NISJ & Hospice workshop aims to create a more compassionate workplace
WHITEHORSE - Valerie Royle knows the value of tackling grief in the workplace head on. This past year the outgoing President and CEO of the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board and her team experienced the loss of two employees – Kathy Fedorak and Frank Fry.
"My team is much stronger now than if we had muddled through and didn’t have any supports in place. Both Kathy and Frank were very beloved and everyone here was devastated," said Royle.
"Right away, we set up a quiet room for people to go sit if they were feeling overwhelmed. They could have a cry or speak with an on-site EAP counselor."
Royle is a strong advocate of creating a more compassionate workplace. At the end of the month she will be sharing her experiences at a workshop designed to create a more compassionate work environment.
Loss, grief and healing in the workplace – practical tools for managers and HR staff, is a one-day workshop created by Hospice Yukon and presented in partnership with the Northern Institute of Social Justice (NISJ) at Yukon College.
"It’s aimed at managers who may be completely lost when tackling this issue. We will provide tools and strategies that make it much easier to take initial steps in this area," said Barb Evans-Ehricht, Coordinator of Volunteer Services at Hospice Yukon.
"It will happen. There is no escaping loss in real life. Having tools and a plan in place for when it affects your workplace will have a lasting effect on employee loyalty, productivity and safety."
Evans-Ehricht and Royle both stress that the first step for managers is to know their own strengths and abilities.
"It’s okay if you’re not a touchy-feeling person. Not everyone is able to demonstrate compassion or offer heartfelt consolation," said Evans-Ehricht.
"What’s important is to know who in your team can do that and empowering them to step forward and take the lead when it matters."
Gary Rusnak, supervisor of Youth Probation with the Yukon Health and Social Services, took the workshop in 2011. After experiencing the loss of six people in his life, both personally and in his job, in the space of 18 months, he admits he was going through a “rough period”.
"I was definitely someone who shied away from tackling this in the workplace. I did not want to do any harm," said Rusnak.
"It is not an easy topic, but this workshop opens you up and makes the conversation easier. I learned strategies both for myself and my staff, and they certainly appreciated being able to move through our losses together."
Royle says making sure the HR department have some flexibility when interpreting bereavement policies is another factor in creating a compassionate workplace.
"Everyone reacts differently. One person might need to just go home for a few hours; another may need a reduced workload for a few weeks. Some of us have to travel long distances to attend family funerals and might need more time off than others," said Royle.
"It’s not necessarily about equality – everyone gets the same. It’s about equity – everyone gets what they need. It’s about making the policies human, reasonable, and creating a flexible environment where the issues surrounding each person’s loss can be addressed creatively and worked out directly with them."
Royle admits this can be challenging for some employers as it requires cultivating a culture of trust in the workplace.
"But in my 20 years as a supervisor I have never seen it abused. You’re helping and supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable. People appreciate that."
The Loss, Grief and Healing in the Workplace workshop costs $175 and will take place on Thursday, September 27th in Whitehorse. To register call Yukon College Admissions at (867) 668-8710 or contact Hospice Yukon with any questions at (867) 667-7429.
Hospice Yukon Society is a non-profit community based organization that provides support for individuals and their loved ones facing advanced illness, death and bereavement.
Drawing on the North’s leadership, unique values and diverse cultures, the Northern Institute of Social Justice delivers integrated training and education programs and conducts related research in order to help employers attract and retain a well-qualified workforce; help individuals develop careers; and provide tools to help support community leadership, capacity development, and transformation of service delivery.
For more information, contact:
867 668 8786
867 332 4722
867 456 8619