Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Women and Wellness in the Workplace

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

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

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

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

Domestic Responsibilities

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

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

Inequality 

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

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

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

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


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Tips to Reducing Workplace Bullying

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

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

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

As an Employer:

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

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

As an Employee:

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

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


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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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Why Laughing at Work is a Good Thing

coworkers-laughing-in-office-horiz

How many times have you written or read a job description that includes a sense of humour in the job skill requirements? I see it quite often and it makes perfect sense. In fact 96% of the executives surveyed by Accountemps believed that people with a sense of humour do better at their jobs than those who have little or no sense of humour and 89% of CEOs believe all things being equal, they’d rather hire someone with a good sense of humour. Humour in the workplace can provide many benefits to your company.

 

What can humour do for your company?

I believe that humour in the workplace is quite often misunderstood. I’m not suggesting that you launch into a comedic stand-up routine at the start of your next meeting or encourage your staff to play practical jokes on each other; but giving your employees permission to relax and laugh can go a long way. Humour in the workplace can:

  • Attract employees
  • Improve employee retention
  • Reduce employee churn rates
  • Improve employee morale
  • Reduce stress and boredom
  • Boost engagement and well-being
  • Reduce employee absenteeism
  • Improve creativity and collaboration
  • Improve productivity

How you can add humour in your workplace

  • Call a meeting specifically to discuss adding humour to your workplace and let everyone brainstorm ways to do it. After the group has come up with some great ideas, add the best ones to the calendar on a monthly or quarterly basis. It’ll be great for morale to have fun things to look forward to.
  • Create a humour committee who will pursue initiatives that add humour to your workplace. Many companies already have social committees that plan events or team sports like baseball leagues so why not a humour committee?
  • At team meetings have everyone bring in an industry related comic or funny story to share. Vote on the best one and then post it in the lunch room.
  • At team meetings, have a spontaneous brainstorm session. Invite staff to be creative, think outside box, and come up with a “crazy funny” idea for the company. You never know, there could be a new line of revenue waiting to be hatched for your business!
  • Have fun coming up with conference/meeting room names. At Facebook, employees vote on the name of the conference room in their designated area.
  • Give your staff permission to be spontaneous and have fun at work. As numerous studies have shown employees that have fun at work are happier and more productive.

Business sometimes is too serious. Happy employees are productive employees and that’s good business. Do you have a culture of “humour” at your workplace? What changes can you make to add more humour to your workplace?


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The Importance of Inclusion and Diversity in the Workplace

diversity

Like you, I too was shocked to hear the news on June 12, 2016 of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. There was no question, this was a hate crime.

Unfortunately hate crimes have woven themselves into the fabric of our culture. They’re all too common on our streets, in our workplaces and in our schools. No one is immune. Hate crimes are committed on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or national origin; none of them rational reasons. We can’t begin to understand a hate crime because a rational mind can’t comprehend an irrational thought process.

How can we combat hate crimes?

With over 20 years in the EAP business, I share the sentiment of Mayor Dyer when he called for the city to come together. “We need to support each other. We need to love each other. And we will not be defined by a hateful shooter,” he said.

It is so difficult, yet essential that in the face of adversity we are resilient and stay strong. To combat hate crimes, it’s imperative that we create diverse, inclusive and supportive environments in our communities, workplaces and schools. Everyone has a right to feel safe.

Five Tips for Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

  1. Identify new talent pools
  • Advertise postings in different media than where you typically post for new hires
  1. Offer diversity training
  • Lunch and Learns are a great way to educate your staff on our cultural and social differences
  1. Organize employee resource and affinity groups
  • Encourage the creation of “communities” within your organization that allows people with similar backgrounds and experiences to network, mentor, and socialize
  1. Support employee development
  • Staff of varying backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems bring a range of work styles and perspectives to the table, in turn enhancing creativity and efficiency
  1. Accommodate employee needs
  • Creating an open environment that welcomes diversity, whether it be through posters in the office to sharing company community partnership successes on social media, encourages staff to come forward with requests for accommodation

In addition to “doing the right thing”, organizations that have embraced diversity have shown gains in employee engagement, effort and retention. With workforces becoming increasingly global, accommodating our differences can create an inclusive environment that is more resilient and one where everyone can feel safe.

I leave you with these words from one of the great leaders of our time:

If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.

John F. Kennedy

 

Does your organization embrace diversity and/or offer diversity training in your workplace? Does your organization practice inclusion?

 

 


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Keeping Your Cool in the Workplace this Summer

10459716_xxl_1600_536_c1_c_c_0_0_1The warmth of the summer months beckon us to spend time with family and friends outdoors and away from work to enjoy these precious days of sunshine. However, there are challenges to maintaining our mental well-being when these days come. I would like to share with you some facts about working in the summertime, and how you can help your staff feel their best.

Spreading the hours around

A study noted in the Huffington Post found that 26 per cent of Canadians are not using paid vacation days provided by their employer. The majority of those said it was because they felt they had too much work to do and taking time away would leave them behind in their work. Others are saving their vacation days for emergencies, and still others claimed to not want a vacation. By encouraging staff to take time away, even for a staycation, the benefits in creativity can be reaped when returning with a fresh view and feeling more relaxed. Time away also decreases burnout and subsequently can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Covering for others

According to CMHA Ontario, the summer months of vacation time can be a cause of stress for those filling in for others in their absence. Whether it is on the assembly line or in an office, taking on the job of another, often one that they may have little experience doing, can make those employees feel anxious and stressed. When personal life stressors occur during this time, the pressure at work can seem overwhelming. To make vacations work for everyone, discuss with everyone the upcoming workload so you can plan deadlines around vacation dates. Knowing who is on vacation and when will also help you plan your projects. Ensure staff that is covering for others are clearly aware of new tasks and responsibilities, and check in to see how manageable the workload is while other staff is away.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects some in the winter months with shorter and colder days, but there are some individuals who are affected by depression in the summertime. Increased humidity is unbearable for some, who may stay in their air-conditioned home to avoid the heat, and are likely less active as a result. When it’s too hot to cook, many choose to eat out or order in and poor food choices are often made. Changes in routine and schedules can bring on feelings of depression, such as having bored school children or university students now at home. Financial strain with camp and entertainment costs is increased, as well as the costs of going on a destination vacation. Wearing shorts or bathing suits can increase feelings of poor body image, and may inhibit some from joining friends at the beach or poolside. Some signs of summer depression to look for in your staff could include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, and feelings of anxiety. One way to stave off symptoms of depression is to maintain physical fitness, so encourage employees to use their employee discount at the air-conditioned gym, even for the summer months. Another way to maintain mental wellness is to stay connected, so hosting a BBQ for staff to enjoy each other’s company outside of the workplace and engage with each other in a social environment helps build camaraderie, minimize isolation and enhance work relationships.

I hope you take the time to enjoy your summer, with your co-workers, family and friends!


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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.