Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Spotlight on Mental Illness: Social Anxiety in the Workplace

ASP Aug 1Social anxiety disorder is also referred to as social phobia. And it’s much more common than you’d think. Social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health problem in the world today according to the Social Anxiety Association. Although employees may feel that they can hide social anxiety disorder in their personal lives, it’s virtually impossible to do the same in the workplace. Let’s discuss what social anxiety disorder is, how you can detect if an employee is suffering from it and what, as an employer, you can do about it.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is the intense fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and embarrassed by others. This leads to avoiding social situations that involve interaction with other people at all costs. As employers I’m sure you’ve seen how social anxiety disorder can have a negative impact on work performance and personal relationships. As a result social anxiety disorder can also significantly contribute to lost productivity. The good news is that social anxiety disorder is very treatable.

How can you recognize if an employee is suffering from social anxiety disorder?

People suffering from social anxiety disorder may exhibit any or all of the following behaviours:

  • May be seen by others as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, unfriendly or aloof
  • Avoid meetings and social situations, speaking in public or even talking one-on-one
  • Difficulty meeting people in authority
  • Rarely make eye contact
  • Overwhelmed or upset easily
  • Find it hard to make decisions
  • Difficulty with time management and meeting reasonable deadlines
  • Uncomfortable being watched while doing something
  • Fear of taking on new challenges or learning new things
  • Try too hard to be perfect
  • Experience physical symptoms – racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, clammy hands, trembling, nausea, stammering or shaky voice

What can you do as an employer to help employees suffering with social anxiety disorder?

There are several things that you can do to help your employees deal with the day-to-day stressors in the workplace:

  • Be open and accepting about mental health issues to reduce the stigma
  • Show concern
  • Improve mental health literacy in your organization
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize the symptoms of social anxiety disorder
  • Make available and promote the benefits of an EAP program
  • Encourage employees to seek care when they need it
  • Ask your employee if they need additional support and what that support might look like
  • Let your employee know what support services are available
  • Accommodate your employee by finding the right type of work to match their comfort level
  • Provide modified workspaces, flexible schedules or permission to take breaks when needed

Do you have a program in place to help employees with social anxiety disorder? It’s important to build a culture that demonstrates to all employees that they are cared for and valued. A supportive workplace inspires employees to feel loyal, dedicated and motivated which benefits the entire company.


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LGBT Pride Month: How to Foster Inclusion in the Workplace

IMG_7553.jpegJune is LGBT Pride Month, and I feel this is a great opportunity to discuss why LGBT inclusion in the workplace is important for employee wellness and how employers can foster an environment of inclusion.

According to a recent study by Telus, about one-third of respondents don’t find their workplace safe and inclusive for lesbian and gay employees. In addition, the study found that:

  • 57% per cent of respondents said they’re not fully out at work
  • 22% are worried about a hostile work environment
  • 15% are concerned about losing out on career opportunities
  • 10% are worried about personal safety

Many LGBT individuals facing discrimination in the workplace suffer mental health issues

“LGBT-identified individuals experience higher levels of depression and anxiety, and have higher incidents of suicide,” says Colin Druhan of Pride at Work”. “And the discriminatory treatment they receive from others, including in the workplace, contributes to those statistics. People should feel safe at their job, not afraid of being shamed or harmed. But many LGBT employees choose not to reveal their sexual orientation in their workplace, thinking it will make co-workers uncomfortable, or alienate them. Some fear retaliation.”

What can employers do?

Although many companies have policies regarding inclusion, it is clearly not widespread enough. And while protecting employees from discrimination is both a legal and ethical responsibility for employers, there is often a disconnect between policy and practice. There are many things that you as an employer can do to foster an inclusive work culture that is welcoming to all:

  • Develop company-wide policies regarding inclusion
  • Institute anti-discrimination and harassment policies that address homophobia
  • Promote diversity at work
  • Educate all employees and support lesbian, gay and transgender employees through resource and networking groups
  • As a company, oppose laws that suppress gay rights
  • Take part in community, fundraising and volunteering events that support the LBGT community

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

Diversity promotes and encourages different perspectives and different talents. It can inspire employees to think beyond their own views, push their boundaries, and reduce stigma. I believe we need to create cultures of diversity and inclusion so that everyone feels free and safe to be who they are. Diversity will strengthen your company. It will enhance your recruiting and retention efforts. Employers who fail to create safe, respectful environments risk losing valued employees and clients to more inclusive companies. And according to Pride at Work, the LGBT community has an annual economic impact in Canada of over $100 billion. Doesn’t it make business sense then to promote diversity at work?

Does your company have an inclusion policy in place? How does your company promote diversity and inclusion? Do you actively recruit a diverse workforce?

 

 

 

 


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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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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.