Palliser seeks a cultural change

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Instructor Elizabeth Rankin-Horvath explains the Psychological Health and Safety Standard to Palliser Regional Schools staff.

A change in the organizational culture at Palliser Regional Schools won’t happen overnight, but the first steps on that journey have begun.

The school division recently brought together a diverse cross-section of employees, along with board representatives, for a workshop on psychologically healthy workplaces.

"We've begun a process which we hope will help us to address some of the trust issues which were identified in the organizational review,” said Ken Garinger, Associate Superintendent Human Resources.

A full-day workshop outlined the evolution, scope and benefits of the Canadian Standards Association Psychological Health and Safety Standard for the workplace. Instructor Elizabeth Rankin-Horvath helped the 32 participants identify and eliminate hazards where possible, and how to assess and mitigate risks.

They also did group work to begin the development of an action plan that would address workplace factors which could impact on the mental well-being of staff, such as recognition and reward, clear leadership and expectations, and workload management.

Rankin-Horvath was impressed by the number of staff who volunteered for the training, the engagement they showed, and the solutions they came up with.

“Everybody that was here today really connects with the higher purpose of this organization,” she said. “They really love Palliser schools and they want to make sure they continue to love Palliser schools.”

The next step will see Palliser’s staff and board work together to put into place the resources necessary to implement an action plan. Those objectives will align with the division’s strategic goals and vision.

Those who took part in the training will continue to be part of the conversation, he said. Not only will they be asked for input once a draft action plan is available, it’s important to follow up with them to ensure it is meeting the needs of all staff.

“Everyone needs to be on board with this, or it’s not going to work,” said Garinger, who was joined by board Chair Robert Strauss and Trustee Craig Whitehead in the training.

A health adviser from the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan was among those involved in the workshop.   Palliser Regional Schools will have her support and guidance throughout the process.

It was no accident the participants included Health Champions, Palliser staff who lead wellness initiatives at their specific schools.  Their continued involvement will help filter support down to every level of employee and, in turn, the students.

“There’s a lot of research out there right now that says if your organization has psychologically healthy employees with a good sense of mental wellness, you become even more successful in what you do,” said Garinger.

The workshop helped identify gaps that may need to be filled in the area of programs, policies and procedures to ensure mental well-being in Palliser. It also became evident more information needs to be shared with staff on the support services already available.

The adoption of the CSA standard was one of 21 recommendations to emerge from an organizational review of Palliser in November.

Rankin-Horvath doesn’t see it as a negative that Palliser was steered in this particular direction, rather than arriving at that conclusion on its own.  She pointed out many organizations aren’t even aware of the standard, which was only established in 2013, and the school division is ahead of the game in that it’s already done an employee survey.

“The fact Palliser decided to say, ‘we are going to do an organizational review, we are going to till the soil and find out what is there, and then take a plan of action to deal with it,’ I think is a good thing,” said  Rankin-Horvath.

Despite the “enthusiasm and commitment” displayed by all involved, she said Palliser would be wise to prioritize and focus on two or three issues to start off with, rather than trying to tackle all of them at once.

“This is a journey, and not something you’ll do overnight,” said Rankin-Horvath, adding the standard isn’t an initiative or a program, but represents a “culture change.”