Resilience was the theme of the 2015 Your Workplace Conference, or as Merriam-Webster would have it, “The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Peppered over the conference tables were decorative pears and apples (Your Workplace does like to keep you healthy!), speakers occasionally ducked away for interviews and massages were generously on offer.
The subject matter is difficult by nature — resilience in the face of adversity is never an easy feat, otherwise why would some 200 people gather to talk and ponder about it?
But the conference itself was an optimistic affair. Off-beat performances included a beautiful hair-raising violin solo by Kai Kight and a performance by Toronto-based spoken word poet Britta B, with gut-wrenching poetry that quite literally drew tears. (This almost inevitably happens when we as humans write about our pained childhoods and stand in front of a crowd to share).
Perhaps the drive to be creative is itself an act of courageous resilience.
Aside from live performances, attendees were treated to a grab bag of strategies for growing and evolving in changing workplaces which, in large organizations, can be veritable battlefields on even the best of days. Julie Einarson was an absolute gem of an MC, bringing boundless enthusiasm and energy in the wee hours of the morning right through to the conference close.
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf,” read the introductory slide to Dr. Michael Ungar’s first keynote presentation, bright and early the first morning. His presentation featured four key messages:
- Our mental and physical well-being depend on the quality of our environments — social, built and natural.
- There are nine resources we need to be more resilient; the more of these we have, the better we cope with adversity.
- The more challenges we face, the greater the impact the resilience resources have on our lives.
- When we have limited capacity to change our environment, we must rely more on ourselves than those around us.
There were more sessions, of course, aside from the powerhouse keynote already mentioned. “Growth is the antidote to negative pressure,” Dane Jensen, claimed in an electric keynote on the second day. “Manage yourself so others won’t have to,” he announced to a keen crowd at 8:15 am. There were Powerpoint sessions galore, which covered everything from “growth mindsets” to strategies for managing grief. But Jensen and Ungar were the stars of the event, with presentations that didn’t fail to command attention for the full hour and a half they were held.
Networking opportunities included the popular Dare2Dine lunch, in which participants enjoyed a healthy three-course meal and made the rounds of different table sessions. Topics included strategies for using LinkedIn, to how to use coaching for greater effectiveness in the workplace, to exploring new ideas in employee benefits plans. Then of course there was the inaugural “YW Debaters”, in which Editorial Producer Sarah Fletcher went head-to-head with Your Workplace President Vera Asanin on the subject of new regulatory working laws in Europe. Attendees were invited to interact with sponsors and exhibitors, and even get their cell phones swabbed and measured for germs.
Other Your Workplace Conference presentations included:
- Catherine Hajnal, PhD gave a moving presentation on the consequences and experience of loss in the workplace. Without a strategy for managing and addressing the grief of employees, organizations are losing out on productivity and profit.
- Louise Hartley, PhD, discussed the “Three Building Blocks to Mastery”, that is: emotional intelligence, optimism, and coping skills. Life changes quickly and resilience is key to surviving and, dare we say, thriving.
- Michael Ungar, PhD, presented a workshop on “career resilience”, with seven principles for helping people to sustain healthy career paths over the course of their lives.
- Greg Evans, PhD, presented on the nature of successful work relationships, with perspectives from positive psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
- Menna MacIsaac competently elaborated on the challenges of managing a chronic disease in the workplace, given that over 60% of benefit plan drug costs are directly related to their treatment.
- Sean Slater presented on the problems of mental health and showed strategies for investing in mental health at work.
- Tim Fleming led an engaging session on the best conditions for innovation, a necessary ingredient in the development of resilience in organizations.
- Natalie Currie taught attendees strategies for creating a productive and engaged team by capitalizing on inherent strengths.
- Linda Morgan presented on how to foster resilience during times of change, with frameworks to assess how to identify resistance, burnout, change fatigue and conflict.
- Craig Dowden, PhD, presented on resilient leadership, ways to attain clarity, and the problems that can arise with negative selftalk.
- Finally, a panel of four presenters — Steven Fitzgerald, President, Habanero Consulting Group; Terry Dillon, CEO, The Refinery Leadership Partners; Kerry Hadad, CEO, Your Neighbourhood Credit Union; and Kristina Tierney, Chief People Officer, Questrade — discussed how organizations can hire talent for maximum resilience in a rapidly changing economy.
The day the Your Workplace Conference opened was a foggy morning resulting in some flight cancellations. We missed those delegates who could not get to the event, and we were sad to see Karen McCullough’s case study of Windsor Regional Hospital cancelled. But thinking on our feet is what we do best, and we improvised like only the truly resilient can, with a screening of the inspirational commencement address given by Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College.
With tremendous support from sponsors, all told, the 2015 conference was a happy success. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout the year and, of course, we look forward to seeing you again next year.