Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Terry Fox Run: Supporting Your Workplace When a Co-Worker Has Cancer or Has Been Touched by Cancer in the Family.

people-2569234_960_720The annual Terry Fox Run on September 17th was not only an important event, but also a good reminder to talk about a very important issue – supporting your workplace when an employee or family member has cancer. Although the Terry Fox Run and other excellent cancer organizations continue to tirelessly raise money to battle this disease, we can all play our part, especially in the workplace.

The Canadian Cancer Society has released some daunting statistics in a new report. Almost one in every two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and one in four Canadians will die from the disease. In 2017, an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Our sad reality is that we will all be touched by cancer in some way. That’s why I thought it’s so important that we learn how to provide support in our workplaces, not only to an employee who has cancer or is touched by cancer in the family, but to the rest of the team as well.

Why is it so important to support the rest of your team if a co-worker has cancer or has been touched by cancer?

We’re often so focused on the employee who has been diagnosed with cancer that we may forget that it also has a huge impact on the employee’s family as well as having an effect on your entire organization; this can be particularly true for smaller businesses and within departments. Colleagues may experience fear, anxiety, guilt and disbelief. Watching a colleague and sometimes a friend struggle or be affected by a loved one who has a life-threatening disease can cause depression and feelings of helplessness. Very low morale can spread through an organization like wildfire.

How can we support our workplace when an employee or an employee’s loved one has cancer?

Coaching: Provide coaching to managers with a team who are affected by that colleague.

  • Provide information about cancer, prognosis, treatments, duration, side effects, etc. so they’ll know what to expect and how to prepare their teams (and answer questions)
  • Educate how to recognize signs of fear, anxiety, depression or feelings of helplessness

Support Groups: Establish support groups to provide peer support for those affected by a colleague with cancer. These support groups can meet in person and online to accommodate those working remotely or in other locations.

Encourage team members to show support: Doing positive things often inspires positive feelings.

  • Don’t avoid your colleague – it’s ok to ask them how they are
  • Treat your colleague normally, but don’t pretend they are not experiencing a life-altering event
  • Be available to listen
  • Stay in touch
  • Offer to do something practical like cook a meal
  • Try to be patient and understanding – your colleague may not always be in good humour

Discuss what resources are available:

  • EAP services
  • OnCallogic – a new service that provides organizations with mental health support for those affected by cancer through a series of specialized counselling sessions
  • Extended health care plans

The cancer diagnosis of one employee or that employee’s family member can have far-reaching effects on any organization, particularly on a small business or department. It’s important that, as an employer, you support your workplace when your employee or their loved one has cancer. Ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support program. If you don’t already have an EAP in place, I strongly encourage you to reach out to an EAP provider for assistance.

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World Suicide Prevention Day: Suicide in the Workplace

Suicide Prevention.jpgSuicide is an incredible tragedy, at any age or stage of life. In the past, I’ve discussed the growing rate of suicide among young adults – teenagers in particular. However, suicide can touch anyone and sadly, suicide rates in the workplace are on the rise. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. I think it is so important that we bring suicide out of the shadows and discuss what part we can play in preventing suicide in the workplace.

Is suicide a problem in the Canadian workplace?

You may not realize how prevalent suicide is in our workplaces and the numbers of Canadians affected by suicide are staggering. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP):

  • It’s estimated that more than 3,000,000 Canadians have been affected by suicide
  • It’s likely that many people in every workplace have known someone who has died by suicide
  • Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death in Canada
  • Working-aged men and women represent one of the highest risk groups for suicide
  • Men of working age die by suicide 3 to 4 times more often than women
  • Women are hospitalized for suicide-related behaviour 1.5 times more often than men
  • Although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, middle-aged men (40 to 59) have the highest rates

Why is workplace suicide on the rise?

Many attribute the rise in workplace suicide to globalization which has really altered the way we work. Job insecurity, the shift to contract workers, unrealistic targets and deadlines, the pressure to produce profit and the abandonment of any work/life balance are all contributors.

What can you do to prevent suicide in your workplace?

There are many things that you can do to prevent suicide and promote mental health in your workplace:

  • Promote information and resources on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention (suicide bereavement)
  • Create a caring work environment
  • Reduce the stigma that accompanies suicide
  • Give your managers and employees the right tools to be able to identify and support employees at risk of suicide
  • Once at-risk behaviour is recognized, act on it – make sure your employee gets the appropriate help, work on reducing stress levels, perhaps flexible hours or working from home…
  • Ensure that employees that are bereaved by suicide get the help that they need
  • Encourage help-seeking behaviours
  • Establish a response protocol in the event of a suicide or suicide attempt at work

What are the benefits to becoming a suicide-safer workplace?

There are many great reasons for becoming a suicide-safer workplace:

  • The number 1 reason is that you could be saving lives!
  • Workplaces injuries and absences will be reduced
  • A happy and healthy workforce is more productive
  • A compassionate and psychologically safe workplace inspires employees to be their best

It’s important for every company to play their part in suicide prevention. Does your company have a suicide prevention program in place? You can make a difference.


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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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Get Outside! Ecotherapy Can Benefit Your Mental Health

With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, let’s celebrate by making a commitment to reconnect with nature and reap the benefits.

Urbanization has caused our disconnection with nature

More than 50% of the world’s populations now live in urban settings and we’re contending with sensory overload on a daily basis. In order to keep up with our lifestyles and work demands, many of us are sleep-deprived, fighting traffic or overcrowded transit systems, and eating at our desks. We spend little to no time outdoors in green spaces. As a result, numerous studies have shown that urban dwellers are at a much higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people who live in more rural settings.

Some countries are actively using ecotherapy (also known as natural therapy or green therapy) to combat the effects of urbanization. These programs encourage interacting with nature and participating in outdoor activities, to help heal and nurture the mind and body. There are three therapeutic “healing forests” in South Korea (with 34 more planned by 2017). In Sweden, virtual nature spaces are prescribed for workers suffering from stress.

Fresh air is good for you

We all know about the benefits of physical exercise, but just being in nature can improve your mental outlook. You don’t have to bike or run; you can sit on a park bench, go for a stroll, or sit on a patio to reap the benefits. And you don’t have to make a major time commitment. You can benefit significantly from spending just 15 minutes a day in nature.

How spending time in nature can improve your mental health

There are many benefits to connecting with nature:

  • Mood elevation
  • Restored mental energy
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower stress levels
  • Increased alertness
  • Better concentration
  • Improved short-term memory
  • Better sleep
  • Increase in Vitamin D

Small changes can make a big difference

As an employer, you can help your employees reconnect with nature. With pleasant weather upon us this spring, encourage your employees to take their lunch breaks outside or at least go for a walk around the block. If your office building has outdoor spaces, put out some picnic tables. Organize group outdoor activities in the summer months – a weekly softball or Frisbee game over the lunch hour or after work, potluck lunch at the local park with a badminton net and three-legged races, golf tournaments, or a harbour cruise. These activities will boost morale and improve mental health, which is beneficial for your employees’ overall health.

What are you doing to help your employees reconnect with nature?


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High-Functioning Depression: The Mental Illness that Hides in Plain Sight

April 7th is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. While we have focused quite a bit on the topic of depression in light of “Bell Let’s Talk Day” only being a few weeks ago, I thought I’d discuss an issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it should – high-functioning depression.

Take a minute to think about an employee you talk to every day. You may chat with them about their family, discuss your plans for the weekend, or even joke around with them. Now imagine that on the inside, that employee is suffering from low energy, negative thoughts, and is struggling to keep a smile on their face. This is the reality for people living with high-functioning depression.

Just like regular depression, high-functioning depression results in loss of energy and feelings of hopelessness. The difference is, people with high-functioning depression don’t show any of these symptoms physically. They can go to work in the morning and perform tasks perfectly well. In fact, they could even be one of the highest-performing employees on your team. One could say that the “overachievers should not be overlooked”.

When it comes to high-functioning depression, a person’s outward behaviour doesn’t match the reality of what they are feeling. They plow through to get things done in their personal and professional lives, but are “exhausted”. High-functioning depression has been likened to “running a race with a weighted vest”. Because that vest is “invisible”, the illness often goes unnoticed by friends, family, coworkers, and HR managers.

Although the nature of high-functioning depression makes it difficult to detect, it’s certainly not impossible. There are subtle signs that may help you tell when an employee is suffering. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing the situation from developing, and ensuring support is in place. Let me share with you some of the signs that an employee may have high-functioning depression:

  • Constant self-criticism and/or feelings of low self-worth
  • Place too much pressure on themselves
  • Feel like they are wasting time on the job
  • Feel like they have little life purpose or are lost
  • Feel like they are a nuisance to their family and friends
  • May have substance abuse problems outside of work
  • Worry about the small stuff and are unable to let things go

The feelings associated with these signs are not necessarily manifested on the outside and these signs do not necessarily indicate the presence of high-functioning depression, but glimpses of these signs can be flags for you to offer support.

It’s important for a manager, HR or otherwise, to remember that a mental illness doesn’t have to be seen to be real. Ensuring that you’re checking in with your staff and starting an open dialogue can make all the difference when it comes to helping an employee with high-functioning depression. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a supportive environment.

Do you pay attention to the employees that seem “okay” on the outside? Do you have the support mechanisms in place to encourage open communication?


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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?