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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How to Lead in Turbulent Times

protest_in_victoria_against_prorogation_of_canadian_parliament_2Recently, I’ve been incredibly distressed by what I’ve been seeing in the news. After one of the most divisive American presidential elections in recent history, hateful and discriminatory actions have broken out all over the U.S. This kind of behaviour has even managed to infiltrate Canada. Just the other day, flyers were posted in the East York region of Toronto promoting an “Alt-Right” ideology, essentially calling for white nationalism.

All this troublesome news got me thinking, how can I, as my organization’s leader, who also feels strongly about current world issues, continue to be a positive role model and create a safe space for my employees? One that promotes fairness and equality amongst all this destructive and divisive rhetoric in the world?

Whether we like it or not, managers and bosses play a large role in every employee’s life. While company leaders might not be outwardly discriminatory, their behaviour sets the overall tone of the workplace. If a boss is constantly putting people down or doesn’t take the time to listen, an employee’s overall job satisfaction can be affected. If employees are working with an encouraging and appreciative leader, it can make all the difference in the world.

Studies show that stress and anxiety levels have increased significantly in our post-election world, so it’s more important than ever that management teams establish themselves as positive leaders. So how can you accomplish this task? Here are some of my tips that have been helpful to me as a leader of people:

Keep it positive:

Repeating hateful words or continuing to bring up tragedy only enforces a sad and hateful message. While it’s important to acknowledge what is occurring around the world, focus on creating positive messages so your employees can feel inspired. Do this by encouraging your employees to continue to advocate for what is right and not dwell on fear and hate.

Keep it neutral:

Votes on both sides of the ballot for Brexit and the American Presidential Election were almost equal. This means, despite how different another’s point of view may be, there will likely be people in your workplace who disagree with your own political or social beliefs. While you’re entitled to your own personal opinions, try to keep them to yourself, just in case you alienate employees who may have a differing opinion. The Globe and Mail recently published an informative article on this topic, exploring the risks associated with company leaders disclosing their political opinions in the office.

Enforce it:

That being said, it’s your job as a leader to make sure all employees are treating each other with fairness, equality and respect. Ensure your employees know that hateful attitudes and disrespect will not be tolerated, and if there are reports of inappropriate behaviour, there will be consequences. Standing firm on this subject will show employees that poor behaviour is not acceptable in the workplace.

Reach out:

If you’re aware that people within your organization are struggling as a result of world issues, ensure they know you understand what they’re going through. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple made headlines with his email to employees after the election, stating:

We have a very diverse team of employees, including supporters of each of the candidates. Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals, the only way to move forward is to move forward together.”

The note has a neutral tone, but offered support to the entire Apple community. Letting your staff know that you’re all in this together will promote inclusivity.

 Talk to HR or Senior Management:

As previously mentioned, people around the world are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the political turmoil this year has seen. Encourage your management team to create a safe space for employees to talk about their problems, and discuss any grievances they may have as a result of another employee’s differing political views. By giving your employees a safe, confidential space to discuss these issues, it diminishes the chance of an argument breaking out amongst your staff. For staff members who are in need of mental health assistance, contact your EAP provider. They certainly will have the tools to work with organizations and individuals who require mental health support to address these conflicts in a safe environment.

As the founder and CEO of my company, I work hard to ensure that all of my employees are treated with respect. While it’s impossible to make everyone happy, it’s important as a leader to show your employees how to act accordingly and demonstrate your strength through these tough times.

“The ultimate measure of leaders in not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy”

-Anonymous

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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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How to Deal with Workplace Negativity

63037.PNGWe’ve all heard the expression “If you smile, the world will smile back” – well, the opposite is also true that if you’re negative, others become negative too. In a work environment, it only takes one or two people with a negative attitude to turn what was once a positive work environment into a stressful, depressing, and unhealthy workplace.

Although there are many reasons why employees may be feeling negative, as an HR professional you can help to turn things around before that negative feeling starts to spread to even your most positive employee. Negative and toxic employees can inject their emotional venom into everything if you let them and they are often resistant to change, but you can create an environment that fosters positive attitudes, thereby providing you and your employees support in creating a healthy environment.

Here are my top 4 recommendations designed to help you deal with negativity and toxicity in your workplace:

Communicate and Understand

Communication is always key and when dealing with negative attitudes, it is essential to communicate in an open and inviting way. It may be difficult, but speaking with the person who is causing the negativity and asking them to explain the problem as he or she sees it can go a long way in putting an end to the behaviour. Restate their explanation until they believe you understand their viewpoint. Only at this time, explain your point of view.

Make it Fun

When we build opportunities for fun into the workplace, it fosters positive attitudes and builds the healthy culture we all want. Create a few regular “fun” activities for the whole team to participate in. This could include everything from catered weekly lunches, cooking contests, picture day, or outings when staff can go together to a music festival, stand-up comedy night, or a learn-to-paint night. When you create a “fun” culture, it fosters healthy relationships and builds trust among colleagues.

Neutralize The Negative Energy With Positive Energy

As difficult as it can be when dealing with a negative person, lead by example and remain positive. Encourage positivity at every level and in everything you do as a company or department. The more positive energy, the sooner it becomes part of the corporate culture, combating negative attitudes and restoring employee hope. It’s about ensuring challenges are brought up in a healthy, positive way that doesn’t point fingers but instead collaborates to find solutions and move the company forward.

Find Resolution

Not everyone will change, but you can focus on increasing your understanding of your employee’s position, share with them, and find solutions with a constructive and healthy conflict resolution approach. Look to create an environment that facilitates progress and change. You may want to speak to your EAP provider about a conflict resolution specialist or an interactive lunch and learn on the topic. Finding a resolution isn’t always easy, but it helps teams find the right answers and takes into account everyone’s perspective.

Difficult people are a fact of life, but by dealing with negative attitudes in your workplace head-on, you will encourage cooperation and communication between employees, and foster new and creative ideas for your workplace. The benefits will not only be demonstrated through lowered absenteeism, fewer accidents, and increased productivity, but in creating a healthy work environment for all.


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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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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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4 Reasons Why You Need A Workplace Crisis Intervention Plan

pic_rippleeffectIn light of the recent events in La Loche, Saskatchewan, we are reminded of the importance of crisis intervention when disaster strikes and the problems that can arise. It is essential that workplaces think about implementing a crisis intervention plan. Crisis intervention refers to the methods that are used to offer immediate and short-term help to individuals who experience an event that generates emotional, mental, physical and behavioural distress or problems.

Employees who are not directly involved in the event can feel the ripple effect of a workplace trauma. Ensure your plan is inclusive of all your employees as any event can severely dampen (or hamper) the productivity of the workplace. With over 25 years of crisis intervention experience, I’d like to share with you 4 key reasons why you need crisis intervention in your workplace:

  1. Decreases the intensity of individuals’ reactions to a crisis, or return to their level of functioning before the crisis.

Research has demonstrated that crisis intervention training has positive outcomes such as decreased stress and improved problem solving. Decreasing the intensity of their reactions allows individuals to be able to cope with future difficulties. It aims to help in the prevention of serious long-term problems. This will have a positive impact on workplace performance and increase work life balance for your employees.

  1. Decreases the amount of absenteeism and potential turnover.

Individuals are more open to receiving help during a crisis. Crisis intervention is conducted in a supportive manner and the intervention’s duration is dependent on the person and situation. Adults and children alike can all benefit from this type of assistance, which can take place in a wide range of settings. Implementing this help following a crisis can be of benefit by decreasing the intensity of affected employees’ reaction to the event, resulting in less sick time, leaves of absences and/or terminations.

  1. Educates and encourages employees during times of crisis.

The success of crisis intervention is dependent on affected employees learning that their reactions to the event are real and that others are going through a similar experience (ie. validation). It is the goal for employees to learn that their responses to the abrupt and irregular crisis that has just occurred are predictable, temporary and normal (ie. normalization). It is encouraging and reassuring to employees to know that their employer cares. If management is seen as supportive, employees are more likely to succeed.

  1. Allow employees to explore and develop coping strategies.

The aftermath of a crisis can induce feelings that people are unable to deal with. Crisis intervention can help with coping strategies that allow for a positive workplace. It allows for options for social support or spending time with people who provide a feeling of comfort and caring. Reviewing the changes that an individual has made and proving that it is possible to cope, are beneficial to recovery.

The problem solving process involves:

  • Understanding the problem (validation and normalization) and the desired changes
  • Considering alternatives
  • Discussing the pros and cons of alternative solutions
  • Selecting a solution and developing a plan to try it out
  • Understanding that coping with crisis is a process that can take time
  • Evaluating the outcome

Making positive and realistic plans for the future whether in employees’ personal lives or at work is crucial and employers should be providing training for management to aid employees.

Are you prepared to manage a crisis situation? How would you accommodate your employees who are suffering and raise the awareness of treatment for this?