The Municipal Property Assessment Corp. is hosting a series of virtual leader chats to help its employees manage the mental-health challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to answer their pressing questions.
The live chats, which were held three times a week beginning mid-March and moved to twice a week after the Victoria Day long weekend, are hosted by Nicole McNeill, the organization’s president and chief administrative officer.
They also feature experts discussing the topics that are important to staff. To date, McNeill has brought in an educator to talk about effective home schooling, a doctor to explain what’s known so far about the coronavirus, a comedian to speak about how to find levity in trying times, an expert on organizing home offices and setting routines and a fitness and nutrition expert to discuss at-home exercises and how to eat well, among other topics.
As part of the series, McNeill hosts regular sessions with members of the MPAC’s executive leadership team, where employees can ask any questions. “One question on people’s minds was, ‘Will there be layoffs?'” she says. “I would say, ‘My commitment is the health, safety and wellness of the staff, making sure that we keep this business operating so that we can continue to invoice and we can continue to make payroll.’ I’m happy to say that no one has been laid off.”
As well, she notes, the company doesn’t filter staff questions that are uncomfortable. She and other members of the leadership team will address them even if they don’t have answers yet. “We are usually talking to people every day, whether it’s one of these virtual leader chats or an all-staff email or something that’s posted on our intranet. That was a commitment, because we all know there’s so much information that’s going on out there and people don’t know what it means . . . . And really what they’re asking is, ‘What does it mean for me?'”
The MPAC has 1,700 employees across Ontario with around 1,400 consistently tuning in to the live chats. The company also shuts down its call centre for the duration of the live chat to allow those employees to listen in as well.
The company has also committed to sharing all of its archived conversations online if they don’t contain proprietary information, so that other organizations can see and use them to help their own employees.
The series sprung out of McNeill’s January initiative to broadcast a live roundtable conversation about mental health on Bell Inc.’s Let’s Talk Day, with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Olympian Cheryl Pounder, which the company followed up in February with a similar live chat on Anti-Bullying Day. Those conversations were part of the organization’s plan to focus on employee mental health throughout the year.
“Starting 2020, . . . it was a commitment for the organization that we were focused on mental health,” says McNeill. “If you were to do the checkboxes, we were doing everything we should do. We’ve got an [employee assistance] program, we have counselling as part of our benefits package, we have an alternate work arrangement program . . . but we never actually acknowledged or talked about mental health.”
The sessions have had a meaningful impact on the MPAC’s culture, she adds. According to an employee survey conducted by the company, 60 per cent said they believe the pandemic has changed the company’s culture for the better. “Our culture was good before, but it’s never been like this. When you are so remote and [spread] across the province, we would manage productivity and we’d get together for events and things like that. I would travel to offices, but now we are all connecting multiple times a week.”
As well, the initiative has inspired employees to offer help to each other. In particular, an employee who’s a certified yoga instructors is now hosting virtual sessions.
“I’ve said to people [during the virtual leader chats], ‘If you feel that you have help to give, please raise your hand and help your colleague or help someone else out. We are all in this together, we all need to keep the business operating and some people have more challenges than others. So if you can help, please do,'” says McNeill. “What’s happening is staff are trying to help each other from a work standpoint and then also on the personal side.”