Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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Cancer in the Workplace: What can you do?

Over 204,440 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

This is an alarming statistic, one that we in the health care field together with employers need to address in order to support our workforce.

It’s safe to say cancer has a huge impact on all of us. This includes the families of those with a diagnosis, in addition to those directly affected. Unfortunately, people who have been diagnosed often feel uncomfortable disclosing their illness in the workplace, yet they desperately need our support.

Recently, my own company has had to deal with the impact of a cancer diagnosis in our office and being in the industry I’m in, we luckily had the tools and systems in place to address this. This is not the case for many organizations.

Although some employee assistance programs (EAPs) have introduced cancer support programs, we still have a long way to go to support this disease in the workplace.

As a business owner, HR manager, or supervisor, an employee is most likely to come to you with their cancer diagnosis to ask for support. I know how incredibly difficult this discussion can be, and to help you support a cancer diagnosis in the workplace, I have outlined a few tools below.

Be Prepared

A cancer diagnosis is often unexpected and inconvenient. Having a back-up long-term leave strategy in place can benefit the entire organization.

When an employee is dealing with an illness that interferes with their work, it can create tension in the office, especially if missed work impacts another employee. In the event of illness, a pre-determined strategy outlining the shift of responsibility among colleagues will allow an ill employee to feel more comfortable disclosing their diagnosis.

Have a Care Plan

There are details you need to know in order to set up a care plan that would be most beneficial to the employee. Your questions might include asking them if they know their treatment plan, if they will need to go on a work leave or long-term disability, and what accommodations you’ll need to make for them in the office. Your employee may not have all the details of their diagnosis yet, but asking the right questions will allow you to prepare an effective plan that will provide them the most support.

It’s also important to ask the employee how they would like to handle the situation in the workplace i.e. do they wish to disclose their diagnosis to other coworkers. Knowing who is aware of the situation will allow you to limit misinformation from circulating around the office and allow you to create a plan to deal with this situation.

Create a Safe Space

Dealing with cancer is both physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if someone is carrying on with his or her regular workload. One of the most important things you can do in your role is ensure the employee feels comfortable talking to you about their situation. Studies show that 40% of people impacted by cancer suffer from psychological distress. Ensure that you take the proper precautions to provide your employee with emotional support through this experience.

A cancer diagnosis impacts the entire workplace. Other employees might feel emotionally distressed by the news or may be experiencing a new, stressful workload as a result of another employee’s illness or absence. Encourage employees to reach out and talk to you about their feelings on the issue. By giving everyone an outlet for their pain, you allow them to release some of the stress brought on by this diagnosis.

 
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the workplace is incredibly difficult for all involved. Check in with The Canadian Cancer Society for helpful resources and ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support service, or a program for your workforce to help those newly diagnosed as well as their partners and family members.

 

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World Mental Health Day: What is Psychological First Aid?

On Monday, October 10th, we celebrated World Mental Health Day. Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicates a day to raise awareness for the millions of people all over the world who are dealing with mental health issues. As someone who has worked in the mental health field for over 25 years, I can’t begin to express how pleased I am that we now have a day dedicated to mental health awareness, globally. For a large part of my career, mental health issues were often stigmatized and hidden from the world, but as society has progressed, we are now able to more openly discuss these issues.

This year, the WHO chose “Psychological First Aid” as the World Mental Health Day theme. When we think first aid, we often picture either a first aid kit or a first responder like a police officer or firefighter. Psychological first aid is different. Instead of quickly responding to and healing physical injuries, psychological first aid is a practice that involves treating people for psychological damage after traumatic incidents.

Psychological first aid (PFA) is defined as “the evidence-informed approach for assisting people in the aftermath of disaster and terrorism.” PFA occurs when trained individuals quickly assess a person’s mental health after an incident, and can help them remain calm and get them the psychological assistance they need, as opposed to letting them deal with the traumatic event on their own. For example, PFA is often utilized when people in a war-torn nation have been subjected to a violent event. Field workers who specialize in the subject are brought in to help the people who have witnessed the trauma, and have been trained to give them the proper psychological attention they need.

We live in a world where, unfortunately, traumatic events occur. War, natural disasters and violence occur frequently all over the globe. On a smaller scale, accidents can happen in our own communities that leave us mentally shaken.

For example, a recent train derailment in New Jersey resulted in the death of a woman waiting on the platform. This shocking incident would have been traumatic for not only those directly involved, but for anyone connected to the situation. After an event like this occurs, it’s crucial to assess the physical health of all those involved, but neglecting to treat them immediately for psychological trauma can result in long-lasting scars on a person’s mental health.

Say one of your colleagues witnesses a horrific car crash on their way to work. Once they get to the office, they attempt to go about their day, business as usual, instead of processing the intense emotions they feel after witnessing that event. If internalized for too long, this employee might suffer from long-term mental health issues as a result, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. It’s important that HR managers have the knowledge to deal with a situation like this as fast as possible.

Training for psychological first aid is similar to that of physical first aid, in that you need to take a course in order to be properly trained. For those HR managers who have not yet taken the course, here are a few “first-steps” on how you can help someone who has just been through a crisis:

After assessing the environment for safety concerns and familiarizing yourself with the event that has taken place:

  1. Make contact. It’s important that you approach this person respectfully. It’s hard to judge what they might be thinking at that moment, as they will most likely be experiencing shock. As you carefully begin talking to them, let them know you are here to help and will keep them safe.
  1. Ask about needs and concerns. While this may seem obvious in some situations, it’s important to ask what they need at that moment and what their priorities are. If they need to make a call, you can help facilitate that.
  2. This is the most important step of PFA. If the employee is willing to talk, it’s crucial that you listen to what they have to say. Talking about a traumatic event can be difficult but it allows people to feel less alone.
  3. Refer them to your organization’s EAP. They have the tools to handle these kinds of situations, and will be able to assist your employee throughout the healing process.

Traumatic events don’t just impact the people directly involved. If someone in your office has been through a crisis, it can impact the entire workplace. Unfortunately, we live in a world where accidents happen. I’m so pleased that World Mental Health Day has been able to spotlight this necessary training. It’s important that HR managers know the basic principles of PFA, in case they ever need to utilize it in their workplace and help an employee through a difficult situation.