This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year’s Canada’s Top 100 Employers winners, published November 18, 2022 in The Globe and Mail.
When Michael Lavis moved to Saskatchewan in 2009 to launch Creative Options Regina, Inc. (COR), a for-impact, charitable organization that provides support services for people experiencing disability, he was inspired by Gentle Teaching, a non-violent approach to supporting marginalized people. But it soon became clear that its concepts of companionship and community should be applied to everyone who works for COR and everything they do.
“We realized it needed to be woven through the fabric of the entire organization,” explains Lavis, COR’s co-founder and CEO. “So we switched from the idea of Gentle Teaching to what we refer to as a culture of gentleness. And we call it that because we’ve applied it across our organization, to all our processes and practices.”
COR employees support hundreds of people living with a wide range of disabilities and complex conditions across Regina. “It became key to start with the caregivers, the people who provide that support,” Lavis says. “Caregiving is an incredibly difficult job, and we needed to ensure that they were feeling safe, valued, respected and cared for.”
That meant creating a supportive community by providing multiple ways for employees to connect, communicate and get help when they need it. They are offered extensive training in the principles of Gentle Teaching, as well as first aid, stress management, suicide alertness, crisis prevention and a host of other skills.
“This sector is defined by high turnover, burnout and little to no training, which is unfortunate,” says Lavis. “But when you invest in people, it’s a valuable investment and it helps you retain your workers because they know they’re important to you.”
There are also many opportunities for informal social connection and celebration of the COR family’s diverse cultures. The workforce includes employees with roots in 55 different countries, as well as members of indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities.
Joana Valamootoo is a cultural advisor who leads events, programs and cultural training designed to bring COR together to celebrate diversity and nurture a culture of belonging at the organization.
“I love learning, and I have had many learning opportunities here,” says Valamootoo, who’s originally from Mauritius. “Gentle Teaching, learning how to talk to people going through a difficult time, sharing my culture with other people – it’s all valuable not just for work but for life outside work. And there are so many events and celebrations, like barbecues in the summer, Christmas parties, activities for both the employees and the people we support.”
Valamootoo also appreciated receiving a care package sent to employees during the pandemic. “These types of initiatives make you want to do your best work, because you know that your employers recognize what you’re doing and want to celebrate you in some way,” she says. “It’s the sense of pride that we have working for COR that makes us want to increase the strength of the organization.”
For Lavis, it’s all about building relationships and making people feel safe, valued and respected. “What we have realized over a number of years is that when our employees are cared for, they in turn provide the utmost care to the people we support,” he says. “And that’s really what has shaped our practices and been the foundation of the work we’re doing.”