Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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How Fentanyl Has Become Everyone’s Issue

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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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?

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Has the Loonie Got Your Employees Feeling Down?

financial-stress-300x168With the media reporting an impending recession, housing and food prices on the rise, and the Canadian loonie at an all-time low, many Canadians are feeling the financial stress of having to make their dollar go further.

As an employer, you know that financially stressed-out employees tend to be less productive and less engaged, and can even raise employer health care costs.

So what can you do as an employer? You can launch a financial well-being program for your employees. Employees will welcome your help to improve the state of their current and future financial fitness. I’ve outlined below a few programs you might consider offering your employees to help them flip that loonie into a brighter future!

Offer Financial Education Services

Offer your employees one-on-one meetings with financial consultants. Check with your EAP provider as this may be something that is included or offered by them as a specialized service. Financial education goes a long way in improving personal finance habits. You could also gauge interest in this by offering on-site financial planning seminars on topics like budgeting, dollar-cost averaging, asset allocation and retirement planning.

Incorporate Financial Well-being into your Wellness Program

To improve your employees overall well-being, go beyond traditional fitness, nutrition, stress and sleep programs. Help them get on the right track by offering financial challenges within your wellness program. Be sure to clearly outline what they need to do and reward employees for their actions.

  • Attend an on-site financial education seminar
  • Provide opportunities to learn about your company’s financial benefits and EAP services (online resources, webinars, or in-person meetings)
  • Set a weekly/monthly/yearly savings goal
  • Coffee or lunch challenge – employees are challenged to bring coffee/lunch to work for a month and see how much money they can save. The employee who saves the most wins!

Provide an Employee Discount Program

Depending on the size of your company and resources, you may be able to offer your employees discounts on car and home insurance, technology or even local attractions. If your company is a member of a Board of Trade or offers employee group benefits, check into their discount opportunities for insurance discounts, etc.

Build a Top Performer Program

Make note of your most productive people as there is a strong correlation between stress and productivity, and they may need a stress-relieving vacation the most. Consider creating a bonus system with these employees that could include salary increases, benefits, extra vacation, etc., and may be the best way to align your business goals with the financial goals of your top performers.

When companies focus on both employee health AND financial well-being, it results in increased productivity, a competitive edge in the marketplace, and an improved ability to attract and retain talent.  With the right program in place, you can help your employees prepare for a brighter financial future and secure retirement, reducing the negativity associated with financial stress.

With the focus on Canada’s economy, do you see a growing need for financial educational services? Do you have an internal plan to address employee concerns in this area?

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It Was Going So Well…Until…

picAs business owners and managers of people, we are responsible for the safety and security of our employees, enabling them to become as productive as possible. But no matter how much we think we are prepared to manage our workday in a safe environment, no organization is immune to a critical incident. How can you possibly prepare for the unpredictable, no matter how prepared we think we are for such a sudden disruption? And what if that critical incident involves one of your key personnel? How will this affect the management of your organization?

You may or may not know that help is available through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Student Assistance Program (SAP).

As the owner of a company focused on providing health solutions that empower organizations and their people, I have years of expertise dealing with employers in organizational crisis situations. Below I have outlined a few case studies that showcase the breadth and depth of crisis intervention available for organizations to demonstrate the value of implementing a plan to prepare for the unpredictable.

One such incident involved a fire truck, which was en route to an emergency during whiteout conditions when a car crashed into the fire engine. The driver of the car was taken to hospital. The EAP was contacted by the organization, who immediately assessed the incident and rapidly dispatched their trauma team to the site of the tragic accident. Telephone consultation with management was immediately provided. Onsite debriefing intervention was quickly provided for staff that were on the truck at the time of the incident and for others who were indirectly involved (such as the dispatch personnel). Onsite debriefing was given to the fire department staff as a group as well.

Recently, at a post-secondary educational institution, a student was found deceased in their dorm room by their roommate. This traumatic event was one where the school contacted the trauma response service through their SAP. An immediate consultation was provided to student leadership reps and onsite trauma interventions were arranged over a period of 3 days to support students and staff with group and individual debriefings. Counselling services were also extended to the family of the deceased as well.

Another crisis situation where an organization benefited from their EAP’s trauma response program occurred when an employee’s son (known to employees of the company) jumped off a bridge to his death. When the trauma service was contacted, immediate consultation and follow-up was provided to management and an onsite debriefing was given to staff as a group and individually to staff members. The Clinical Response Centre was available to all employees of the organization for ongoing 24/7 support and extensive counselling was additionally provided to the employee, the employee’s spouse, and employee’s daughter.

When crisis strikes your organization, rest assured that there is help. Make sure you are prepared with a plan that accesses specialized defusing/debriefing interventions to provide support through all stages of a traumatic event. It is almost like an insurance policy – you never know when you may need it.

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Top 10 Reasons for an EAP – Insight from an EAP Expert Part 1

wellnessresourcesThree of the biggest issues facing small and medium business owners is employee retention, absenteeism and loyalty. If you provide employee benefits for your employees then it is likely you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP); a program designed to support your employees’ mental health and ultimately help them to become productive, happy employees. But is it effective?

I have created this blog to field questions and provide advice, share industry insights to business owners and human resource personnel who have questions about Employee Assistance Programs.

With close to 30 years experience providing clinical and consultative services to organizations the last 23 specifically delivering Employee Assistance Programs, I have listened to corporate clients, employees and their families, and, professional counsellors, and I’d like to share my knowledge by kicking-off my blog this week by outlining what I believe are the top 10 reasons to consider having an effective Employee Assistance Program. These reasons are not in any particular order, but they are all important!

#1 Allows You to Sleep at Night

If key employees are struggling with personal issues, they are distracted and not focusing on their work.  A key employee who is “taken out” because of a mental health problem can potentially disable a business.  Having an effective EAP in place – available 7/24 – provides business owners with peace of mind because the EAP is managing the troubled employee and the business owner can take care of business.

#2 Improves Productivity

Effective Employee Assistance Programs are designed to improve the productivity of your employees. When an employee is dealing with personal issues such as mental illness, family problems, addictions, or critical work incidents, the result is often a drop in productivity at work. EAPs provide the company with prevention services, mental health assessment and treatment programs, specialized referrals, and, follow-up services, all targeting your employees’ mental health issues.  This means that while helping your employees deal with all of life’s ups and downs and we all know these are unavoidable, you are also ensuring effective company continuity and growth.

#3 Reduces Company Costs

When an employee is suffering personally it is likely their work will suffer too. Frequent absenteeism can be devastating to business. The bottom line is when this occurs the company will incur financial losses. Company costs include: on-the-job absenteeism (aka “presenteeism”), absenteeism, and disability claims for stress-related issues.  These costs are preventable!  Effective Employee Assistance Programs are designed to reduce the impact that psychological, social or physical problems have on employees in order to reduce and eliminate the financial impact on the company. These programs aim to provide a range of prevention and treatment options for employees and their families so the employees is able to stay at work or return to work faster with renewed strength!

#4 Third Party Assistance

Effective EAPs are confidential, voluntary and, accessible 24/7 in over 140 languages. They are offered not just to the employee, but also to their families, as we know that problems experienced by a family will impact the employee as well.  EAPs are third party  programs that not only provide mental health assessment and treatment, but they also specialize in connecting employees with appropriate community services based on   their needs beyond what the EAP can offer EAPs work with companies to provide employees with the best possible health, safety and training services. They assess individual employee needs, refer employees to suitable services and provide employees and their families with confidential access to professional health services. And if your company should experience an unexpected traumatic on site event, such as a workplace accident, violence, sudden illness or death, the EAP will be available on-site within hours to provide critical incident services.  Essentially an EAP can manage the overall health and safety of your employees and your company so that you can get on with business.

#5 Increased Wellness, Company Morale and, Work Place Harmony

Human resources are the most valuable of a company’s assets so it makes sense that as an employer you  wish to look after your employees. We know that a happy and healthy employee is a productive employee. Effective EAPs ensure that your employees are well taken care of as individuals so that they can perform as part of your team. An EAP provides prevention and management services that ensure employees are happy and healthy. Effective EAPs not only offer psychological counselling services but a suite of wellness programs such as Nutrition, Wellness Seminars, Smoking Cessation, LifeCoaching, Legal, and, Financial services, all geared to increase well-being.  An EAP is highly conducive to a harmonious work place. The added advantage here is that the employees know that the company supports them therefore they feel a connection to the work they are doing and are more committed to achieving desirable results.

What are the other five reasons for an EAP? For that, you’ll have to wait for my next blog!

How About You?
As a business owner or human resource advisor, what are the most important issues facing your company today?  Do you think that an effective EAP, not just an EAP, could help you resolve your current issues so that productivity doesn’t suffer and there is business continuity?

I look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments below.

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Aspiria Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary!

aspiria_10year_logo_enThis year marks Aspiria Corp.’s 10 year anniversary, and as a part of the celebration, I am excited to launch this new blog where I’ll discuss all things EAP and mental health related!

A little bit about our evolution:  Aspiria Corp. was established in 2003 as a result of the gap forming in the employee assistance program (EAP) market for small and medium sized companies.  Large scale consolidation within the EAP industry helped form my vision to create a specialized employee assistance program that not only focused on quality program offerings, but also provided genuine and responsive customer service.

And we have done just that!

Our roots are embedded in our name “Aspiria”, taken from the Latin derivative “Aspiro”, which means to elevate or to aspire to.  Our proactive employee and wellness assistance programs breathe new life into organizations and its people, empowering them to reach their full potential.

Today, Aspiria is a Canadian-owned, boutique EAP company with a strong national presence. Our team holds over 75 years of EAP experience dedicated to providing customized mental health solutions to empower organizations and their 50,000+ employees and families.

Our growth shows no signs of slowing down. In 2007, we merged with LINK Employee Assistance Professionals Inc., followed by a strategic alliance with The Empire Life Insurance Company in 2011. The collaboration with Empire Life resulted in the creation of a new Employee Assistance Program, AssistNow™, designed specifically for Empire Life Group Benefits customers.

We have established ourselves as the “better alternative” to traditional EAPs, and I believe we have done this with our quality people, from our front-line counsellors to our administrators.   They live and breathe the values important to our company:  Caring, Integrity, Responsiveness, Ethics, and, Dedication.

We look forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary as a progressive mental health company with all our loyal clients, and those just getting to know us!

Please follow my blog where I’ll be sharing my insights and tips on the EAP industry including stress reduction, mental health awareness and related news and trends.