September 2023 – Employment Advice Column: ACHIEVING YOUR OWN WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Dear Joanna

I am working so hard in my new position as a customer service representative. It’s only part time but regardless, it’s all consuming. All I think about is work. As a result, I stopped attending the social programming at Reena’s Channels community participation program and engaging in my hobbies. I am exhausted and discussed this with my Reena job coach. She recommended that I learn how to balance my work and life for my health and well-being. How can I do this? Please let me know.  

Signed: Exhausted Employee

Dear EE,

The best information that I found online on creating a work-life balance is from this 2023 blog Improving your work-life balance can potentially improve your overall well-being, including your physical, emotional, and mental health cites the blogger. Work-life balance looks different for everyone. It’s a constant negotiation about how—and where—you spend your time. Here are 5 ways to improve your work-life balance according to the blog. It’s important to remember that finding an approach that works for you is a process and will take time.  

1. Pause and evaluate. Pause and consider your current work-life situation and schedule; ask yourself how you feel. Some questions you might reflect on include: Am I spending enough quality time doing what I really want? Am I committing enough time and energy to people or things that are meaningful to me? Gain a better understanding of your work load – your duties, your responsibilities and tasks. Ask yourself – do I need help or more training with specific duties/tasks? What are they? Can I speak to my boss about this? Are there tasks that I do very well? Are there tasks that can wait? Have a chat with your boss and/or your job coach to figure this out.

2. Assess your priorities. Once you have a better sense of what you’d like to adjust, you’ll want to begin identifying what you want to prioritize. Some questions you might ask yourself include: What really matters to me and am I doing enough of it? What are some alternative actions I can take to ensure I am devoting enough time and energy to my goals and relationships?

3. Time management. Now that you know what your priorities are—whether that’s spending more time at work to aim for a promotion or cutting back on after-hours emails by establishing boundaries—it’s important to figure out how to better manage your time. Review how you currently spend your time and look for ways to adjust your schedule where possible. You can “chunk” your time as a way to focus on one area at a time, or use a matrix system to establish your priorities when new tasks pop up unexpectedly.

 4. Establish boundaries. This is a crucial skill and part of time management. And, communicating those boundaries will be equally important. If you can no longer respond to emails promptly after hours because you’re with your family, your team will need to know. Work boundaries fall into one of three categories—physical, emotional, or time. Start by setting small boundaries and expand from there.

5. Reflect, refine, repeat. Whatever actions you decide are needed to create a good work-life balance, though, you should be conscious of the fact that you will likely need to continue to refine it over time. Big life changes can take time, so reflecting on your approach and refining it periodically will likely be integral parts of the process. 

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email  

Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP,  is the Employment Resource & Summer Employment Transitions program Supervisor at Also, Joanna is a certified Life Skills Coach, and Personality Dimensions Facilitator who offers job development, job coaching and workshop facilitation with persons with disabilities and barriers. She also helps employers with diversity recruitment and creating an inclusive and innovative workforce.

August 2023 – Employment Advice Column: Understanding the workplace culture in your job search

Dear Joanna

With the help of my Reena job coach, I have a job interview for my dream job as a graphic design position in a marketing department. Before I accept the position, I learned that every company has a “workplace culture”. Please can you explain what this means and how this impacts my job search and interview?

Signed: Career Caution

Dear CC,

Blogger Allan Henry’s advises job seekers to do their homework before applying for jobs. It’s important, he adds, to assess the workplace culture of each organization to see if the company is a good fit for you. It’s not just about the job’s duties and responsibilities.  I’ve focused on the following four out of six recommendations from Henry on how you can  evaluate the company or department’s culture by asking questions during the job interview, or before you accept the job offer.

  1. Leadership style. Find out how the boss supervises his or her team. How does the manager and/or co-workers praise or reward its best employees? Do they micromanage? Do they create a respectful and inclusive environment that is safe for all employees? How would your performance review be handled? It’s important to find out who you would be reporting to? Ask these questions and analyze the responses of the interviewer or your future boss.  
  2. Learning, training and career advancement. Find out about career advancement opportunities and potential for growth for employees who perform. Is this encouraged on all levels of the organization – not just your boss. Is there help with tuition for professional development? What policies and procedures are in place for staff to engage in this? Is there succession planning in the organizational structure?
  3. Communication styles. The way the company communicates information, innovation and collaboration (internally and externally) can help you assess the fit. What role does marketing have in the communications including materials, website, social media and other strategies? How are the meetings structured? What happens at these team and management meetings? What is the role of the human resources in this? How open is the management and staff with sharing updates, learning and professional opportunities and industry related news across the company?
  4. Hiring process. Sometimes, not always, the way the recruiter(s) or Human resources handles the application process could provide a possible indication of the company culture. Find out the company’s supports for  diversity and inclusion.  Is it an accessible workplace and does the company comply with the AODA legislation? For example, how does the HR handle the accommodations required by  current and new employees with disabilities? Do they have a diverse workforce that reflects the community they serve?

Sometimes conducting information interviews with staff who work at the company can offer some insights to the workplace culture. However, from my observations and experience, it is only when you are actually working at the company for a while can you truly have an understanding of its culture. Organizations are complicated. You can only do so much homework, research and questioning.

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email  

Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP,  is the Employment Resource Supervisor at Also, Joanna is a certified Life Skills Coach, and Personality Dimensions Facilitator who offers job development, job coaching and workshop facilitation with persons with disabilities and barriers. She also helps employers with diversity recruitment and creating an inclusive and innovative workforce.


Dear Joanna

The Reena job coach from Channels’ Community participation program has arranged a job interview for a data analyst position with a large company. It’s next week. I’ve been practicing and preparing with her as much as possible. My problem is that I am shy and an introvert – this comes out when I am nervous, especially at a job interview. I have a hard time explaining my skills, experience and education in past interviews. I feel I am bragging.  How do I overcome this fear?

Signed: Selling Myself

Dear SM,

A job interview is a stressful experience for most of us! You definitely do not want to come off as a braggart or arrogant. That will never get you the job offer. Be rest assured that there are ways that you can prepare for the interview and learn how to communicate your strengths, skills and experiences in an appropriate and professional manner. There is plenty of online information and resources on this topic. I will refer to five out of the 15 effective tips to sell yourself at the job interview from Morgan’s  (2022) blog:

  1. Know your audience. Find out who the interviewers will be at your meeting. When you are booking the date, get those names and then start doing research on the people, the company and the position. Linkedin is a great place to do this. Knowing more about your audience can help you with small chat at the beginning (“I see we both like hockey”) as well as figure out how your qualifications and skills could be an asset to the role.
  2. Ask good questions. Always have a couple of good questions to be prepared to ask – especially at the end of the interview. Try to select ones that are unique. For example, how will my performance be evaluated? How will I know that I’m doing a good job after 3 months? Here’s a helpful list of suggested questions.
  3. Practice talking about yourself. For some job seekers, it’s a struggle to talk about themselves as you have mentioned. Prepare and practice your responses with your coach and/or family member or friend. It’s important to be comfortable talking about your skills, experiences and accomplishments especially those that you are most proud of in your working life. Don’t forget to be clear, concise and to the point.
  4. Work on responses to Behavioural Interview questions. Interviewers love to ask behavioral questions. For example, they might ask you to “tell me about a time when you had to meet a deadline” or “tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your boss”. You can use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and a positive Result) to prepare your behavioural interview stories. And then again, practice, practice and practice.
  5. Be professional. Paying attention to your body language goes a long way with selling yourself at the interview. This could be the way you sit at the table and how you hold your hands. Confidence is so important as well. Eye contract, a solid handshake and a smile can definitely contribute to a successful interview. The way your dress for the interview makes a difference. You want to make a good impression. Clothing does this. Research the company beforehand and learn more about their dress code.

Good luck on your interview and don’t forget that practice as much as you can with your job coach and get some solid feedback to ace the interview.


To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email Joanna Samuels, Reena’s Employment Resource Supervisor,  at For previous “Dear Joanna”  Employment Advice Columns, visit


Employment Advice Column:  Effective Emailing for the Job Search & Work

Dear Joanna,

I’ve been applying for receptionist jobs and have been invited to a few interviews all by email!  I’m getting help with employment from my Reena job coach who has strongly recommended several appropriate ways to use email in my job search and eventually at work as well.  Are there good and bad manners when it comes to emails?

Signed: Email Decorum

Dear ED,

One of the results of the pandemic is that millions of people are working from home. Now more than ever, emails are used by employees and employers as a primary means of communicating at work. Many of us still don’t know how and when to use emails appropriately. The blogger Stevens (2020) in offers 15 helpful ways to best use emails. My response will focus on the top 4 that I think are key and are based on feedback that I’ve received from recruiters over the years.

  1. Use a direct subject line. With so many emails in our inboxes, people decide to open up and read an email purely based on the subject line. It should be brief, descriptive and action oriented. In your case, when you apply for a job, your subject line could read: “Application for Receptionist position – Your full name”.
  2. Use a professional email address. If you want the recruiter to take your application seriously, make sure you use a professional email address. And always proof read it before sending to ensure perfect spelling and grammar. The address should include your full name so the recipient knows there it came from and to whom should receive the reply. Otherwise, you take the risk of your message being deleted and even considered as spam or a scam! When you are working, your company provides you with an email but I would still have a personal professional email as this gives you credibility.
  3. Always include your professional email signature. All of your emails should have a “signature” at the end that includes all your contact details – your full name, email, telephone. Keep it simple and clear. When you are applying for work, the signature can be so helpful for a recruiter to follow up with you. When you are working, the same applies to your manager and co-workers – your signature offers easy access for the reader to contact you without having to find your telephone or more information about you. Again, the signature gives you more credibility.
  1. Reply to ALL EMAILS! As emails continue to be the most popular way to communicate at work and in the job search, we receive tons of messages. Sometimes it’s hard to answer every email you receive. But it’s polite and respectful to do so. Even if it’s just to acknowledge receipt of the email and that you will respond to the request. And, the same applies to emails that were sent to you by mistake. Keeping organized with your Outlook or other calendar software that you use. You can create a directory in your Outlook called “pending file” to keep on top of your emails and requests. When you are applying to jobs, you can create a “application file” where you keep track of all your applications and follow up emails.

For the complete list of email etiquette by blogger Stevens, visit his website. In the meantime, I wish you lots of success with your job search too.


Employment Advice Column: How to handle negative conversations in the workplace?

Dear Joanna,
I’ve been working as a customer service associate in a call centre for a while. Until lately, the workplace has been a pleasant environment. Most recently a few of the employees on my team are talking about one of my colleagues behind their backs, and they are trying to engage me in this conversation. This has made me very uncomfortable. I spoke with my Reena job coach about this situation. I really like my job and would like it to return to the positive place it used to be. Please can you suggest the best strategies to deal with these negative conversations.

Signed: Office Gossip

Dear OG,
Indeed, office gossip is very hurtful to the person being targeted and the other co-workers who are listening! I do have some suggestions of how to handle this unfriendly and tense situation as a result of negative conversations from your colleagues. After consulting with your Reena job coach from Channels as well as, here are some strategies to consider:
• Nip it in the bud. An office gossip often makes up his or her mind whether or not you’re a receptive audience during your first meeting. As soon as what’s being said becomes unprofessional, simply say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really don’t feel comfortable talking about colleagues in this way.”

• Change the subject. Instead of letting the conversation continue in a gossipy vein, change the subject back to work-related matters or even something neutral like the weather.

• Confront bad-mouthing people. In the event someone’s spreading malicious gossip, for example that a colleague isn’t good at his job, tell him or her that it’s up to your supervisor to judge your colleague’s performance. Also, emphasize the fact that gossiping could really hurt someone’s career, and request politely that he or she stop spreading rumours.
• Don’t be antagonistic. Whether the gossip is being spread with malicious intent or not, being antagonistic isn’t likely to improve the situation. Instead, try using diplomacy or even humour to get your point across without getting into an argument.

• Take it to your supervisor. If the office gossip simply refuses to stop and it’s affecting your enjoyment of your work, it’s time to make an appointment with your supervisor and request that he or she steps in.
• Avoid certain topics in the workplace at all costs. Although the damage of the gossip has already been done at your workplace, you can still play an important role in preventing any future negative conversations. Never ever talk about the following in the workplace: religion, politics, Negative feelings about your boss/co-workers, Personal problems or personal information, Medical or Health issues, as well as Personal questions or comments about others.
The consequences of gossip and negative conversations at the workplace are countless. I know of some cases that this turned to legal issues! It’s important to stay position and refrain from participating in any negative conversations, even if you have to walk away!

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email Joanna Samuels, Reena’s Employment Supervisor, at


Dear Joanna,

I’m grateful that I have been able to continuing working as an accounting assistant at a local financial firm throughout the pandemic.  I’ve been working from home and now our managers would like all employees to move to a hybrid model – a combination of on-site at the office and off-site from home throughout the week. This “new normal” worries me as I do my best work in the traditional way – in person at the office! I want to continue to be a successful employee so I asked my Reena job coach for advice. Please can you suggest how I can handle this change to a hybrid work model?

Signed: Fear of Hybrid (FOH)

Dear FOH,

My discussion with Reena job coaches in addition to this excellent blog has provided me with some helpful tips for you to transition into this new way of working.

  1. Safety first. When you are in the office, it’s important to continue to follow the protocols to keep safe and protected from Covid or any other related virus. Social distancing, hand washing and desanitizing, and masking. When your employer allows employees back to the office, the company should take ownership of ensuring that their employees are safe as possible and that the environment is as clean as possible. The blogger adds that for this to work, every employee must share in helping maintain a clean and safe space.
  2. Keeping productive and engaged with your team. One downside that comes with a hybrid work model is the lack of social interaction with your team, and immediate feedback from your boss or others. With a hybrid work model, people are coming and going. Employers need to work even harder to ensure their teams feel connected to each other. You can still be productive and connected when working remotely. For example, if you don’t understand a task, email your boss or your co-worker to ask for a virtual meeting to explain it. Using virtual meeting platforms (Teams, zoom) as much as possible to communicate by keeping your  team and boss updated and continue to build rapport and trust. Sometimes managers start meetings by sharing personal news or conducting team activities that foster mutual trust and respect among the team members.
  3. Data Security. Work closely with your IT team to make sure that when you work off-site, you are current with your security and software on your work laptop and other technology required to get the job done. Again, if you have an issue, email IT and copy your manager to resolve the issue. There will be times when off-site employees need to gain access to sensitive customer information or company data. Make sure that you are up-to-date with your employee training on cybersecurity. Check your company policies and procedures for this area as well.
  4. Work-life Balance: It’s much harder to maintain this balance in a hybrid work setting. When an employee is assigned to stay either at home or come into the office, they need to take charge and find a balance by either requesting a different time or finding other locations to work. Set your boundaries. Have a fully equipped and functioning computer station at your virtual office. Get involved in your hobbies and passions, be active, eat healthy and keep hydrated. Respect Off-Hours Time of others and yours as well. When you are working off-site you are never sure when are behind their desks. Everyone has different hours. Some may have to work a normal 9-to-5 shift while others have more flexibility and autonomy. Therefore, you should set boundaries on your own.

The same workplace behaviours apply to both remote and in person offices. Always remain professional, respect difference and diversity of others, be considerate of others and continue to help and support others on your team as required.


To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email Joanna, Reena’s Employment Resource Supervisor at

We Are Re-Opening – WE NEED YOU!

In the coming weeks, Reena will be re-opening its doors to two of our oldest group homes after extensive renovations. Both homes have undergone extensive renovations to create specialized living environments for individuals with challenging behaviours and a high level of support needed. 

There is an urgent need for Full-Time, Part-Time and Overnight Direct Support Professional staff to join these locations immediately. We are interested in staff who like to work in highly coordinated team environments, with behavioural consultants and other clinical specialists.  Staff will be provided with specialized training (initially and ongoing) to meet the needs of each individual.   

When it comes to supporting individuals with specialized needs, we strive to hire staff that will support, care and advocate for them; ensuring the needs of the individuals and their homes are met. And when it comes to individuals with complex behavioural needs, extra care and support need to be practiced – these are qualities that we can proudly say lie in all of our Reena staff.

If you or someone you know in your network would be interested in working in one of Reena’s state-of-the-art locations, please click here.