Canadian Lawyer InHouse

August/September 2021

Legal news and trends for Canadian in-house counsel and c-suite executives

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18 COVER STORY mental health issues that we are going to need to deal with. The other big thing is communication. At one point at the begin- ning of COVID, we were having town halls every single day, so we overemphasize communication. Petrie: We are currently reviewing the matter. We have our HR department prepar- ing a policy on this very issue. We did take an actual poll of our 2,600+ employees and we had 99 per cent indicating a preference for some component of working remotely. I would expect it will be some sort of flexible hybrid policy for those who are able to work remotely. The other thing that is really becom- ing clear to us — COVID or no COVID — is that as the demographic shifts, there is this deep need to have more flexibility. To be a competi- tive hirer of talent, I think we are going to have to get used to that. INHOUSE: What focus is the organization putting on mental health and what is the role of legal in any such initiatives? Pon: The mental health issue is quite prominent among our students. We are very fortunate — we actually have a pretty large set of resources including psychologists, social workers and counselors available for the students and their families and of course, for employees we have an [employee assistance program]. I think it is also incumbent on each manager or supervisor to have that connection with employees. We have been working nonstop since the pandemic started, so people are exhausted and stressed. I think that has caused an increase in the number of incidents of bullying, harassment, aggressive behavior, and unfortunately in our legal department, we have been sought out for advice on dealing with aggressive behavior from parents and members of the public. That is something we are trying to deal with from a legal perspective. Ellis: The focus on communication has been extremely important. One of the things that I frankly expected at the beginning of all this was a huge increase in the number of whistleblower complaints we were receiving. I think by having a really good and well-or- chestrated line of communication, we have managed to alleviate a lot of concerns that might have otherwise led to whistleblower complaints being issued. One thing that I am noticing with my teams and with others that we are speaking to is just anxiety around returning to the office. I think it is important to give reassurance and communicate well in advance of making any changes that are going to require people to go back to the office in a way that they are not comfortable with, so that to me is kind of the next trend that we are going to be seeing. Petrie: Like many employers, we are seeing firsthand the effects of COVID fatigue and mental burnout and stress. NB Power has been incredibly proactive on this. We set up an online mental health and wellness hub that contains all the helpful articles and videos and links to health care providers, and even features some special speakers we brought in to support employees. We actually ended up creating our own in-house employee helpline, which is a confidential phone service with NB psychologists and registered nurses to answer questions. We have also introduced the concept of a mental health cafe, which is really just an informal coffee shop approach to discussing mental health issues and it can be in a team or group environment. We just entered into a new arrangement with a new employee and family assistance program provider, which was desperately needed. Our legal team has been really instrumental in trying to get that contract, procure it, paper it, and introduce that new arrangement in a very short time to really help our employees. Maharaj: I found that it was the people that were living downtown — in the big cities, basically, in a box in the sky, with no support "As the demographic shifts, there is this deep need to have more flexibility. To be a competitive hirer of talent, I think we are going to have to get used to that." James Petrie, NB Power

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