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Waste Not. Want Not.

I did not fully appreciate how important garbage and recycling services were until I started working in local government. It came as a bit of a shock when I did a survey of residents to find out what information they most wanted to receive from the City. You guessed it – garbage schedule updates. Since then, I’ve paid a lot more attention to garbage and the increased expectation for recycling. Back in the old days – so let’s say 15 years ago – our family tossed everything into the garbage. I wasn’t aware of recycling programs and wouldn’t know what to do with them even if I knew they existed. Our small family filled two garbage cans up every week and didn’t blink. When I first heard the term “zero waste” I considered it a nice ideal but unlikely in terms of any practical application.

Jump ahead to today. We recycle everything we can, including dropping off items like electronics and paint cans at depots. We separate our food scraps. We make sure that paper, containers and glass are kept out of the garbage. We sort our refundable bottles and cans. We use one small garbage cart that is collected biweekly. We experience guilt if a recyclable item inadvertently makes its way into the garbage. We are converts to the aspiration for zero waste.

This evolution to conscientious recycling isn’t complete. I know there are holdouts. I suspect there is less personal pressure when you’re an anonymous resident in a multi-family complex with centralized collection. But I believe the pressure and the acceptance of the responsibility to recycle will continue to spread. The trick for local governments is going to be keeping up with demand.

In Sustainable Waste: Not an Oxymoron in the summer 2016 Exchange, it was interesting to see how different areas of the province have developed their own best practices to suit the needs and challenges of their communities. It’s nice to know that one solution doesn’t need to fit everyone, and that a mix of approaches can still support the same outcomes in the long term.

Even more exciting to me is the growth in new industries to turn waste into a resource that can be used and/or sold by local governments. Instead of looking at this waste as, well, a waste, these organizations are tapping into  ways to sell their waste as new products. The examples shared in Waste Not. Want Not. Generating Products from Waste, are creating new revenue sources for local governments to help offset their operating costs while also supporting waste diversion goals and extending the life of their landfills. Whether its high tech or low tech, the outcomes and benefits for taxpayers and the environment are impressive. Plus, the idea of turning garbage into a product that adds value is something everyone can celebrate.

Waste management will continue to be a critical service, and residents will likely continue to list it as one of their top priorities. It’s nice to see the progress in how these services are being delivered, the progress towards waste diversion goals, and the potential for creating something new and valuable from garbage and recycling someone else has tossed out. Kudos go to the local governments embarking on these projects and the organizations that support them.

Supporting Mental Wellness

I would describe this edition of Exchange as being an enjoyable challenge. The topic is sensitive, and there are limits to what we can fit into a magazine story. We have done our best to touch on some of the essential information. Tied with this is the importance of providing clear parameters around an employer’s responsibilities and what individuals can realistically do. And quite frankly, this was challenging because for some people, mental health issues are still considered murky – or even scary – waters.

I used a composite story format again in Exchange because we are delving into sensitive topics. Most people do not feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of their battle with mental illness. Not surprisingly, they do not want to shine a spotlight on their personal health matters in a magazine. But sadly, statistics indicate that many people don’t want to let anyone know they are experiencing challenges – including their physicians. It seems that even with proactive campaigns like Bell: Let’s Talk (which coincidentally was running a series of television commercials leading up to the spring edition of Exchange), there is still stigma associated with mental health issues. I was shocked to learn that many people still believe that mental health is something that an individual should be able to control, as though all it takes is mental fortitude to knock out depression, anxiety or trauma responses. Or even worse, there are situations in the workplace where people are either quietly or openly critical of individuals who are struggling with a mental health challenge.

When you consider the statistics of how many people are dealing with mental health issues, including stress responses, depression and anxiety, it seems strange that this topic is still considered awkward. Stigma is clearly hard to shake off. As I wrote the composite story Battling Inner Darkness, which was developed using information about the symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I was careful not to exaggerate behaviours or experiences. I felt the story needed to feel very real and relevant for anyone who may be struggling with these types of symptoms. When I captured some of the statistics in Get the Facts on Mental Health, I wanted to shout “It’s an illness, for crying out loud!” and then realized the sad part is that people are crying out silently. The stigma related to mental illness still plagues individuals, groups and organizations, but the good news is that more people are talking openly about the challenges and resources that can help individuals onto a path towards improved mental health. Local governments and other organizations are gaining a better understanding of their role and responsibilities for a safe workplace, and legislation that identifies mental health impacts as a workplace safety consideration. I encourage you to read the composite story and then use Spot the Signs to test out your ability to spot key symptoms of mental health concerns being experienced by Jack and Jill – the characters in our fictional story. See what the experts say about the behaviours exhibited by Jack and Jill, and learn more about the impacts on the workplace and the role of employers in Workplace Impacts and Employer Obligations. Our goal with this edition is to encourage conversations and openness, and to provide the context of how mental health issues can affect individuals and organizations.

Workplace Stress: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

Anyone who has been in a situation where workload is excessive and unmanageable, or where bullying and harassment are the rule rather than the exception would likely agree that these workplace stressors are insidious. They can creep up on you so subtly that you miss the warning signs until they are blaring at you, or worse, have knocked you flat. Before you realize it, you are in physical and/or mental distress, and the approach to “tough it out” to keep your job is a considerable burden. It’s all too easy to feel isolated and to withdraw from the key people who can support you.

Sometimes it takes a colleague, a friend, a family member or a doctor to kick you out of your spiral downward due to stress. I once worked with an amazing woman who was in a senior leadership position at an organization and was, essentially, working herself to death. Her doctor finally told her to take a leave of absence for a minimum of six months, but more reasonably a year. When she left, they backfilled her position, and the person in her place said the workload was impossible so they hired another person to assist. Even with two people doing the work, they said there was too much, and a third person was hired. It took three people to do the job my colleague had been doing for over three years. We all need to recognize when workload is beyond reasonable, and when to seek help to relieve workload stress before it becomes damaging to our health.

When it comes to intimidation, bullying and other abusive workplace behaviour, there can be multiple sources – managers, elected officials, colleagues or customers. It’s a reality in the workplace, but just as sexual harassment is an anathema that won’t be tolerated, these other abusive behaviours must also be eliminated from the workplace.

The March edition of Exchange, the LGMA’s member magazine, tackles these issues in Stress: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. The feature story explores the types of stress we experience in the workplace – including the fact that some stress is positive and ultimately necessary for progress and success. It’s also unnerving that so many local government managers have talked about the challenges they face, and the lack of viable options to address the source of stressors affecting their health. We originally hoped to share some case studies with you, but the reality is that even retirees are not comfortable discussing their past experiences when there are so few solutions in place. But while your options may be limited – there are some tactics you can apply, and some decisions you can control, to help protect your health and support your job enjoyment.

Considering the research on the long-term damage chronic stress can cause in an organization, including impeding its productivity and customer service, you would think that the benefits of protecting a healthy work environment would take precedence and allow for prompt elimination of threats that can cause a toxic culture. So the hope is that organizations with toxic cultures will eventually implode in the sense that they can’t function effectively without change. This may happen if customer service is directly affected when people refuse to work for employers who don’t uphold shared values and a code of conduct based on a respectful workplace. And when services are directly affected, perhaps a true cultural change will be forced on leadership and on all employees until a positive, productive and engaging workplace becomes the norm.

Until then, maybe we need to wear pink shirts every day.