Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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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.


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Tips to Surviving the Holidays: Dealing with Holiday Stress in the Workplace

Holiday stress tipsThe holiday season is about “good tidings”, the pleasure of gift-giving, and spending time with loved ones. Given the stress involved for many to ensure a happy holiday, many employees are feeling the burden of managing their personal lives in addition to their job workload.

A recent study of over 700 full-time employees found that a large percentage indicated that the biggest stressor during the holidays is work, but that the stress changes. The concern becomes whether work obligations will affect their holiday celebrations and many also feel stress from not being able to take time off from their job to prepare for and enjoy the holidays.

Time and money are two other large factors in an increase in stress during this busy season. Is there enough time for shopping, party planning, and cooking, in addition to their workload? The pressure of buying gifts is also a significant stressor for those concerned about being able to pay the bills the following month.

This increased stress can lead to lowered output at work. One survey showed that over 40% of respondents in management roles reported that productivity noticeably decreases the week before the holiday. There are multiple ways you can help lower the stress during the holidays, including some of these tips:

  • Be flexible – It is likely many employees will request time off around the holidays, so if possible, allow for these days by asking staff in advance if time is needed, to allow for smooth functioning in the workplace .
  • Simplify – Minimizing the number of workplace obligations when there is an increase in external holiday get-togethers can reduce stress. A festive workplace party doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be enjoyable.
  • Emphasize value – Appreciation is particularly effective when given during this busy season to maintain performance levels at work.
  • Offer assistance – If employees are showing a lack of focus or irritability, have a chat to find ways to manage their workload.
  • Relieve deadline pressure – Hiring extra hands, even temporarily, can help to alleviate stress on your permanent staff.

Whether it’s stress from work, family or finances, aiming to improve stressful situations within the workplace can create a more relaxed atmosphere with higher levels of productivity.

What is your business doing to alleviate employee stress within the workplace this holiday season?


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5 Ways To Improve Wellness And Increase Productivity In Your Workplace

161-photo-f520ccf7858c9d71169d64a0c57b40c5Wellness programs are linked to increased productivity, a reduction of long-term health care costs and less absenteeism.  In fact, it has been shown that a 28% reduction in sick leave, 26% lower heath costs and 30% lower compensation and disability costs are directly linked to wellness programs in Canada.

The facts are undeniable, and the good news is that even if you feel your organization does not have the financial or staffing resources to implement a wellness program, there are many small steps you can take to promote wellness at work that do not include elaborate or costly investments. I have outlined below five ways to help you bring your company closer to wellness.

  1. Encourage Exercise.
    Implement and promote a lunch hour walking club and offer incentives for employees who participate. Encourage the entire office to use the stairs or suggest a “bike to work” week. You also might offer discounts or partially subsidize memberships to a local gym

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Not All Midday Slumps Have to Lead to Chocolate

huge_36_181001-300x200We’ve all done it, and depending on when you read my blog, you might have already hit that time of the day, affectionately called the midday slump. You know that time of the day when we open our drawers looking for a chocolate snack, or that second large coffee, or visit the lunchroom seeking cookies to re-energize us for the balance of the day.

The problem is that instead of perking you up, these snacks often leave you feeling sluggish and unfocused. The exact opposite of what we had hoped!

In fact, a recent study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and the Center for Health Research shows that workers who ate healthy meals and exercised on a regular basis had better job performance and lower absenteeism. Their research further cites that employees who eat healthy all day long were 25% more likely to have higher job performance, while those who eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables at least 4 times a week were 20% more likely to be more productive.

Great research, but how does this impact our midday slump? If we invest a little time and energy into making changes to eat healthier at work, it will reap rewards of improved concentration and productivity.

Here are a few tips on how to help make healthier food choices at work:

  • Step away: Make an effort to step away from your desk for a few minutes a couple of times a day. It’s easy to get caught up in a task and eat at your desk, but productivity may suffer later in the day.
  • Don’t eat your lunch at your desk: Take a few minutes to decompress and refocus, enjoy your lunch, think about the fact that you are eating, and then our body is able to give us that cue of satiety. Doing this will help us maintain and achieve a healthier weight.
  • Lunches out with co-workers: Take a few minutes before you go to research the menu online and come up with a game plan of what to eat. Many menus now indicate calories or healthy choice options.
  • Drink plenty of water: One way to perk up mid-afternoon is to stay hydrated, but reach for water. A can of regular pop has the equivalent of 10 cubes of sugar.
  • Smoothies: They can be a great energy booster, but make your own with plain yogurt and frozen berries, because some purchased smoothies are equal to the same amount of sugar as 20 chocolate cream-filled cookies!

What do you do to eat healthy at work? Does your employer provide health management programs that included nutrition? If so, do you use this service? I look forward to hearing your feedback.


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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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Taking Action Against Sexual Harassment

GETTY_B_111611_SexualHarassmentOn my blog last week, I posed some questions to get you thinking about your organization’s preparedness for incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace. This week, I want to dive into the actual steps and procedures you must consider when handling these difficult situations.

Recently, greater responsibility has been placed on organizations to identify and support employees who are in a state of distress or exhibiting other emotional issues. But as we all know, it is not always easy to identify these individuals.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an employee come forward, there are a few imminent steps to take.

  • Gather as much detail as possible
  • Determine if immediate medical attention is necessary
  • Determine if the employee is safe or in imminent danger
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Identify resources available to the employee

If you’re having concerns about an employee, but they’ve not come forward, there are still necessary actions you should take.

  • Monitor their behavior over a period of time (specifically mood patterns, performance, and attendance)
  • Keep records with dates and situations of observed behaviours
  • When sufficient information is gathered, you should approach the individual to discuss the concerns in a private and confidential manner
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Remind the employee of the resources available to everyone and how to access them

The sad reality is Domestic Violence is the fastest growing type of workplace violence in Canada. Not only does Domestic Violence affect the victim, it can impact the entire workplace, through absenteeism, lowered productivity, and safety concerns for the victim and his/her coworkers.

We all contribute to making the workplace a safe, supportive place, so understand your role and make sure you’re doing your part.