Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Positively Productive

think-positiveAs we begin a new year, there is a sense of hope instilled in all of us. There are countless opportunities ahead, and a fresh beginning can inspire us in all aspects of our life. A lot of people make resolutions, and after a tumultuous year, I have as well: to be positive.

Positivity is a state of mind. It encompasses all elements of our life. So how can we be more positive, not only in our personal lives but at work as well? More specifically, as managers, how can we encourage this attitude amongst our employees when things get tough at work? Studies show that positive employees are more productive and exhibit more signs of motivation. So if you are looking to boost morale in your workplace this year, here’s a list of ways you can incorporate more positivity into your organization:

Be Social

In the workplace, we are often so busy working on projects and tasks that we forget to interact and be friendly with our employees and co-workers. The need to socialize started as an evolutionary method of survival. Not much has changed today; a study by UCLA researchers outlines the health benefits of social interaction, stating that social contact with others has a greater impact on overall health than cholesterol levels do.

So how can you create more of a social community in your workplace? While I am not suggesting creating a “party” atmosphere amongst your workforce, a simple “hello” to employees from higher-ranking staff each day, organized social events within the company, and encouraging employees to socialize and get to know one another are actions, among others, that can significantly boost morale in the workplace, and therefore increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Change your schedule

Most office employees work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. While this may be the overall average workday, it doesn’t always work for each employee. For example, a single mother may need to drop her children off at daycare by 6 a.m. and pick them up by 4 p.m. at the latest. The daily struggle to find the time to manage both her job and parental duties could create a large amount of stress.

While it’s not always possible, try to work around your employee’s personal schedules. Maybe they would prefer to come in earlier and leave earlier or start later and leave later As long as you are satisfied with the work being done, making these changes can increase employee’s job satisfaction while reducing stress levels. Additionally, according to an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, workers who can produce their own schedules are more efficient and less likely to call in sick than employees who work a strict schedule.

Allow employees to control their space

A 2013 Workplace Study by design and architectural firm Gensler found that employees who had control over their own workspace were not only more satisfied in their roles, they had higher motivation and productivity rates.

For example, their study reported that tech firms had a higher happiness rate in an open-concept office space. Facebook, in particular, has found success this way by allowing their employees to customize their workplace layout based on the project at hand. By allowing employees creative control of their workspace, studies show an increase in organizational productivity.

While a major change in workspaces may not be possible for all employers, talk to your employees about their workspace needs and evaluate how you can make this work for them. If they require focus and attention to detail, a walled cubicle may make sense. If they need to interact with employees more frequently, an open-concept plan would be more efficient.

At the end of the day, we spend a majority of our lives at work. If we want to make sure our employees continue to perform well, have high levels of job satisfaction and are motivated, it’s our responsibility to create a positive and enjoyable workplace environment year round.

What other ways can you think of to improve the positivity of your workforce?


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Good Grief: Managing Loss in Your Workplace

shutterstock_160641419Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life. I have experienced grief in my own life, so I know that it can feel like your entire world has abruptly collapsed, which is why returning to work after a personal loss can be incredibly tough.

In Canada, employers are required to give their employees three days of paid bereavement leave when a member of their immediate family passes away. While I appreciate that employees are given time off to grieve their loss, I know that it takes longer than three days to recover from a death in the family. I recently spoke with a friend of mine who had returned to work after the loss of his mother. He said, “It was strange to return to work and act professionally when inside it felt like my whole world had been turned upside down.”

Grief doesn’t just take an emotional toll on employees. A recent study found that 85% of management-level employees ranked their decision-making skills from very poor to fair in the weeks and months following the loss of a loved one. When someone is dealing with the complex emotions associated with loss, it can be hard to focus on projects and assignments. This, in turn, can impact other employees who rely on this individual for their work, therefore creating a stressful workplace environment.

So how can managers of people deal with grief in the workplace? While everyone deals with death differently, here is a list of tips for managers on how to manage grief in the workplace.

Make accommodations: While the grieving individual is away, understand that they might not be completely “back” when they return to work. Depending on the individual’s role in the company, you can try to alleviate some of their daily work stress by asking others to help pitch in. Having minor stresses eliminated from their workload will allow the grieving individual to ease back into their role more comfortably.

Incorporate grief training into your workplace: We spend a majority of our lives at work, so we are bound to experience grief at some point in our career. Knowing this, a proactive plan to deal with grief in the workplace could resolve a lot of issues. Teach your employees about the grieving process and how to deal with an employee who has lost someone. That way, if and when the time comes, they will understand how to better deal with the situation.

Give them a chance to talk: Some people want to talk through their emotions while others prefer to internalize them. No matter who the employee is, as a manager, make it your responsibility to let them know that you are there for them if they ever want to discuss their grief.

Get help: While there is a difference between grief and depression, the loss of a loved one can trigger depression. If an employee is having a difficult time adjusting after they have lost someone close to them and they continue to show signs of depression, contact your organization’s EAP provider. They can provide mental health support that will help your employee through this difficult time.

Loss can be overwhelming. Knowing your organization has the tools in place to help employees through this difficult time will make it easier to cope with grief in your workplace.


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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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How to Support Your Employees Struggling with Mental Health Issues

Mental health symbol conceptual design isolated on white background

During this month of Mental Health Awareness campaigns, I thought it would be a perfect time to shed light on how to better support those employees suffering with mental health issues.

These days, it seems that our work life is more hectic than ever before. Stress from work is one of the largest contributors to your workplace mental health. Although there can be inherent stress in many roles, many employees do not feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work. Of Ontario workers, only 60% said they would tell their managers if they were suffering from a mental health issue. Your employees spend a significant amount of time at work, so it is important that they can feel safe and supported. I have outlined below some ways that we can start the conversation and offer a welcoming environment to staff who may be struggling.

Mental health education in the workplace

Living with mental health issues can be challenging and overwhelming, and often the stress in explaining to others how you are feeling can be a source of concern. Posting facts and information about mental health in your staffroom is one way that co-workers can learn about how others may be feeling, while bringing the topic out in the open and encouraging others to come forward.

Meeting to discuss concerns

The most important thing you can do if an employee opens up about their mental health is to be compassionate and empathic. As a manager, your skills in being honest, professional and caring can minimize the stress your employee may be feeling. Initially highlighting the employee’s strengths and contributions shows how much they are valued, and then asking open-ended questions that will encourage an employee to request support or accommodation would be helpful. Ensure that you are ‘in-the-moment’ listening, not counseling or probing, and raise the possibility of providing accommodations if needed at this time.

Provide resources and follow-up

Offering resources such as the contact information for your organization’s EAP provider as well as community resources is another way that you can show support to the employee. Although the employee may not disclose a problem to you, they may contact the EAP provider or other professionals and request a workplace accommodation at a later date. Reach out to the employee in a short, reasonable amount of time, to see how they are doing and, if there is further assistance needed to help them do their best at work and in their personal life.

We can all play a part in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and it can start with a few kind words and a helping hand. I encourage you to connect with others that may be struggling silently to show that you care.


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See The Signs – Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

mental-healthJust a few weeks ago at a high school outside of Toronto, a fourteen-year-old girl stabbed and injured five students and two staff members. As a result, there has been more dialogue about bullying, mental illness and mental health, as we are reminded of the importance and seriousness of attending to mental illness in the workplace.

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma surrounding mental illness is widespread, often flying under the radar in the workplace because employees tend to suffer in silence – afraid to risk their careers by speaking out and employers are afraid to ask. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing serious situations from developing, and ensuring supports are in place.

Being able to recognize when your employees are distressed, and addressing these concerns, can help to break down the stigma and allow for communication between you and your staff. Let me share with you some tips on recognizing the symptoms of a possible mental health issue with an employee:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Absent or late more frequently
  • Relationship issues or conflicts with co-workers
  • Withdrawal or reduced participation
  • Anxiety, fearfulness, or loss of confidence

Each of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of an illness, but each can begin a conversation to show your employee, as their employer, that you are supportive and accommodating, especially if performance is suffering. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a caring environment and the probability of their success will increase as well.

Social media can be helpful in providing insight, as the young woman’s blog was her cry for help in the case of the Dunbarton High School stabbing. It is crucial for an organization to be trained and able to identify the signs of an employee who may be in danger of hurting themselves and/or others due to their mental state.

Early recognition of mental health problems, consultation for your supervisors with your EAP, referring employees with the above symptoms to the EAP for assessment, treatment and support, will all help your employees receive the support they require to return to work and/or better manager their job.

The bottom line here is that when your organization creates a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, it allows them to achieve and maintain success.


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Tips to Surviving the Holidays: Dealing with Holiday Stress in the Workplace

Holiday stress tipsThe holiday season is about “good tidings”, the pleasure of gift-giving, and spending time with loved ones. Given the stress involved for many to ensure a happy holiday, many employees are feeling the burden of managing their personal lives in addition to their job workload.

A recent study of over 700 full-time employees found that a large percentage indicated that the biggest stressor during the holidays is work, but that the stress changes. The concern becomes whether work obligations will affect their holiday celebrations and many also feel stress from not being able to take time off from their job to prepare for and enjoy the holidays.

Time and money are two other large factors in an increase in stress during this busy season. Is there enough time for shopping, party planning, and cooking, in addition to their workload? The pressure of buying gifts is also a significant stressor for those concerned about being able to pay the bills the following month.

This increased stress can lead to lowered output at work. One survey showed that over 40% of respondents in management roles reported that productivity noticeably decreases the week before the holiday. There are multiple ways you can help lower the stress during the holidays, including some of these tips:

  • Be flexible – It is likely many employees will request time off around the holidays, so if possible, allow for these days by asking staff in advance if time is needed, to allow for smooth functioning in the workplace .
  • Simplify – Minimizing the number of workplace obligations when there is an increase in external holiday get-togethers can reduce stress. A festive workplace party doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be enjoyable.
  • Emphasize value – Appreciation is particularly effective when given during this busy season to maintain performance levels at work.
  • Offer assistance – If employees are showing a lack of focus or irritability, have a chat to find ways to manage their workload.
  • Relieve deadline pressure – Hiring extra hands, even temporarily, can help to alleviate stress on your permanent staff.

Whether it’s stress from work, family or finances, aiming to improve stressful situations within the workplace can create a more relaxed atmosphere with higher levels of productivity.

What is your business doing to alleviate employee stress within the workplace this holiday season?


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Awareness of EAPs Can Significantly Increase Their Value

0 - blogIn the challenging busyness of our everyday life, workplace stresses and deadlines, caregiving to children and elderly parents, finances, and relationships, all can become an overwhelming experience. Remaining positive and still being able to offer your guidance at home to our loved ones and to our employees at work, can become a burden. Knowing where to turn for help is a large part of accessing help, but when our emotions are maxed, we don’t always remember what resources are available, their value to us, and how easily they can be accessed. This is exactly why EAP services are so essential for the wellbeing of your business and your employees to make it run effectively, and it underscores the importance of “spreading the word”.

As you may know, three of the biggest issues facing businesses today are employee retention, absenteeism, and loyalty. If your employees are struggling with personal issues and work issues, it only makes sense that they might be distracted from their work and, as a result, be less productive. It is often the case that these issues could sometimes be prevented, and utilizing an effective EAP can make your employees feel more supported, and give them the help and tools they need to improve their personal and professional lives to reduce these issues in the workplace.

Despite the fact that there are so many obvious benefits to having an EAP in your workplace, why are these programs still so underused or not even used at all? About 80% of Canadian employers have an EAP, but only 8% of employees actually make use of these services!

Why might your employees choose not to use your EAP, even though many of them would benefit from their services? I can think of four common responses:

  1. Our employees don’t think an EAP is entirely confidential.
  2. They don’t see EAPs as a preventative resource, just one to access in need.
  3. Our employees think their EAP only offers psychological support.
  4. They don’t even know it exists!

How can you encourage a change in your employees’ perceptions of using an EAP? How do you make your employees aware of what exactly an EAP is, and the benefits of using the services they provide? Well, I’d start by addressing the above four misconceptions:

  1. Access to your EAP is 100% confidential. As an organization, it’s important to communicate this to employees. An EAP cannot confirm nor deny an employee’s participation in the EAP without written consent from the employee(within legal limitations).
  2. Break the stigma in your organization! Reassure employees that no one is immune to experiencing personal issues on and off the job, and that seeking assistance before issues become unmanageable is beneficial to them personally and professionally.
  3. Reiterate to your employees that their EAP is so much more than counselling – it also provides coaching, legal, financial, nutritional services, and management support at no cost to them. .
  4. Make your EAP provider’s phone number available, and let your employees know that all they need to do is make the call 24/7.
    1. Ensure employees are aware of the full range of services available to them, using any and all communication channels. There is a direct correlation between the promotion of your EAP and the utilization of your EAP. Make EAP education a part of your employee onboarding and training process. Don’t let employee wellness and productivity suffer when help is readily available.

Education and communication are the best ways to encourage employee use of your EAP and overcome any stigma attached to it. As your employees start to understand that your EAP is a completely confidential service to help them deal with life’s challenges before they become too much to handle, awareness and acceptance will increase, and trust and comfort will be engendered. The use of your EAP will rise, in turn increasing employee wellness and productivity.

Are employees in your organization encouraged to reach out for help, even before issues become difficult to manage? What tools does your organization have in place that can be used to communicate EAP benefits? What other ways of communicating the EAP to employees can you suggest for an organization?