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Some employment skills, essential though they are, rarely feature in job ads. Many of our clients have these in spades, but never mention them because employers don’t specifically solicit that information. When’s the last time you saw a job posting asking for kindness? Helpfulness? Humility?
Skills and credentials are important, but personality and culture fit will sometimes serve as the ultimate deciding factors. The following five personality traits can either complement a skilled candidate’s experience, or make up for a lack thereof. If you have any of these five skills, don’t be afraid to mention them in your application. They might just tip the balance in your favour!
Don’t misunderstand us: Likability does not mean being artificial, inauthentic, or unremarkable. Likable people let their individual personalities shine without compromising respect for other people. Being likable has a few key benefits. Likable people are more likely to have their mistakes forgiven. They usually have an easier time getting help at work, and also find it easier to persuade others. They enjoy these workplace privileges because people instinctively want to assist and please them. As you’ll see, trying to be more likable is definitely worth the effort.
True likability sounds like the kind of trait you have to be born with, but almost anyone can increase their own likability with conscious effort. Demonstrate sincere curiosity about and interest in others. Smile frequently, mimic other people’s body language, and search for common ground. All of these behaviours must be carefully managed, as doing any one of them to excess might unsettle people, but incorporating them into your everyday social strategy should encourage employers to envision you as one of their team.
Don’t forget that likability is just as important online as it is offline. If you project genuine warmth and authenticity in person, be sure to project that same persona through your social media channels.
Have you ever heard that nice people finish last? Well, we’re here to tell you that the data disagrees! Candidates who are described as helpful and kind by references, or who are perceived to be particularly kind during interviews, are twice as likely to be hired compared with candidates who focus exclusively on skill and talent. If your employer believes you’ll be a kind, cooperative person, they might even give you a higher starting salary, and will certainly trust you more readily with their team.
Here’s the thing: bright stars who court the spotlight take up a lot of oxygen, and no workplace can sustain too many of them at a time. While employers need and respect brilliance, they also look for candidates with helpful, collaborative spirits. These are the people who give a workplace its strength, positive culture, and resilience.
Pro tip: if you know yourself to be a kind, helpful person, don’t be afraid to ask your references to highlight that aspect of your character. Employers will notice.
In theory, humility is a value much of society holds dear, but we seldom see it demonstrated in traditional workplace culture. All too often, we are encouraged to play to win; be the best; eliminate the competition; aggressively pursue our goals. Inevitably, getting a job means someone else was not chosen, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace humility as a professional value. If you do, you will be welcomed with open arms by employers who value cohesive workplace cultures.
How can you demonstrate humility? Here are a few ideas:
• Ask for and use candid feedback about your performance.
• Treat everyone respectfully, even if they are below you in the professional hierarchy.
• Remain open and receptive to advice and education, no matter where it comes from.
• Value the perspectives of others, especially if they are different from your own.
Practicing humility doesn’t mean being meek or subservient. It means nurturing a growth mindset, even if you have vast experience and skills. Approach life humbly, and you’ll discover infinite opportunities for growth, learning, and self-improvement.
4. Cultural Competence
Comfort with cultural diversity is not only desirable, but expected in the 21st-century professional world. It is so integral to almost every occupation that it’s surprising it is not explicitly mentioned in more job advertisements. If you’re able to exemplify cultural competence, or at least a willingness to develop it, you’ll put yourself at the head of the pack in most industries. If you lack cultural competence, you might face increase conflict and confusion in the workplace.
There is no shortcut to developing cultural competence. You’ll need a combination of study and lived experience to hone this skill, and the sooner you make it a priority, the better your career prospects will become. Spend time with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Observe and research the way different cultures communicate, manage time, collaborate, and handle sensitive workplace situations. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be an asset to any team.
Coachability is an essential skill that has its foundations in humility. As we discussed before, humility means being receptive to feedback, remaining open to differing perspectives, and accepting that everyone has something to teach you. Coachability builds on all these principles to make you a resilient, responsive, and highly adaptable (and valuable!) employee.
You can demonstrate coachability by:
• Soliciting feedback rather than waiting for colleagues to provide it.
• Showing a willingness to grow and adjust when faced with uncertainty and change.
• Listening carefully when receiving constructive criticism.
• Owning your mistakes and proving you can learn from them.
If you are truly coachable, you can transcend almost any other barrier in your path. What employer wouldn’t be impressed by that?
Is your resume feeling a little lackluster? Have you caught yourself using the same clichés in your cover letters? Visit the Community Hub to take advantage of our free resume writing service, or ask about our specialized employment programs. Our staff will be more than happy to help.
Recently, DECSA staff hosted a round-table discussion on impostor syndrome, sharing candid experiences, fears, nagging doubts, and coping mechanisms. Impostor syndrome may not be a clinical condition—it is typically described as a behaviour pattern or temporary state of being—but it has real consequences if left unchecked.
Impostor syndrome is a complicated condition that has many subtypes and variations. In its simplest form, it is characterized by an inability to acknowledge the role you play in your own accomplishments. Sufferers may attribute their achievements to good fortune, special connections, financial advantages, or even outright fraud, despite solid evidence of hard work and prodigious skill. Women and minorities are particularly susceptible, so we weren’t at all surprised to learn that several of our clients, most of whom represent at least one minority identity, exhibited behaviours associated with impostor syndrome.
If you’ve ever felt as though all your talents and skills are based on luck, trickery, or inflation of your success by others, you’ve likely experienced impostor syndrome. (If you’re not sure, you can take this quick quiz to find out.) Since these symptoms can interfere with a happy and productive lifestyle, you may want to explore some possible solutions.
The discussion on impostor syndrome was so compelling that we decided to prepare a general post based on insight from our clients and staff, as well as supplementary research used to enrich our perspectives. We hope these three suggestions will help you own your success without questioning your right to have achieved it.
1. Flip the Script
People dealing with impostor syndrome often treat mistakes as a sign of weakness. Clients and staff alike confessed punishing themselves for being underprepared, or not knowing everything about their chosen field, or failing to consistently meet their own high standards. But what would happen, we wondered, if we simply flipped the script on all these missteps? What if we transformed them into opportunities?
Imagine if we expected failure, and accepted it as part of the human experience. The employment sphere is filled with risks and challenges, so failing is inevitable. Why not embrace it as a teachable moment, instead of letting it define us?
Let’s take this one step further: What if we treated not knowing all there is to know as an asset? Being open and receptive means you’re more likely to try new experiences, take constructive criticism well, and improve existing skills. If we assume that every person and every experience has something to teach us, we’ll never miss valuable lessons. Everyone is a work-in-progress, no matter how advanced they are, so why not normalize this permanent state of flux and growth?
If we can encourage ourselves to prepare for failure and expect surprises, impostor syndrome will surely lose some of its power.
2. Seek Constructive Feedback
One of the topics that came up repeatedly throughout our round-table discussion was the issue of external feedback. Whether we’re talking about unqualified praise, unconstructive criticism, or biased opinions presented as concrete fact, we can point to the disastrous effects vague or inaccurate information can have on a person’s self-concept. If we were praised our whole lives for being “smart,” for example, but we eventually find a particular task difficult, we might start believing we’re not intelligent at all, rather than understanding that hard work is not a sign of intellectual deficit. Receiving lavish, nonspecific praise, or vague, ruthless criticism can be hugely damaging in later life, often leading to self-doubt and fragility when faced with failure or struggle. One person opened up about being the kind of student who found secondary school practically effortless. Accustomed as she was to everything coming naturally to her, she floundered when she began university, discovering it was much harder than anything she’d yet tried. Once she was no longer the shining star she’d once been, she misinterpreted a need to work harder as a mark of her own fundamental weakness.
To combat this, it’s best to surround ourselves with people we trust to provide unbiased, constructive feedback. We don’t want to accept unconditional, vague feedback like “You’re so brilliant!” or “You’re just not up to snuff.” Instead, we should seek out specific, thoughtful feedback like “You have excellent public speaking skills,” or “The way you handled that meeting suggests your group communication might need some tweaking.” Specific, constructive information helps us identify our strengths and weaknesses in a healthy and useful way.
Mentors, supervisors, colleagues, and peers can provide the best blend of compassion and honesty, so that we always know where we truly stand, and never have to wonder whether we’re genuinely good at what we do. Tying praise and criticism to specific actions helps us understand ourselves better, making our minds less hospitable to impostor syndrome. If people you respect believe you deserve your success, it’s tough to contradict them.
3. Create a “Reassurance List”
One of impostor syndrome’s most insidious symptoms is the tendency for us to doubt or dismiss our previous accomplishments. Even the most inexperienced of us has something to be proud of, but self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours can eclipse the power of that pride, making us believe we have nothing to celebrate. While it’s important to stay in a growth mindset, ever aware of how we can improve, we also have to let go of unattainable perfectionism, and recognize what we have already achieved.
During our discussion, clients and staff brainstormed practical ways to keep tangible accomplishments close at hand. Here are a few of the ideas we came up with:
• Reference letters represent positive feedback written by people we respect, and can serve as ongoing reminders of our best traits.
• An updated resume or CV shows our job experience, preventing us from doubting where we’ve been and what we accomplished along the way.
• Written encouragement from friends and mentors is worth a hundred cheerleaders. Don’t be afraid to solicit this from people you trust. They’ll be happy to help you fight your impostor syndrome demons.
• A project list, kept up to date, is a constant indication of what we’ve worked on and what we might achieve in future. This item is particularly special because we get to decide, on an individual basis, how we might measure success.
We hope this article has given you some insight into why you feel like an impostor, and what you can do to stay on top of those feelings. If you have any other suggestions about how to manage impostor syndrome, feel free to leave them in the comments. We’d love to hear them!
Do you know someone who has fallen prey to “the game?”
They’re difficult to spot, since victims of sex trafficking come from all backgrounds. Archetypal victims of commercial sexual exploitation can’t be identified by their race, gender, or socioeconomic status. There are no demographics that remain untouched by the sex trade. No one is too wealthy, too well-adjusted, or too savvy to be seduced by a seasoned predator. Playing the game is not relegated to places “nice” people from “good” families would never dare to explore.
As we’ve learned from painful experience here at DECSA, not every person who has been sexually exploited realizes the situation is out of their control. At first, some people go along with the game, allowing pimps (who sometimes favour sanitized titles like “escort manager”) to enchant, exploit, and even enslave them without attempting to escape. The most skilled of predators can inspire such loyalty and helplessness in survivors that nothing, not even torture or violence, can sever the bond between them.
So, you may well ask, how do pimps persuade new recruits, some of them pre-teens, to fall in love with the very people who treat them like chattel?
Stage 1: Enchantment
“That’s when I learned women. Like, you know, learned how they work, learned what they want, everything…” – Matthew Deiaco
Career pimps frequently employ the “Romeo tactic” to recruit new sex workers. Targeting victims who seem vulnerable increases their success rate; people seeking guidance, security, and love are easier to charm. This is why pimps will focus their recruiting efforts on bus stations, secluded house parties, high schools, and even group homes, staking out potential victims in seemingly safe places. Social media, in particular, is a powerful recruitment tool—a tool young people understand better than the adults caring for them. Many victims of sexual exploitation engage in what they believe to be bona fide romantic relationships, so that they are already emotionally attached to a pimp by the time an exploitive situation is first introduced. This makes the work itself, and the lack of control over their own earnings, much more palatable.
Pimps make a systematic effort to discover a potential victim’s deepest desires. One pimp compares this process to finding the magic words: sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I love you” at the right time. Are victims craving a fairy-tale romance? A warm, stable, secure relationship? A luxurious lifestyle? Do they simply want their basic needs, like food and shelter, to be met by a consistent source?
Once vulnerabilities are identified, it’s disturbingly easy for a pimp to make lavish promises tailored to each individual they pursue. Playing the role of Romeo, who appears at just the right moment, paves the way for future manipulation. To bolster the clever deception, patient pimps will wait up to a year before showing signs that the romance is anything other than innocent. By then, the victim is primed to accept violence and exploitation, potentially unable to tell the difference between love and performative infatuation.
An outsider may notice red flags early on. Pimps may seem like dashing, loving boyfriends from the victim’s perspective, but observant third parties may pick up on a demanding nature; a preoccupation with money; a tendency to isolate; an unnatural interest in underground markets. Unfortunately, many victims, especially young teenagers, are not equipped to see danger in these traits, and neither are their peers.
Stage 2: Exploitation
“[sex] is something they were going to do anyway. This way, they get paid for it.” – anonymous pimp
By the time the relationship has progressed to the exploitation stage, pimps have already built trust and integrated themselves into victims’ lives. They have lain the groundwork for exploitation by learning all about a victim’s family, friends, interests, hopes, fears, and weaknesses. Even if a victim were to balk when the idea of prostitution is raised, pimps have plenty of personalized ammunition to blackmail, bully, or beguile them into an exploitive lifestyle. Perhaps victims are swayed by threats to their personal safety or that of their families. Maybe a pimp relies on the victim’s wish to contribute equally to the relationship to convince them to engage in activities that make them uncomfortable. In some cases, victims may even feel obliged to enter the sex trade, feeling that they are helping to support the glowing, romantic future they were promised. Participation in sex work can sometimes begin with twisted consent rather than fear and intimidation.
Some sex workers are open to being exploited, at least initially, in the sense that their earnings may afford them an improved lifestyle. Pimps can be deliberately flashy about money, tempting victims with the life they’ve always wanted. By this time, the victim is emotionally and often materially dependent upon their pimp, and is only just beginning to realize that the whole relationship was a business transaction, not a genuine romantic partnership. This is also the point when many victims discover that their pimps have others they’ve reeled in with the same sinister bait, and while this betrayal may be devastating, it is not necessarily enough to break the bond.
Stage 3: Enslavement
“They get inside your head: I felt like they had a hold of me from the inside — from my mind.” – anonymous survivor
The third and final stage is the enslavement stage, where victims acknowledge the desperation of their situations, but cannot or will not escape. Fear of physical violence motivates many victims to remain compliant, but others are swayed by complete dependence upon their pimps for everything from food, to shelter, to validation. Still others stay in exploitive situations because their pimps have threatened to expose them to friends and family. Convinced their lives will be ruined forever, they continue to suffer in silence and seclusion.
With the advent of online advertising, victims of sex trafficking are even more cloistered than before. Some are confined to one hotel room, servicing parades of clients without being able to rest, eat, or use the bathroom. Treated like something a step down from human, pimps will sometimes force victims to sleep naked at the foot of their beds, chained and starved like neglected animals. They are commonly branded to identify them as the property of a specific pimp, solidifying their subhuman status. Cut off from anyone who might be concerned about them, victims have little opportunity to signal to law enforcement or anyone else who may be in a position to help. The situation is made more dangerous because law enforcement has structural blind spots and may not be as responsive to certain types of victims. Even if law enforcement gives victims an opportunity to run away, they do not always accept it due to careful conditioning.
Even victims who have managed to break free can still feel bonded to their pimps. In one memorable case, a survivor actually attended her pimp’s trial, sitting with his family either in solidarity or in an attempt to show continued loyalty.
What can we do?
Our best defence is vigilance. Do not assume anyone is part of a low-risk demographic, or you may miss important signs. Watch for a person, especially a young and vulnerable one, who has:
• become suddenly secretive, even defensive about where they’re going and whom they’re seeing.
• acquired a second cell phone for no discernible reason.
• begun using new and unfamiliar terms, like “the game,” “tricks,” or “wifey.”
• gotten new tattoos they’re not willing to explain.
• started to pull away and isolate from friends and family.
• run away from home without explanation.
New victims may not be prepared to talk to you about what they’re experiencing, especially if they have been captivated by a skilled Romeo pimp. Reach out to others who might have influence over the victim, and understand that a situation that seems horrifying to you may seem perfectly natural for them. Tread softly.
Finally, understand that it’s never too early to discuss human trafficking with children. No one is too young to be at risk, so have that conversation early, so that we can keep kids as safe and informed as possible.
Are you being sexually exploited? Are you concerned about someone you know? Contact us. We’d be happy to help.
For many job-seekers with disabilities, the proliferation of online applications is a major leap forward. Job-seekers with vision, mental health, and mobility issues frequently find remote job-searching more comfortable and accessible than pounding the pavement. There’s also the added bonus of not needing to disclose disability immediately, increasing the chances of a selection process uninhibited by an employer’s perception of disability.
All is not well in the hiring world, however. Perplexed employers proclaim themselves to be disability-friendly on their applications, but still find that relatively few candidates with disabilities apply. Meanwhile, everything from the application, to the interview, to the pre-employment testing can quietly exclude qualified candidates. Since we know that people with disabilities comprise a mostly-untapped pool of worthy candidates, we’d like to present a few solutions that are simple to implement and easy to maintain. The Alberta Human Rights Commission specifies that employers have a duty to accommodate short of undue hardship, but we’d prefer to draw your attention to the thousands of clients who have walked through our doors—clients who are ready, willing, and able to work. If employers want to make the most informed hiring choices possible, we recommend considering the basic principles of inclusive hiring, which benefit employers as often as job-seekers.
The Application: Keep it Simple (and Accessible)
Job applications can seem straightforward and simple, especially to those designing them, but three out of five job-seekers claim to feel confused by a typical application, whether because the instructions are unclear or because the forms are excessively long.
The first and best design principle of job applications is to keep them as simple as possible. Any nonessential procedures should be reserved for a later point in the screening process, to reduce applicant fatigue and frustration. Don’t hide important information in the middle of long paragraphs, or interrupt the process with tangents about your company philosophy. Present the form in a concise manner that ensures candidates understand what is being asked of them, and label all required fields for clarity.
Next, consider specific accessibility requirements. Is the third-party application platform you’re using accessible for low-vision users? Is it compatible with screen readers? Can those using dictation software access the input fields? Is keyboard navigation always available for those who can’t use a mouse? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, and you don’t have an accessibility consultant on hand, have people with disabilities test it for you, or contact the platform’s staff to learn about their accessibility measures.
If you are hosting the job posting on your own website or social media accounts, ask yourself the same questions about compatibility and accessibility. There are many resources online devoted to designing accessible websites. An ounce of prevention is always preferable to a pound of cure.
Finally, assess the content in your application. Are the images and screenshots described? Do videos have transcripts or captioning for D/deaf candidates? In short, can anyone with basic computer skills understand and apply for your job posting?
Tip: if you’re concerned that any part of your application may exclude a qualified candidate, provide an alternate application method—perhaps an email address—so that anyone who cannot use the default application has another way of sending you their information. Make sure your Human Resources department is aware of this alternative, lest staff discourage an applicant from reaching out.
The Interview: Accommodate, and Focus on Ability
Employers should assume that not every interviewee will disclose the presence of a disability beforehand, and take a proactive approach to interview preparation.
First things first: consider your interview venue. Is it physically accessible? If so, it’s helpful to notify all candidates in the interview invitation. Have a backup location in mind in case the original space presents impassable barriers. You want your candidates focusing on their interview preparation, not on whether they’ll be able to enter the building. The interview invitation is also a perfect time to mention that you are happy to accommodate access requests. Some interviewees may feel emboldened to disclose at this point, which will make the process smoother for everyone.
Next, prepare your staff to plan inclusive interviews. Ensure that all paperwork and handouts are available in alternate formats for visually impaired interviewees, and know that they may require assistance with signing hard copies (we recommend investing in a handy signature guide, which is also useful for anyone with unsteady hands). Honour specific requests as best you can, and ask clarifying questions.
During the interview itself, resist the urge to interrogate the interviewee about the exact nature of their disability, and keep the interview squarely on topic. Never ask questions like “Are you capable of the basic duties of this job?” Assume that if a candidate has taken the trouble to apply and attend an interview, chances are they are able to accomplish the necessary duties. Instead, ask about workarounds and methods: “I see you have some video editing experience. What types of software do you use? Are there any accommodations we can make for you?”
Don’t worry if you’re nervous or unsure. It’s likely the interviewee expects this, and will be glad to answer pertinent questions about how they will approach the job.
Tip: Broaden your candidate pool by considering alternatives to the traditional interview for applicants with high anxiety, autism, and other conditions that make the typical interview setting excessively difficult. Work trials and skills tests are excellent ways to assess a candidate’s suitability, depending on the job duties.
Pre-Employment Testing: Make it Relevant and Inclusive
Pre-employment testing can let candidates with weaker interview skills shine more brightly, but it can also exclude people who would excel in the job but struggle with the limitations of pre-employment tests. Since testing varies widely from employer to employer, we’ll provide a few general guidelines. For more in-depth insight, we suggest an accessibility audit.
The most vital tenet of inclusive pre-employment testing is that it remains relevant. Assessing a candidate’s soft skills is important, but some tests are gratuitously complicated. Trim the fat when designing testing, so that no unnecessary hurdles remain. Is that colour-matching personality test essential, especially if it shuts out visually impaired candidates? Does your testing interface depend on inaccessible software? Is extra time allocated to candidates who may work more slowly in exam-like situations but who would be perfectly efficient in your day-to-day environment? No matter what you’re testing for, you’ll want the process to reflect the actual job as closely as possible. Do not assume that being unable to complete pre-employment testing in its default form is a sign of incompetence; you’ll risk dismissing people who would otherwise be valuable assets.
Tip: Collaborate with candidates to work around testing issues. A more flexible test is not necessarily a less rigorous one.
Beyond the specifics, inclusive hiring is all about facilitating equal access. An inclusive screening process is not an easy, simplistic, or ineffective one. It is more flexible, less convoluted, and more inviting. Committing actively and continuously to inclusive hiring processes sends a positive message to employees, customers, and fellow employers, and that can only be a positive thing for your business.
Ultimately, implementing inclusive hiring contributes to a more diverse and talented workforce. Hiring inclusively is not just the right thing to do–it’s the sensible thing to do.
October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is especially relevant to us here at DECSA: mental health in the workplace. With this FAQ, we hope to spark conversations about why so many workplaces are unhealthy, which aspects of professional culture influence this trend, and what can be done to promote a more positive, healthy work environment for us all.
What are the signs of an unhealthy workplace?
If you’re wondering about the effect your workplace has on employee mental health, watch out for any of the following signs:
• Employees eat lunch at their desks, or skip lunch altogether.
• Breaks, even scheduled ones, are ignored in favour of tackling a heavy workload.
• Vacation time is accrued, but no one ever seems to take time off.
• Employees remain unofficially on call outside work hours, attending to work-related emails and phone calls on personal time.
• Employees are unwilling or reluctant to discuss mental health issues, even with managers and HR staff.
These and similar signals point to a workplace populated by disengaged, isolated, and overworked employees who would rather struggle in silence than call out a toxic workplace culture. Eventually, the most apathetic and/or overtaxed of these employees will simply leave, increasing turnover and further burdening remaining staff.
Why do mentally unhealthy workplaces exist at all
Perhaps the simplest explanation for work environments like the one described above is cutthroat culture. The cutthroat workplace model relies on the power of stress, pressure, and fear to motivate employees. In many industries, a hard-line approach is used to weed out less-valuable employees, strengthen resilient ones, and drive success in a forceful manner. According to proponents of this approach, employees who can withstand the unreasonably long hours and staggering workload are the only ones who belong. For some employers, cutthroat culture is an efficient way to identify weak links and eliminate anyone who might stand in the way of success.
This model does work, at least in the short-term, but employers who use this framework may soon discover the latent costs of a negative culture. Health spending soars as employees deal with the fallout from elevated stress levels. Absenteeism rises as employees take more sick days to escape a culture that is becoming too exhausting to handle. Employees who are present, many of whom were engaged and productive earlier on, find themselves becoming disenchanted with their work and increasingly disloyal to their employer. Research has shown that disengaged employees make more mistakes, suffer more accidents, and take more sick days than employees who are surrounded by a healthy, positive workplace culture. Worse still, disengaged employees may affect employees who are still passionate and engaged with their work, creating a destructive ripple effect.
As long as the corporate world continues to discourage work-life balance and reward unhealthy work habits in the name of productivity, mentally unhealthy workplaces will persist. Meanwhile, research indicates that, far more than a lavish workplace replete with perks, employees want a positive, secure, and supportive work environment.
Why are mentally healthy workplaces important?
As illustrated above, mentally healthy workplaces foster productivity and job satisfaction. More than these, mentally healthy workplaces make excellent business sense, because…
• work-life balance is more than a buzzword: employees value balance more than ever, and will seek out employers who explicitly commit to preserving it.
• employees are free to thrive: workers will benefit from higher energy levels, make fewer errors, develop stronger social bonds with coworkers, and be easier to retain.
• businesses will save money: lower health spending should result when workplaces make concerted efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles for their employees.
• the essence of workplace culture will improve: a mentally healthy workplace tends to create fertile soil for diversity, inclusion, and stronger peer support.
How can employers build a healthier workplace?
Target Physical Health
Promoting healthy eating and regular exercise is a simple and effective way to ensure employees will see improvements in their mental health. Exercise and nutritious foods contribute to a more balanced, energetic, and stable employee, and many people find it’s possible to manage or at least mitigate mental health conditions with a better diet and vigorous exercise.
For example, DECSA makes a special effort to remind coworkers to take a full lunch break to encourage employees to set their work aside, mingle with coworkers, and refuel their bodies. Intermittent breaks are also encouraged throughout the day, so that our staff has time to reflect and recharge between tasks.
Be the Change You Wish to See
When attempting to rehabilitate a toxic culture or maintain a healthy one, managers and executive leaders have a particular responsibility to model the behaviour and habits they wish to see in their employees. If top officials are seen taking breaks, speaking openly about mental health issues, and advocating the occasional use of mental health breaks, employees are more likely to follow suit. Managers should take special care to cultivate cohesion in teams and personalized supportiveness among individuals. Employees are much more likely to discuss mental health concerns in a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.
At DECSA, all coordinators are aware of the value of a judgment-free, inclusive atmosphere that makes employees feel comfortable coming forward about mental health issues in the workplace. DECSA staff have been given the opportunity to obtain mental health first-aid training, a crisis team is always on call to assist staff and clients, and discretionary days are frequently referred to as “mental health days” in a positive tone that carries no stigma or punitive element. It’s not uncommon to hear our CEO, Deborah Rose, reminding staff to take vacation and look after their mental health as well as their physical well-being. In this way, DECSA is suffused with an open, inclusive culture that benefits both staff and clients.
Foster Reflection and Social Bonding
To achieve optimal mental health, people need space for reflective solitude and space for social bonding. Businesses can combine team-building exercises with designated spaces for quiet reflection to ensure that all staff feel comfortable at work. Strong peer support and social cohesion decrease turnover and increase productivity, but staff also need access to a safe, tranquil space where they can think through complex problems without interruption, or simply enjoy a quiet moment away from workplace hustle and bustle.
DECSA has a cultural room (sometimes called the Ceremony Room) that serves multiple purposes: it can act as a safe space for spiritual practices like smudging, and can also function as a retreat for people who merely need a few moments alone. The space is designed to inspire peace, tranquility, and emotional safety—the perfect location for reflection and mental respite.
Now that you know the importance of mentally healthy workplaces, we challenge you to evaluate your workplace. Do you see any signs that could point to negative impacts on mental health? Are there ways you can personally facilitate a healthier work environment? Is there someone in your company or organization who can effect change on a larger scale? Why not find out?
Eleven years is an awfully long time, and a whole lot in our world has changed since 2006. New programs were introduced, a new CEO arrived, and the community in which we serve continued to grow. One thing that has remained constant, however, is our annual Community Pancake Breakfast—a give-back event set aside for community-building, networking, and the celebration of the people who support us in our efforts to make Alberta a more inclusive, welcoming province.
Given its impressively long history, our Pancake Breakfast is always well-attended, and draws guests from all imaginable walks of life. We can usually count on a few hundred hungry people including families, politicians, and local partners. This year, for example, Councillor Tony Caterina made a speech, the Highlands branch of the Edmonton Public Library set up a table, and the Alberta Federation of Labour made an appearance. Friends, neighbours, partners, supporters, clients, and members of the general public flock to our yearly breakfasts in anticipation of delicious free food, fun outdoor activities and, of course, the chance to show their support to us and the people we serve every day. Proud as we are of our work here at DECSA, this is a time for recognizing the efforts of our surrounding community.
First, we give thanks to our volunteers, who took photos, served food despite intense heat, helped supervise tables, and made themselves useful in every way they could find. We could not hope to succeed without exceptional souls who donate their time freely and gladly. A special nod to a dozen students from CDI College is in order, as they all arrived bright and early and were chiefly responsible for ensuring the breakfast ran smoothly.
Second, we must recognize our wonderful guests, who skip the chance to sleep in to eat, laugh, and enjoy the sunshine with us. We could not ask for a better neighbourhood, community, or city. We are truly blessed to be surrounded by such lively, active support from so many.
Finally, we express immeasurable gratitude to our sponsors, without whom we could not have hosted our breakfasts at all. Northlands has been our chief sponsor for years, and this year was no different. We thank them for helping us provide food for the breakfast, as well as the equipment used to prepare and serve it. Without a contribution from Northlands, our Community Pancake Breakfasts wouldn’t be possible. We must also acknowledge Re/Max, who lent us tents, a bouncy castle, and other equipment to ensure all our attendees would have everything they need for a comfortable and enjoyable morning. Edmonton’s Food Bank, which has been a loyal partner and provides ongoing and essential support to DECSA on a consistent basis, enhanced our breakfast by providing beverages for all the guests. Given the high demand for food bank services across Canada and in Edmonton itself, we are doubly grateful for this assistance. We must also mention CIBC and Sun Life Financial, as staff from both companies have been long-time friends of DECSA and can be counted upon to lend us support during important events and milestones. Last but certainly not least, we owe many thanks to the kind community member who donated his petting zoo. The animals were a welcome addition to the event, and their gentle dispositions allowed us to give our young visitors an especially memorable experience.
And so, for now, we put the photos away, and move along to other exciting events planned for the coming months. Next year, though, we hope to see you all at our 12th Community Pancake Breakfast. Help us keep this treasured tradition going for another 11 years!
“Honour your values and live your purpose.” – Transitions participant speaking at the women’s graduation ceremony
June was a bittersweet month for DECSA staff, as we sent off yet another group of successful Transitions graduates. As always, we said good-bye with ceremony, handing out certificates and good-luck wishes.
This time around was even more special than usual: we had two ceremonies–one for our women’s group, and one for our very first men’s group. Until very recently, our Transitions program for sexually exploited individuals was not gender-segregated, but when we realised that a separate men’s groupwould improve the client experience, we adapted the program to fit our community’s needs.
DECSA clients worked hard to fundraise so their graduation ceremonies would be fun as well as meaningful. They worked tirelessly in the days leading up to their graduations by washing cars and serving hot dogs. The fruits of their labour resulted in two excellent graduation parties, including some delicious food they were happy to share with everyone.
Each ceremony, men’s and women’s, was unique, but they were both filled with joy, pride, and the nostalgic sadness that comes at the end of every era. Case managers sang, cried, and laughed with participants, affirming and reaffirming the great privilege of working with their clients. After hosting them for months, watching them work alongside fellow survivors of trauma and opening themselves up to their case managers, we were all understandably choked up at the idea of letting them go.
Nevertheless, we at DECSA can’t wait to see where their journeys will take these brave, beautiful people. Whatever they do, wherever they go, we feel confident that the skills and resilience they’ve built up in the Transitions program will follow them, equipping them for a brighter future. We’re grateful to have been able to be part of their recovery, and are eager to keep in touch with them through Survival Squad, our support group for past Transitions graduates.
If you or someone you know is being sexually exploited, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our trans-inclusive Transitions program may be the key to recovery and success.
So you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. You’ve bitten off a coworker’s head because she forgot to return your stapler. Sleep is a luxury you never seem to have time for, and you feel just a little more fragile with each passing day. You can’t sleep, and even weekends fail to refresh you. As time goes on, you’re even beginning to feel apathetic—like what’s happening at work isn’t all that important, really.
If this sounds anything like you, know that it’s probably time to take a mental health day.
Don’t shake your head: mental health days are not the exclusive domain of people who would rather lounge around in their pyjamas than go into work. Career coach Kathy Caprino explains that reserving a specific day to relax and recharge is essential for anyone feeling too exhausted and out-of-control to function properly. Mental health days can be a healthy choice for everyone, including the hardest-working and most dedicated among us. We’d go so far as to argue that these people are the ones who need mental health days the most. So, even and especially if you think of yourself as a highly-motivated, loyal worker, consider taking some time out to rebalance your life. You’re likely to experience substantial rewards, including higher energy levels, more consistent productivity, and increased stability. The unfortunate coworker who borrowed your stapler will thank you.
Planning Your Day
Be sure to plan your mental health day in advance if at all possible. There may be days when you don’t realize you need the time away until the last minute, but most often, you’ll feel burn-out coming long before it arrives. Failing to plan ahead means you won’t make effective use of your time, and may be further strained by the consequences of taking an unplanned day off. Leaving your coworkers in the lurch and worrying about who is covering for you will not contribute to a relaxing day.
Schedule activities for yourself, and avoid isolation by asking a friend or family member to join in during your day off. Spending time with people who make you happy can only add to the experience.
Pitching it to Your Boss
Unless you’re lucky enough to be your own boss, you’ll have to request time away. In theory, notifying your boss of a mental health day should be easy. No one expects you to hesitate when you’re feeling physically ill and need rest, so why should you torture yourself for needing mental rest?
First, banish any guilt you might be feeling. Looking after your mental health shows that you are a responsible person who thinks ahead and knows how to mitigate health problems before they become detrimental to the workplace. Choosing to set aside a day for your mental well-being signals that you are a practical, self-aware employee. Before requesting time off, ensure that you are confident in your need for it.
Next, assess how you think the interaction is likely to go. What is your manager like? Are they open to discussing mental health challenges? We do realize the world is by no means an oasis of acceptance, and we’re under no illusions that mental health stigma is a thing of the past. Not all bosses will be thrilled at the idea of a mental health day, in which case you should call it a personal day and leave it at that. You are under no obligation to go into extravagant detail.
If you do have a relatively accepting boss, pitch your mental health day as a risk management strategy. A reasonable manager will understand that giving their employees one day to reset is preferable to guiding them through a stress-related and preventable meltdown. Emphasize that taking a carefully-planned day off will be of benefit to you, your coworkers, and the company or organization as a whole. Your manager should appreciate your forethought and consideration.
How to Spend the Day
Tempting as it might be, don’t waste your entire mental health day hanging out with Netflix. This activity might feel soothing at the time, but won’t usually result in lasting benefits. You’ll probably go into work the next day feeling as though you haven’t recharged properly. Instead, devote the time to activities that are enriching and engaging.
Exactly how you spend your mental health day will depend on how you’re feeling. For the overwhelmed among us, relaxation is most helpful, so select activities that will reduce tension. Go for a massage, take a walk in a green space, attend a yoga class, or grab lunch with a trusted friend.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling apathetic and numb, find activities that will energize you. Match them to your existing hobbies. Play some games. Cook an elaborate meal. Go shopping (no need to purchase anything if your budget is strained). Lifting the fog of apathy requires stimulating experiences that will remind you what excitement and passion feel like.
Essentially, the template for a successful mental health day involves avoiding stressors and enjoying activities that bring you joy and comfort. Snuggle your pet, surround yourself with loved ones, and relish being away from everything that’s weighing so heavily on you. Any iteration of this basic method should yield positive results.
Making it Last
Even the best mental health day won’t have lasting effects if you fail to make lifestyle changes. Usually, needing one in the first place stems from ongoing issues at work, meaning you’ll have to address these if you want to make meaningful progress. If you don’t incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine and maintain a healthy work-life balance, no amount of mental health breaks or even extended vacations will save you from eventual exhaustion. Accept that your current strategy is not working for you, and be willing to make a few changes. If you do, you’ll find that one mental health day can have real long-term impact.
Yesterday, we celebrated Equal Pay Day, which recognizes the gendered pay gap that persists even in 2017. Canadian women generally make about 87 cents to every Canadian man’s dollar, but the gap is wider in other parts of the world. Depending upon location, career field, age, race, and other complex factors, women still make about 20% less than men overall. This pay gap feeds systemic inequality, especially when women are paid less than men for the exact same work, and takes a toll on the health of any economy.
Today, though, we’d like to place the spotlight on a different but no less meaningful wage gap that, even on Equal Pay Day, few people seemed to be discussing. People with disabilities, who form one of the largest minority groups, face a pay gap even wider than the one affecting women. Disabled Canadians make about 25% less than their nondisabled counterparts. Elsewhere, they make as little as 37% less than nondisabled workers. Since people with disabilities already deal with other employment-related barriers, such as a high unemployment rate and fewer opportunities, the pay gap is just one more roadblock to their success.
Part of the reason this pay gap exists is society’s belief that people with disabilities are automatically worth less and are less productive at work. Regardless of education level, prior experience, and personal skills, people with disabilities still find themselves proving and reasserting their competence at every career stage. Indeed, higher educational attainment doesn’t narrow the pay gap. If anything, it widens it. People with disabilities who have a master’s degree or higher make about $20,000 less than nondisabled peers annually, even when working in exactly the same positions. No matter how well-educated a person with a disability becomes, they are at risk of being deemed less worthy of a salary commensurate with their educational achievements.
The pay gap persists at all levels, however, especially in places where subminimum wages are legal. The United States has come under fire many times for an antiquated law that permits employers to pay disabled workers below the minimum wage if they are perceived to be less productive than someone without a disability. These wages can be so staggeringly low that the worker is making less than a dollar per hour. This practice is usually found in sheltered, segregated workshops, where the labour of workers with disabilities is treated as inferior and paid for with correspondingly low wages.
Unfortunately, such laws and practices are not unique to the United States. Canada has sheltered workshops of its own, which were originally intended to give disabled workers job training but eventually led to decades of underpaid, undervalued labour. Provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all have old laws on the books that allow employers to pay employees less if their “physical or mental deficiencies” are likely to disrupt productivity. These laws are rarely invoked, but one time is really too many.
Adding to the issue is that people with disabilities tend to work fewer hours annually, mirroring the plight of women, who also tend to work fewer hours per year and consequently make less money. Men with disabilities only work about 750 hours annually, while men without disabilities work about 1,280. Women with disabilities work about 556 hours annually, while women without disabilities work about 993 hours per year. Further, people with disabilities are overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, just as women are.
The two situations reflect each other so perfectly that it is a wonder more people are not speaking out about this glaring example of inequality. There is abundant research on the gendered pay gap, but far less study devoted to examining the disability pay gap. Why? Why is 20% of the world’s population being left out of the important conversation that Equal Pay Day sparks each year?
At DECSA, we work hard to uphold the dignity and success of people with disabilities. We work with them every day, and know them to be competent, educated, skilled individuals who are ready, willing, and able to work. They make up a portion of our staff and contribute just as meaningfully as our nondisabled employees. We know that the single greatest barrier between them and gainful employment is society’s attitude, so we work to change that attitude wherever we can. Please join us in acknowledging inequality, disparity, and discrimination. Help us ensure that this conversation extends beyond us and into a world that so often misunderstands and undervalues workers with disabilities. In Canada, we all have the right to work. Let’s come together to protect that right.
Remember last year’s inaugural Surf & Turf dinner? The music, the food, the competitive auction… Oh, you didn’t get to go because it was sold out? Well, tickets are now on sale for the second annual fundraiser! After the success of last year’s event, we knew it would become a staple of our fundraising efforts, while providing an entertaining evening for everyone in attendance.
The event, which takes place on May 27th, is a chance for Edmontonians to come together to support Albertans who face barriers to education and employment. DECSA relies on generous sponsors and community support to keep our doors open, and this Surf & Turf is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to show your support for our clients. If you’re concerned about breaking down barriers for people with disabilities, sexually exploited individuals, people facing mental health issues, and/or any Albertans dealing with other complex issues, you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity.
Join us for fresh lobster, flown directly from P.E.I. Enjoy premium rib-eye steaks (or a vegetarian dish, if you prefer). Indulge in some dancing, and make use of our cash bar.
If you’re seeking additional ways to contribute, you can take part in our live and silent auctions, which will include items produced by local businesses. You can choose to bid on a wide range of items, including artwork, airline tickets, hotel stays, gift certificates, and even a luxurious Sunday brunch.
Tempted? Register and purchase your tickets online, or call (780) 474-2500. We’ll likely sell out once again, so don’t wait too long. We look forward to seeing you there!