Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Tips to Encourage Inclusion: How to Make Your Employees Feel At Home… At Work

InclusionFrom shootings at schools, to closing of borders in Europe, to crises in the Middle East, to political debates, to heated discussions on the wearing of niqabs, it has been some time since we have seen so much intolerance on a global scale.

Tolerance can be broadly understood as remaining open-minded and accepting of others’ differences in backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. This translates into a workplace where employees know they are treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and without discrimination or harassment.

A truly equitable and open organization ensures that its policies adhere to the legislation surrounding race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, age and physical ability. Today, tolerance and inclusiveness are essential values for any business to encourage among its employees in order to ensure the long-term success of the organization.

Lack of tolerance in the workplace slows or prevents team and company progress, encourages unethical behaviour, and increases hostility between employees. Encouraging workplace tolerance is invaluable for the overall wellbeing of the organization, and I’d like to share the benefits of doing so with you:

  1. Open, honest communication
  2. Creativity stemming from the open exchange of ideas from across a broad range of backgrounds and expertise
  3. Respect and trust
  4. Teamwork, cooperation, and coordination
  5. Loyalty and satisfaction

 
Perhaps the most crucial business implication of increased workplace tolerance is the retention of highly committed and productive employees. As many businesses are learning, tolerance is tied to the bottom line of the organization. When employees feel included and valued, they develop a greater degree of loyalty to the business, and the work that they produce is of a higher quality.

By endeavouring to create a sense of inclusiveness in your company, hiring staff that reflects the diversity of your community is one way to start. All staff should attend mandatory training in “cultural sensitivity”, and maintain business with the same approach. Teams can arrange potlucks with cuisine from different staff members’ cultural backgrounds each month, or feature a staff member’s “story” in their internal newsletter to introduce them to the organization, , thereby creating a sense of welcome.

Ultimately, a company culture that is free from prejudice and encourages greater tolerance and inclusiveness, results in greater understanding and better working relationships between employees, higher employee satisfaction and productivity, and a more attractive and lucrative business.

What is your business doing to foster a culture of inclusion? Is your organization polarized? Could your business be doing more?


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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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Feeling Safe

SafetyMainAs I write this blog, I am reminded that today is Remembrance Day, a day dedicated to the men and women in Canada who lost their lives fighting for our freedom and safety.

In the past month, Canada has been rocked by incidents of violence toward our country and accusations of harassment in the workplace. Victims have come forward and shared their stories with the media and in turn, the public. Where we live and work should be a space that should make us feel safe and comfortable. It is a human right in a free society to feel safe. At work, the Human Rights Code, Workplace Violence and Harassment Legislation and the Criminal Code, are safety laws available to employees, yet harassment in the workplace are covered up for years, and still continues.

There are ways we can help create an environment that does not tolerate wrongful treatment of others, but also provides the resources should harassment issues still arise.

Every employee has the right to be treated with respect and has a responsibility to treat others with respect. If a person feels that he or she is being harassed, they should talk to someone that they trust, whether it be a co-worker, a family member or an employee in the human resources department, if one exists. It is important to document these incidents, and inform employees of the policies the employer has in place.

Harassment poisons the entire workplace and affects employee morale and productivity. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do as an employer or person of influence to keep your work environment safe and respectful:

  1. Clear Expectations
  • Make sure that the expectations in your workplace are clear – harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.
  1. Monitor the Atmosphere
  • Pay attention to the tone of interactions and comments made between co-workers and the use of offensive emails, inappropriate comments, derogatory language or jokes, and check for increased absenteeism or staff turnover.
  1. Lead by Example
  • Model respectful behaviours
  1. Maintain Open Communication Channels
  • Policies, procedures, and resources should be posted visibly in common areas, and senior management should offer an open door.

 

A workplace with an EAP and advanced health management programs that include trauma support will be able to help your employees in their time of need, and aid in their recovery in the workplace. We can all work together to create a safe place where we can work productively and feel supported. Let’s pause today and ask if the recent violence against Canada and harassment events reported in the media have caused you concern for your safety? What steps have you taken to make your office, which is a microcosm of the larger community, a “safer” environment for you, your colleagues, and your staff? Are we doing our part to make our work environment and country a safe place to work and live?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section below.


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Supporting Students in Times of Tragedy

university students grief

The recent tragedy involving the fatal stabbings of five Calgary university students has left the entire country reeling with shock and disbelief. Outside of immediate family and friends, University of Calgary students are those most strongly affected by the deaths of their peers. How does a student body, faculty and staff recover from such a set-back in morale, which has undoubtedly affected their studies as well as personal mental health? Just as importantly, how can Colleges and Universities be proactive and prepare themselves in anticipation of a tragedy occurring in their schools?

Considering that the university and college age demographic is highly vulnerable to mental health issues, especially in light of such tragedy and grief, it is vital that the educational institution bands together as a community to keep one another safe. The University of Calgary has been working diligently to provide support to the students of the university, encouraging them to participate in the vigils, funerals and celebrations of life for the victims, offering counselling sessions as well as accommodating students who wish to defer exams. How else can we support our students in a time like this?

Communication and Active Listening: Loss of life, especially of young people with such bright futures, can be very triggering for individuals within a community, so it is important that there are platforms for people to talk and listen to each other. Having counsellors available for students, staff and faculty as well as encouraging students to listen to and support one another is helpful in making people feel part of their community during difficult times.

Promote alternative counselling: Because university and college students fall into the Millennial generation, they sometimes prefer communicating through technology versus more traditional talk-therapy. Options like phone counselling, e-counselling, video-chat or the use of a mobile app, can target students who are less likely to ask for help outright and can access support within their comfort zone.

Prevention:  Often times, organizations are in a reactive mode to solving a problem, acting as if it was unexpected.  To be proactive is to be planned and prepared, albeit as much as one can be, and it is prudent when operating in a student environment.

Programs that help organizations be prepared for a tragic event should include the following:

1) Developing a Emergency Response Plan, such as the one the University of Toronto implemented in 2009  that maps out the course of action to take when a tragedy strikes an educational facility, utilizing all the available resources at your disposal.  But this is not enough:  all students and staff need to understand what that plan is, and know how to act accordingly in the event of a school crisis.  Just like there are school fire drills in case of fire, there should be emergency drills in case of campus violence.

2) As I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog, Millennial students often lack solid coping skills upon entering the post-secondary education setting. As a more long-term solution, an institution could implement Coping Skills Training, which would help students identify triggers to their mental health, and learn strategies to support themselves through a mental health issue

3) Stress Management Strategies, like the ones offered featured on the Santa Clara University can help individual students who are under pressure, feeling anxious, lonely, scared, or lost, to learn to cope with their mental health issues. For example, stress busting events that aim to help students relax during stressful times, such as during the exam period and during the harsh winter months, have been adopted by universities and colleges Stress Busters can help students learn the skills necessary in times of grief as well, as it can give students the permission they need to distract themselves from their period of anxiety and pressure.

What other strategies could an educational institution employ to support students during times of trauma, grief, and loss? What have you seen universities and Colleges do? I look forward to your thoughts below.