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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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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Better Mental Health? Sign Me Up!

volunteer-1550327_960_720There’s no doubt about it: the holidays can be stressful. As we make time for friends and family, parties and gift exchanges, the entire season can be hectic. The rush to purchase presents for our loved ones can feel almost like a chore as opposed to an exciting activity. Depression rates during the holiday season are also high. Students are dealing with the pressures of exams before heading home, and adults dealing with difficult family or relationship problems or the loss of a loved one can dread this time of year when we are supposed to be the most joyful. So how can we bring back the magic of the holiday season?

As I was discussing this issue with a colleague recently, he explained that after years of stress around the holidays, his family began volunteering at a soup kitchen every holiday season. He told me, “It really puts things into perspective. As I stress about finding the perfect present for my wife, there are people out there who worry about having enough food to feed their families everyday.” Volunteering his time to help the less fortunate during the holidays helped him appreciate all the blessings he had been taking for granted.

Not only does volunteering provide a sense of gratitude, it also has benefits for your overall mental health. A 2013 Harvard Medical School publication outlined the mental health benefits of volunteering your time to help others in need. The article states, “volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.” Around this time of year when these types of emotions may be magnified, volunteering can be even more beneficial.

Volunteering can add meaning to our lives. We live our lives looking for happiness in a vast world of billions of inhabitants, often feeling lonely, sad, and insignificant when we can’t find it. We are often misguided when we pursue material possessions we think will bring us happiness. Getting involved in activities that have purpose, that will make a difference – maybe to just one person, can add meaning to our lives. We all want to make a difference in our lives and this is what volunteering can achieve.

So how can you get involved this holiday season? From delivering gifts to the less fortunate to assisting at a homeless shelter, there are hundreds of ways you can volunteer. For example, click here to visit the Food Banks Canada website and see how you can help hungry Canadians this holiday season.

While the holiday season is difficult for a lot of people, giving back and volunteering your time to the less fortunate will not only help improve the lives of others, but also benefit your own mental health in the process.

 


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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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Taking Time for The Important Things Over the Holidays

relaxing at homeWhether you look forward to the holidays with anticipation or dread, there is no doubt about it that even though we may have time off over the holidays, it’s typically a time of more decisions, more buying, more cooking and cleaning, more decorating and entertaining… meaning even though you have more time, it feels like less time and that can lead to less time to look after your own health and well-being. Peace on Earth may seem impossible if you don’t have peace of mind.

Finding balance between family, holiday celebrations and your own personal “down” time can be very difficult to achieve, but I’ve outlined below a few tips to help boost your health and well-being.

 

  1. Take some time to get outdoors for a walk, hike or a run. Not only will the sun boost your vitamin D and help relieve seasonal affective disorder, it also decreases anxiety and improves sleep and the fresh air will help to rejuvenate your attitude and boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
  2. Take care of your mental health by saying no to at least one invite or shopping trip, or extra cooking requirement. Remember: It’s OK to slow down a bit.
  3. Unplug not only from work, but also from your mobile device. The constant cell phone buzzes and email alerts keep us in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode due to bursts of adrenaline. Not only is this exhausting, but it contributes to mounting stress levels. Try it for a few hours a day and work up to an entire day, if you can.
  4. Never underestimate the power of laughter. Spend time enjoying your family and friends and make sure to do the things that make you laugh. Laughing like crazy reduces stress hormones. That, in turn, helps immune cells function better.
  5. Try to keep an optimistic outlook – after all, it is the holidays and it’s time to celebrate with your family and friends. Staying positive will help you cope with challenges that come your way.

 

I hope you’ll realize the importance of unplugging and relaxing this holiday season – they are called holidays for a reason!

Wishing all of you a wonderfully healthy Holiday Season!


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Tips to Surviving the Holidays: Dealing with Holiday Stress in the Workplace

Holiday stress tipsThe holiday season is about “good tidings”, the pleasure of gift-giving, and spending time with loved ones. Given the stress involved for many to ensure a happy holiday, many employees are feeling the burden of managing their personal lives in addition to their job workload.

A recent study of over 700 full-time employees found that a large percentage indicated that the biggest stressor during the holidays is work, but that the stress changes. The concern becomes whether work obligations will affect their holiday celebrations and many also feel stress from not being able to take time off from their job to prepare for and enjoy the holidays.

Time and money are two other large factors in an increase in stress during this busy season. Is there enough time for shopping, party planning, and cooking, in addition to their workload? The pressure of buying gifts is also a significant stressor for those concerned about being able to pay the bills the following month.

This increased stress can lead to lowered output at work. One survey showed that over 40% of respondents in management roles reported that productivity noticeably decreases the week before the holiday. There are multiple ways you can help lower the stress during the holidays, including some of these tips:

  • Be flexible – It is likely many employees will request time off around the holidays, so if possible, allow for these days by asking staff in advance if time is needed, to allow for smooth functioning in the workplace .
  • Simplify – Minimizing the number of workplace obligations when there is an increase in external holiday get-togethers can reduce stress. A festive workplace party doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be enjoyable.
  • Emphasize value – Appreciation is particularly effective when given during this busy season to maintain performance levels at work.
  • Offer assistance – If employees are showing a lack of focus or irritability, have a chat to find ways to manage their workload.
  • Relieve deadline pressure – Hiring extra hands, even temporarily, can help to alleviate stress on your permanent staff.

Whether it’s stress from work, family or finances, aiming to improve stressful situations within the workplace can create a more relaxed atmosphere with higher levels of productivity.

What is your business doing to alleviate employee stress within the workplace this holiday season?


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Engage Your Employees This Summer and Have Some Fun

businessman-on-beachIt’s summer – the sun on your face, a balmy breeze and a cool drink are a few reasons we all love summer, but as an employer it can be difficult to keep staff engaged in their work. How can you compete with the allure of summer?

Apply the old expression “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Seize this opportunity to engage staff with your own “summer perks” plan that will make them feel more supported, appreciated, and inspired at work.

I have outlined below several ways you can help make your work environment more enjoyable and healthy for your employees during the summer months.

  1. Summer hours – consider offering summer hours for employees. Ask them to come in an hour earlier each day for 4 days and then they can leave at 1pm every Friday.
  2. Relaxed office dress codes – you may want to consider giving your staff some leeway on your dress code in the summer, including wearing golf shirts, casual sleeveless shirts, etc. The more comfortable employees feel while in the office, the more their heads will be in the game.
  3. Special Summer Events– You might want to consider hosting special events throughout the summer to celebrate your employees’ devotion while maintaining their engagement. You could offer anything from a smoothie machine once a week, to chair massages, ice cream treats, or an employee gathering outside of work hours. These efforts can go a long way toward showing your appreciation.
  4. Sponsored Events – depending on the size of your company, you could also consider arranging discounts with local businesses like sports teams or amusement parks, so your employees can enjoy some summer fun at a discount.

 
As the owner of an EAP company, I know that sunshine has positive effects on people’s sense of well-being. This can decrease possible incidents of depression, boost motivation levels, relieve tension and generally make everything seem more fun.

Have fun making your employees smile this summer!

What is your company doing to celebrate summer? Any tips on what has worked and what hasn’t worked in helping create a summer perks plan for your employees? I look forward to hearing about your perk plans and successes.