Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


Leave a comment

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?


Leave a comment

Staying Motivated During Uncertain Times

Aspiria-Motivation (1)Have you noticed how the news channels only seem to show tragedies around the world? I remember when an unexpected event would make headlines, and we were shocked by how horrific the situation was, and how many lives were taken. Today’s news headlines seem to be filled with airport bombings, gun massacres, immigrants fleeing en masse for their safety on lifeboats, uncontrollable forest fires, planes disappearing off radars, and stabbings in our neighbourhoods. The reports from all media are continuous, 24/7, and we are supposed to process the devastation and get on with our daily lives without interruption to our psyche?

As employers, you may have employees who are feeling the effects of all this chaos trickling down and affecting their ability to function at work at their best. You may observe this as more frequent sick days, employees arriving late or leaving early, and not asking for or taking more vacation time. Others may decline attending office parties, staff lunches, and other events or meetings with coworkers; difficulty dealing with problems, setting and meeting deadlines, maintaining personal relationships, managing staff, participating in meetings, and making presentations.

Depending on the individual employee, they can start to develop Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). These individuals may not feel that they are actively worrying, but this exaggerated fear can cause constant stress, and can stop them from living life fully.

Some signs of GAD can include:

  • Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
  • An unrealistic view of problems
  • Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating, and easily distracted from daily chores
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Being easily startled

How can you help? Be diligent in providing reassurance about their performance. As an employer, you can support your staff by encouraging an open-door philosophy to have a conversation about how they are doing and where they can find help. Show your support through posters in the lunchroom or through intranet communications, promoting self-help assistance or external resources such as the EAP.

Recognizing feeling of fear in ourselves and those around us, and supporting each other in unsure times, will help to motivate, rather than paralyze, creating a path to living life to its fullest.


Leave a comment

Learning to “Unplug” – The Benefits of Mindfulness

beach-workerAhhhhh. You finally have that relaxing moment on the beach, at the cottage, reading a good book, listening to music, or watching a movie, that feeling of relaxation, of contentedness, without a care in the world. Then you hear it, that inescapable sound, the ping: “You have mail”. And your reality comes crashing down on you: someone wants something from you that is work-related. You are instantaneously brought back to the work grind as all of prior emails you’ve written or have been sent to you hit you right between the eyes. That fleeting moment of bliss is gone.

In past blogs, we’ve talked about the ways a quality work-life balance can be achieved, but how can we really unwind when not in the office?

Newsflash: “Unplugging” (at home or in the car or on that beach), and not allowing the Pavlovian-like reaction of turning our heads towards the “pinging” of our smartphones is beneficial to our health.

Taking a break from emails, and smartphones in general, can help employees pay more attention to family and friends when they are away from the office, becoming more productive and better focused while working. A study by University of California, Irvine (UCI) and United States Army researchers revealed that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and physically experience less stress. The study showed that participants who had email access changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates, while those participants who were disconnected from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates. According to the study, the latter group reported feeling better able to stay on task.

Not being distracted by smartphones and email allows us to be more involved in the present, whether we are at work or on vacation. When we can practice mindfulness,(self-regulating our attention to the experience we are having at the moment), we can reduce our overall stress. Bringing awareness to our current experiences – the moment – promotes a feeling of relaxation, and more and more businesses are offering training programs to their employees in mindfulness. The findings of the aforementioned study provide fodder for employers to help their employees control email log-in times, batch messages, and create new strategies to reduce their email stress.

Two more thoughts for the day: a recent study has shown that teenagers who take their smartphones to bed get a poorer quality of sleep than those that turn their phones off. The generation of people (kids, teenagers, and adults) who have grown up with smartphones are losing the ability to have focused and meaningful conversations with their loved ones because they are distracted by their smartphones while simultaneously having the conversation.

Do you agree? What ideas do you have that could manage our email stress? Do you think mindfulness training would benefit your workplace? I invite your comments and suggestions below.


Leave a comment

Holiday Addictive Behaviour

halloween2_cs4The holiday season is upon us! Regardless of which religious holiday you celebrate, for many, December is a month focused on eating, drinking, and shopping. Naturally, this time proves difficult for those with addictive personalities, those recovering from an addiction, or those still living with one. Not only is the temptation high due to the activities occurring throughout the month, but the stress of the season also weighs heavily on some, due to family or financial pressures.

It is important to recognize that addiction is not only limited to drugs and alcohol. Addiction can manifest itself in many forms, including food, shopping, casino and on-line gambling, sex and even internet use. Regardless of the addiction that you or someone you know is dealing with, I would like to offer some suggestions for successfully overcoming temptation during the holidays.

  1. Mentally Prepare
    • Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. Acknowledge that the holidays may be especially difficult for you, and prepare to face temptation and triggers head-on. Run through possible scenarios in your head, and actively plan how you will manage them.
  2. Know Yourself
    • If you recognize your triggers, learn how best to deal with them. This could be going for a walk, talking to a friend, or writing out your feelings. Remember, what works for you might be different than what works for someone else.
  3. Avoid Negative Influences
    • If you know a certain situation will bring along people or activities that will test you, avoid them altogether. This may not always be possible with family commitments, but do your best to stay away from the optional events that you know will be difficult to get through.
  4. Create a Support System
    • Reach out to those closest to you for support. Share with them your struggles and let them know how they can help you, whether by keeping you accountable or diffusing negative situations for you.

While the holidays can prove to be a stressful, tempting, and overwhelming time, try to see the good in it all. Stay positive and focused, and the road to recovery may not seem so bleak! Every hurdle is another accomplishment to add to your list.

What has helped you manage similar issues during the holiday time? We’d like to hear about your personal experiences. Please share with us in the comments.


Leave a comment

How Can You Help Your Employees With Work-Life Balance?

work-life-balanceLast week, I addressed ways an employee can find work-life balance.

This week, I’d like to focus on the employer and how they can keep their staff motivated by providing an environment that values work-life balance. We can no longer ignore the fact that the majority of people spend more hours at work than they do with family or friends.

I’ve outlined below my top four recommendations that can help employers think outside the box and be creative in making a work/life balance for their employees:

  1. Flexibility

More and more employees are looking for flexible scheduling in their position, and this may include:

  • Changing shift schedules, e.g. work four 10-hour shifts, so staff can enjoy three days off each week instead of the typical two-day weekend
  • Offering seasonal hours
  • Trusting employees to self-monitor rather than punch a time clock. Some examples where this can be used include: when coming in late, making up the time later in the day; coming in early and leaving early; and, going to appointments on company time and making up the time.
  • Allowing employees to take a longer lunch, if they come in early or work later
  • Offering job-sharing between two part-time staff to provide flexibility while ensuring the work still gets done
  1. Telecommuting

When possible, incorporate a work-from-home policy, even if it is only a few days per year, like during major snowstorms. Virtual meetings can help employees that would find it challenging to be on site to attend.

  1. Appreciation

Appreciation does not have to be monetary. Make yearly anniversaries with the company an extra paid time off day to show staff their employer remembers and appreciates their tenure.

Present high-performing employees with family vacation packages in addition to, or in place of, yearly bonuses.

  1. Benefits Awareness

Keeping employees informed of your existing benefit programs are important, but do they understand how to use your Employee Assistance Program? Provide simplified access and ongoing communication and training to ensure employees are well-informed of the advantages and how the benefits can be used.

Every age group desires balance and flexibility while they manage their professional and personal interests and responsibilities. It’s time we start looking at the stress we can reduce for our staff, which can increase the opportunity for positive mental health to flourish.

While you may not be able to initiate all of these suggestions, even tackling a few will help employees see your organization’s concern for true work/life balance in the workplace and could keep them dedicated, productive, and emotionally healthy.

 

As an employer, what things do you feel you need to create a better work/life balance for your employers? What creative ideas have you offered your employees that have resulted in great success, and could you share any of them with our followers? I look forward to reading your feedback below.


Leave a comment

The Need for Resiliency in Your Life

resilience-plantResiliency is a term that has been gaining much traction in the mental health industry over the last couple of years because of its connectedness to improved wellbeing. Like many terms in the mental health industry, we hear it all the time, but what exactly does it mean to you on an every day level?

Simply put, resiliency is an individual’s ability to bounce back from setbacks or challenges in life with confidence and self-esteem in tact by harnessing inner strength. Resiliency is our defense against difficult times in that, as a skill, it allows us to see past the immediate period of hardship and into the future of more hopeful times. Resilient people have the ability to make realistic plans and carry them out while maintaining their self-esteem and a positive view of self and their abilities, even when negative life events challenge their confidence and energy.

Difficult events that challenge an individual’s resiliency could include death of a loved one, loss of a job, a relationship break-up, financial issues, etc. although all life events, large and small, could have an effect on an individual’s ability to cope.

Having a better understanding of the term, do you recognize people who exhibit resiliency in their lives? While it may seem innate or that you’re born with certain defences against life’s challenges, resiliency is actually a skill that is developed and honed as a result of a strong personal support network and experience with manageable challenges that helped build problem-solving skills.

Without a certain level of resiliency, individuals can be more vulnerable to destructive coping habits, such as substance abuse, self-harm and poor self-esteem that can develop into mental illnesses requiring professional support, such as depression and anxiety. As mental health issues become more prevalent in Canadians, particularly Canadian children, the mental health industry recognizes the need for patients to develop coping skills as preventative measures to mental illness. With improved learning and academic achievement, reduced risky behaviour and improved physical health, developing resiliency is a skill that will continue to serve the individual throughout life.

How can YOU practice resiliency in your life, and encourage it in others?

  • Get connected: Resiliency is less about “going it alone” and more about your ability to recognize when you need other people and relying on this support network.
  • Experience emotions: Experience your emotions as you need to heal, but recognize when fully experiencing emotions at all times may inhibit regular functioning and focus on concentrating on your routine.
  • Avoid seeing events as never-ending crises: Find perspective and recognize when things are getting a little better as this will help you retain hope.
  • Learn from experience: Learn to be reflective about your experiences and take note of how you handled things in the past to channel these tactics in the present.
  • Be proactive: Don’t allow things that ARE in your control get out of control, such as bills, chores, errands, etc. Keep a sense of purpose and accomplishment in your life by managing tasks you can handle.

Do you recognize people with resiliency in your life? What tactics do you use to get through difficult life situations? I look forward to your thoughts below.


Leave a comment

Mental Health Coping Strategies You Can Try Today!

office exercise

If you cope with mental health issues in your life, you might be familiar with experiencing a stressful, anxiety-inducing or depressing episode during the workday. This episode can be compounded by discomfort because you may not want to show that you are upset while at work. With 1 in 5 Canadians suffering from some kind of mental health issue, it becomes vital for us to develop and hone coping strategies and skills that allow us to support ourselves through difficult moments if formal support is not available.

We all know that learning to manage stress and mental health is a life-long journey, but how can you help yourself when you experience an episode in the workplace?  The following are tangible strategies that can help you maintain a sense of calm and control of your mental health while at work.

Talk (or Write) it Out: If it is appropriate, talk with a trusted family member, colleague or friend about what you are currently experiencing. Releasing some of the pent-up anxiety or bad feelings brings relief to the immediate symptoms that can keep us from being productive. If you are not comfortable speaking to someone or prefer to write out your feelings, take a few minutes to do so. Take note of potential triggers, exactly what you’re feeling and how long the experience lasts. This can help you uncover patterns and predict stressful situations.

Accomplish something: If you are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of things on your plate, it may help you to accomplish something – even if it is unrelated or minor. For example, if you are worried about completing all the items on a task list for a big project, it may help you to clear your email inbox or complete a timeline of how you plan to tackle the work. Ensure that you channel this feeling of accomplishment and capability into your task list.

Endorphins are your friend: We are all aware of the health benefits of exercise. Even a short, 10 minute walk can do wonders in terms of clearing your head, getting some fresh air and pumping feel-good hormones into your bloodstream.

Coaching Up: Coaching up refers to the process of offering suggestions to your manager or boss about ways in which he or she can support you in the workplace. Sharing only as much as you feel comfortable, tell your manager how you prefer to receive instruction, how you respond to stressful situations, and what times of day you are most productive. This opens the lines of communication between you and your manager so that the work environment is a safer place for you even when you are experiencing a mental health issue.

Be kind to yourself: We are often our own harshest critics and when we become stressed, overwhelmed or down, we forget to be kind to ourselves! Be a friend to yourself and think of what advice or support you would give a dear friend if they came to you with the same feelings or worries that you are currently experiencing. As a friend, you would be understanding and highlight your friend’s strengths and positive qualities. Remember to be this kind of friend to yourself!

Anxiety, worry and even bouts of depression can be found at home and at work, and it is unrealistic to expect us to purge ourselves completely from these feelings or episodes of poor mental health. What we can do is improve the way we manage our symptoms and find ways to support ourselves through a difficult time. What do you do to get yourself through a stressful situation? Would you feel comfortable using any of the coping strategies listed above? I look forward to your thoughts below.