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Why nap rooms are popping up in more and more Canadian offices



Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Published Sunday, February 10, 2019 9:20AM EST

TORONTO — Snoozing on the job isn’t just permitted at Bob Vaez’s software company, it’s encouraged.

The Toronto boss of EventMobi describes himself as “the only CEO that promotes people to sleep at work,” insisting the policy boosts productivity and company morale.

To that end, EventMobi’s open-concept waterfront office features a private nap room where workers can grab a few Zs if they feel sluggish, or just get some alone time in a dark space if they have a headache or don’t feel well.

“It’s just from my own experience,” Vaez says of his reasons for setting up the quiet space.

“As (with) any other tech professional worker, you work really odd hours and your brain just sometimes shuts off. Especially after lunch you just can’t work and I’ve been to other offices (where) people sleep at their desk and it’s really frowned upon. If you can’t work, what’s the point?”

The benefits of adequate sleep are well-established, but Vaez’s willingness to address tired staffers in such a direct way is relatively rare.

Still, he’s not the only one.

Google Canada spokesman Aaron Brindle says nap rooms can be found in the tech giant’s offices around the world, including the Toronto office where a wellness space for nursing mothers can be reserved for taking a break, or taking a nap.

Another space at their engineering headquarters in Kitchener, Ont., features two high-tech recliners with large spherical privacy visors for extra-tired employees looking to grab some shut-eye.

Meanwhile, management consulting firm Accenture says its three-floor Toronto office features a wellness room where staffers can snooze. That’s in addition to various inclusivity initiatives — gender neutral and accessible washrooms, a room for nursing mothers, and a meditation/prayer room with a foot-washing station.

It’s a phenomenon that seems primarily centred in technology and marketing sectors, says Alina Owsianik, director of talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion at Randstad Canada.

Owsianik knows of at least five Randstad clients with nap rooms, and credits their existence to a new generation of workers who increasingly blur the line between their home and work lives.

“Millennials are spending much more time than our parents did at work. They also work crazy hours, different hours, and we want to adjust the work style and the balance to their needs,” she says.

“(That includes) a lot of development shops, technology shops, where maybe there are crazy deadlines or people like to work in the evenings (and) have a nap during the daytime. That’s why we see employers actually adapting the workspace and creating a dedicated space to take a nap.”

She believes it’s more than just a fad, insisting “they are becoming more and more popular” as an added tool to recruit top talent.

Owsianik says Randstad began testing its own version of the nap room, dubbed the “recharge room,” after an employee committee suggested the measure as a way to address mental-health issues.

It has a couch, diffuser with essential oils, a salt lamp, mats for stretching, and a couch for resting and napping.

“There are a lot of people that are not declaring disability or mental disability,” she notes.

“And we are working in a highly sales-driven environment where there is a lot of stress so we really wanted to create a space where people can relax, have a nap.”

For job-seekers weighing multiple offers, a healthy workplace can win them over, she adds, believing many workers want more than just a good salary.

“Millennials and the younger talent and the younger generation are looking more for the rewarding career (and) self-development rather than just the pay.”

Universities, too, are recognizing that some of their students are exhausted by long commutes, awkward class schedules, jobs and personal commitments.

Two years ago, the student union that jointly serves Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber created two sleep lounges for its two Toronto campuses, and then doubled the number of beds at one of them last September.

The expanded lounge now has 12 beds while the second hosts eight. Together, they’ve drawn about 4,000 users this school year, well surpassing the 3,000 that dropped by during the entire school year in 2017-2018, says the union, known as Ignite.

“We are a commuter school and a lot of our students, they don’t get to go home until maybe eight or nine hours after they’ve had a whole day on campus,” says union president Monica Khosla, who represents students at both schools, which includes a satellite campus for the University of Guelph.

Over at Toronto’s Centennial College, the student union bought four so-called “EnergyPods” by the U.S. company MetroNaps last August, adds spokesman Brad Beamish. One has been installed next to the cafeteria, another in the library.

Their many features include a retractable privacy visor, speakers that whisper relaxation music and pre-programmed relaxation guides, wake alarms, lights and vibration controls.

“There were basically people jumping in them before they were finished being set up. The demand was almost immediate,” Beamish recalls.

Productivity expert Lisa Belanger is glad to see such initiatives afoot, noting that other countries seem to understand the need for work/life balance far better than Canada.

She points to Finnish sauna culture and the Swedish coffee break known as Fika.

“Europe is doing better on this for sure with valuing vacation, respite, weekends,” says Belanger, a post-doc researcher at the University of Calgary whose work includes looking at effective break strategies.

Historically, labour breaks were introduced to boost efficiency, she notes. These days, they are eliminated in the belief they slow us down.

“Coffee breaks were designed in the industrial era so that it increased productivity, reduced safety concerns and injuries and errors,” says Belanger, also CEO of the consulting firm ConsciousWorks, which looks at how brain health, nutrition and sleep affect performance.

“It’s gotten to the point where we kind of skipped over them. We put our coffee in a to-go mug and just get it in us as quickly as possible and forget that our brain requires breaks.”

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Two dozen and counting: Sask. hospital has a staff baby boom



By Staff, with a report from CTV Regina’s Cole Davenport

Published Thursday, February 21, 2019 7:00PM EST

Two dozen women who work at the same Saskatchewan hospital are all currently off on parental leave — and more new parents are expected to join their ranks.

“It’s been crazy,” nurse and new mother Kelly Vatamaniuck told CTV Regina. “There’s been a new baby pretty much every month since March 2017.”

The new parents all work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Estevan, a city of just over 11,000 people that’s 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.

Fellow nurse Vanessa Dumais is also part of the hospital’s baby boom.

“Like every month there was one: October, November, December,” she recalled. “And then I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m pregnant too and maybe it would be funny if someone comes out next month and says they’re pregnant!’ And sure enough, there would be.”


The parents currently on leave represent more than 10 per cent of the hospital’s staff.

“We have a young staff and it speaks very well to our future, but does present some challenges in the short-term,” Greg Hoffort, the hospital’s executive director, said.

The main challenge, Hoffort explained, has been finding temporary replacements — as well as conducting all the necessary training and orientation — for the new parents.

“We’re a facility that has in the neighbourhood of 200 fulltime equivalent staff, so it’s significant,” he said.

More parental leaves are also on the horizon.

“We’re all trickling back in and new ones are going off,” Dumais said.

“So many of them are starting to have baby number two,” Vatamaniuck added.

Kim Friess is about to join their ranks.

“I’m excited that I’m off work now and I’m having my baby,” she said. “I can join this group of girls and be part of all the fun!”


While having so many people on parental leave might be putting the hospital in a bit of a staffing bind, the new mothers say that it also gives them an incredible support network as they navigate the inevitable ups and downs of having little ones at home.

Chelsea Meyer is another new mother who works at the hospital.

“I feel like when I went off with (my son), if it was three in the morning, some of my other friends were also up at three in the morning,” she said. “I could text them and at least we could kind of keep each other company, so it was nice that way.”

“We talk all the time,” Vatamaniuck added. “We help each other with any situation we might have. Everybody has a problem one day or the next and it’s been a good support, especially for me, because I don’t have a lot of family around here.”

Mallory Olson is one of the newest members of this growing club.

“Being a new mom can be lonely, especially if you don’t have a lot of support,” she explained. “I know a lot of us don’t have family from the city, so we’ve kind of formed our own little family.”

For more, visit CTV Regina.

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‘Ugly produce’ trend may have limits, as grocers end tests




Candice Choi and Scott McFetridge, The Associated Press

Published Thursday, February 21, 2019 4:04PM EST

URBANDALE, Iowa — Is the “ugly produce”‘ trend already reaching the end of its shelf life in supermarkets?

Walmart and Whole Foods in recent years tried selling some blemished fruits and vegetables at a discount, produce they said might otherwise be trashed because it’s not quite the right size, shape or colour. But the two chains and others quietly ended their tests, suggesting dented apples and undersized potatoes may not be all that appealing in stores where better looking fruits and vegetables are on display.

“Customers didn’t accept it as much as we had hoped,” said Mona Golub of Price Chopper, a grocery chain in the Northeast that also discontinued its offering of ugly produce.

Still, some stores and home delivery startups haven’t given up on the idea of selling less-than-perfect produce to reduce food waste and say they’re doing well.

At a Hy-Vee store in Iowa, a recent display of “Misfits” produce included packs of apples, lemons and oranges that were either too big or small, or otherwise substandard in appearance. A sign explained that “6 million pounds of fresh produce goes unused each year,” though the packages didn’t specify why the produce might have otherwise been thrown away.

“I like the cost savings and it is good to help and not throw so much away,” said shopper Brian Tice, who bought a pack of small oranges.

Another shopper, Jamie Shae, said she didn’t realize there was anything special about the fruit.

“I happened to see the bags of lemons,” said Shae, who was in a rush and grabbed two bags.

Shopper Joan Hitzel, who was browsing other produce nearby, said she thought the Misfits were a good idea given the tons of food that gets thrown away, but didn’t plan to buy any that day.

The supplier of the Misfits produce to supermarkets, Robinson Fresh, said about 300 grocery locations still sell the fruits and vegetables, including the Hy-Vee stores. Kroger also said it still plans to introduce its “Pickuliar Picks” this spring.

But among other regional chains that have stopped carrying ugly produce are Meijer in the Midwest, Hannaford based in Maine and Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, which cited “inconsistent customer interest” for pulling the plug on its “Produce with Personality.”

Walmart no longer offers the damaged “I’m Perfect” apples it introduced in Florida in 2016.

The efforts channeled growing interest in reducing food waste. Government agencies say the best way to reduce waste is to stop producing too much food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 31 per cent of the 430 billion pounds of the nation’s food supply goes uneaten. That does not include the fruits and vegetables that get tossed at the farm level, before foods reach stores.

For fruits and vegetables that don’t meet supermarket standards, some may get processed for products like juices and some go to food banks. Startups delivering ugly produce say there’s so much they’re not taking from food banks.

Shopper preferences may not be the only challenge for ugly produce in supermarkets.

“Retailers really prize their produce sections,” said Imperfect Produce CEO Ben Simon, whose company had partnered with Whole Foods on a test at the chain. Grocers might worry that cheaper produce will cannibalize sales of regular produce, or give off a bad image, he said.

Delivery startups say they’re seeing interest in their services. But they are up against shoppers who inspect the fruits and vegetables they buy and those who worry about all the packaging.

“I’ve been food shopping online, and I started thinking about all the boxes, all that cardboard,” said Nyasha Wilson, a New York City resident who carefully selects apples for ripeness at a farmer’s market.

The companies say they might at least change shoppers’ views on discarded produce. Evan Lutz, CEO of the startup Hungry Harvest, said most of it is just too small or slightly discolored.

“The vast majority that would go to waste isn’t really that ugly,” he said.

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Reddit co-founder pushes hard for paternity leave




Alexandra Olson , The Associated Press

Published Thursday, February 21, 2019 1:57PM EST

NEW YORK — Alexis Ohanian wants other guys to be jealous of him. Not because he’s a multimillionaire venture capitalist. Or because he’s married to tennis pro Serena Williams.

The Reddit co-founder wants men to covet the time he gets to spend with his 1-year-old daughter, Olympia.

The pair is all over Instagram cheering for mom at her tennis matches, making silly faces with Mickey Mouse ears and toting around favourite doll Qai Qai, who has her own Instagram account with 114,000 followers.

It’s all part of his advocacy for making paid paternity leave the new normal in America. When Olympia was born on Sept. 1, 2017, Ohanian was very public about taking the full 16 weeks of paid leave available to him at Initialized Capital, the venture capital firm he co-founded and now runs.

He wants all men in the U.S. to have that option, especially those without his privileges and resources. That includes advocating both for companies to adopt more generous family leave policies and encouraging men to take time off without fear of being stigmatized as uncommitted to their work.

“After coming back, I started hearing from Silicon Valley founders, from employees, who all said the same thing, which was that they appreciated this kind of air cover,” Ohanian said in interview with The Associated Press. “Because it meant that there was clear sign from someone who was very ambitious, very career-driven, very goal oriented, and yet I made this a priority.”

Ohanian, 35, was in New York this week to launch a two-pronged Dove Men+Care initiative to champion paternity leave.

The Unilever-owned brand started a $1 million fund for fathers with no access to paid leave through their employers. Employees who only get unpaid leave, freelancers and self-employed men are encouraged to apply for a $5,000 grant. The other initiative is a “Pledge for Paternity Leave,” asking men to commit to taking their full leave and share their experience. It asks business leaders to pledge to enact paid paternity leave policies.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not federally mandate paid parental leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many, but not all, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child without penalty of losing their positions. It is up to employers whether to offer paid leave.

But it’s a good time to be fighting for paid leave in the U.S.

High-profile companies, fighting for talent in a tight job market, are trying to outdo each other in expanding leave for mothers and non-birth parents, with some throwing in unique perks. Amazon, for instance, pays for the spouses of employees to take time off. Global tech company Cisco System offers three days of paid time off for grandparents. Netflix allows parents to take off as much time as they want during the baby’s first year.

The prevalence of employers offering paid paternity leave rose to 29 per cent in 2018 from 21 per cent two years earlier, according to a report by the Society for Human Resources Management, which polled a randomly selected sample of its 285,000 HR professional members.

There is also increasing bi-partisan momentum for a federal paid leave mandate. Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is running for president, has introduced a plan to provide workers with 12 weeks of family leave at partial pay. President Donald Trump proposed a plan in his budget this year for six weeks of paid leave.

Still, there is lingering stigma over taking leave for both women and men. A 2016 survey by consulting firm Deloitte found that 57 per cent of men and 51 per cent of women feared their employers would think them uncommitted if they took parental leave.

Ohanian said he cannot imagine how new parents cope without paid time off. Williams faced complications that left her bedridden after Olympia was born and Ohanian was able to shoulder a lot of the work because of his leave.

“With all the advantages we had, it was still a really stressful period,” Ohanian said. “I could not have showed up at work a week later, or two weeks later, knowing that my wife literally could not get herself out of bed with a 2-week-old at home. They would have had to fire me.”

Now that Olympia is a chubby-cheeked toddler and Williams is back competing for Grand Slam titles, Ohanian emphasizes the delights of fatherhood. He hopes more and more dads will do the same, saying it could almost be a good thing if fatherhood becomes an object of social media “fomo” (fear of missing out).

“Let’s be real. We are not posting photos of the 2 a.m. blow out. We are still posting those idyllic, polished moments but if we are going to use social to create ‘fomo,’ let it be for showing up for your kid,” Ohanian said.

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