Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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.


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Stand Up to Sitting Disease

DEVO-I-FiguresHave you ever got up from your office chair after hours of sitting, and surprised yourself with how much time has passed since you last stood up? If this is typical for you and your employees, you all may be at risk of Sitting Disease.

Sitting Disease involves the negative health effects of inactivity, or over-sitting. Research has found that it is harmful to sit for long periods of time throughout the day. Our sedentary lifestyle of sitting more than half our day can increase the likelihood of a heart attack as much as a person who smokes.

Sitting Disease is a syndrome whereby your metabolism is lowered. This can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

By simply spending a few more hours standing in our day, our health can be greatly improved. In fact, life expectancy may increase by about 2 years if we all reduced sitting to less than 3 hours a day. I’ve outlined a few tips to help prevent sitting disease for you and your employees in your workplace:

Stretch at your Desk

  • Employees should spend no more than one hour sitting at their desk without getting up and moving. Your staff can do quick, easy and readily available stretches while at their desk either sitting or standing.

Talking and Walking

  • Talking on the phone in the office is a necessary part of the job, so encourage staff that when the phone rings, try standing or walking around while talking. If appropriate, see if headsets can be accommodated in your office.

 Gentle Reminders

  • Setting an “alarm” on their computer or cellphone on an hourly basis can remind employees to get up and stretch, or to go for a short walk around the office. For some, incorporating a standing desk for their computer could be of great benefit.

Healthy Competition

  • Provide employees with a pedometer to count their steps. Friendly competition among groups of coworkers can be created through weekly awards (i.e. juice bar or sport apparel gift certificates) to whomever is the most physically active in the group.

Don’t Always Bring Lunch to the Office

  • As odd as it may sound, encourage your employees to go for a walk to buy a sandwich for lunch, or to take a break during the day and go outside for a walk.

Skip the Ride

  • Suggest to your staff that after lunch is a great time to take the stairs to get back to the office instead of taking the elevator. If the office is located higher than the third floor, you could always suggest walking up a few flights and riding the elevator the rest of the way.

From standing on the subway to work, to going for a walk at lunch, to standing during TV commercials instead of relaxing on the couch, we can all find ways to incorporate physical movement to avoid Sitting Disease.


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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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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!