Author Archives: decsaedmonton

FAQ: Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces

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?

Advertisements

11 Years of Pancakes: Friendship, Gratitude, and Community Partnerships

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 EdmontonTony Caterina giving a speech 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 DECSA volunteers from CDI college serving food to the guestfor 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  DECSA guest are enjoying their breakfast in front of the RE/MAX tents 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!

Picture of a tipi

 

 

“Live Your Purpose”: Saying Farewell to Another Group of Transitions Graduates

“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.

Our very first men’s transition group is standing together holding their certificates.

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.

Our women’s 2017 grad class standing with DECSA’s Teresa and Andrea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Taking a Mental Health Day

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.

Who was left out on Equal Pay Day?

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.

Hands of different skin tones hold varying amounts of monty

Equal Pay Day is a great initiative, but some voices were left out of the discussion. Photo provided by Shutterstock.

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.

Tickets on Sale for DECSA’s Surf & Turf Fundraiser

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.

Surf & Turf 2nd Annual Dinner and Fundraiser poster

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.

Man doing jumping-jack-like movement in the air, guided by his partner.

Our guests had very creative dance moves!

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!

People sitting at a table wearing bibs with lobsters on them

Lobster bibs were the pinnacle of fashion that evening!

Here a Dog, There a Dog: Service Animals in the Workplace

Dogs have been providing humans with companionship and comfort for centuries, but they have also begun to fill specific, diverse roles related to neurological and physical disabilities. There are about a hundred service dogs in Alberta alone, so it’s possible that you’ll encounter one of them in your workplace. Whether this makes you joyful or nervous, it’s important to educate yourself on the different types of service dogs, and proper etiquette when interacting with a service dog team.

Types of Service Dogs

You may picture a guide dog when you think of service animals, but the range of disabilities dogs can assist with has expanded dramatically in recent years, as has the variety of breeds that can be trained. You’re as likely to see a poodle as a retriever, and the list of suitable breeds continues to grow. In 2017, you’ll meet service dogs that are trained to do any number of tasks, from easing anxiety, to alerting handlers of seizures, to detecting changes in blood sugar for those with diabetes. Here is just a small sample of the jobs service dogs can perform:

  • Hearing dogs can alert deaf and hard of hearing handlers of important sounds such as doorbells and fire alarms.
  • Mobility assistance dogs are taught to retrieve dropped objects, brace handlers who may have balance difficulties, and even pull wheelchairs up ramps.
  • Diabetic alert dogs are able to sense changes in blood sugar levels far sooner than their handlers, allowing them to address the situation before it becomes dangerous.
  • Seizure alert dogs are sensitive to oncoming seizures, and can help their handlers find a safe place and fetch medication.
  • Psychiatric service dogs work with handlers who live with conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They provide a general sense of safety, but are also trained to perform specific tasks like redirecting obsessive, harmful habits, or warning the handler when they begin to dissociate.
  • Allergy detection dogs will be on guard for allergens that may harm their handlers.

Workplace Etiquette

The first thing to remember is that, while accommodating a service dog team may seem a little scary at first, it’s a relatively easy and rewarding process. In Canada, employers are legally obligated to allow service dogs to accompany their handlers just about everywhere, so education and preparation are essential.

Two service dogs wait next to a fountain

Service dogs can be different breeds and serve a variety of needs. Photo provided by Please Don’t Pet Me.

When you meet a service dog team, always address the handler directly. Never approach the dog or acknowledge it without first acknowledging the handler. In fact, it’s generally unacceptable to touch, speak to, or feed the dog lest you distract it from its important work. The best course of action is to ignore the dog completely, as difficult as that may seem. If it helps, consider the dog an assistance device so that you’re less tempted to interact with it while it’s on duty. (Yes, a sleeping dog is still a working dog.)
Avoid making assumptions. If the handler’s disability is not visible, or the dog is not wearing a recognizable indicator such as a harness or vest, refrain from questioning it. Trust that your employer has done their due diligence in ensuring the service dog team is within its rights to be there. Not everyone is receptive to discussing or even disclosing their disabilities, so keep courtesy and respect in mind, always.
Finally, be proactive about disclosing any allergies or phobias you may experience. Dog handlers and employers can address environmental issues, but only if you inform them. Service animals tend to be easy to accommodate. They are highly-trained and well-mannered—so much so that you may even forget they’re there at all. Still, their presence can cause workplace issues, which must be solved as quickly as possible.

How Employers Should Accommodate

Employers must honour Albertan law and allow service dogs into their workplaces, provided they were trained at an accredited school and the employee has a bona fide disability. There are various strategies for educating other employees and dealing with potential problems, so research and consultation with the handler are vital for a smooth, successful transition.
While service dogs can usually be relied upon to behave themselves, handlers are ultimately and solely responsible for their conduct and should be expected to respond readily to behavioural issues as soon as they arise. Employers must balance the needs of their other employees with the rights afforded to all service dog teams. There may be some bumpy spots in the road, but once properly settled, a service dog can be a beneficial addition to any workplace.

6 Red Flags When Applying for Jobs Online

There’s never been a better time to use the internet as your primary job-search tool. Recruiters and employers are turning to online job boards and social media platforms to attract candidates. If you’ve applied for a job recently, chances are you did so online.

It seems like a win-win, doesn’t it? Employers and recruiters can reach a seemingly limitless number of people at very little cost, and job-seekers can post resumes, link to online portfolios, and dazzle potential hiring managers with their LinkedIn profiles.

A third group has come along to taint the online job market: scammers. When they’re not pretending to be African princes with assets to transfer, or angry FBI officials intent on terrifying you into revealing personal information, scammers are luring unsuspecting job-seekers using fake but enticing job postings. Unlike the emails from that Nigerian prince, though, these scams aren’t always easy to spot, and can fool even the most tech-savvy among us. In fact, a 2015 study found that 20% of millennials had fallen for at least one internet career scam.

The consequences of falling for a fake job offer can range from hurt pride, to a considerably lighter bank account, to identity theft. In the worst cases, you can even be charged if the scammers convince you to participate in illegal activity. If you’re shaking your head, thinking, “I’d never fall for anything that dangerous,” consider that there are roughly 60 fake “opportunities” posted for every legitimate one. No matter how confident you feel, it’s best to be on your guard.

Recognizing job scams online requires observational and research skills. In this article, we’ll present just a few red flags to watch for before hitting “apply.”

“We found your resume, and…”

You have an impressive resume, so you’ve posted it to every available space. Your hope is that an employer will come across it and be impressed enough to contact you directly. Just days after uploading your resume to every job board you can find, the email arrives. The employer or recruiter found your resume on Indeed, or Monster, or Career Builder, and thinks you’d be a perfect fit for a specific position. One brief employment application form to fill out, and you’re on your way.

We understand: it’s exciting to receive a job offer, especially when you didn’t even have to apply, but this is the very reason you should exercise extreme caution. Scammers sift through posted resumes looking for victims, and will send emails to everyone they can, hoping someone will bite.

March is Fraud Prevention Month #FPM2017. Image: Computer wielding fishing rod reels in woman's wallet.

Don’t let fraud get in the way of your online job search. #FPM2017

“Work from the comfort of your home!”

Wouldn’t that be perfect? Who wouldn’t love working from home?

It turns out that work-from-home opportunities are incredibly popular, which is exactly why you should be immediately skeptical. Not every remote job offer is illegitimate, but scammers find it easiest to work with these types of jobs, because there is less accountability. If you never have to walk into a physical office, meet with your interviewer, and take a look around, the chances are greater that you’ll overlook sketchy details.

“No experience necessary! Make $40.00/hr!”

You’ve found a goldmine. This job seems perfect. Right? Right?

The aim, as we’ve said, is to lure victims, so naturally scammers will use language designed to cloud judgment and create feelings of good fortune.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said it best: “If it looks too good to be true, it is.”

“We want to hire you—now!”

The tone of the ad or email suggests you’re nearly out of time. If you don’t pounce, your dream job will slip away! Act now!

Don’t mistake a scammer’s pushy attitude for eagerness. A real hiring manager or recruiter won’t use aggressive communication. Scammers build a sense of urgency, then use it as a hook. If potential victims feel excited and rushed, they’re more likely to make a rash decision.

“Contact our hr manger at johnsmith@gmail.com!”

Okay, so there’s a spelling error, but who doesn’t make the odd mistake now and then? The email address looks a bit odd, but maybe their servers are down?

Actually, you should never ignore spelling and grammatical errors, especially if they occur more than once or are particularly glaring. A lack of proper proofreading usually signals a lack of professionalism, as does the use of a Gmail address. No reputable company is going to use an email address from Gmail, Hotmail, or other free domains. If the ad or offer doesn’t look as though it’s been made by a professional, pass right by.

“Just fill out the attached form…”

Hmm…they want a social insurance number, a copy of a driver’s license, and banking info…seems reasonable.

Maybe not. Employers do need some sensitive information from you once they hire you, including your social insurance number, but revealing any of that information before you’ve even had an interview is a sure sign that you’re being scammed (and, no, a quick interview over instant message does not count). Scammers take advantage of people’s desperation for a job, and use it to manipulate them into giving up information they’d normally be very guarded about revealing. Next thing you know, they’ll be asking you to transfer bitcoin from your personal account to another overseas, and that never ends well.


These red flags are only the beginning. Many scammers are very sophisticated, to the point where they upload polished-looking websites of their own, or copy someone else’s in order to pose as a reputable employer or recruiter. They may spoof email addresses, impersonate real people, and use any number of other tactics to appear more trustworthy. This is where research comes in: if a job offer or advertisement seems suspicious, but there is nothing glaringly wrong, do your homework. Contact the company through various channels to verify that the job and the person you’re communicating with actually exist. Use a search engine to find out whether anyone else has been scammed by the same person or company. Investigate all suspicious details before proceeding. It may seem like an excessive amount of effort, but no effort is too great when it comes to protecting your identity, money, and reputation.

The Case for Disability Disclosure

Common wisdom states that you should never disclose a disability on a job application. In fact, one study found that 75% of respondents said the risk of not being hired was enough to prevent them from ever disclosing their disabilities. Mention disability on a job application, career advice so often says, and watch your resume slip quietly to the bottom of the slush pile.
Much as we’d like to claim otherwise, there’s a nugget of uncomfortable truth buried in this approach. One of the reasons the unemployment rate is disproportionately high among people with disabilities is that there are fewer opportunities. No law or regulation is powerful enough to change minds, and employer attitudes still act as a roadblock for prospective candidates. Organizations like DECSA are continually working to abolish harmful myths about disability in the workplace, but our reach isn’t limitless and the wider world has a long way to go before the field is truly equal.
All is not bleak, however. Positive messaging about inclusive hiring, especially from influential corporations like Starbucks and Tim Hortons is helping employers and candidates realize that disability and employment need not be treated like oil and water. Equal opportunity employers are reaping the benefits of diverse hiring practices, encouraging everyone else to take the leap.
So, given the many success stories and the widespread promotion of disability awareness, there has never been a safer time to disclose a disability early in the job application process. It may not be the best decision in every case, but disclosure should no longer be universally discouraged.
You may well ask: “Why should I take the risk? Just because it might not jeopardize my career doesn’t mean it will help, right?” James Gower, who has Cerebral Palsy, explains that in specific situations, disclosure is not only safe, but advantageous. Choosing to disclose his disability on an application form allowed him to speak freely and extensively about the disability-related skills he had learned, such as adaptive sports, which may not have been strictly job-related but certainly demonstrated his flexibility and perseverance. James also points out that desirable traits, such as self-awareness, are sometimes enhanced by the very presence of disability. In this way, people with disabilities can give themselves a competitive edge in a time when standing out in the crowd is more important than ever.
One of DECSA’s Communications Specialists describes how disclosing her visual impairment in her cover letter actually bolstered her application:

It took a tremendous amount of courage to disclose my disability before the interview. I’d never done so before, and it went against all the advice I’d ever been given. I knew DECSA was open to candidates with disabilities, though, so I used that openness to give my application a memorable touch. I referenced my own personal advocacy in the disability community, linked to my blog, and illustrated how my intimate knowledge of one of DECSA’s client groups would help me serve their organization exceptionally well. I can’t say whether this improved my chances, but it really cut down on the pre-interview jitters—how will they react when they find out, and so on—and it definitely didn’t hurt my chances, either. I had all the right credentials and great references, but I think that disclosure may have given my application particular relevance.

Pre-disclosure can serve as more than an application boost, though. There may be cases when revealing a disability before the interview stage is necessary. For example, if a learning disability will affect skills testing or any other part of the interview process, it would be imprudent not to disclose it beforehand so that proper accommodations can be made. As James Gower points out, those with physical disabilities may require special accommodations at the interview, such as a suitable chair or an accessible entrance. Failing to disclose may result in avoidable anxiety and stress for both candidates and interviewers.
Most of the time, disability is just a personal trait like any other, and has little or nothing to do with the application process. Disclosing a disability when it’s irrelevant to the job search is unnecessary and even risky, so it’s best to exercise caution when doing so. That being said, it’s time we move away from a global practice of concealment and secrecy, toward a world where disability is neither feared nor penalized. Ideally, we at DECSA would like to see an open, inclusive application process for every career path. Until then, evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis, and see where your job search takes you.
DECSA is an inclusive organization that celebrates and promotes diversity in all its forms. If you have a disability and would like assistance with your job search, contact us.

Teen Dating Violence: Signs and Solutions

Today is Valentine’s Day—a day for the celebration of lasting love and giddy infatuation—and all across Canada, teenaged couples are indulging in a little romance. Young love has a special magic all its own. According to a survey by Michigan State University, 75% of middle schoolers have been in a relationship by the time they’ve reached eighth grade. Dating, it seems, is as popular among teens as it’s ever been.

There can be, however, a darker side to teen relationships. Inexperienced as they are, they often struggle with basic elements of a romantic relationship. They deal with the same communication problems as adult couples, but often lack the emotional intelligence to solve them. Struggling to manage strong feelings, like jealousy, can also lead to conflict in what might otherwise be an idyllic partnership. When life gets complicated, many teenaged couples are ill-equipped to handle it.

An uncomfortably common result of these issues is dating violence, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.” No one wants to think of young people committing violence against each other, but it’s an unfortunate reality we must all face if we wish to protect victims and prevent further violence. Since roughly 30% of teens say they’ve been a victim of dating violence, this is not an issue we can afford to ignore.

What to Look For

The CDC emphasizes the importance of recognizing warning signs. You’ll find that most signs are identical to those you’d notice in an abusive adult relationship. Watch for these dynamics:

  • The victim loses interest in their favourite activities and suffers other symptoms of depression.
  • The victim frequently apologizes and/or explains away their partner’s behaviour.
  • The perpetrator frequently demeans the victim in front of their peers. The victim has unexplained injuries they’re unwilling to discuss.
  • The victim has an extremely jealous partner, who exhibits controlling behaviour and monitors the victim constantly.
  • The victim resorts to substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviour.

It’s not always easy to spot dating violence, because some cases are less obvious. Indeed, some teen relationships can seem outwardly perfect, especially if the perpetrator is savvy enough to refrain from abusing their partner in any noticeable way. Crystal Sanchez describes her abusive relationship in stages. First, the infatuation, the charm, and the belief that she was special. Then came the subtle abuse, which fooled her into believing “jealousy was adoration.” Finally, her partner began to physically abuse her. She was held at gunpoint, punched into unconsciousness, emotionally manipulated via suicide threats, and nearly killed multiple times because of her partner’s dangerous driving. It took her eight years to free herself, and all throughout that time, no one really suspected what was happening to her because all the abuse took place where her friends and family could not witness it.

Don’t Let Myths Mislead You

In other cases, the abuse is overlooked because several myths surround teen relationships. For example, many believe that teens who come from loving, secure homes would never tolerate abuse and would report it immediately. As one anonymous woman explains, this is far from true. Even her loving, supportive family was unable to shield her from her abusive partner, because they assumed it would never happen to her. She was a strong, confident girl who always said she’d “never let a man hit [her].” Still, she fell for a vulnerable, harmless-seeming boy who convinced her that he was in need of nurturance, and only she could provide it. By the time she realized her relationship was unhealthy, she was in too deep to report it.

The most persistent myth appears to be that victims are always female. As we’ve discussed in the past, men and boys can fall prey to violence and abuse, but rarely report out of fear and shame. For teenaged boys, image is everything, so it can be doubly difficult to come out as a victim of dating violence.

Long-Term Consequences

Dating violence has long-term consequences beyond bruises and humiliation. It is so often a pipeline to repeat victimization, exploitation, and substance abuse. Victims can become permanently isolated from family and friends. They tend to abandon their dreams and goals because of unwanted pregnancy, prolonged drug use, a criminal record (in the perpetrator’s case), and mental health issues. According to research conducted by Cornell University, both victims and perpetrators may also find it impossible to maintain lasting, healthy relationships, because their past has damaged their concept of love and respect.

What can be done?

It turns out that it’s not enough to be alert for warning signs. Prevention needs to be everyone’s ultimate goal. One of the best ways to do this, as Ms. Sanchez points out, is to talk about it. Discuss dating violence with young people early on, even before middle school. Give it a name, explain what it looks like, and assure teens that they are always welcome to come forward. Education isn’t just for potential victims: potential perpetrators also benefit from learning about dating violence, which they may not always understand is unacceptable. Society has a way of tacitly enabling violence, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to filter these messages effectively.

Dating is a vital part of a teen’s emotional development, and the solution is not to discourage it from occurring. Instead, we must arm them with the tools and knowledge to navigate healthy relationships and exit unhealthy ones. Teach them what to look for, guide them as they grow, and the chances of violence, and its accompanying long-term consequences, will decrease.