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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Keeping Your Cool in the Workplace this Summer

10459716_xxl_1600_536_c1_c_c_0_0_1The warmth of the summer months beckon us to spend time with family and friends outdoors and away from work to enjoy these precious days of sunshine. However, there are challenges to maintaining our mental well-being when these days come. I would like to share with you some facts about working in the summertime, and how you can help your staff feel their best.

Spreading the hours around

A study noted in the Huffington Post found that 26 per cent of Canadians are not using paid vacation days provided by their employer. The majority of those said it was because they felt they had too much work to do and taking time away would leave them behind in their work. Others are saving their vacation days for emergencies, and still others claimed to not want a vacation. By encouraging staff to take time away, even for a staycation, the benefits in creativity can be reaped when returning with a fresh view and feeling more relaxed. Time away also decreases burnout and subsequently can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Covering for others

According to CMHA Ontario, the summer months of vacation time can be a cause of stress for those filling in for others in their absence. Whether it is on the assembly line or in an office, taking on the job of another, often one that they may have little experience doing, can make those employees feel anxious and stressed. When personal life stressors occur during this time, the pressure at work can seem overwhelming. To make vacations work for everyone, discuss with everyone the upcoming workload so you can plan deadlines around vacation dates. Knowing who is on vacation and when will also help you plan your projects. Ensure staff that is covering for others are clearly aware of new tasks and responsibilities, and check in to see how manageable the workload is while other staff is away.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects some in the winter months with shorter and colder days, but there are some individuals who are affected by depression in the summertime. Increased humidity is unbearable for some, who may stay in their air-conditioned home to avoid the heat, and are likely less active as a result. When it’s too hot to cook, many choose to eat out or order in and poor food choices are often made. Changes in routine and schedules can bring on feelings of depression, such as having bored school children or university students now at home. Financial strain with camp and entertainment costs is increased, as well as the costs of going on a destination vacation. Wearing shorts or bathing suits can increase feelings of poor body image, and may inhibit some from joining friends at the beach or poolside. Some signs of summer depression to look for in your staff could include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, and feelings of anxiety. One way to stave off symptoms of depression is to maintain physical fitness, so encourage employees to use their employee discount at the air-conditioned gym, even for the summer months. Another way to maintain mental wellness is to stay connected, so hosting a BBQ for staff to enjoy each other’s company outside of the workplace and engage with each other in a social environment helps build camaraderie, minimize isolation and enhance work relationships.

I hope you take the time to enjoy your summer, with your co-workers, family and friends!


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3 Ways to Engage Your Millennial Employees in Workplace Wellness

Millennials-at-work_AckermanCo-SeriesJust like the baby boomer generation, millennials are driving a culture change in the workplace. Organizations are realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits and workplace wellness is simply no longer feasible. With millennials now comprising more than one-third of the workforce, and will be 75% of the workforce in 2025 (Deloitte), engaging this growing and influential demographic will be crucial to your business. Millennials are seeking out employers who make employee engagement a priority, and are looking for a company that offers a great learning environment, opportunities to get involved in the organization and community, and has a fun, supportive culture. Here, I suggest some things to consider when thinking about your workplace wellness programs:

  1. Develop social strategies

To engage your millennial employees you’ll need to be creative. Create social and fun opportunities and devote a significant portion of your time to team-building and encouraging socializing. How about an evening paintballing, or at an escape room? Embrace social media, smart phones and other online platforms and encourage employees to join in. While some may view this as a potential distraction, it can ultimately help your business by turning your workforce into a tight-knit community and facilitating strong communication between your employees. Organizing St. Patrick’s Day activities, get a mini air hockey/foosball table for the lunchroom, a chat group (like BBM) to specifically connect about work and non-work-related topics, or plan to surprise your employees for example, serving pancakes for breakfast. These are small things that allow your millennial employees to connect and socialize at work as well as outside of work.

  1. Managers act as mentors

Millennials crave regular feedback on their work, not because they want to be patted on the back every time they complete an assignment, but because they want to do solid work. Millennials often seek out feedback as a way of growing in their jobs and ensuring that their work is valuable to the company. One of the reasons why millennials are so interested in performing well, receiving feedback, and earning recognition for their work is that they are very interested in career advancement. Millennials tend to disengage quickly if they feel stuck in a dead-end job. Your millennial employees are looking to their managers for mentorship, and think of them as more than just a “boss.”

  1. Provide flexibility

While millennials can be highly dedicated to their work, it doesn’t mean they love the idea of spending eight hours in an office every day. For the first generation of digital natives, the idea of an office can feel somewhat antiquated since they are aware of how much work can be accomplished with no more than an Internet connection. It may seem counter-intuitive, but while many millennials are extremely interested in forming meaningful connections with their work and their fellow employees, they also tend to view themselves as being more independent than workers from earlier generations. You may find that you will get the most productivity out of your millennial employees by giving them the freedom to work remotely when possible, and by creating a casual office environment that allows employees to move around and work in groups. Video conferencing also allows staff to virtually sit in on all company meetings, collaborate, and have important conversations without anyone missing a beat.

These are but a few wellness suggestions that will need your attention in order to support your millennials help you grow your business. To be successful, you must take a proactive approach to meeting millennials’ needs. Ask your millennial employees what they look for in a workplace and what means most to them. Although culture change often takes time, beware: Millennials are accustomed to rapid innovation; they expect tomorrow’s wellness program today!


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How Do You Measure Workplace Wellness?

static1.squarespace.comIt should come as no surprise that healthy employees boost a company’s bottom line. They experience less sick time, take fewer disability days and suffer lesser risk of premature deaths.

It is good business for companies to help provide employees with the information and tools that will empower them to adopt healthy behaviours.

Despite a growing understanding that happy and healthy employees equal a happy and healthy workplace, wellness programs are still often viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative, and certainly not one that delivers ROI!

First, let me share with you some studies that were conducted on the return on investment (ROI) in wellness programs:

  • Phase 1 findings from The Canadian Return on Investment Study determined that between 1.5 to 1.7 days per employee per year of absenteeism were saved with wellness programs, which translated into an estimated savings of $251 per employee per year (Statistics Canada stated that absenteeism rates ranged from 4.7 days to 11.2 days per employee per year.)
  • Companies such as Canada Life, DuPont, Prudential Insurance and Citibank report a savings of $2 to $6.85 for each $1 invested
  • Returns on healthy workplaces reported by large private sector organizations range from $1.81 to $6.15 for every $1 invested
  • These findings were consistent with those found in a similar Harvard Business Review study:
    • The percentage of Johnson and Johnson employees who smoke has dropped by more than two-thirds.
    • High blood pressure declined by more than half.
    • The pay-off for Johnson and Johnson estimated by their leaders was a cumulative savings of $250 million on health-care costs over the past decade.
    • From 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent. Based on the Harvard study, wellness initiatives save an employer an average of $394 per employee per year, while the programs only cost an average of $159 per employee per year — creating an ROI of $3.36 for every $1 spent.

As a result of Canadian studies with comparable tangible results, many insurance companies are offering percentage reductions in their group premiums for organizations that are committed to forge the world of wellness.

To create your own workplace wellness program with proven ROI, but without investing in a large-scale study, I have outlined below a few simple steps to follow for more effective measurement of your wellness programs:

  1. Gather baseline information about the current status of your employees’ health. This can be done using a health risk assessment (HRA) which focuses on assessing health status, estimating the level of health risk and informing and providing feedback to participants to motivate behaviour change to reduce health risks.
  1. Ensure you work with and incorporate an EAP Wellness Program with measureable services into your workplace wellness plans (seminars, programs, etc.) Identify desired outcomes for the program, based on the health information collected about employees.
  2. Determine a realistic timeline for assessing whether desired outcomes have been achieved, including benchmark progress measurements. In other words, has your baseline data improved after one or two years?

There is no question healthy employees cost employers less in benefits, workers’ compensations claims and lost work days, and improve worker engagement. Armed with this, and strong new evidence that workplace wellness programs can indeed provide a significant return on investment, I hope you’ll be inspired to get involved in workplace wellness!

How important is having a measurable wellness program in your organization? Can you get “buy-in” without ROI? I look forward to an active discussion.


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Employee Recognition + Rewards = A Healthy Company

rules-good-co-worker-relationship1It has often been said that we spend more time at work than at home and recent studies back that up, announcing that 78 percent of people who work 30 to 50 hours a week spend more time with co-workers than with their families.

Although many employers want to increase employee engagement, there needs to be more attention placed on co-worker relationships because employees who have quality relationships with their co-workers are more likely to be engaged and happy at work. And happy engaged employees will mean increased productivity, and decreased time off, sickness and mental health issues.

Employers can boost employee engagement by creating a culture filled with healthy co-worker relationships. I have outlined below a few key ways employers can encourage employee engagement to create a healthy workplace.

1. Employee Recognition

Employee recognition is critical in preventing employee turnover and dissatisfaction in the workplace. Make sure you celebrate employee accomplishments, not just on a one-to-one basis, but with the entire company. Make a point to thank the employee in front of the whole department or even the entire company, depending on the size of your company. If the accomplishment has a large monetary impact on the business, then you may consider presenting them with a “high achiever” award or a gift.

2. Boost Morale

When employers encourage workplace friendships, they help boost employee morale, and encouraging supportive and trusting relationships help employees stay engaged and maintain a sense of belonging at a company.

In addition to setting up social events, which encourage employees to interact on a more personal level, employers can create an office space that encourages conversation. For example, have open office space or provide a space for employees to hang out in their free time (i.e. a small gym or even a lunch room).

3. Praise Milestones

Years ago, when an employee reached a 25-year anniversary, they were given a watch. Today, as employees do not tend to stay with the same company for a “lifetime”, employers need to invent creative milestone events to remind employees of their value to the company and how much they’re appreciated. Milestone events may include employee anniversaries, birthdays, anniversary of signing on a large account, memorable activities or other employee accomplishments.

Quite simple, if employees are engaged, recognized and appreciated they will feel happy, your company will be a healthy workplace and they will keep working hard and remain loyal to the company.

What are some ways your company has created healthy co-worker relationships in the workplace?


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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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Sexual Harassment – How Prepared Is Your Organization?

Sexual-Harassment-22Looking back on 2014, it is quite apparent that there was an influx in the number of workplace sexual harassment scandals appearing in the media. First, renowned CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was arrested and charged on four counts of sexual assault, and has since had three charges added after more accusers stepped forward. Soon after, our Parliament was under fire after female MPs and staffers began coming forward with sexual assault allegations against many high-profile male MPs. Turning to our neighbours to the South, television legend Bill Cosby made headline news after numerous women came forward claiming the actor had assaulted them in the past.

With many of these allegations occurring in the workplace, business owners and human resources departments must be more aware than ever of how to prevent, notice, and deal with sexual harassment. Without the proper procedures in place to prevent and/or handle cases of sexual harassment, employers are at risk of a long list of negative repercussions, including decreased productivity, low morale, increased absenteeism, and potential legal expenses.

What questions must you ask yourself in preparation to prevent/respond to sexual harassment in your organization? We’ve listed some to start with below:

  • Do you have a defined procedure in place to deal with the sexual harassment?
  • What response-time standard will you institute to indicate a sense of urgency for the complaint?
  • How will you communicate the severity for which you handle each and every case?
  • Do you have the appropriate resources available to deal with the complaint?
  • Do you have the appropriate resources available to the person who complained, and the remainder of your employees?
  • How will you communicate the action taken to the person who complained?

Answering these questions is only the beginning. Depending on your responses, your challenge is to ensure you’re armed with the right tools to respond to cases of sexual harassment and just as importantly, to take appropriate action in order to mitigate sexual harassment in your workplace

The conversation regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is an important one, which is why we want to go beyond this blog to talk to you about it. This year at the 2015 HRPA from January 21-23, Aspiria is offering you the opportunity to discuss your organization’s policy, training and concerns regarding sexual harassment by meeting with an expert from Yellow Brick House, a women’s shelter and counselling centre in York Region and myself.
Space is limited, so don’t waste any time in calling to book your 15 minute “meet the experts” appointment with us at Aspiria’s booth (#312)! Contact 1-877-277 4742 ext 105 or e-mail us to schedule your appointment.