Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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International Longevity Month: Stress in the Workplace

Workplace StressOctober is International Longevity Month. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss the relationship between workplace stress and life expectancy and what you can do to help reduce the stress levels your employees may be experiencing. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “worked to death”. Sadly, it’s more than just an expression; it can be a reality in the workplace. Studies have shown that stress in the workplace can actually shorten your life.

“Decades of health research has found that the effects of stress compounds over time, starting with psychological stress, which can eventually lead to physical problems like high blood pressure and even death,” according to Erik Gonzalez-Mule, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. In order to cope with stress, many people resort to unhealthy behaviours like smoking, drinking too much, over-eating or living a sedentary lifestyle. Other employees may up and leave before their stress levels become dangerous. In fact, according to Monster Canada, 25% of Canadians admit to leaving a job due to stress and another 17% have considered it.

What are the symptoms of stress?

According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, these (among others) are the signs of stress to watch out for:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Low productivity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Increased use of alcohol or tobacco
  • Headaches
  • Over or under eating
  • Sweaty palms
  • Fatigue
     

What can you do to help reduce the stress levels among your employees?

It’s important to create healthy psychosocial work environments. I have several suggestions for creating less stressful, happy workplaces:

  • Flexible work schedules – gives employees a feeling of having control.
  • Work from home option – alleviates the stress of a long commute or taking children to and from daycare
  • Open communication between management and employees – provides a safe environment for employees to discuss their situations and to ask for help or accommodation
  • Encourage out-of-work team bonding – helps to build relationships and social connections
  • If there is an onsite gym or yoga classes, promote its use – or partially subsidize membership in a nearby offsite facility (if possible)
  • Encourage employees to take short breaks during the course of the day and get up from their desks at lunch – even a short walk or chatting with a colleague can help relieve stress

Creating a less stressful workplace is important for your employees and for your company. Employees becoming ill (or worse) due to stress, going on stress-leave or quitting due to stress can cause havoc with morale, productivity, and your bottom line. A happy and healthy workplace is good for your employees and it’s good business.

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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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How to Lead in Turbulent Times

protest_in_victoria_against_prorogation_of_canadian_parliament_2Recently, I’ve been incredibly distressed by what I’ve been seeing in the news. After one of the most divisive American presidential elections in recent history, hateful and discriminatory actions have broken out all over the U.S. This kind of behaviour has even managed to infiltrate Canada. Just the other day, flyers were posted in the East York region of Toronto promoting an “Alt-Right” ideology, essentially calling for white nationalism.

All this troublesome news got me thinking, how can I, as my organization’s leader, who also feels strongly about current world issues, continue to be a positive role model and create a safe space for my employees? One that promotes fairness and equality amongst all this destructive and divisive rhetoric in the world?

Whether we like it or not, managers and bosses play a large role in every employee’s life. While company leaders might not be outwardly discriminatory, their behaviour sets the overall tone of the workplace. If a boss is constantly putting people down or doesn’t take the time to listen, an employee’s overall job satisfaction can be affected. If employees are working with an encouraging and appreciative leader, it can make all the difference in the world.

Studies show that stress and anxiety levels have increased significantly in our post-election world, so it’s more important than ever that management teams establish themselves as positive leaders. So how can you accomplish this task? Here are some of my tips that have been helpful to me as a leader of people:

Keep it positive:

Repeating hateful words or continuing to bring up tragedy only enforces a sad and hateful message. While it’s important to acknowledge what is occurring around the world, focus on creating positive messages so your employees can feel inspired. Do this by encouraging your employees to continue to advocate for what is right and not dwell on fear and hate.

Keep it neutral:

Votes on both sides of the ballot for Brexit and the American Presidential Election were almost equal. This means, despite how different another’s point of view may be, there will likely be people in your workplace who disagree with your own political or social beliefs. While you’re entitled to your own personal opinions, try to keep them to yourself, just in case you alienate employees who may have a differing opinion. The Globe and Mail recently published an informative article on this topic, exploring the risks associated with company leaders disclosing their political opinions in the office.

Enforce it:

That being said, it’s your job as a leader to make sure all employees are treating each other with fairness, equality and respect. Ensure your employees know that hateful attitudes and disrespect will not be tolerated, and if there are reports of inappropriate behaviour, there will be consequences. Standing firm on this subject will show employees that poor behaviour is not acceptable in the workplace.

Reach out:

If you’re aware that people within your organization are struggling as a result of world issues, ensure they know you understand what they’re going through. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple made headlines with his email to employees after the election, stating:

We have a very diverse team of employees, including supporters of each of the candidates. Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals, the only way to move forward is to move forward together.”

The note has a neutral tone, but offered support to the entire Apple community. Letting your staff know that you’re all in this together will promote inclusivity.

 Talk to HR or Senior Management:

As previously mentioned, people around the world are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the political turmoil this year has seen. Encourage your management team to create a safe space for employees to talk about their problems, and discuss any grievances they may have as a result of another employee’s differing political views. By giving your employees a safe, confidential space to discuss these issues, it diminishes the chance of an argument breaking out amongst your staff. For staff members who are in need of mental health assistance, contact your EAP provider. They certainly will have the tools to work with organizations and individuals who require mental health support to address these conflicts in a safe environment.

As the founder and CEO of my company, I work hard to ensure that all of my employees are treated with respect. While it’s impossible to make everyone happy, it’s important as a leader to show your employees how to act accordingly and demonstrate your strength through these tough times.

“The ultimate measure of leaders in not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy”

-Anonymous


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How Fentanyl Has Become Everyone’s Issue

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Fentanyl has been making headlines, with drug use and abuse  becoming topics of discussion amongst health-care providers,  paramedics, and the police, but this potentially lethal drug is now  affecting the general public. How can you be affected?

 
When a patient has suffered some kind of painful trauma, it is not uncommon for them to be prescribed medication to help manage their pain. Fentanyl, like morphine and oxycodone, is an opioid, a class of drug that is prescribed for a variety of conditions and has incredibly powerful pain-relieving properties. After OxyContin (a stronger version of oxycodone) was pulled from the market, there was a window open for illegal drug sales. OxyContin was not only popular for people who became addicted as a result of over-prescription, it also appealed to heroin users. When production began booming on these illegal opioids, drug producers began importing more powerful ingredients from China, creating Fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Often, they would repackage the drug to their customers to make it look like OxyContin, leaving the user to either fatally overdose or become addicted to an even more powerful drug.

This issue brings to light the concern around drug addiction, and how important awareness is around prescription pain relievers.   A majority of prescription drug use doesn’t start out as a quest to get high; instead, people become addicted over time after being prescribed powerful medication.

If you are prescribed a powerful medication, make sure to ask your doctor and pharmacist about the side effects and any addictive qualities, and ask for a minimal number of pills and strength to start. Also, ensure you take your medication as prescribed, at the correct time of day and the correct dosage. If you have kids or young adults living in your home, make sure your medication is safely stowed away. For those living with addictions, whether it is to prescription or street drugs, the ramifications in the workplace can be seen with absences, missed deadlines and erratic behaviour. Be mindful of changes in fellow staff members’ behaviours and offering support is the first step to getting them help.

Another issue brought to the forefront is awareness around drug use amongst family members. Many parents of young adults who have overdosed or unknowingly took Fentanyl from a dealer had no knowledge of their son or daughter’s drug use. Certainly the challenges surrounding substance use are difficult for the individual as well as their familial supports, and often these supports need external help to cope.

If you or someone you know is living with drug addiction, talk to your EAP provider. Young students can speak to their SAP, or Student Assistance Program, at their school for confidential resources. There is help available and professionals with whom to discuss the painful issue of addiction. You don’t have to do this alone.


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What Does Your Company’s Dress Code Say About Your Workplace Culture?

A recent decision by Starbucks to allow its employees to wear any hair colour they like has sparked the dress code discussion again. Dress codes are not one-size-fits-all anymore; they really should reflect your company’s workplace culture just as Starbucks feels that this move balances the demands of employees with its brand and reputation.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that all I’d see in corporate offices were formally-dressed men and women, regardless of their positions or the type of company they worked for. This rigid corporate philosophy has now gone the way of the floppy disc. In fact, according to the 2016 Employee Benefit Survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, approximately 50% of workplaces have a business casual dress code in place, 22% of companies offer a casual dress code for the entire week, and 40% enforce a casual dress code on Fridays only.

Does allowing more casual attire in the workplace increase or decrease productivity?

I’ve read many studies on this issue and there is no clear-cut answer. There are those who believe that if employees are allowed to dress casually, they’ll be more comfortable and happier and therefore more productive. Others believe that casual clothing results in a casual work ethic and therefore employees will be less productive. One study sponsored by The Master’s College in California published the following conclusions: “There is an effect on… performance in the workplace because of casual dress… Casual dress has equally positive and negative effects, and… dress codes may or may not be necessary for professional performance.” In reality, there is no way to predict how a dress code will affect the performance of your employees.

Here are some points to consider when determining the dress code for your company:

  • The nature of your business – financial institutions and law offices will typically have much more formal dress codes than web designer agencies where most coders dress like Mark Zuckerberg. Also, do you regularly see clients at your office? The answer to this question may determine what is appropriate office attire. Perhaps you consider two dress codes, an internal one for the office when you are not seeing clients and an external dress code when you are visiting clients.
  • Ask for input from staff through a survey – Just as Starbucks changed their policy on hair colour to meet employee demands, I recommend that you consult with your employees when establishing a dress code, to consider their requests.
  • Be clear what is not appropriate and indicate why – wearing flip-flops to the office (more appropriate for a beach), for example, may actually be a safety hazard.
  • A trial basis of a new policy – to see the effects, positive or negative, consider a 3 to 6 week trial and ask for feedback through another survey. Checking in with your staff can make them feel heard and appreciated.

What do you think your company’s dress code says about your workplace culture? Would you consider changing it?


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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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See The Signs – Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

mental-healthJust a few weeks ago at a high school outside of Toronto, a fourteen-year-old girl stabbed and injured five students and two staff members. As a result, there has been more dialogue about bullying, mental illness and mental health, as we are reminded of the importance and seriousness of attending to mental illness in the workplace.

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma surrounding mental illness is widespread, often flying under the radar in the workplace because employees tend to suffer in silence – afraid to risk their careers by speaking out and employers are afraid to ask. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing serious situations from developing, and ensuring supports are in place.

Being able to recognize when your employees are distressed, and addressing these concerns, can help to break down the stigma and allow for communication between you and your staff. Let me share with you some tips on recognizing the symptoms of a possible mental health issue with an employee:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Absent or late more frequently
  • Relationship issues or conflicts with co-workers
  • Withdrawal or reduced participation
  • Anxiety, fearfulness, or loss of confidence

Each of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of an illness, but each can begin a conversation to show your employee, as their employer, that you are supportive and accommodating, especially if performance is suffering. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a caring environment and the probability of their success will increase as well.

Social media can be helpful in providing insight, as the young woman’s blog was her cry for help in the case of the Dunbarton High School stabbing. It is crucial for an organization to be trained and able to identify the signs of an employee who may be in danger of hurting themselves and/or others due to their mental state.

Early recognition of mental health problems, consultation for your supervisors with your EAP, referring employees with the above symptoms to the EAP for assessment, treatment and support, will all help your employees receive the support they require to return to work and/or better manager their job.

The bottom line here is that when your organization creates a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, it allows them to achieve and maintain success.