The Minefield of Mind Health
The NSW Member for Albury recently said that if 2020 were a food, it would be tripe with a double serving of brussels sprouts! Regardless of how you feel about those foods, it certainly is a year out of the box, throwing up unimagined challenges to businesses and society.
As I write this, Victorian the Melbourne metropolitan area is in lockdown while the rest of Australia (as we gaze at our social media feed) seems to have a reasonable level of normal life again, which makes it even harder for affected Victorians. People are finding that their ability to stay mentally resilient is eroding.
While this is a big problem for Melbournians at the moment, I don’t believe anyone elsewhere can be complacent. I think the whole of Australia is facing the potential of this same rollercoaster of lockdowns – easing of restrictions; more cases; lockdown - until there is a cure or a vaccine. Business leaders need to become more educated about mental health if they want to nurture their teams, grow healthy businesses and operate in thriving communities.
Franchisors and Franchisees need to have the mental health of their employees firmly on their radar. Under workplace health and safety regulations, employers "have an obligation to eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from work carried out by your business or undertaking as much as you reasonably can". While you are not responsible for the havoc wrought by COVID-19, you should be aware of the psychological and psychosocial fallout that can be a consequence. Each industry will have different challenges. Some employees will have an increased workload, while their perceived exposure to risk will stress others. You need to be on the lookout for increased racism and discrimination stemming from COVID-19. There may be increased aggression in the workplace.
The swiftness with which our economy was shut down was a cataclysmic shock. You may have been forced to stand down staff or reduce them to JobKeeper wages, and that would have been tough to do. As employee hours were reduced, their self-esteem was impacted, and a fear of not providing food and shelter for their families became real. It’s not an exaggeration to liken the mental effect this has had to PTSD, and each time the virus escapes containment, mental fragility and breakdowns are increasingly likely.
Of course, it's not just your employees who are suffering. You need to be aware of your own state of mind. Check-in on yourself – and be honest. Are you coping? As a leader, you need to fortify your own mental health as well as becoming informed about strategies you can use to help your teams. It's crucial, as franchisors or franchisees, that you are pro-active in this area.
Develop self-care habits. Self-care is not selfish – you can’t give out to others if you are running on an empty tank. This is vitally important for leaders: you need to build self-care every day, such as short regular times when you do something for yourself. That might be meditation, running or walking, immersing yourself in your favourite music, spending quality time focused on your loved ones, or just taking the time to think over your problems, your feelings and breaking them down into manageable solutions.
Practise gratitude. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the distressing and challenging things that are happening, and therefore missing the good stuff that life is still delivering. Every day write down three things that happened which you are grateful for. This makes you think back over your day, not wallowing in the challenges, but searching for the gold nuggets. Soon you will find that during the day, as good things happen, you are more aware of them and are being uplifted by them.
Now, to those under your care – your employees; check-in with them frequently. Ask questions, make sure you are across their living situation. Be on the lookout for signs of domestic violence, as well as depression or anxiety. For those working from home, have frequent zoom meetings with them where you can eyeball them and assess how they are travelling. Working from home presents its own challenges, so provide your employees with strategies on coping. The Black Dog Institute has a great list of guidelines at blackdoginstitute.org.au.
It is critically important that you are honest with your staff. Keep them up to date in an honest manner with what is happening in the business. Sure, you can’t make promises as no one has a crystal ball, but talk about your results, talk about what’s needed to improve the financial position of the business. Ask for feedback and ideas. With a lot of people working from home, or on staggered work hours to facilitate social distancing, the information flow that worked in the past may well become fragmented. If you are using emails to communicate (as well as face-to-face), it’s a good idea to put all the emails containing important messaging on to your intranet, so people can go back to them to check facts or if they feel they’ve missed an email, they can hunt it down.
A not-for-profit organisation called SALT, who work in the mental health space, are providing a very effective online Reconnect Program for leadership groups in sporting clubs and businesses. Programs like this are a good investment, as they offer a whole range of tools you can take back to your teams.
Finally, make sure your teams have the opportunity to have fun together. This can be via Zoom catch-ups, setting up a closed Messenger group where people can post memes, photos, have exchanges etc. Have a fun element to all your team meetings. Embrace the cattails waving across the screen, the children popping up in the background.
While we are powerless to solve this pandemic, we can control how we handle the outcome. Here’s hoping that the tripe and brussels sprouts are followed soon by strawberries and cream.
The FC Business Solutions checklist for addressing mental health in your business:
- Assess your own mental health first and tend it regularly.
- Read up on mental health issues that are rising because of COVID-19.
- Be on the alert for issues in your workplace: bullying, anger, emotional breakdowns.
- Don't neglect your working from home employees – instigate regular connection.
- Learn about the personal circumstances of your staff.
- Eyeball every member of your team regularly: in person (at a distance) or through an online meeting and try to read how they are going.
- Implement stringent workplace sanitation practices. Ensure your people feel safe in the workplace.
- Be honest with staff as to what is happening in the business.
- Investigate mental health-focused courses that may help your team
- Introduce fun into your team catch-ups: competitions, quizzes, reasons for staying engaged and motivated.
- Focus on the good things that are happening in your day – small as they may be.
Corina Vucic is the Director of FC Business Solutions. With over 20 years
in the franchise industry, and extensive operational and management experience, she works closely with leaders to take their business to the next level.
Whatever their goals, Corina coaches, mentors and supports business owners and executives to maximise success and minimise risk for long-term business prosperity and security.
To discuss how Corina’s expertise can help take your business to new heights, contact: