Language selection


EXecuTALK: Being a Leader: Impacts in the Workplace (video)

Description: André Latreille, Mental Health Ombudsman, will examine workplace situations that affect mental health and on which you can have a direct impact.

Date: January 27, 2020

Duration: 00:31:46

Resolution: 1080p


[This EXecuTALK aired Monday, January 27, 2020]

[Host Danl Loewen interviews André Latreille, Ombudsman for Mental Health at Public Services and Procurement Canada.]

[Danl Loewen] Hi, Danl Loewen with the School of Public Service with EXecuTALK. EXecuTALK, a quick, 30 minute express version on an issue that matters to executives in the public service, by someone who not only has some expertise but is a peer; an executive who has led people on issues like this, and is aware of how a variety of issues could affect operations, policy, everything that we're doing in a government department.

We have with us today a guest from Public Service and Procurement Canada, PSP Canada, the former Public Works.

André Latreille is the ombudsman for mental health at Public Services and Procurement Canada. Having an extensive career on Parliament Hill—working as well, and within the public service, leading labour relations, compensation, leading human resources, leading strategic planning, communications. For the last 3 years, your role has been the ombudsman for mental health for PSPC. What strikes you as the biggest surprise or the most important issue, when you think about mental health in the workplace?

[André Latreille] Well, thank you, first of all, for having me today. I'm very happy to meet with you again, Danl. Those were wonderful years, when we had the chance to work together. Ça été des belles années, où on a eu la chance de travailler ensemble. I'm still getting over it. So, but feeling good–

[Danl Loewen] A good subject for us.

[André Latreille] But feeling good. It's been 3 incredible years. It's going to be 3 years in February. And you meet so many interesting people in our department, certainly, like 17,000 employees. There's 180 work locations.

[Danl Loewen] Wow.

[André Latreille] Right? So right there you see cultures, subcultures, subcultures, and I make it, as much as possible, part of my mandate just to go out and meet the employees and listen to what they have to say. One thing that strikes me, is like, we have great, great leaders in our organization and across the public service, but I'll focus more on our department. And you know, to me, those individuals are the ones that the organization took under their wing, to a certain extent, to train them and get them ready to be good leaders.

And that's what you see in practice. But I see a lot of people in many areas who are a bit... desperate, I could say?

People who demonstrate a lot of personal stake in their workplace. And these are people who need to talk, but don't know who to talk to. So what an ombudsman can do, is provide a safe space.

A safe space. So you can come in a very informal way; you're not going to be judged. And, you know, it's confidential, obviously; and I'm independent, so I'm not there to defend the organization. And I report to the deputy minister who's obviously interested in knowing what's happening in his organization. With that, we become top of, top of class, right? But when employees come looking for that safe space, they share so much. And that becomes, essentially, the fuel that I use to then try to influence the organization to be better at supporting its employees and helping employees grow and want to come to work and contribute to that organization. So what strikes me, is employees have a lot to say. We need to put our ear to the ground and listen to what those employees are saying.

[Danl Loewen] It means the rest of us can benefit from reading what you've written about your contacts, your survey about mental health, your interventions, the struggle assessments, conversations we've had, we've had with 500people a year, in this manner.

So it sounds like we not only can benefit from what you have surfaced from a workforce of 17,000 people, who are not going to be completely unique from another department.

[André Latreille] Yeah.

[Danl Loewen] So there's going to be similarities there. The second thing is that we can encourage people in our own departments to make use of the ombudsman, as we encourage them to make use of the union or the informal conflict management and so on that it's not treason to do so. But the third–

What can we do, what can each senior manager do in their own workplace, to provide a safe space?To provide a safe space–

[André Latreille] Yep.

[Danl Loewen] For their employees so that they don't lose everything you've gained, everything you've been able to– everything the department has gained from your creating a safe space to hear people.

[André Latreille] Yeah. I guess the ultimate test, and this is something at the end of the day you can ask yourself: are employees, if you ask them the question, 'Would you work for this manager, this supervisor, this leader again,' and if the answer is yes, then you're on the right track and you're doing the right things. Doing the right things is, again, you walk the floor; you know the folks, you know what they're working on, you listen to them. They have the ideas, they're going through the hoops of the day-to-day and they know what works, what doesn't work. And you're there as a leader to make sure they succeed. They succeed, you succeed: simple as that, right? Don't take care of your people, then you're going to see some challenges on the floor: you're going to see people who will leave. You're going to see some sick leave, you're going to have some absenteeism. And, remember whenever that happens, you have people who are left behind, the other colleagues, they're the ones picking up the slack from those that are leaving.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] How are you going to achieve your objectives, and when, in that type of environment, right? So I always say the first priority of a good leader is to take care of your people; plan and get your employees involved in what you think you need for the organization. Give them a voice. If you want to do staffing, be transparent about how you want to do it. 'Cause there's also some issues of recognition there. They'll work hard. And, you know, they like to know that at least the organization is paying attention and maybe somebody is going to think about them when it's time for an acting or promotion for development opportunity for training program, right? Because we need to ensure that the conditions are ripe for employees to grow.

This is the future.Look at the numbers of folks that are going to be going on retirement over the next few years. Man– these are big numbers.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah. And we got to prepare our teams, our folks, to be ready for these challenges. So pay attention. Know your folks. Yeah.

[André Latreille] Right? And for a mental health perspective, we go through different things in our lives, right? And I'm not saying anything new here, but just a reminder, right? You'll have some issues with your parents, you'll have issues with your kids, you'll have your own physical issues or health issues.

[Danl Loewen] Sure. And once that happens, I call that the turbulent zone. Right? You're in the flight, you're going to hit your turbulence, and then everything is fine and dandy. Well, human beings have turbulent zones. So when you go through that, what you hope, is that your organization will pay attention and have that conversation with you. How can we help you go through this so that when all is said and done, things are back to normal and you continue. You haven't penalized the employee because the employee is going through a life experience.

[André Latreille] That's the reality. So bring back the humanity into it, if you want. So second thing I say is "people first." People, happy: productive. People, not happy: not engaged, no trust in senior leadership. You may have a bit more trouble getting to where you want to go.

[Danl Loewen] Margaret Wheatley talks about, 'we trust the people whose stories we know.' It's difficult to know the story and the values of a leader without what you described the management by walking around.

[Danl Loewen] The idea that, that I need to know a little bit about my boss's history so that I understand his or her values, so that I can have the confidence to talk, to talk about something that that affects me personally.

[André Latreille] Yes, and then it's being able to admit that I don't have all the answers to all the questions. If anyone on the team comes in and thinks I'm saying something that doesn't make sense or that thinks that we're missing out on an opportunity that he or she is proposing, but I need to be humble enough, smart enough, to say that maybe this idea makes sense, we're going to continue the conversation.

I don't have the absolute truth. You don't, right? Having those conversations allows us to figure out the best way to get where we need to go.

[Danl Loewen] As a young manager, I thought I did have all the answers, or I was supposed to, and that is a burden.

That's a stress on managers because I'm supposed to have all those answers. At the same time, I am blinding myself to everything, all these suggestions, all the input, all the experience, all the diversity around me.

[André Latreille] Yeah.

[Danl Loewen] So you talk about– your report specifically talks about the challenges, not only that people bring into the office from their personal life, but some of the turbulence we create through staffing challenges through technological change, organizational change.

[André Latreille] We like change at the federal level. It's like any other organization, we like it. We're going to have new systems, new software. We're going to have new workspaces, new policies, new guidelines.

[Danl Loewen] The organization...

[André Latreille] I'm going to stop before I get slapped on the wrists, in talking about these changes. Humans are capable of absorbing a number of changes at once. So, give people time to lead these changes, but more than that. When you make changes, why do you make changes? Are you able to explain to your people why?

The why. After that, how do you expect to approach change? How much space are you going to give employees to shape these changes? Employees will get on board if they feel they have a voice, if they have influence on the organization and on the changes that will be brought about. I saw it in our department. We are talking about workspaces. Allow me to tackle this more directly. In Montreal, we have made a radical change, from a place where everyone had their own little cubicle to today's open space. No one with an assigned desk. It's all open. You sit wherever you want when you arrive in the morning. People, you know, have their lockers, put their equipment there in the evening, get it again in the morning. But we've found ways to make it meet the wishes of the employees, about how to work and how the workplace will embrace that. If you ask people in Montreal today if they want to go back to how it was done before, the majority will say no.

[André Latreille] We like that, but why? What worked there? From Day 1, we had a vision, but how to make it happen was not up to senior management. It was up to the employees and they were the ones who made this project happen. When it was over, everyone was sitting in their chairs, everyone was in the loop. So, employees can provide ongoing feedback and management is listening to make these changes. So, it's something that's organic and that's what managing is. It's something that is in constant flow.

[Danl Loewen] Payback is clear on creating a space where people feel confident to share what their concerns are, what their personal issues are not that you want to know the entire details, but that they can share with a manager, a supervisor, an executive with a deputy minister. They can share that there are certain things they're going to need going forward, or certain impediments that they're dealing with. They're going through a period of turbulence.

[André Latreille] Yup.

[Danl Loewen] So creating that space where people feel that they can, that they will be heard safely is key.

[André Latreille] On that one, sorry, I didn't want to interrupt. I must say that's one of the things that irks me the most...
[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] the job, is when people come to see me—and again, I get one side of the coin, as the ombudsman, right? But you get to hear many stories. So at one point you give credence to this—is when employees come to their manager or come to their director, or come to their DG, and they're basically just, "pshh."
"Turn down like a pancake." As we say in French. When people aren't open to what employees say. What's the reaction, you think, next time you've got an idea? You won't go; you'll shut up. So if there's risk attached to some of the things that are happening, you're not gonna raise it because you're going to be afraid to get dinged.

[Danl Loewen] Right.

[André Latreille] And that partly takes some form of reprisal against your career. You're somebody who speaks up; some people don't want to have employees who speak up. And that's an environment that unfortunately will potentially bring you some issues because the real risks, the real things that you need to pay attention are not being looked at.

[Danl Loewen] Why hire all these smart people if we don't want to hear what they think?

[André Latreille] It's a good question.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] It's a good question. But I would ask the question: how do we actually hire these people? Where are we putting the emphasis?

Is the emphasis on technical skills or is the emphasis on what you bring to the table as a skill, you know? It's a question of what's your gut telling you, when you walk into a workplace, it doesn't matter what you know. Knowledge can be acquired.

[Danl Loewen] Yes.

[André Latreille] OK, but the way you approach your work, the way you deal with your environment, the way you mobilize your people, is going to make a big difference.
So one of the things you asked to share some stories. And, very quickly: a few years ago, I came into this a newer role, the DG of labour relations, and compensation was also part of the portfolio. And this is a time in 2007, and people may not remember this, but...

[André Latreille] ...the public service...

[Danl Loewen] Currently that's 13 years ago–

[André Latreille] ...PSPC, in fact, at that time in time, had some big issues with its pay.

[Danl Loewen] Yup.

[André Latreille] Right? Like a third of the employees had walked out, the deputy minister was called before parliamentary committees to explain why are employees of PSPC not being paid. Thirteen years ago. So here's where I come in, right? So what's the recipe? Talk to your folks. What's happening? Why is this happening? What should we do? What do we need? Right? So talk to the employees, talk to a few other stakeholders, and then you start rebuilding. But the employees were at the heart of rebuilding this. And the nicest compliment somebody ever paid to me in the public service, I think is, somebody just tapped me on the shoulder—she was a compensation advisor—and says, "André, you're one of us." And, I am 'one of us.' I am. We're all the same. We just had different roles. We're people. We treat, we treat ourselves as people.

Let's take care of ourselves and take care of others. Then we will achieve our goals to the extent that people are happy, they have a voice, they are recognized, they are rewarded.It's not tough. It is not tough.

[Danl Loewen]Leading through engaging people and finding the solutions rather than leading through just giving direction as if one person had all that information. There's an expression in the armed forces: "Don't get so far out in front of your own troops that you look like the enemy." And I think there are plenty of folks who would look at it that way. If a leader doesn't go out of their way to ask, to listen, in many different ways it can do that.

[André Latreille] Yeah, Danl, I've got a question for you. So years ago, years ago I hired you.

[Danl Loewen] I'm still recovering.

[André Latreille] Oh yeah, I can understand. I can understand. Not because of me.

[Danl Loewen] No, certainly.

[André Latreille] So I hired you because I was sitting in an ADM position and there was some challenges in one area and I knew you did not have a lot of technical knowledge about this field.

[André Latreille] I still believe, in fact, that you had no technical knowledge.

[Danl Loewen] [Laughs]

[André Latreille] [Laughs] Maybe I'm overstating, but what you brought was something different. So what was that? You remember that?

[Danl Loewen] Yeah, I think you were pretty clear that people there needed to feel connected to the organization. They needed to feel it was safe and that they were being heard. They needed to feel they were having some impact on moving things, moving things forward.

And, and that it's worth contributing because we're going to listen to them.

So for me it was a whole lot of meeting with directors, meeting with managers, meeting with supervisors, meeting with employees in different groups. And going for the intent of taking 2 minutes to describe myself and 20 minutes of hearing what their concerns were. And then that intel shapes where I want to go as a leader. As opposed to the very young manager 150 years ago, when I thought my job was to walk in and tell people what should happen.

[André Latreille] Yeah. And I remember you standing up for some employees who had made mistakes. Right? Remember that? And you didn't throw these employees under the bus. You didn't even want to tell me their names.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] It's true.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] To me that made it, that made you a leader and people were very happy. In fact, I'm thinking, I don't think they wanted you to leave.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah.

[André Latreille] But I was dealing with you. So that was a different matter.

[Danl Loewen] [Laughs] It's interesting when you say that, because it underlines for me the idea that as the leader, I'm responsible for what happens. 'Am I finding someone to blame' is the antithesis of leadership. And that my job is to go figure out not who's to blame, but what can we do to make things better. And often, I don't have that answer. What I have, as a leader, is the capacity to develop a vision and a strategy in order to achieve results. But we can't do that without mobilizing people; collaborating with partners and stakeholders; keeping our head up to listen for opportunities to promote innovation and guide change while being firmly rooted in integrity and respect. That doesn't mean being the best property manager, being the best translator, being the best accountant, being the best whatever.

[André Latreille] Yeah. I guess at the end of the day, it's not your workplace. It's everybody's workplace.

[Danl Loewen] Yeah. And that our role as leaders is to help folks deliver as much as they can. Without taking that approach, mental health in the workplace, and we all have issues of mental health. Any one of us could have the mental health equivalent of a sprained ankle or a broken leg or a pregnancy or diabetes that we're dealing with. Mental health has parallels with physical health in many ways. What do we do? That's tough to do everything we've described is tough to do...

[Danl Loewen] ...if I'm stressed out myself. What can I do to take care of myself as an executive with all the pressure that I face?

[André Latreille] If there was a recipe for that, Danl, it would be a bestseller. So there's not. So, you have to look at these situations 1 by 1, I would think. But you know, I'm going to say something that everybody hears and knows but–

[Danl Loewen] That's a question from our participants by the way. Other participants can click on the participate button and that'll give you an opportunity to send in a question. I'm looking for very tough questions for André Latreille because this is the man who made me go through them in an interview 150 years ago.

[André Latreille] I get the veto, right? So I'll go back to something that you've heard, I've heard, but it resonates. Which is you're on the, on a plane, right? So the first instructions you get when you're sitting on that plane is if for whatever reason you're in flight and you lose oxygen or pressure in the cabin, there's a mask that's going to fall and they say, put the mask on first if you want to help others.

[Danl Loewen] Right.

[André Latreille] So it's the same thing for a leader. Take care of yourself. Be in a good disposition where then you're able to help others. If you're in distress yourself, you'll have much challenges in doing so. And that'll take a toll on the individual.

[Danl Loewen] Yes.

[André Latreille] Right.

[Danl Loewen] A 4-year-old can't help me after I put on his mask.So it means I need to be able to look after myself before I can be of use to those folks.

[André Latreille] Absolutely. Absolutely. 'Cause you carry a lot of influence in that organization, right?

[Danl Loewen] One of the things I'm– in the description of this EXecuTALK, one of the things pointed out was, our mental health, our emotional health, our physical health has repercussions on how we interact with others and that we're quite– we're obviously under a microscope as leaders. We set a tone for an organization.

[André Latreille] Yes.

[Danl Loewen] So it means that if we're functioning in a way where we deny our own challenges or the turbulence that people are going through, if we function in a way that [we] think it's us and them and that we ought to be providing direction, they should just do what they're told. And that, of course, isn't leadership. It sounds more like inmates.

[André Latreille] Yeah, I guess the message is you're saying there is, 'leaders have to be transparent about the situation they're experiencing.' Some of the pressures they may be feeling without necessarily passing it onto everybody, but looking at ways, together, that you're able to meet those challenges. And again, the answers may lie within your own organization, within your team. And the more people will have trust in the leader, man, the more they'll be engaged. The more they'll want to be part of the solution. People lose trust in senior leadership, the engagement level goes down so fast—so fast—and then the cynicism sets up.

[Danl Loewen] Yes.

[André Latreille] And then in certain cases it's sabotage, or call it whatever you want.

[Danl Loewen] And we start to withdraw.

[André Latreille] Yup.

[Danl Loewen] Well engagement of course meaning that we get that people's discretionary energy, enthusiasm, intent, action, their discretion plays a role in how much we put out in a given day.

[André Latreille] Yeah.

[Danl Loewen] So a more creative workplace, a more productive workplace, a more collaborative workplace, more client-centered results oriented: it's going to come from employees feeling engaged. I can't be engaged in an organization where that I don't feel as healthy. Where the organization is not helping me to be healthy within it.

[André Latreille] Yup. I was talking to the ombudsman from Hydro-Quebec last week and it's funny, right? I have that in my last report. So she's highlighting that...

[Danl Loewen] Yup.

[André Latreille] ...and the message is, we see in our respective environments, not just 1 employee, 2 employees, but groups of employees raising their hands. It's a cry for help because they live in a toxic environment created by their leadership and this has critical consequences. Critical consequences are when people start going on stress leave. It's people who are going on sick leave. These are people who are going to be absent on a regular basis.

These are people who won't put in the hours to succeed because they don't believe in what the leadership is telling them. When leadership is there with leadership in my mind...

[André Latreille]...and I've said this many years throughout my short career: be there for organization and the organization will be there for you. If your intent is to build your ego and build who you are for the grace of the popularity or whatever...

[Danl Loewen] Yup. Yup.

[André Latreille]'re not at the right place in the public service. This is not what it's all about. We're here to serve Canadians. So how do we do that? We do that by coming together.

[André Latreille] And there's ways of achieving that.

[Danl Loewen] Best way to impress being to be of use, not by trying to impress.

[André Latreille] Right.

[Danl Loewen] In the, the report we just published for 2010 – 2019—sorry, 2018 – 2019—we mentioned, again, the idea of training our managers and leaders. We're talking about coaching, mentoring, plus an onboarding program, orientation, for thenew managers. Can we talk about why it's worthwhile that everyone do it, not just as a department, but as a senior manager in charge of his or her own team? What can we do about that?

[André Latreille] Yeah, onboarding is pretty standard. If you join the organization, here's what you can expect. Ideally you know beforehand, but once you join, we'll attend to you and then we'll accompany you, right, and then you'll know where to go to get your information, your tools, your workplace, etc. And I often hear stories of people who arrived at the ministry 8,10, 15, 20 days, no computer, no one to accompany them, left to their own devices. That's not how you're going to get a good employee experience in the organization. At the level of supervisors, managers, executives, one of the things we notice, once again, you're good technically, you're a good translator, you're a good engineer, you're a good accountant, no matter what profession you may have, because you're good at what you do, the normal progression will take you into a management position. Does that mean you are familiar with all the rules surrounding people management, labour relations, disability management, informal conflict management. In fact all the different facets that ensure that a manager is well equipped to support his or her employee. And unfortunately, there are often shortcuts because a new person, or a person who enters a management supervisory position, right away is faced with having to deliver, right? Without necessarily spending as much time as one would like working with one's team, working with one's teammates. Timelines are often tight. Workloads can be heavy and there's something that has to give, and probably part of it too. And what I am saying is that in these cases, often when a situation arises between a manager or an employee, we will pick up the phone and call labour relations to see what we can do to straighten out the employee.

[Danl Loewen] Yes.

[André Latreille] Instead of taking the time and having the conversation, we'll acknowledge the employee to know what's going on. If it's possible, how can I be part of the solution? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, but it's taking those little moments.

[Danl Loewen] Yes, yes.

[André Latreille] Who report, who... tell the individual, 'I count in this organization, I am not just a number. I'm not just a cog in the machine.'

[Danl Loewen] Many of the issues that have come up—staffing, technological change, restructuring, environmental change, political pressures—Many of these things...workload...
...workload—are issues that we're aware of at the public service. I think what you're, what you're doing today is really drawing the links between those and our responsibility as a leader to be conscious of those and how they affect the health, the wellbeing, the emotional stability, the intellectual creativity, the physical productivity of the people that were there to lead in order to achieve those goals.

[André Latreille] Yep.

[Danl Loewen] We have a– we have an opportunity for participants. If they go to Slido, there is a hashtag M795. They can use that quickly, in the next 3 minutes, or later: M795. They can use that to address specific issues that have come up from what we've talked about today that would be of use to them as future themes for EXecuTALK or anything else that strikes them that would be of use as executives, as leaders, as managers in those combined roles. To be able to hear from someone who's had the direct experience as you have, both in the field—in a particular field—but also as a leader in the public service, leading operations and policy and communications and all kinds of other things.

[André Latreille] Okay. Thank you. One thing I would leave, in terms of messages: if you had a time and you can make it a priority, plan. Plan. Plan where you're going: not the next week and not the next month, not 3 months, 6 months; where are you going? What do you want to achieve? And then open up the conversation as to how you're actually gonna do that. So I'll quote one of my former deputies, François Guimont, at the leadership conference a few years ago. And one of the things that stuck with me was the more time you have, the more choices and options you have.

Right? So you got to deliver something in 6 months. Well, you have 6 months: you can entertain many different ways of actually getting to your final result. Tick, tick, tick; wait, wait, wait. If you're at 1 month of actually delivering your thing and you haven't actually worked on it, you're not talking about the same options, right? And then your stress level starts to increase quite significantly, right? Plan it; you can do it in a way that you're not going to be facing a crisis. And do it for the different projects you're working on. Surprisingly, you're going to get to a point where you have a feeling of Zen in your organization. It's not everywhere.

[Danl Loewen] Right.

[André Latreille] I recognize that a lot of the lines of business that we have make it difficult to do so. But the more you plan, I think the easier it is. And the more you involve your folks and ask a question or explain to why you want to do certain things, how you're going to get there, they're going to be part of the actual delivery and conception of it and influence.

[André Latreille] And maybe you'll actually recognize them. I think it's something people like; they appreciate it.

[Danl Loewen] The tools that are there. Thank you. The tools are there if we are conscious about using them. The report of the ombudsman on mental health for PSPC is available online. Slido is available for people to specifically identify things that could be of use to them. And I'm going to close with a quote myself from Margaret Wheatley: the idea that "we trust the people whose stories we know," and the reason that's so important is that, whatever your challenge is, the way through it is to build a community, to get ourselves through it. You're talking about building a community that's vertically, horizontally. Being conscious yourself of how your mental health, that of your staff that have your clients, those everybody else you work with, it plays such a key role in delivering on our mandate.

[Danl Loewen] Thank you very much, André Latreille.

[André Latreille] And ask yourself: "Will people go back and work for you if given the opportunity?"

[Danl Loewen] Great question.

[André Latreille] I would say yes to you.

[Danl Loewen] [Laughs] I think we're even! Inspirational, as usual. André Latreille, Ombudsman for mental health, for Public Services and Procurement Canada Much appreciated.

[André Latreille] Thanks Danl. See you soon.

[Danl Loewen] Until next time.

[André Latreille] And thank you!

[Danl Loewen] Yes.


Complete your census today!

Help your community make choices about education, employment, transportation, health care and housing services.

COVID-19: Learning resourcesNew

Consult learning resources for public servants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This website is continually being updated in response to your feedback.

Let us know what you think of it.
Which platform is your comment about:

Date modified: