Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Spotlight on Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

wool-2742119_1280Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 1 – October 7) is an annual national public education campaign designed to create awareness of mental illness. Although there are many faces of mental illness, I’d like to spotlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is often greatly misunderstood. OCD can affect anyone, and according to the Canadian Psychological Association approximately 1% to 2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD in their lifetime.

What is OCD?

OCD is made up of two parts – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges or images that don’t go away. Compulsions are behaviours like washing, cleaning or ordering things in a certain way. Over 90% of people with clinical OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, with 25% to 50% reporting multiple obsessions. Although many people who suffer from OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, they still can’t control them. While we often associate OCD with people who wash their hands constantly, are germ phobic or refuse to shake hands, sadly, people with OCD are frequently the butt-end of jokes. We know that OCD is anything but funny; in fact, it is often a debilitating mental illness that severely affects a person’s ability to enjoy life.

Additionally, OCD often interferes with work and negatively impacts relationships. In severe cases, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive rituals can consume the entire day, making it difficult to hold down a job or maintain personal relationships.

What causes OCD?

The cause of OCD has not been established. Studies have suggested that the cause may be genetic, biological and/or psychological, but as yet there is nothing definitive.

Some signs of OCD

In the workplace, you may notice:

  • Excessive hand washing and/or hand wringing
  • Refusal to shake hands
  • Everything on their desk has to be precisely arranged
  • May become visibly upset if you touch or move any of their things
  • Need to check and recheck their work
  • Late to meetings because of their need to “prepare” again and again
  • Appear to be lost in thought because of their obsessions

How best to support an employee with OCD

There are several effective ways to support an employee with OCD. An EAP is an excellent resource for a person suffering from OCD. You can also gently encourage your employee to seek medical help as medication and therapy can benefit the OCD sufferer. There are also modifications and accommodations that you can make to better support them at your organization:

  • Allow telecommuting
  • Issue deadlines as much in advance as possible
  • Try not to put the person in situations where frequent handshaking is expected
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available
  • Avoid disturbing the setup on the employee’s desk
  • Don’t ask to borrow their office supplies or equipment
  • If possible, avoid putting the employee in stressful situations as stress is a major trigger of OCD

Do you have a process in place to accommodate employees suffering from OCD or other forms of mental illness? If not, a referral to the EAP and the willingness to make modifications in the workplace will go a long way to setting up employees for success and ensuring that your employees are feeling supported by their employer.

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Terry Fox Run: Supporting Your Workplace When a Co-Worker Has Cancer or Has Been Touched by Cancer in the Family.

people-2569234_960_720The annual Terry Fox Run on September 17th was not only an important event, but also a good reminder to talk about a very important issue – supporting your workplace when an employee or family member has cancer. Although the Terry Fox Run and other excellent cancer organizations continue to tirelessly raise money to battle this disease, we can all play our part, especially in the workplace.

The Canadian Cancer Society has released some daunting statistics in a new report. Almost one in every two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and one in four Canadians will die from the disease. In 2017, an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Our sad reality is that we will all be touched by cancer in some way. That’s why I thought it’s so important that we learn how to provide support in our workplaces, not only to an employee who has cancer or is touched by cancer in the family, but to the rest of the team as well.

Why is it so important to support the rest of your team if a co-worker has cancer or has been touched by cancer?

We’re often so focused on the employee who has been diagnosed with cancer that we may forget that it also has a huge impact on the employee’s family as well as having an effect on your entire organization; this can be particularly true for smaller businesses and within departments. Colleagues may experience fear, anxiety, guilt and disbelief. Watching a colleague and sometimes a friend struggle or be affected by a loved one who has a life-threatening disease can cause depression and feelings of helplessness. Very low morale can spread through an organization like wildfire.

How can we support our workplace when an employee or an employee’s loved one has cancer?

Coaching: Provide coaching to managers with a team who are affected by that colleague.

  • Provide information about cancer, prognosis, treatments, duration, side effects, etc. so they’ll know what to expect and how to prepare their teams (and answer questions)
  • Educate how to recognize signs of fear, anxiety, depression or feelings of helplessness

Support Groups: Establish support groups to provide peer support for those affected by a colleague with cancer. These support groups can meet in person and online to accommodate those working remotely or in other locations.

Encourage team members to show support: Doing positive things often inspires positive feelings.

  • Don’t avoid your colleague – it’s ok to ask them how they are
  • Treat your colleague normally, but don’t pretend they are not experiencing a life-altering event
  • Be available to listen
  • Stay in touch
  • Offer to do something practical like cook a meal
  • Try to be patient and understanding – your colleague may not always be in good humour

Discuss what resources are available:

  • EAP services
  • OnCallogic – a new service that provides organizations with mental health support for those affected by cancer through a series of specialized counselling sessions
  • Extended health care plans

The cancer diagnosis of one employee or that employee’s family member can have far-reaching effects on any organization, particularly on a small business or department. It’s important that, as an employer, you support your workplace when your employee or their loved one has cancer. Ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support program. If you don’t already have an EAP in place, I strongly encourage you to reach out to an EAP provider for assistance.


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Spotlight on Mental Illness: Social Anxiety in the Workplace

ASP Aug 1Social anxiety disorder is also referred to as social phobia. And it’s much more common than you’d think. Social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health problem in the world today according to the Social Anxiety Association. Although employees may feel that they can hide social anxiety disorder in their personal lives, it’s virtually impossible to do the same in the workplace. Let’s discuss what social anxiety disorder is, how you can detect if an employee is suffering from it and what, as an employer, you can do about it.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is the intense fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and embarrassed by others. This leads to avoiding social situations that involve interaction with other people at all costs. As employers I’m sure you’ve seen how social anxiety disorder can have a negative impact on work performance and personal relationships. As a result social anxiety disorder can also significantly contribute to lost productivity. The good news is that social anxiety disorder is very treatable.

How can you recognize if an employee is suffering from social anxiety disorder?

People suffering from social anxiety disorder may exhibit any or all of the following behaviours:

  • May be seen by others as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, unfriendly or aloof
  • Avoid meetings and social situations, speaking in public or even talking one-on-one
  • Difficulty meeting people in authority
  • Rarely make eye contact
  • Overwhelmed or upset easily
  • Find it hard to make decisions
  • Difficulty with time management and meeting reasonable deadlines
  • Uncomfortable being watched while doing something
  • Fear of taking on new challenges or learning new things
  • Try too hard to be perfect
  • Experience physical symptoms – racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, clammy hands, trembling, nausea, stammering or shaky voice

What can you do as an employer to help employees suffering with social anxiety disorder?

There are several things that you can do to help your employees deal with the day-to-day stressors in the workplace:

  • Be open and accepting about mental health issues to reduce the stigma
  • Show concern
  • Improve mental health literacy in your organization
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize the symptoms of social anxiety disorder
  • Make available and promote the benefits of an EAP program
  • Encourage employees to seek care when they need it
  • Ask your employee if they need additional support and what that support might look like
  • Let your employee know what support services are available
  • Accommodate your employee by finding the right type of work to match their comfort level
  • Provide modified workspaces, flexible schedules or permission to take breaks when needed

Do you have a program in place to help employees with social anxiety disorder? It’s important to build a culture that demonstrates to all employees that they are cared for and valued. A supportive workplace inspires employees to feel loyal, dedicated and motivated which benefits the entire company.


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International Self-Care Day is July 24th: How to Make Time for Self-Care with a Busy Schedule

Pilates exerciseJuly 24th is International Self-Care Day. It’s the perfect time for all of us to pause and remember just how important self-care is. Although it may seem impossible to take time out of our busy days, it’s important for employers to encourage employees to fit self-care into their schedules. Work-life initiatives can really make a big difference in the workplace. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian worker is away from work for the equivalent of almost two weeks in a year. Casual absences (not requiring a doctor’s note) account for 80% of lost days for most businesses. Encouraging and promoting a healthy work-life balance is not only good for your employees, it’s good for business.

What is International Self-Care Day?
The International Self-Care Day (ISD) worldwide campaign objective is to celebrate the importance of self-care and to encourage the general public to practice responsible self-care. Every year ISD is observed on July 24 to serve as a reminder that the benefits of self-care are lifelong, experienced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What is self-care?
The International Self-Care Foundation has developed a framework called Seven Pillars of Self-Care.

Pillar 1 – Health Literacy: It’s important to learn about our health so that we can make informed decisions on what we need for self-care.

Pillar 2 – Self-Awareness of Physical and Mental Condition: We need to be self-aware about the state of our physical and mental health. The best way to do this is to regularly visit your doctor or health practitioner and be honest about how you’re feeling physically and mentally.

Pillar 3 – Physical Activities: Regular physical activity is vitally important for self-care. It doesn’t have to involve intense or extreme activities. Walking, cycling, yoga, swimming… they can all significantly improve your health, fitness and mood.

Pillar 4 – Healthy Eating: Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is always essential. Take the time to eat; eat and chew slowly.

Pillar 5-Risk Avoidance or Mitigation: A few important tips are – avoid smoking, limit alcohol intake and use sunscreen daily. Take Vitamin D, especially for us Canadians who experience less sunshine and relatively short summers than those living closer to the equator.

Pillar 6- Good Hygiene: While most of us practice good hygiene, it’s still important to note that washing your hands well and often is one of the most important things we can do.

Pillar 7-Rational and Responsible Use of Products, Services, Diagnostics and Medicines:  Avail yourself of medical help when necessary. If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as directed. If alternative medicine is your thing, use it.

Why self-care is so important for employees?

  • Boosts morale
  • Increases productivity
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Improves mental and physical health
  • Decreases stress

Tips on how employers can encourage employees to make time for self-care

  • Help employees set and maintain personal boundaries
  • Help your employees set achievable goals
  • If you schedule meetings during the lunch hour, provide a healthy meal
  • Encourage employees to take intermittent self-care breaks – a walk at lunch time, a social break with a co-worker
  • Promote outside-of-work activities
  • Allow for flexible schedules

Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to give of yourself to others.

July 24th is right around the corner. Is your company promoting self-care in your workplace? Now’s a great time to begin a self-care initiative.


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High-Functioning Depression: The Mental Illness that Hides in Plain Sight

April 7th is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. While we have focused quite a bit on the topic of depression in light of “Bell Let’s Talk Day” only being a few weeks ago, I thought I’d discuss an issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it should – high-functioning depression.

Take a minute to think about an employee you talk to every day. You may chat with them about their family, discuss your plans for the weekend, or even joke around with them. Now imagine that on the inside, that employee is suffering from low energy, negative thoughts, and is struggling to keep a smile on their face. This is the reality for people living with high-functioning depression.

Just like regular depression, high-functioning depression results in loss of energy and feelings of hopelessness. The difference is, people with high-functioning depression don’t show any of these symptoms physically. They can go to work in the morning and perform tasks perfectly well. In fact, they could even be one of the highest-performing employees on your team. One could say that the “overachievers should not be overlooked”.

When it comes to high-functioning depression, a person’s outward behaviour doesn’t match the reality of what they are feeling. They plow through to get things done in their personal and professional lives, but are “exhausted”. High-functioning depression has been likened to “running a race with a weighted vest”. Because that vest is “invisible”, the illness often goes unnoticed by friends, family, coworkers, and HR managers.

Although the nature of high-functioning depression makes it difficult to detect, it’s certainly not impossible. There are subtle signs that may help you tell when an employee is suffering. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing the situation from developing, and ensuring support is in place. Let me share with you some of the signs that an employee may have high-functioning depression:

  • Constant self-criticism and/or feelings of low self-worth
  • Place too much pressure on themselves
  • Feel like they are wasting time on the job
  • Feel like they have little life purpose or are lost
  • Feel like they are a nuisance to their family and friends
  • May have substance abuse problems outside of work
  • Worry about the small stuff and are unable to let things go

The feelings associated with these signs are not necessarily manifested on the outside and these signs do not necessarily indicate the presence of high-functioning depression, but glimpses of these signs can be flags for you to offer support.

It’s important for a manager, HR or otherwise, to remember that a mental illness doesn’t have to be seen to be real. Ensuring that you’re checking in with your staff and starting an open dialogue can make all the difference when it comes to helping an employee with high-functioning depression. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a supportive environment.

Do you pay attention to the employees that seem “okay” on the outside? Do you have the support mechanisms in place to encourage open communication?


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Women and Wellness in the Workplace

This past March 8th was National Women’s Day. It was a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all around the world. Although it was only one short day, I think it’s great that we are taking the time to acknowledge all the wonderful things that women have accomplished.

One accomplishment that stands out to me is the growing number of women in the workplace. It’s fantastic that in 2014, women made up almost half of the labour force compared to just 37% in 1976.

While it augurs well that more and more companies are hiring female employees, it does bring with it a new set of mental health matters that an HR manager should consider. Although mental health affects everyone, women experience more stress, anxiety, and depression at work than men do. In fact, research has found that women are 1.4 times more likely to suffer from these mental illnesses than their male colleagues.

I’d like to share with you two main reasons why women in the workplace suffer mental health issues more than men, as well as some solutions you can use to help minimize them at your workplace.

Domestic Responsibilities

When women consider the choice to start a family, enter the workforce or return to work after having children, care for elderly parents, or pursue advancement within their career, they are considering work-life balance. Although working husbands and fathers have taken on more familial responsibilities over the years, women still tend to take on the majority of these responsibilities. Juggling career pressures with family obligations can increase risks of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

So how can managers give women the support they need? Providing programs that offer greater work-life balance is the key. This balance means different things to different families, but could include encouraging flexible working hours, allowing telecommuting, and implementing child-care services. I know it may not always be possible to establish these family-friendly services, but an important thing you can do is to be more accommodating and ask the women in your organization what would be helpful to them. Making small changes to your mindset can go miles in positively impacting the wellbeing of the women in your workplace.

Inequality 

Even though we have seen quite a positive improvement in women joining the labour force, many women still experience inequality in their career. One study shows that women earn about 26% less than men do. On top of still receiving lower pay, women also face higher levels of job insecurity as well as lack of career advancement. Unsurprisingly, this causes high rates of anxiety, depression, and distress among female workers. A large part of wellness is equality, so a valuable step you can take is to ensure that your workplace enforces pay equity.

To encourage female leadership, many companies are rewarding behaviours such as nurturing and communication. When an organization develops feelings of pride, trustworthiness, and respect, as well as welcoming ideas and building good fellowship, it will encourage women to move past the glass ceiling and create a foundation that can reduce stress and mental health issues in the workplace.

Making sure your organization has the tools in place to foster understanding and equality can make all the difference to female employees.  Checking in with them to see what more your company can do to retain happy, healthy staff is vital to their overall well-being.

Are you giving the women in your workplace the support they need?


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Tips to Reducing Workplace Bullying

stop-bullyingOn February 22, Canadians will celebrate Pink Shirt Day, a day to raise awareness about the issue of bullying in our schools, workplaces and homes. The non-profit organization CKNW encourages people to wear pink on this day to symbolize the end of bullying. This day of recognition started in Nova Scotia after a young boy was bullied for wearing pink to school, and after seeing this, class members who opposed this kind of bullying sported pink shirts.

While events related to Pink Shirt Day are often highlighted in schools, where bullying is a major problem, workplaces are also encouraged to participate. This is due to the fact that while bullying is more common in children and young adults, it can follow us to our workplaces as well.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Additionally, this abusive conduct is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. In 2017, this kind of behaviour is not limited to face-to-face encounters. Cyber bullying can also significantly impact an employee’s mental health, and is often kept under the radar.

As an Employer:

Staff look to you to ensure they are being treated fairly and are not experiencing any kind of mistreatment. That being said, dealing with a workplace bully can be difficult. Here are my tips on how to address workplace bullying in your organization:

  1. Hold bullies accountable. If someone from your team approaches you about an issue with a co-worker or boss, make sure you speak to the person in question to get his or her side of the story. Talking to someone about their bully-like behaviour can be awkward, but you owe it to your employees who are being impacted by this person’s conduct.
  1. Have a plan in place. If someone has received a few complaints about their bully-like behaviour, it’s important to have some disciplinary measures in place to ensure bullying in any form stops immediately. After confronting a bully about their behaviour, it may be determined that this situation is a result of conflict between two co-workers, in which case mediation would be helpful. If a bully’s behaviour remains an issue, warnings may not be enough. Consult your EAP for support in this area before probation or termination results.
  1. Keep your eye out for inappropriate conduct. As a manager in the workplace, don’t just wait for someone to come to you with an issue. Make sure to be on the lookout for any kind of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. If you notice someone is abusing an employee or co-worker in any way, make a point to sit down with him or her to discuss their behaviour. Victims will often shy away from reporting bullying incidents out of fear of repercussion to them. If you are “in the loop” on what’s going on in the office, you can save a possible victim from the embarrassment of reporting it higher in the organization.
  1. Promote awareness. Make and post anti-bullying posters, wear pink t-shirts, host lunch and learns about anti-bullying. Raising awareness about this issue can help generate productive conversations and break down the stigma of workplace bullying. 

As an Employee:

  1. Try to speak to the bully and let them know how what they are doing is affecting you. Share with them that what they are doing is not appropriate behaviour.
  1. Speak to a boss or manager about your situation. If you begin to notice that your workplace culture enables this kind of abusive attitude, speak to a manager. Employees should not be afraid to come to work, and in order for employees to work effectively, they need to feel comfortable and safe in the workplace environment. Alerting a senior staff member to the situation can allow them to take measures to prevent this from happening in the workplace.

What are you doing in your office to help recognize anti-bullying?