3 Degrees of Separation

A recent study revealed that current office thermostats are set at 22C (72F) because a study conducted in the 1960s deemed it was the most comfortable temperature for office workers. However, in the 1960s, the average worker was a middle aged man wearing a blazer and long pants. Times have changed but the temperature in offices hasn’t. Now, almost half of all workers are female and the attire in many offices has gone casual. The study of current office workers found that the average women was comfortable at a setting of 25C yet office temperatures remain at 22C.

I am not surprised by the study’s findings. At least 3 degrees have separated my husband and I as long as we have lived together. In the winter I bundle up in heavy socks and warm sweaters. Thermostat changeI snuggle into a blanket with a warm cup of tea to warm me up. He wears t-shirts. In the summer we battle over the air conditioner temperature setting. Seriously, it is constant maneuvering to adjust the temperature for the longest duration before the other notices.

At work, I have a sweater and blanket in my office. As the weather warms outside and the sun beams into the office, I get colder and colder as the air conditioner works harder and harder to keep the office climate controlled. As the men sit comfortably, I go for a walk outside to warm up.

[Photo by Nikki Ormerod] http://www.canadianbusiness.com/lifestyle/why-youre-so-cold-at-the-office/

[Photo by Nikki Ormerod]

I mentioned this study to one of the building maintenance (male) workers and got a sigh as he replied that he heard about the study. He quickly changed the subject. He was not about to start an office battle by agreeing with me.

In 2005 the Japanese government requested a temperature of 28C be set in all their government offices. The result over just three months was a 210 kWh savings in electricity, a 79 tonnes decrease in carbon emissions and a change in fashion to adapt to the changing needs of their clientele.

28C may be a bit difficult to get everyone’s buy-in, but even a few degrees adjustment to the thermostat would save some money, is good for the environment and is more comfortable for half the population. In addition to all those benefits, another recent study showed that people are more productive in a warmer office temperature.

I would certainly support a few degrees increase in temperature in my office over the summer. Would you?

Why isn’t climate change the number one election issue?

I understand that when the economy is in a downturn it becomes the number one election issue – humans need to focus on fulfilling their basic needs first. Food, clothing and housing are all easier to obtain when the economy is doing well. But what I don’t understand is why fixing the economy is not intertwined with the biggest economic threat to Canadians: climate change.

Consider how many Canadians have been affected by the changing climate this year and the effects it has had on our economy.

B.C. is experiencing twice the number of fires as usual and they are twice as intense due to the unusual dry conditions; the Maritimes had record and paralyzing snowfalls this past winter; and the prairies are experiencing drought conditions that threaten not only crops but the ability to feed cattle. It is no longer an issue that will be addressed in the future. Climate change is affecting Canadians and having a detrimental effect on our economy today.

Port Alberni, BC.  Reuters/BC Wildfire Service

Port Alberni, BC.
Reuters/BC Wildfire Service

The cost of the fires raging across BC is currently estimated at $140 million and could reach as high as $300 million. This does not include property and business losses. The fire fighting estimate also does not include the health costs of those nearest the fires whose health suffers due to the smoke or the stress of being evacuated.

Saint John, NB CTV News Atlantic

Saint John, NB
CTV News Atlantic

Storms are becoming more intense as the climate changes. Nova Scotia alone spent $17million over budget to dig out of the record snow that fell this past winter. This does not include the business losses (and lost tax income) due to closures caused by the storms. Where do the funds come from to pay for this additional expense? The taxpayer.

Farm near Sovereign, Saskatchewan. Brian Cross photo

Farm near Sovereign, Saskatchewan.
Brian Cross photo

With each drought, food becomes more scarce which drives prices up across the nation. People begin to choose what they can afford buy and what they can access from food banks to supplement their meals. Others choose less expensive foods which are generally less healthy. A population that eats less healthy alternatives tends to be less healthy. These actions lead to increased government funding of food banks and health services.

Climate change is not just an inconvenient truth, it is an expensive truth. We must demand our next government make the environment a top priority. Not only will this eventually ease some of the effects of climate change, but we could actually become a world leader in green energy – boosting Canada’s economy in the process. What Canada currently lacks is the political will to make it happen and a population that is demanding change.

Social media can be a great tool to demand change. I have been a part of Facebook groups organized by parents to voice concerns over school board policies and organize protests. I watched Egyptians use social media to organize Arab Spring protests. And I have seen attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community change as social media stars George Takai and Caitlyn Jenner told their stories. I just don’t see it being used for this critical issue.

I wonder what will be the catalyst to provoke serious action for climate change. I hope it comes before the next election so Canadians make this a priority and elect a government that takes the issue seriously. Right now I have heard little about the environment from the three main parties. They are taking their lead from the public. And I think we Canadians are all becoming a bit too acclimatized to the ever changing weather. Like the proverbial frog in the frypan, we may becoming so accustomed to the slowly changing environment that we might not take action until it is too late.

Social media balance for children

I stepped onto my porch on this warm July day and at first enjoyed the peacefulness of our neighbourhood. Then I began to wonder where all the children were. My childhood summers were filled with bike riding, rolling skating and walking to the convenience store with friends. My childhood street was full of kids all summer long “until the lights went on” (and then the teens emerged).

Street hockey in Scarborough as depicted on Wayne's World.

Street hockey in Scarborough affectionally depicted on Wayne’s World.

Our current neighbourhood is so full of kids that our elementary school had to change from a K-6 school to a K-4 school. So where is everyone? A few Stephen King storylines initially came to mind. But just like “video killed the radio star, I think social media killed the outdoor child. Okay, social media is not solely responsible, but it is playing a huge role.

  • No more heading to the park to see who is there. Playdates for children are arranged in Moms and Dads’ chat groups.
  • Children and tweens no longer need to ride their bike to see if friends are home. They text or use wifi on their iPods to access group chats.
  • Hop the bus to see friends? Teens chat constantly with their friends via text, Tumblr, and Skype. Who needs to visit in person when you have the convenience of socializing from your own bedroom?

These are just three occasions when people would have been filling the neighbourhood instead of checking their phone inside. Three occasions that contribute to less people in the neighbourhood, enjoying the outdoors.

I am so grateful to have run a home daycare when my kids were little. We went for daily walks to the park, explored bugs on the sidewalk, tobogganed, and just enjoyed playing outside in all the Canadian seasons. My kids learned to enjoy nature through play, not just as part of their school curriculum as is the case for so many children now.

YinYang-300x300Don’t get me wrong, I like social media, but like everything in life there is a time and place for it. With the increasing trend toward online socializing, parents will have to work hard to ensure their kids have a healthy balance of screen time and access to the benefits of nature.

Speaking of balance, time to get my teens off their devices, close the computer and go for a stroll around the neighbourhood…

The Balancing Act

Two years ago this Tuesday, my husband and I opened our Cell Phone Repair business. As an avid Facebook user, I knew we needed a social media presence for our business. My husband, ironically, doesn’t understand why people want to communicate digitally instead of face to face and was not so sure.

A friend who worked in Communications explained that having a social media presence is no longer a choice for businesses and that the absence of a social media presence is actually a red flag for some consumers. She further advised that our fear of negative posts can be turned into opportunity if handled correctly. She urged us to have a small presence to attract and retain customers. We wouldn’t have to commit much time if we started small, she said. It will grow as we grow. We knew a social media presence was inevitable and, reluctantly, my husband agreed to start Facebook and Twitter pages for our business.

What have we learned in two years?

Our friend was right.

facebook-page-not-foundBusinesses without a social media presence are conspicuous by their absence. Consumers have very high expectations. We expect to be able to find what we need immediately and in whatever format we are searching. And we wield that power. Those without a presence on the mainstream sites are left in the dust.

Complaints about businesses have always happened. A business cannot possibly please every single customer.  Before social media, complaints were kept within one’s physical network. Now with a click of a few keys on a keyboard, complaints are broadcast to the world. Fortunately social media, unlike word of mouth, allows for a business to respond directly to the complaint.

But she was also wrong.

notenoughtimeHaving a social media presence is a lot of work. A small business owner is expected to know what the consumer wants to see, create posts that are attractive to their following (or at least not offend anyone), and devote the time to monitor the sites and respond to feedback within moments of it being posted. Because all the other duties of a small business owner have not changed, this added role either detracts from business duties or the owner’s down time. With social media, the owner must be online and alert 24/7.

And yes, there is an opportunity to reply to customer complaints and right issues. But the reply is further down the post (which may or may not be read), and there is no recourse (except litigation) to change a numbered rating. Recently we had an unhappy customer. Without contacting us to discuss the issue, she posted a negative review and one star rating. We replied, the issue was resolved and she promised to follow up with a positive review. It has been two weeks. We are not holding our breath.

The balance

Experience has taught us the pros and cons of social media for businesses. But, more importantly it has helped us understand its place in our marketing strategy. Social media is an investment in future customers. It does not replace traditional marketing techniques, it another tool in the toolkit.

Marketing Avenues

We have also realized that the time invested in this new medium, must be balanced against our investments to generate our today customers. Google Adwords, radio ads, and providing an exceptional customer experience will bring customers into our store today. Being interesting, informative and accountable on social media will help generate our tomorrow customers.

Funds and direction will ease mental health issues in children

After reading comments in response to my last blog post about educating parents along with students, I was reminded of how unequal our “universal” public education system really is. Within the province of Ontario, each School Board sets priorities on how to spend funds given specifically to address mental health. Within each Board, each school Principal devotes varying amounts of resources to the issue. And, within each school, there are wide variances in the number of teachers and staff who have been trained in mental health awareness. Without specific direction from the Ministry of Education, this un-universal system will continue, giving some children the support they need, while leaving others to suffer.

Looking back, I see that my daughter’s school-based anxiety surfaced in grade 4, but went undiagnosed until grade 6 when she was fortunate to have a teacher who listened to my concerns that she was having social difficulties in class. That teacher referred her to the school support team who then set up an appointment with the Child and Youth Worker (CYW). At this meeting, the CYW recognized that her issues were more than just the usual “puberty and friends” issues, and recommended medical help. Her diagnosis and treatment stems directly from the actions of the school.

But I know we are one of the lucky families. Not every school has a CYW, or the ratio of children to CYW is so high that she/he cannot possibly see every child in need. Teachers are just beginning to receive training in mental health awareness. But the rollout is slow. Professional Development (PD) day agendas are set by the Board and Teacher Unions. Until the Board designates PD time to specifically address mental health awareness in the classroom, many children will continue to suffer unnecessarily.

Some will argue that the school is not responsible to diagnose a child’s mental health. I agree they are not solely responsible. However, they are another set of eyes and ears who can watch out for children. And sometimes school staff are (sadly) the only caring adult in a child’s life watching out for them. Further, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs argues that until a person’s basic needs are met, they cannot focus on self-actualization (with education being part of this need). A focus on mental health training in schools is not just a “nice-to-have” but it is imperative to student success.

To accomplish this, the Ministry of Education needs to put training funds into a non-transferable envelope, like funding provided for Special Education. They also must insist boards put this issue into their Board Improvement Plans so it is a priority at both the Board and school levels. Until this happens, both Boards and schools will see the issue as an optional initiative that they will address, if funds and time allow. And, as we all know, when we say we will get to it one day, that “it” is the easiest thing to push to the back burner.

Parents need education to understand the warning signs of mental health issues too!

My daughter suffers from anxiety. When she hit puberty, I wrote off her changes in behaviour to puberty and hormones. It was a Child and Youth Worker at her school that labelled it correctly and guided us to resources when she went into crisis. I am grateful that she had access to someone at the school that knew the warning signs and where to direct us.

The latest changes to the Health and Physical Education curriculum (and let’s call it by its proper name, not the Media’s term, “Sex Ed curriculum”) extends mental health literacy from paraprofessionals to teachers so they can discuss emotional, social and mental health with their students and provide them information about community resources. School boards have been given funding to employ a mental health lead to oversee mental health programs in schools. Both are positive steps to help children with mental health issues. But a vital group is missing from this equation. If the provincial government wants to make a positive impact on children’s mental health, parents need this information too.parent child teacher

Why must parents have this knowledge too?

1 in 5 children have mental health issues in his/her lifetime, and 70% of mental health challenges have their onset before the age of 16. Knowing the warning signs of mental health challenges can lead to an earlier diagnosis and more successful treatment. While teachers are an excellent resource to help notice issues, parents know their children best. Change in behaviour, for example, is an important sign of changes in mental health. Parents may see these changes but not understand if it is a normal change or something that requires assistance/intervention. However, by knowing the signs to watch for, they can get an earlier diagnosis and understand the need for treatment.

How to get this knowledge in the hands of parents? Principal twitter

From newsletters to email, websites and social media sites, the education system has systems in place to get information to parents. The Ministry of Health needs to partner with the Ministry of Education to take advantage of the schools’ communication network. Social media in particular would be an invaluable tool to share information from mental health organizations to parents that follow the school or school boards’ accounts. With direction from each school board’s mental health lead, schools and school boards can re-post and re-tweet accurate and helpful mental health education and community resource information; thus educating the very people who will have the most impact on a child’s mental wellbeing – the parent.

The old saying, “it takes a community to raise a child” is still true today. Our school helped my family. If existing communication networks in our schools are used to distribute mental health information, other families will have the information at hand when they need it most.