Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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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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Time for Mental and Physical Spring Cleaning

health-wellnessSpring has finally sprung and with many Canadians believing that good emotional health is just as important as good physical health, it’s time to kick off the season with my personal list of key areas of your life to look at.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
When I refer to health, I mean mental and physical health as they have a symbiotic relationship. While most of us know that the state of our physical body deeply affects both how we think and feel, i.e. our mental state, few of us can absolutely pinpoint which came first. If you skip exercise and overload your body with processed foods and chemicals, you won’t feel as energized, inspired and alive as you could, and our mood can be affected. With mental health issues affecting 1 in every 5 Canadians, it is imperative that we look at how we treat our physical self to ensure our mental health is also taken care of, and reducing the risk of physical illness, injury, behavioural problems, absenteeism, and low productivity. Speak to your doctor, coach or partner about how you’re feeling and take steps now to cleanse your mind and body.

Financial

With tax season completed, what are you planning on doing with your return OR how will you pay what you owe? Finances are becoming more and more complex as Canadians take on more debt every year. Think about consulting a financial advisor or ask your employer if your EAP offers any financial education solutions that can help you prepare for a brighter financial future and secure retirement, reducing the negativity associated with financial stress.

Life Coaching

Whether personally or professionally, sometimes we get stuck. I have found coaching to be an excellent and proven tool for learning and building engaged lives. Coaches offer assistance for personal life stresses, but there is also professional and executive coaching, team coaching, conflict resolution/mediation and a variety of professional development workshops. A coach can help get you back on the right track by examining obstacles, developmental gaps, and creating a learning and action plan.

Career and Professional Life
If you’re struggling with personal issues, this can lead to absenteeism and poor performance at work, two of the biggest issues companies face today.

Identify if there is a problem and if it’s something your employer can help with then take action to move towards a resolution. They may be able point you towards their EAP counselling services or other support systems they may have in place. Do some preliminary spring-cleaning to clarify your source of frustration.

Take the time during this season to organize your mental, physical and emotional life. It’s a great way to create energy and momentum for the rest of the year.

I look forward to hearing what your spring cleaning plans are in the comments below.


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In This Month of Love, Let’s Celebrate RAK Week

“If every person spent one minute of every day committing a random act of kindness, we would change the world.”   – http://www.randomactsofkindsness.org

free-hugsThis week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, and I thought of no better way to celebrate as we lead up to Valentine’s Day, the ultimate day of spreading love around. When we act kindly, we are doing things that help others, with no expectation of something in return. It means taking a moment or two or three to make someone’s day, whether they be a family member, friend, co-worker or stranger.

Why bother? There have been scientific studies that indicate a strong link between random acts of kindness and overall good physical and mental health. It’s not just about “being nice” in the moment, but there are long-term benefits in that one becomes happier over time – feeling more optimistic and positive. And it’s not just you that reaps the rewards: sure, you enjoy the “helper’s high” from giving, but you also help the recipient lift their spirits, and another who happens to see the act and potentially passes it on. Change can happen!

When we look at the physiological benefits of helping randomly, they can include:

  • an improved immune system
  • enhanced cognitive performance
  • an increase in energy
  • reduced stress hormone levels, lower blood pressure, and heart rate
  • feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth

Where can you start? Here are some simple examples of random acts of kindness that you can do today:

1. Compliment someone:

Whenever you see someone wearing a nice outfit or sporting a new haircut, giving her/him a compliment can really light up their day.

2. Pay it forward

If you go through the drive- thru, pay for a cookie or coffee for the person in the car behind you. An unexpected treat can make bring on a smile, and hopefully, they will pay for something for the person behind them.

3. Let someone take your place in line:

Take a look at the person behind you – are they looking at their watch? Are they with kids? Are they elderly or disabled? If you are not in a rush, give away your space in line. Those few minutes can make a difference, if you have some to spare.

4. Free Labour:

We don’t think about doing jobs like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house or babysitting as ones we could do for free, so imagine surprising someone by not accepting their payment. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling financially, offering to do their house or yard work is a great help that doesn’t cost you money, either.

5. Find A New Lunch mate:

Invite a classmate or co-worker you don’t know to sit with you at lunch. They will appreciate it if they tend to eat alone. Chances are, you’ll find something you both have in common and they’ll feel included.

6. Visit or Call the Sick

Being sick can make you feel lonely, and concerned about not being able to do your routine tasks. A phone call asking how they are, visiting them, or even just sending flowers or a card can go a long way. Offer to take care of some of those tasks they can’t get to, like making a meal, walking their dog, bringing in their mail or picking up some items at the grocery store can take some pressure off and speed healing.

Or, you can…

  • Open a door for someone
  • Offer your seat to someone on the subway or bus
  • Say “thank you” when someone opens a door for you
  • Help someone take their groceries to their car
  • Offer to remove the snow from your neighbour’s driveway with your shovel or snow blower
  • Offer to push the button for someone in the elevator, say “good morning” or “hello”.

And if you choose to do one RAK this week, why not smile? After all, it is the universal language of expressing warmth!

What does kindness mean to you? Do you think if everyone did more random acts of kindness, we could effect change? Please share your comments below.


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Setting the Right Goals

Goal-SettingA new year provides an opportunity for many of us to set goals to work towards, after reflecting on changes we want to see in our lives. Setting goals is a part of human nature: they provide us with purpose and motivation to become our best possible selves, whether it’s personally or professionally.

So how is it that so many of us are taking this very important task, and doing it all wrong? What many people don’t realize is that there is more to goal-setting than simply thinking of a broad stroke dream and telling yourself you want it to happen. Deciding to merely “lose weight” or “quit smoking” is a start, but it is also about how you approach your goal that will result in its greatest probability of success.

What do you need to do differently? I’ve outlined five things you can do to ensure your resolutions become reality in 2015:

  1. Write them down
    • Putting things onto paper helps you form a “contract” with yourself. Write down your goals and post them somewhere you’ll see them often (i.e. your smartphone, desk, fridge, bathroom mirror, car dashboard)
  1. Narrow your goals
    • We work best when we can focus on one goal at a time, especially when there may be more than one lifestyle change that’s affected. Only include goals where you will truly push yourself to succeed. Perhaps delay some goal-setting for later dates throughout the year to give each of them the attention they deserve.
  1. Make sure they’re SMART!
    • All your goals should pass the SMART test; they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. For more information on SMART goal setting, click here: http://topachievement.com/smart.html
  1. Envision an action plan from the beginning!
    • Have an idea of exactly how you’re going to tackle your goal as soon as you make it. If you can’t even think of where to start, perhaps it is too big a feat and you may need to scale it back.
  1. Make yourself accountable.
    • Teaming up with a buddy who shares your goal by being your ally can help you stay on track. Friends can be a great source of support and encouragement.

Remember to pat yourself on the back on the positive changes you will make, and let us know how well you did! I wish you all the best of success in your endeavours in 2015.


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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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Getting Out of a Rut

stuck-in-a-rutAlthough we move along in our lives at a frenetic pace, we don’t often stop to take time to reflect. When things change in our environment, like the sun setting earlier or tragedies like the Ottawa shooting just last week, or the Ebola world crisis, we can wear down. Days of feeling lost, confused and less hopeful can turn into weeks, and before you know it, you’re in a rut and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves feeling lost, confused, unmotivated, and simply “blah”. Things feel like they may not be going your way, and each day you feel less hopeful about that changing. Before you know it, you’re in a full-on rut, and unsure of how to get out of it.

External factors can contribute to your rut, like feeling the effects of cooling temperatures and less sunshine each day. We turn on the news and are bombarded with tragic and disheartening events of terror and fear, like the previously mentioned Ottawa terror of last week. It should come as no surprise that the world definitely has a hand in how motivated and inspired you are in getting out of your rut.

So with all that is happening around us, how do we manage to self-motivate and return to a place of peace and happiness? I’ve provided some tips designed to help you turn things around quickly:

  1. Rediscover what you love doing.

Make a list of the activities you love most, and choose one to do each week. If it’s something big, work on setting small goals/taking small steps towards making it happen.

  1. Actively change your thinking.

Think of a few areas of your life where you’re feeling “stuck”, and write down exactly what is making you feel that way. Then, think about the same area in a different way, this time shedding a positive light on it. Contrast your first statement with a new, optimistic one!

  1. Do something different.

Being in a rut means you are in a negative pattern of thinking. They always say you can’t expect different results with the same actions, so do something different, something you may not otherwise think of doing, like booking that massage, going for a brisk walk, or savouring that orange, one piece at a time. You don’t have to make major changes, think about your behaviour and what you can change to produce better results for you!

  1. Say “yes” more!

If we all said “yes” to the many opportunities, big or small, that we have presented to us each day, we’d open ourselves up to so many exciting experiences and be able to learn and understand so much about ourselves. Make the most of your time each day.

  1. Embrace change.

Accept change as a good factor in life, not one that causes discomfort or disarray. Routines are not always your friend! Taking the fear out of change will help you feel calmer and more prepared for curveballs in life.

It is important to remember that being in a rut is not necessarily a bad thing – it signifies a chance for growth and positive adjustment. We will all go through periods where we must realign ourselves to our surroundings in an effort to settle back into a place of peace and comfort. It is much like a spaceship that has veered off course. If it is not corrected, it could lead to disastrous results. Use these tips to help you find your happy place!

Do you have any personal techniques you use to get yourself out of a rut? Share with us in the comments!