The events over the past few months have drastically changed the way we live – both professionally and personally. For many small business owners, this has been an especially difficult time due to physical distancing rules that have been put in place to keep us all safe. All of this change has been unexpected and often hard to adapt to –it’s fair to say that it’s taken a toll on our collective mental health.
At Purolator, we’ve seen first-hand some of the changes our small business customers have had to make in order to keep their business and teams running smoothly. Some customers are shifting to e-commerce for the first time, with a remote workforce, while others are adopting physical distancing and contactless practices where it’s essential. At the same time, countless devoted employees have been laid off as a result of the economic downturn, and unfortunately, a number of small businesses have had to close their operations temporarily or completely. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Behind closed doors, many employers and their employees are working late, homeschooling their children during the day, caring for loved ones who rely on them, all while feeling anxious about finances, and the future.
Despite all of this change, we’re reaching out to you: our small business customers. In these times of absolute uncertainty, please remember to focus on the most important component of your business right now – you.
We’ve outlined a list of some of the best ways to support both your mental health and the mental health of your employees in the coming weeks and as you return to the workplace.
Please note, we are not mental health professionals and this information is for general advice only. If you feel that you may need professional advice, please reach out to a certified health professional. We’ve also listed some useful links at the bottom of this article.
Looking after yourself: Tips to support the mental health of small business owners
1. First things first: Mentally acknowledge this isn’t “business as usual”
These uncertain times warrant that there is an expectation that the workday won’t be the same for a while. No, this isn’t “business as usual”. It might seem like we’re stating the obvious, but remember it’s also not business as usual for you. Your productivity, resilience and mindset are just three of the core competencies that have shaped your business, and it’s likely they’ve taken a hit with all of these changes. So, shift your expectations as well – for both yourself and your employees – after all, we’re only human.
Understand that the typical workday “rules” should be mentally relaxed accordingly. Sometimes the rulebook might have to be tossed to the side altogether, depending on the situation. For example, employees may need to be cross-trained to limit the impact of absences, or new policies might need to be implemented quickly due to legislative updates. Demonstrate positive leadership by sharing this mentality with your team, so you’re all prepared and reassured should anything outside the usual workday need to be carried out.
Returning to work soon? Communicate any additional safety procedures with your team so they’re prepared and reassured of returning to work. Safety measures could include frequent sanitizing of work stations, physical distancing measures and recommending the use of PPE.
2. Schedule time to switch off after business hours
We know it’s easier said than done to “switch off”, especially at a time where your routine has been upended. It’s so important to step away from your business duties on a daily basis, even if it’s hard to get work off of your mind. Switching off doesn’t mean you have to try to relax in a forced way. By simply powering down your laptop (not just closing the lid) and walking away from your work phone – you’ve already taken a few steps to calm your mind. By moving to a physically different environment it’s easier to free up your mind and think about other things. Go for a walk, spend time with members of your household or call up a close friend to chat about anything other than business.
You may find your mindset responds best to physical activities to keep you busy. Try cooking new recipes, joining workout apps, taking part in live meditation video calls or even just cleaning and decluttering can all be really helpful at promoting a positive mental attitude. If you find your mind is still racing with work thoughts 24/7, it’s time to tackle mental health head-on. There are many great resources to help with mental health, we’ve listed some.
3. Accept your employees’ emotions, but don’t take them personally
A lot of small business owners have had to make some hard decisions over the past few months. You may have had to let go of employees – and rehire some if you were financially assisted – or cut employee’s hours and duties by a large margin. In turn, employees may have shown concern, animosity or anxiety in recent weeks. As an owner, there’s a chance you may be feeling helpless, even guilty, of these decisions you had to take.
Understand this isn’t a reflection of your own work ethic. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented changes – your employees likely won’t blame you personally or look to you for a detailed explanation. Try to view all the changes you’re going through, through the eyes of your employees too. They’re likely in a similar situation of uncertainty and anxiety, trying to juggle similar problems beyond work hours, too.
Our 3 tips to support your own mental health are great starting points to help your team too. By showing that you’ve taken actionable steps to support your own mental health, your team will recognize that you see the importance of looking after yourself and others during this time.
Looking after your team: Tips to support the mental health of your employees
1. Lead by example by sharing your feelings
Working remotely can be a blessing at times – no commute and limited clothing changes. Though this novelty quickly wears off and employees can be left feeling unsettled without guidance, routine and a distraction-free work environment.
To lead by example in this circumstance, validate how they’re feeling. Understand it’s probably quite similar to how you’re feeling, so don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities. In fact, if done right, it can be a reassuring way to demonstrate to your employees that you’re in this situation together. Follow up with these feelings by being as transparent as you can about changes to work. Your employees are more likely to see you as a trusted source as you continue to work under new circumstances.
If you aren’t comfortable being totally transparent, or things simply aren’t clear enough to share your insights, that’s okay too. One of the easiest ways to share your feelings is by speaking from hindsight. Tell your employees how you felt and what you did to overcome a relatable situation.
2. Over-communicate when working remotely (and after returning to work)
While working remotely, there are a lot of little conversations or actions that don’t happen. Water cooler or coffee break conversations are important for boosting morale, forming closer bonds and speaking to employees you may not normally rely on to get your work done. Even a simple “how are you?” can make all the difference to an employee who’s stressed or just in need of a chat.
Acknowledge the importance of staying in contact while you’re apart by over-communicating. Lead by example by asking employees about their day as if you were still in the office. Encourage your employees to set up video calls amongst themselves just for check-ins and join in where you can.
Explain that this isn’t to keep tabs on people but to take away some anxiety for employees who might be uncertain about what they should be doing. Keeping the conversation flowing while you’re working remotely will have many benefits when you go “back to normal” too. It will be easier to pick up where you left off, in terms of your natural flow of communication, collaboration and the strength of your team.
3. Listen to what’s being said… and what’s not being said
Even if you’re not a mental health professional, that shouldn’t stop you from taking the time to ask your employees how they’re really feeling. One of the most powerful things you can do for your team right now is to set aside time for a video chat or phone call where they can offload their thoughts. This advice goes hand-in-hand with the previous advice of sharing your own feelings and communicating as if you were still in the office. Make sure they know they’re in a safe space and can freely vent their frustrations about job or non-job related topics.
Truly listening is the most effective way to understand the other person’s message, both verbally and non-verbally. Acknowledge tough scenarios where warranted, such as employees who had to be laid off temporarily or had hours reduced, empathize and find common ground in your situations.
When returning to work, watch for non-verbal signs of emotional impact. Some examples of signs that an employee is struggling: changes in performance and productivity like missing deadlines, calling in sick frequently and difficulty concentrating or contributing. If you feel any employees need additional support, encourage them to share what they’re experiencing and what would be helpful to readjust.
Final thoughts: Things will get better
As we have seen in the past few months, regular routines have been adjusted (or turned upside down) over and over again. Even now, the “new-normal” is continuously changing. In the end, change is the only constant – our lives will become more stable again in time. How quickly we overcome these challenges partly lies in how resilient, adaptable and collaborative our actions are now – qualities that are fully capable of being accomplished through our own strengths and those of your employees.
Lastly, remember you’re not alone – thousands of small businesses are in a similar situation across Canada, and beyond. Below is a list of helpful resources for professional mental health advice, and links for government support programs during this time.
Resources for mental health:
Support for small businesses: