Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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How Fentanyl Has Become Everyone’s Issue

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Fentanyl has been making headlines, with drug use and abuse  becoming topics of discussion amongst health-care providers,  paramedics, and the police, but this potentially lethal drug is now  affecting the general public. How can you be affected?

 
When a patient has suffered some kind of painful trauma, it is not uncommon for them to be prescribed medication to help manage their pain. Fentanyl, like morphine and oxycodone, is an opioid, a class of drug that is prescribed for a variety of conditions and has incredibly powerful pain-relieving properties. After OxyContin (a stronger version of oxycodone) was pulled from the market, there was a window open for illegal drug sales. OxyContin was not only popular for people who became addicted as a result of over-prescription, it also appealed to heroin users. When production began booming on these illegal opioids, drug producers began importing more powerful ingredients from China, creating Fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Often, they would repackage the drug to their customers to make it look like OxyContin, leaving the user to either fatally overdose or become addicted to an even more powerful drug.

This issue brings to light the concern around drug addiction, and how important awareness is around prescription pain relievers.   A majority of prescription drug use doesn’t start out as a quest to get high; instead, people become addicted over time after being prescribed powerful medication.

If you are prescribed a powerful medication, make sure to ask your doctor and pharmacist about the side effects and any addictive qualities, and ask for a minimal number of pills and strength to start. Also, ensure you take your medication as prescribed, at the correct time of day and the correct dosage. If you have kids or young adults living in your home, make sure your medication is safely stowed away. For those living with addictions, whether it is to prescription or street drugs, the ramifications in the workplace can be seen with absences, missed deadlines and erratic behaviour. Be mindful of changes in fellow staff members’ behaviours and offering support is the first step to getting them help.

Another issue brought to the forefront is awareness around drug use amongst family members. Many parents of young adults who have overdosed or unknowingly took Fentanyl from a dealer had no knowledge of their son or daughter’s drug use. Certainly the challenges surrounding substance use are difficult for the individual as well as their familial supports, and often these supports need external help to cope.

If you or someone you know is living with drug addiction, talk to your EAP provider. Young students can speak to their SAP, or Student Assistance Program, at their school for confidential resources. There is help available and professionals with whom to discuss the painful issue of addiction. You don’t have to do this alone.


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What Does Your Company’s Dress Code Say About Your Workplace Culture?

A recent decision by Starbucks to allow its employees to wear any hair colour they like has sparked the dress code discussion again. Dress codes are not one-size-fits-all anymore; they really should reflect your company’s workplace culture just as Starbucks feels that this move balances the demands of employees with its brand and reputation.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that all I’d see in corporate offices were formally-dressed men and women, regardless of their positions or the type of company they worked for. This rigid corporate philosophy has now gone the way of the floppy disc. In fact, according to the 2016 Employee Benefit Survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, approximately 50% of workplaces have a business casual dress code in place, 22% of companies offer a casual dress code for the entire week, and 40% enforce a casual dress code on Fridays only.

Does allowing more casual attire in the workplace increase or decrease productivity?

I’ve read many studies on this issue and there is no clear-cut answer. There are those who believe that if employees are allowed to dress casually, they’ll be more comfortable and happier and therefore more productive. Others believe that casual clothing results in a casual work ethic and therefore employees will be less productive. One study sponsored by The Master’s College in California published the following conclusions: “There is an effect on… performance in the workplace because of casual dress… Casual dress has equally positive and negative effects, and… dress codes may or may not be necessary for professional performance.” In reality, there is no way to predict how a dress code will affect the performance of your employees.

Here are some points to consider when determining the dress code for your company:

  • The nature of your business – financial institutions and law offices will typically have much more formal dress codes than web designer agencies where most coders dress like Mark Zuckerberg. Also, do you regularly see clients at your office? The answer to this question may determine what is appropriate office attire. Perhaps you consider two dress codes, an internal one for the office when you are not seeing clients and an external dress code when you are visiting clients.
  • Ask for input from staff through a survey – Just as Starbucks changed their policy on hair colour to meet employee demands, I recommend that you consult with your employees when establishing a dress code, to consider their requests.
  • Be clear what is not appropriate and indicate why – wearing flip-flops to the office (more appropriate for a beach), for example, may actually be a safety hazard.
  • A trial basis of a new policy – to see the effects, positive or negative, consider a 3 to 6 week trial and ask for feedback through another survey. Checking in with your staff can make them feel heard and appreciated.

What do you think your company’s dress code says about your workplace culture? Would you consider changing it?


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Body Language in the Workplace – Does it Really Make a Difference?

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 8.48.33 AM.pngSometimes, it’s what you don’t say that speaks volumes.

When it comes to communicating with employees, body language can convey both positive and negative messages, often unbeknownst to you. In your role as leader within your workplace, it is possible to create and nurture a positive work environment by being aware of simple ways your body language can be effectively used.

I would like to share with you some ways that you could start immediately in developing a workspace that encourages positivity and teamwork:

  1. Valuing Input

You may have an open-door policy in place, but when an employee comes to you to share their ideas and issues, how you position yourself when listening to them can express that their input is welcomed. When seated, ensure that your arms are at your sides or on your desk and not crossed, and facing them with maintained eye contact. It is about maintaining an “open” stance to show an open mind to hearing what they have to say. When an employee feels valued, loyalty increases.

  1. Mirroring

As employers, we want our employees to feel connected and engaged in their work. Mirroring another’s body language is a powerful way you can create a bond and show acceptance. By “copying” their posture, facial expressions, seating position, gestures, or tone of voice, you are building an unconscious rapport that makes the other person feel “liked”. The key is to not immediately do the same gesture but rather, wait a minute or two, so the movement or expression is delayed and has the intended “subconscious” effect, without mocking. Feeling a sense of belonging can elevate their motivation, and mirroring can help to create this feeling.

  1. Initial Impressions

When meeting a new employee, offering a firm handshake and a warm smile can make a great first impression. Doing so can help create a relaxed atmosphere for those who are nervous, as well as speaking at a moderate pace. Speaking at a speed that is faster than the other person can enhance a feeling of pressure, and a relaxed tone and pace can help to alleviate any tension or awkwardness and give a good impression of the company at this early stage.

  1. Pay Attention to Signs

Happy and healthy employees can reduce turnover, and so it is important for you to ensure the well-being of your staff. Although certain physical gestures and expressions can indicate underlying conditions, be aware of how employees are sitting (leaning back in their chair or slumped over), avoiding eye contact, keeping their cellphone up as a “wall” between another person during a conversation, eye-rolling, are just some possible indications of unhappiness in the workplace. It is important to be mindful of whether staff consists of millennials or baby-boomers, as generational differences may affect how their body language expresses their feelings. Being able to recognize the signs is important to ensure that the proper supports are in place, such as an EAP, to increase employee satisfaction and dedication.

By becoming aware of the ways thoughts and feelings can be non-verbally expressed, you will be able to encourage a supportive and positive work environment.

How do you use body language when communicating with employees? Are there any ways you could improve your body language? Would you be able to recognize differences in your employees’ body language?

 

 


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3 Ways to Engage Your Millennial Employees in Workplace Wellness

Millennials-at-work_AckermanCo-SeriesJust like the baby boomer generation, millennials are driving a culture change in the workplace. Organizations are realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits and workplace wellness is simply no longer feasible. With millennials now comprising more than one-third of the workforce, and will be 75% of the workforce in 2025 (Deloitte), engaging this growing and influential demographic will be crucial to your business. Millennials are seeking out employers who make employee engagement a priority, and are looking for a company that offers a great learning environment, opportunities to get involved in the organization and community, and has a fun, supportive culture. Here, I suggest some things to consider when thinking about your workplace wellness programs:

  1. Develop social strategies

To engage your millennial employees you’ll need to be creative. Create social and fun opportunities and devote a significant portion of your time to team-building and encouraging socializing. How about an evening paintballing, or at an escape room? Embrace social media, smart phones and other online platforms and encourage employees to join in. While some may view this as a potential distraction, it can ultimately help your business by turning your workforce into a tight-knit community and facilitating strong communication between your employees. Organizing St. Patrick’s Day activities, get a mini air hockey/foosball table for the lunchroom, a chat group (like BBM) to specifically connect about work and non-work-related topics, or plan to surprise your employees for example, serving pancakes for breakfast. These are small things that allow your millennial employees to connect and socialize at work as well as outside of work.

  1. Managers act as mentors

Millennials crave regular feedback on their work, not because they want to be patted on the back every time they complete an assignment, but because they want to do solid work. Millennials often seek out feedback as a way of growing in their jobs and ensuring that their work is valuable to the company. One of the reasons why millennials are so interested in performing well, receiving feedback, and earning recognition for their work is that they are very interested in career advancement. Millennials tend to disengage quickly if they feel stuck in a dead-end job. Your millennial employees are looking to their managers for mentorship, and think of them as more than just a “boss.”

  1. Provide flexibility

While millennials can be highly dedicated to their work, it doesn’t mean they love the idea of spending eight hours in an office every day. For the first generation of digital natives, the idea of an office can feel somewhat antiquated since they are aware of how much work can be accomplished with no more than an Internet connection. It may seem counter-intuitive, but while many millennials are extremely interested in forming meaningful connections with their work and their fellow employees, they also tend to view themselves as being more independent than workers from earlier generations. You may find that you will get the most productivity out of your millennial employees by giving them the freedom to work remotely when possible, and by creating a casual office environment that allows employees to move around and work in groups. Video conferencing also allows staff to virtually sit in on all company meetings, collaborate, and have important conversations without anyone missing a beat.

These are but a few wellness suggestions that will need your attention in order to support your millennials help you grow your business. To be successful, you must take a proactive approach to meeting millennials’ needs. Ask your millennial employees what they look for in a workplace and what means most to them. Although culture change often takes time, beware: Millennials are accustomed to rapid innovation; they expect tomorrow’s wellness program today!


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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?