Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Let’s Walk the Talk

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Image courtesy of ctvnews.ca

On January 31st, Bell Let’s Talk Day will again promote mental health awareness, acceptance and action, donating significant funds it raises to fighting stigma, supporting world-class research, improving access to care, and promoting open dialogue. This initiative makes a huge impact on social media every year, and reminds us of how important it is to be able to actually talk about mental health. As the Founder and CEO of an EAP and SAP service provider to organizations large and small, I believe that such initiatives help so many living with mental health issues, both directly and indirectly. However, the key is to not just talk the talk, but to walk the talk as well, from the top down.

When we consider how vital the well-being of our employees are to the success of the businesses we lead, to create and maintain a healthy and motivated company culture, and to the company’s bottom line, we cannot ignore the essential value of meaningful wellness programs. Wellness initiatives can range from ‘lunch and learns’ to posters in the lunchroom, to discounts at the gym to access to professional counselling, to social outings; and they all have the importance of potentially enriching the lives of the employees we support and value. Our staff work hard, dedicating themselves to achieving targets and going above and beyond for our customers and clients, so keeping them motivated and looking forward to coming to work helps keep morale high in the workplace. However, when we do not practice what we preach, and do not have programs in place, or worse, they are available but not valued, then they are perceived as ‘lip-service talk’, disingenuous, and can actually create more damage than not making them available in the first place!

As leaders in our field, we understand how the examples we set lay the foundation on whether we are truly an anti-oppressive and inclusive organization. When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, we know how important it is to have management and directors be approachable and understanding, whether the source of stress is from aspects of the job or in our personal lives. By relaying that approachability to staff, and actually following through on those accommodations and leave requests with genuine care and sincerity, we are setting examples that indicate we are walking the talk. When employees are given the opportunity to access professional help through their EAP, or taking time to stay well, we are encouraging their return-to-work sooner and demonstrating that our company is supportive. We value our staff, investing in them as employees, but also as a valuable member of the human race, one that I want to be proud of. So when we listen to employees’ mental health concerns and take action, that indicates genuine support, and we are truly engaging in open dialogue – so let’s talk!

How is your organization walking the talk? What things have you put in place to ensure your organization is supporting mental health? I look forward to hearing from you!

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How to Deal With & Prevent Office Gossip

You may think that gossip is the exclusive domain of teenagers and reality TV, but gossip, when it exists at the workplace, can create a toxic work environment. As a manager, dealing with workplace negativity is part of the job description, but gossip can take negativity to a whole new level. Allowing gossip to flourish unchecked can impact productivity, morale, employee engagement and retention. In some cases gossip can even lead to liability issues.

Tips for dealing with negative office gossip

  1. Stop the negative gossip on a personal level. Identify the gossiper(s) and set up a meeting “behind closed doors”. If there is more than one gossiper, set up individual meetings. Allow the employee(s) to explain their side of the story and discern if there are any underlying issues that need to be dealt with. Make the employee aware of the negative impact of their actions and clearly delineate the consequences if this behaviour continues (e.g. written warning).
  2. Meet with your entire team. Call a staff meeting to discuss negative gossip in the workplace and the impact that it has. Open the lines of communication and encourage your employees to feel free to bring their concerns to management instead of starting rumours without basis in fact. If necessary, introduce a policy that makes it clear that negative gossip will not be tolerated and speaks to the consequences of this behaviour.
  3. Encourage positive gossip. Yes, gossip can also be positive. Sharing individual and team wins can reinforce a strong team bond and improve morale. Studies have shown that very often employees are more motivated by professional recognition than money. Take some time at every staff meeting to share positive gossip stories. Create an achievement wall where employee accomplishments can be posted. Highlight an Employee of the Month. Keep the conversation positive and focused on the successes.
  4. Be a role model. You have to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”. Model the behaviour that you want to see in others. Spread positive gossip.

How to prevent negative office gossip

While it may be impossible to completely eradicate gossip at work or water cooler talk, the key to addressing negative work gossip is Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Frequently, negative office gossip occurs as a result of poor internal communication. Change in the workplace often breeds fear and fear breeds negative office gossip. Open the channels of communication. Create a safe environment for people to express concerns, ask questions and make suggestions. Remove any reasons for negative gossip.

Is your workplace an environment that communicates well and inspires positive gossip?


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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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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.