on the positive side, the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. In our region, we’re doing well, ahead of average at 82% fully vaccinated and on track to hit a 90% vaccination rate by November.

The Ontario government decision to introduce vaccination passports has had an impact on vaccination rates, but not necessarily in the way people anticipated. The philosophy was, make people show proof of vaccination for workplaces, bars, restaurants and concerts, and they’ll get the shot.

And while that has no doubt encouraged some people to roll up their sleeves, it was reported in our local paper this week that 136 healthcare workers at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are at risk of losing their jobs for not getting vaccinated. As for dining in restaurants, people have made out just fine eating at home, grabbing take-out or dining on patios this past eighteen months, so it’s unlikely a vaccine passport would be enough to make them change their mind.

Clearly Canadians need a jolt, something that would strike at the very fibre of their being, so critical to their daily lives to make them roll up their sleeves.

A few weeks ago, I was standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart looking for a birthday card when I overheard two guys talking. The one father said, “Yeah, we heard they had a clinic here today, he needed to get the COVID shot for hockey, they won’t let him on the ice without proof of vaccination.”

And then it hit me. Hockey will drive up vaccination rates in this country. Because every kid over 12, every parent, coach, brother, sister, aunt, uncle and grandparent who love to watch their kids play the game need to be vaccinated to enter an arena.

If there is one thing Canadians love and can’t live without, it’s hockey. The smart people at the Peterborough Health Unit figured this out. They’ve partnered with the Peterborough Petes hockey team, to offer Peterborough residents the chance to win free hockey tickets if they get a COVID shot in the next two months in their ‘Get a Shot to Take a Shot’ campaign.

Yes, hockey will be our salvation. Thank god for hockey.

So in the spirit of the greatest game on earth, be a team player, take your best shot, and stay off the COVID injured list.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to our good friends Keith and Betty-Jean who visited with us this past weekend. Keith and Betty-Jean were two of the first hospitalized COVID patients in Ontario in March 2020. This weekend, they shared their COVID story with us. They count themselves lucky to be alive today. Take this disease seriously, people. Get the shot.

Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors
Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors

Four sayings to help you be at peace with your actions

Whenever I make a mistake or am having a rough day, there are some simple phrases I repeat to myself to help keep me going.

  • One day at a time. This is especially helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Just focus on one day at a time, and chances are things will get better.
  • This too shall pass. Some people say “Time heals all wounds”. I don’t think that’s the case, but time does have the ability to dull painful memories.
  • Everything happens for a reason. If you believe this, it is far easier to accept things when they don’t go your way.
  • Forgive yourself. This is a new one I’ve adopted during COVID

I hope these sayings help you too. Have a happy week.

Our emotional connection to work

Last week, I listened to an interesting webinar about our emotional connection to work, facilitated by Dr. Laura Hamill from Limeade.

For many of us, our relationship with work has been put to the test this past year. Some workers have grown closer to their employer, building a stronger relationship based on trust, some have struggled with feelings of separation, while others are considering breaking up with their employer.

While intuitively, we’ve always known we have an emotional connection to work, the pandemic has been a coming of age for our relationship with work. It has caused many people to reflect on what they want from their job, where they want to work, and how work contributes to their overall wellbeing.

Dr. Hamill talked about the factors that affect our wellbeing. There are some factors we have little control over: our genetics, underlying health conditions, personality, and socioeconomic status. The factors we have more control over include our mindset, habits and behaviours, social supports and relationships, and the organizational supports companies put in place for their employees.

While many companies stepped up during COVID to provide supports for employees coping with the stressors of the pandemic, Dr. Hamill maintains tools and programs are not enough. In order for us to be happy at work and have a positive sense of wellbeing, we need to feel like we belong, valued, productive and contribute to the organization’s success.

For this reason, culture, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion and employee wellbeing are inextricably linked.

As we reimagine the future of work, it will be imperative to put employee wellbeing at the forefront. If we don’t, we could be in for a nasty break up.

Graphic source: Limeade, 2021

Ten things to avoid if you want to be happy

Road construction

I’ve often said on this blog, it’s just as important to know what doesn’t make you happy, as what does make you happy. Here are ten things that haven’t made me happy in the past year:

1) Talking to car salesmen. Seriously, do these guys go to school to learn how to be schmaltzy and schmarmy? In fairness, the team at Kingston Volkswagen were great and we love our new Tiguan.

2) Teenagers who roll their eyes at everything you say and whose favourite words to describe you are weird and embarrassing (and that’s on a good day).

3) Road construction. My road is a mess right now. It’s year two of what most likely will be three years of construction. We’ve given up trying to keep our cars clean and washed.

4) Real estate prices. What is going on? It makes me sad that home ownership has become out of reach for the younger generation.

5) Wasted food. Remember the teenagers I mentioned above? I wish I had a dime for every bruised banana, unopened granola bar or uneaten sandwich I’ve seen thrown in the garbage. It makes my blood boil.

6) Waiting in lines. This may be a necessary evil right now, but if I see a line longer than 10 people, I don’t bother.

7) Bad online shopping experiences. Online shopping has been a lifesaver for many of us during COVID, but some sites need a lot of work to create a better overall customer experience.

8) Mosquitoes and ticks. Get a bug zapper.

9) Hockey fans who whinge about unfair penalty calls and Leaf fans who think Auston Matthews is a god. Okay, the reffing was a bit blatant last night, but bad calls are part of the game.

10) COVID-19: Don’t underestimate it. Keep wearing a mask, wash your hands frequently and get vaccinated. I know we’re all tired of it, but we’re so close, let’s see it through so we can get back to some semblance of normal.

The future of work

future of work sign

There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.

As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.

Here is my vision for the future of work.

First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.

Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.

We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. 

There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.

Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.

We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.

Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.

The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.

Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.

The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.   

Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.

Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.

Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.

Who would you rather work for?

Stop being your own worst enemy

skeleton looking at a computer

There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.

Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?

I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.

Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.

The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.

We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.

As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.

Next week: part two on the Future of Work

Be a child genius

Child in shark costume with sunglasses on

Aldous Huxley once said, “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

I would bet that many of us right now have lost some of our enthusiasm for life. Living in lockdown, not seeing friends and family, and filling our days with work, walks, books and chores without anything to look forward to is tough.

So how do we reignite joy and enthusiasm in our lives? Here are some thoughts, but I’m hoping everyone will leave a comment to help us all through this difficult time.

  1. Spend time with a child. Children help us see the world from a fresh perspective.
  2. Make a goal to try one new thing this week, whether it’s making a new dish, starting a new project, or learning a new hobby. When we learn new skills or focus on something fresh, our enthusiasm naturally emerges.
  3. Be curious and ask questions. The act of asking questions stimulates interest and enthusiasm. You can even ask questions of yourself like, “What do I want?”, “What am I grateful for”, or “What’s missing in my life?”
  4. Do something silly and that makes you laugh.
  5. Make a list of everything you love to do, and then take 15 minutes and do one of them a day.
  6. Plan a trip for when this is all over. It doesn’t have to be a big trip, maybe just an overnight getaway, but it will give you something to look forward to.

This week’s #HappyAct is to rediscover your zest for life. We can all be child geniuses. Now it’s your turn—what are your ideas?

Walk a labyrinth

Me at the Burlington labyrinth

A few months ago, I headed out for my regular lunchtime walk in a foul mood. Something happened earlier that morning and it was still bugging me. Just a stupid misunderstanding, but you know what it’s like when you replay it over and over in your head. Despite saying to myself, it’s stupid, let it go, I couldn’t.

I walked to Central Park in Burlington and to my left at the entrance of the park, there was a labyrinth. I stopped and read the plaque.

It said the Burlington Central Park Labyrinth was patterned after the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France that dates back to 1200. It is one of the few permanent labyrinths in Canada that is installed in a public place and is wheelchair accessible.

A labyrinth is a design marvel, an ancient, geometric pattern with a single path that leads into the centre. This labyrinth was a circle, the symbol of healing, unity and wholeness. It is meant to be an oasis for your mind, body and soul, and walking a labyrinth can calm the mind and restore balance.

I thought I might as well give it a whirl.

I started to walk the circular paths, and found myself at first focusing closely on each step, and the lines and patterns beneath me. As I continued to walk, I started focusing more on the journey ahead and my final destination. With each step, my mind began to free. I encountered unexpected twists and turns and just when I thought I knew the path to the centre, the path changed.

I became aware that I could take control at any time, by simply stepping outside the winding circle and give up altogether or walk directly to my final destination, but as I continued to walk, I discovered a strong desire to complete the labyrinth and a strange sense of elation and accomplishment when I did.

I stood in the centre and looked up. The weight on my heart and mind was gone.

This week’s #HappyAct is to walk a labyrinth and clear your mind and soul. Need help finding one? Check out this worldwide labyrinth locator. There are literally hundreds in Canada, many located in churches.

Burlington labyrinth
Burlington labyrinth

My journey with repetitive strain injury

Blog post author in woods

I’ve often said it’s as important to know what makes you unhappy, as what makes you happy. For the past year, chronic pain has made me unhappy.

It all started a year ago when Covid hit and I began working from home. Those first few weeks were a blur. I worked long days on my sunroom couch in a bad ergonomic set up, putting in 55 hours a week issuing communications for my company.

In early April, I started to feel a pain developing beneath my shoulder blade. I quickly changed my workspace and set up a proper desk, but the damage was done.

As the pain intensified, to make matters worse, I stupidly kept working. I remember calling into some meetings lying on my bed sideways, because that was the only position where my shoulder didn’t throb. I couldn’t sit down for more than 10 minutes without searing shards of pain emanating up my back. At times the pain was blinding and I could barely concentrate.

I called my doctor, and he prescribed anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. They helped, a bit, but it wasn’t until I was able to get in to see my physiotherapist that I started having success manage the pain. I was only one of three patients he was seeing during lockdown.

I also started heeding the advice of my health care professionals. I reduced my hours at the computer, took microbreaks, got a sit stand desk so I could work standing up half the day, and did eventually take 3-4 weeks off completely to let it heal.

It’s been a year and while my injury has still not completely healed, it doesn’t occupy my every waking thought now.

I wanted to share my story as a cautionary tale and to help others prevent injuring themselves while working from home. Here are some key things I learned:

  • People told me the pain should go away if you just change your ergonomic set up. This was not true in my case. I got a proper desk, set up a second monitor, got an ergonomic chair and sit-stand tabletop desk, anti-fatigue mat for when I was standing, and changed my set up several times. The pain did not go away.
  • With ergonomic injuries, if you start feeling pain, you’ve already been working too long. My physio and doctor both said you shouldn’t work more than 20-30 minutes sitting in one position and to take microbreaks throughout the day.
  • You need to give the injury time to heal. I didn’t. I stupidly kept working. I look back at it now and know I was crazy. I had lame excuses—now is not a good time, other team members were off on vacation or moving, it’s so busy. I thought of everyone before my own health. If there was one key thing (other than not injuring myself in the first place) I would have done differently, it’s I would have taken time off work immediately to allow my injury to heal.
  • The best advice I received was to keep moving. When I told my doctor, the pain subsided most when I was kayaking, he said I should set up my laptop on the top of my kayak. Any movement—walking, gardening, swimming, kayaking was the best medicine.
  • Get a hot tub. Seriously, if you suffer from any kind of chronic pain, a hot tub is so therapeutic. From April to June last year, the 30 minutes a night I spent in my hot tub was my only pain free time during the waking hours of the day.
  • Exercises are a must. Before I could even get in to see my physio, a good friend of ours who is a chiropractor set me up with a customized exercise program. I still do about 20 minutes of stretching exercises every day.
  • Be open to different types of treatments. In addition to physio, I went regularly for massages and also went to an osteopath for the first time. I didn’t know much about osteopaths, but in some ways, I think a few osteo treatments were more effective than any other paramedical provider. I tried every cream in the book, even marijuana cream.

It’s been a rough journey and I’m very relieved to say I’m much improved. One of the things I found most difficult was not knowing whether by continuing to work, I was continuing to injure myself, or just aggravating the already existing injury.

I have developed a newfound respect for anyone who lives with chronic pain. My heart goes out to you.

Finally, I want to recognize and thank all the people this past year who lent a sympathetic ear and who helped me more than you will ever know—friends who listened and sent me exercises to do, my family for their patience and concern, Latif Khoja at Sydenham Rehab Well clinic, Christina Marshall, my amazing massage therapist, Tony Barton from Barton Chiropractic and my wonderful doctor, Steve Ingo.