Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


Leave a comment

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?

Advertisements


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

How Fentanyl Has Become Everyone’s Issue

s5wgvl18a9
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.


Leave a comment

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?


Leave a comment

8 Ways to Celebrate Multiculturalism in Your Workplace

multiculturalism-worldAs the debate around racism catches traction in the news with celebrities speaking up about #OscarsSoWhite and spreading awareness of its harmful effects on a global scale, let us not forget that racism is prevalent all over our world, and has an impact closer to home and on workplace harmony.

As managers, we all know how difficult it can be to discuss racism in the workplace, but here are a few supportive ways you might consider embracing your diverse workforce by incorporating the following into your employee programs.

 Providing a workspace that openly recognizes and respects diversity creates a welcoming environment while discouraging racism and other forms of discrimination. You can engage your staff in some or all of the following ways to celebrate various cultures in your workplace:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge special culture days and events such as Black History Month in February.
  2. Have a “Win a Lunch” draw at a local restaurant for Chinese New Year.
  3. Have your EAP provide diversity training to learn about the cultural backgrounds, lives and interests of employees outside of the workplace. Building relationships through increased understanding and trust helps to promote inclusion.
  4. Hold a Lunch-and-Learn on different cultures with the ethnic cuisine of the featured culture.
  5. Include opportunities for staff to interact in settings outside of work so that employees feel more comfortable. Be creative, flexible and look for new ways of socializing and team-building.
  6. Ensure all employees have the opportunity to take part in decision-making and planning for social activities.
  7. Ensure your company’s marketing and communication collateral incorporates multi-racial images, through brochures and your website to posters around the office.
  8. Be aware of and provide time off for culturally significant events. Consider offering a float day for employees to use at their discretion to participate in such events.

Honouring others’ differences will build a better, stronger team of employees. In workplaces that take the time for celebrating various cultures, people form stronger bonds with one another, learn tolerance, and develop greater loyalty toward the company. When hiring practices focus on ensuring a diverse employee pool, you find increased levels of resourcefulness, determination, and persistence.

Taking steps to support multiculturalism in your workplace will help keep your employees feeling safe while building a positive work environment. Celebrating diversity helps in preventing the issue from becoming a major problem.


Leave a comment

PTSD and Your Workplace: Tips to Understanding and Supporting Your Employees

PTSD blogThis past week, we were asked once again to commemorate Remembrance Day, and the men and women we have lost in battle, as well as those who have returned to Canadian soil with not just physical but also mental wounds. The citizens of Paris, and the world at large (mainly through 24/7 media), are currently being impacted by the senseless terrorism of this past weekend to the point where people may be asking themselves: “is the world at war?”

Trauma can affect anyone, not just our brave soldiers, and the emotional scars can affect our personal and professional lives, deeply.

There are many difficult circumstances we all must cope with at some point in our lives, but some individuals will experience sudden or unexpected devastating events that can be psychologically impactful. When individuals with this kind of experience “re-live” the situation that caused fear and shock through: sleepless nights, nightmares and fear, loss of appetite, interest, concentration, and flashbacks among others – and these feelings persist in their daily lives long after the event – they may be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others. Often, the symptoms of PTSD can emerge even three months after the incident, and for some, a stressor can cause symptoms to surface years later. When symptoms are delayed, those with PTSD don’t often make the connection between the traumatic event and the feelings and behavioural symptoms.

These signs may first become apparent in the workplace as performance-related issues. There may be changes in behaviour that seem out of character, as well as social and interpersonal conflicts, resistance to authority, bullying, or emotional eruptions. Avoidance of certain activities (such as driving if involved in a car accident), sleep disruptions, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled or irritated are some additional indicators of PTSD, and mental health issues such as depression or addictions may also be present.

Some occupations such as soldiers, firefighters, doctors, paramedics, police officers and nurses – namely first responders, have double the risk of experiencing PTSD, but the disorder can affect anyone. With about 8% of Canadians experiencing PTSD at some point in their lives, some of your employees could be suffering in silence, and that has a direct impact on their personal wellbeing, productivity, and on your organization.

People with PTSD may feel shame or guilt, and because of this, they may be hesitant to disclose. So how can you help your employees cope if they’re afraid to reach out? Ask your employee what would be helpful to him/her.

I’d like to share with you a number of tips to accommodate some of the more common issues that arise among sufferers of PTSD in the workplace:

  • Memory: provide employees with written instructions and meeting minutes, verbal prompts and reminders and encourage employees to use organizers and lists
  • Lack of concentration: reduce workplace distractions, increase natural lighting
  • Coping with stress: allow time off for counselling, assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer employee questions. Encourage employees to walk away from frustrations and confrontations, allow frequent breaks
  • Working effectively with a supervisor: provide positive reinforcement, give clear expectations
  • Dealing with emotions: refer employees to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a safe haven to speak freely about PTSD
  • Panic attacks: allow employee to take a break and go somewhere s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person. Identify and remove triggers (noises, smells, or visuals).

In what ways do you accommodate your employees? How are you raising awareness in the workplace of PTSD and resources that are available?


Leave a comment

Awareness of EAPs Can Significantly Increase Their Value

0 - blogIn the challenging busyness of our everyday life, workplace stresses and deadlines, caregiving to children and elderly parents, finances, and relationships, all can become an overwhelming experience. Remaining positive and still being able to offer your guidance at home to our loved ones and to our employees at work, can become a burden. Knowing where to turn for help is a large part of accessing help, but when our emotions are maxed, we don’t always remember what resources are available, their value to us, and how easily they can be accessed. This is exactly why EAP services are so essential for the wellbeing of your business and your employees to make it run effectively, and it underscores the importance of “spreading the word”.

As you may know, three of the biggest issues facing businesses today are employee retention, absenteeism, and loyalty. If your employees are struggling with personal issues and work issues, it only makes sense that they might be distracted from their work and, as a result, be less productive. It is often the case that these issues could sometimes be prevented, and utilizing an effective EAP can make your employees feel more supported, and give them the help and tools they need to improve their personal and professional lives to reduce these issues in the workplace.

Despite the fact that there are so many obvious benefits to having an EAP in your workplace, why are these programs still so underused or not even used at all? About 80% of Canadian employers have an EAP, but only 8% of employees actually make use of these services!

Why might your employees choose not to use your EAP, even though many of them would benefit from their services? I can think of four common responses:

  1. Our employees don’t think an EAP is entirely confidential.
  2. They don’t see EAPs as a preventative resource, just one to access in need.
  3. Our employees think their EAP only offers psychological support.
  4. They don’t even know it exists!

How can you encourage a change in your employees’ perceptions of using an EAP? How do you make your employees aware of what exactly an EAP is, and the benefits of using the services they provide? Well, I’d start by addressing the above four misconceptions:

  1. Access to your EAP is 100% confidential. As an organization, it’s important to communicate this to employees. An EAP cannot confirm nor deny an employee’s participation in the EAP without written consent from the employee(within legal limitations).
  2. Break the stigma in your organization! Reassure employees that no one is immune to experiencing personal issues on and off the job, and that seeking assistance before issues become unmanageable is beneficial to them personally and professionally.
  3. Reiterate to your employees that their EAP is so much more than counselling – it also provides coaching, legal, financial, nutritional services, and management support at no cost to them. .
  4. Make your EAP provider’s phone number available, and let your employees know that all they need to do is make the call 24/7.
    1. Ensure employees are aware of the full range of services available to them, using any and all communication channels. There is a direct correlation between the promotion of your EAP and the utilization of your EAP. Make EAP education a part of your employee onboarding and training process. Don’t let employee wellness and productivity suffer when help is readily available.

Education and communication are the best ways to encourage employee use of your EAP and overcome any stigma attached to it. As your employees start to understand that your EAP is a completely confidential service to help them deal with life’s challenges before they become too much to handle, awareness and acceptance will increase, and trust and comfort will be engendered. The use of your EAP will rise, in turn increasing employee wellness and productivity.

Are employees in your organization encouraged to reach out for help, even before issues become difficult to manage? What tools does your organization have in place that can be used to communicate EAP benefits? What other ways of communicating the EAP to employees can you suggest for an organization?