The Ontario Workplace Health Coalition (OWHC) is redefining the healthy workplace.
As per the World Health Organization, a safe workplace no longer merely means the absence of physical hazards and employee wellness “the absence of physical disease.”
According to OWHC, “valuing employee mental, physical and psychosocial well-being” helps keep organizations and businesses healthy. That makes them more profitable, which in turn helps “support a healthier Ontario.”
However, for youth starting work, it may be unclear what a healthy workplace looks like. They may also be unsure how to contribute to their workplace, given their role’s limitations.
Roles, responsibilities and practices
Gloria St-Denis has been Cornwall, Ont.’s, Medical Arts Pharmacy’s human resources (HR) manager since January 2022. Prior to this, she worked as a retirement home manager, personal service worker (PSW) and registered practical nurse and supervisor.
Previously, St-Denis had 10 staff members. She now has 50 across two stores and said she juggles many personalities.
She explained the importance of getting to know employees to have them find common ground and work better together. In HR, she builds rapport with employees as she did with clients as a PSW.
She was on the pharmacy’s health and safety committee and on the topic of healthy workplace practices, said, “You can’t demand respect. If you show respect, you’ll get respect back. You have to feel that you deserve it too.”
Susan Powell has been Cornwall’s multidisciplinary Powell School of Dance’s (PSOD) co-owner and artistic director since 2004 and has various dance and teaching certifications.
According to Powell, dance skills inspire life skills, which is reflected in the studio’s practices. PSOD trains dancers in recreational, competitive and special needs programs, setting students up for academic, artistic, personal and professional success.
As for healthy work practices, Powell values communication with her colleagues.
“We are constantly meeting and planning the programming, discussing every issue. I like to think that I’m very fair and everyone has an equal say. But we’re not always going to agree. But we have to keep talking until we come to a compromise.”
She said sometimes they have to “agree to disagree” but maintains they do so in an amicable way. They always come into the studio with the attitude that “every day is a new day.”
Mash Altaf has a York University bachelor of arts in creative writing. They’re starting their University of Toronto master’s in education this fall.
They started volunteering in martial arts in Mississauga, Ont., a few years ago. They loved working with children and started teaching. In April 2022, they joined Kombat Arts Training Academy as a head instructor of a children’s karate program. Their master’s will allow them to teach primary to middle-school-aged children.
Altaf tries to create a healthy environment by getting to know each child’s needs. To them, caring about students rather than just teaching is what makes one a mentor and teacher.
However, as an LGBTQ+ woman of colour, Altaf said traditional martial arts are often unwelcoming to “women or queer people.”
Altaf was previously the only female instructor. They’re now the only female traditional martial arts instructor. Altaf works hard to earn respect with sexism and harassment being prevalent issues and speaks up when treated unfairly. They’re breaking barriers in a male-dominated field, making martial arts safer for future female instructors and students.
Growth and learning
St-Denis has grown through dealing with different people and problems.
She said she values confidentiality.
“In my role, it’s extremely important that nothing gets spread,” she said.
Powell said she has grown through her career with an open mind.
“I’ve always been very eager to learn,” Powell said.
She learns from her co-workers, keeping up-to-date with technology.
“The techniques that I used when I was 20 years old or 30 years old are not the same techniques that I’m using today,” she said.
Altaf said they’ve grown partly thanks to their inspiring jiu-jitsu instructor.
“He’s the type of person that genuinely cares about you, pays attention to you and he’s always there for you and that’s the kind of teacher that I most want to be,” they said.
Altaf is working towards being that teacher, already inspiring students of their own.
Speaking of a female student, they said, “Her parents told me that I’m her hero, somebody that she wants to be like.”
The owner of Kombat Arts, Joey De Los Reyes, a well-known fighter, is another mentor to Altaf. They look to him for business and martial arts knowledge. His partner has also mentored Altaf through inspirational talks, and they’ve shadowed his teaching.
They have helped Altaf feel empowered to lead, protect and inspire women. Altaf has left a toxic job and is helping create a safer industry for the next generation of martial artists.
Healthy workplace recommendations
For youth starting work, St-Denis said to show initiative and respect.
“Don’t come in thinking you know everything because you’re just starting,” she said. “If you never own up to making mistakes, you’re never going to learn. Be accountable.”
St-Denis said to keep personal life private and avoid gossip. She added that friendly co-workers should not be confused with friends.
Powell said it’s important for youth to follow through with commitments. For those pursuing dance or teaching, Powell said nothing replaces hard work, dedication and commitment.
“One has to have a very strong sense of values,” she said.
For those considering a martial arts career, Altaf said to “build yourself up physically.” Doing so will help one become more confident in teaching others.
They said everyone in martial arts “is equal” as each starts at the same level. They added to avoid idolizing co-workers and repeating toxic behaviours.
About the author
Laura is a Copy Editor for Youth Mind. When she’s not reading, writing, proofreading or editing, she’s binge-watching series and films, adding new goals to her bucket list and daydreaming or listening to an eclectic playlist or podcast. She can also often be found dancing, unsubscribing to emails she accidentally subscribed to, discovering new green spaces or snuggling with her dog.