APEX award winner Jennifer Hollington’s 5-step guide to creating a healthy workplace

By on 26/05/2016
Jennifer Hollington, director-general for communications at Natural Resources Canada, won an award for her efforts in creating a healthy work environment

A Canadian senior civil servant who won an award for her efforts in creating a healthy work environment has called on officials around the world to “take intelligent risks” to “build the kind of public service you want to work in.”

Jennifer Hollington, director-general for communications at Natural Resources Canada, is among five public servants who won this year’s APEX (Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) award of excellence.

Hollington, who started the ‘Changing our Organisation through Respect’ (COR) campaign, received the healthy workplace award for “her dedication in the area of mental health in the workplace and for progress made in her department for creating a climate of respect at all levels,” according to APEX.

Asked what her advice to public servants worldwide trying to create a better work atmosphere would be, she said: “Take intelligent risks largely by opening up conversations that you think should happen.”

To achieve lasting success, Hollington said there are at least five steps every public servant should take:

“Begin by taking care of yourself: create a healthy balance in your own life.

“Start small by finding allies in your immediate team, including your supervisor. If you are concerned about the organisation’s openness to initiatives you might want to launch, pursue them on your own time at first.

“Find out what others are doing. Social media can really help here, particularly Twitter and, in the Canadian Public Service, GCconnex (our LinkedIn-type platform) and GCpedia (our Wikipedia-type platform). In addition to giving you ideas of things you can pursue in your own organisation, best practices from similar organisations can help convince reluctant bosses of the soundness of an idea.

“Join the conversation. Don’t just read about what others are doing; add your voice. Leave a comment on a blog post related to healthy workplaces. Tweet and retweet interesting content you find. Write a blog post, such as a guest post, to share your ideas and to ask questions. This is how you meet like-minded individuals who can save you time in implementing something in your own organisation.

“Remember that small, sustained activity is better than one large event that happens once, never to be repeated.”

Hollington, who has been a public servant for more than 27 years, 17 of which she’s been member of the executive cadre, decided to take action when a public service staff survey published in 2011 showed that about a third of people at her department complained about being harassed.

Focussing on her section of about 100 people, she put out an action plan in May 2013 based on consultations and conversations with staff in that section.

The COR plan offered practical steps to address issues of harassment at work and proposed regular events on a range of topics such as bullying, disabilities, and constructive and positive communications.

By 2014, the amount of people who reported having been harassed over the previous two years at her department had dropped to less than 20%.

And over time, she realised “that the kinds of things we were doing would be of interest to the entire public service” and made COR activities which include talks by guest speakers, workshops and informal get-togethers, available to the whole public service.

For more than seven years, Hollington has also been maintaining a weekly blog published on the government-internal GCconnex platform in which she discusses topics such as bullying, stress at work, communication and civility at work, and she has been running the happiness at work award.

“I put a lot of personal time contributing to events, writing blog posts,” she said.

She rebranded the happiness award as the ‘COR Happiness at Work’ award a couple of years ago and last year received 450 nominations for 37 people from across the public service.

The person with the most nominations wins and in 2015, the winner had 48. But, Hollington said: “Really everybody who’s nominated is a winner because they are bringing happiness to their colleagues.

“And it’s a great way to celebrate the kind of people who practice inclusivity, positive thinking, who are very generous in the workplace, listen to colleagues and always lend an ear. It’s a kind of positive reinforcement.”

While Hollington has never won an Apex award before, she did receive an accolade for her commitment to the public service in 2014 when she received the deputy minister award of excellence.

Describing Hollington as a “leader, collaborator, innovator and communicator”, Natural Resources Canada deputy minister at the time Serge Dupont (the most senior civil servant at the department) said she “does not await instructions; sees an opportunity, a need, and moves forward” while making “all this look natural and easy.”

Hollington will pick up her latest trophy at the APEX Symposium, a two-day conference for Canadian senior civil servants starting next Tuesday.

She will be joined by deputy assistant commissioner at the Canada Revenue Agency, Dan Couture, who won the leadership award; Norm Sheridan, executive director at the Canada Border Services Agency who won the career contribution award; Ezio DiMillo, a DG at Public Services and Procurement Canada – the department responsible for the government’s internal servicing and administration, who received the partnership awards; and Sara Filbee, leader of the Implementation Committee at Employment and Social Development Canada which won the innovative team award.

The event will be held at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa under the banner: ‘Leadership Action for Excellence, Innovation and Health.’

It will include various workshops and speeches by senior officials including Canada’s most high-ranking civil servant Michael Wernick and politicians such as Scott Brison, the minister responsible for the public service.

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

One Comment

  1. Lynda Brown

    06/06/2016 at

    Excellent advice offered by Jennifer. “Remember that small, sustained activity is better than one large event that happens once, never to be repeated.” I have found this to be especially true. It’s not always the grandiose gestures that have the most impact but rather, consistent efforts that eventually become part of the culture.

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