Set priorities but be flexible.
Listen, and communicate.
And remember to look after yourself.
That’s some of the advice business coach Ariana Elsie McNally has for business owners and managers who are navigating the challenges created by COVID.
Without a doubt, 2020 was a year no business leader could have prepared for, or perhaps even imagined.
From full shutdowns and massive layoffs, to new protocols for the health and safety of workers, customers and the population at large, the pandemic piled on the work and the stresses for managers across the region. It didn’t matter whether they were trying to pivot toward new work practices and sources of revenue or simply to stay calm and survive.
McNally told SaltWire she has been busier than usual these past few months, providing training and coaching to managers trying to cope with the pandemic.
“COVID has added so much complexity to business,” she said. “Some managers have supply chain issues, there are operational issues and then there’s concerns about employee health and safety.”
As a business leader, what should one of your first priorities be? “Prioritizing.”
That means zeroing in on the essentials first.
“What do they really need to focus on to ensure the health and safety of their people, to do business in a safe way, and to continue doing business.
“Prioritizing also helps them create a situation of control, helping them get through the overwhelm.”
She said it’s a good idea for business owners and managers to reach out to their peers and to business organizations, to share ideas and find support.
Seek out and share advice
“They don’t need to lead alone. I always encourage my clients to think about the resources within their own networks … business associations and other business owners.”
McNally says communication and interaction with employees is also extra important in a time of crisis.
“When it comes to interacting with teams it’s so natural as a manager, when things get challenging, to step back, to retreat until you feel you have all the answers and know what to do.”
She coaches her clients to do a little bit of the opposite.
Listen and be open
She advised to communicate early and often when things are challenging.
In fact, she said, the entire team can then be part of finding solutions and ideas.
“The team is usually the people most connected with the clients, with the work on the ground, and they are great resources for ideas for what’s working and what’s not working.”
Be willing to listen, is among the advice she offers to leaders.
Julie Allain, program manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association in New Brunswick, said employees and managers are struggling with the same things during COVID.
They are worried about income, revenue, and juggling family commitments with work responsibilities in a time when things are not routine.
And for those who have shifted from an office environment to a work-from-home routine, she said, there can be a feeling of disconnection, a sense of loss.
“We were used to going into our offices; that was a whole other world connecting with co-workers and doing lunches with colleagues.
“We were used to living in a certain way, doing things in a certain way and we lost all of that.”
For business leaders, she said, self-care is important.
Take a break from the work
“We really try to encourage employers to practice self-care, and role model self-care for their employees.”
It’s important to take a break from work, and stop thinking about the business, she added.
Take a break from the work routine by getting outdoors, spending time with family, enjoying leisure pursuits, she advised.
And connect with employees regularly to talk about how they are coping.
She uses her own work group as an example.
“Every Monday we join a Zoom call to talk about what everyone is doing for self-care. We really try hard to keep our staff connected with one another.”
If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to organizations like the CMHA for support and resources, Allain stressed.
She said it’s also important for business leaders to recognize that not everyone, including themselves, can be 100 percent, 100 percent of the time.
“Be kind to yourself,” she said, “and know that you are doing the best you can do.”
She is encouraged that more business leaders are reaching out to organizations like the CMHA to learn what they can do to support mental health in their workplaces.
Her hope is that post-pandemic, business leaders will want to continue to learn about mental illness and implement some workplace policies around mental health.
Where to find advice and information
Looking for more information on how to improve mental health in your workplace?
Several groups in Canada offer help and resources, including on-line training.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has numerous educational materials and other resource online at: https://cmha.ca/programs-services/workplace-mental-health
Among their offerings is the Not Myself Today® on- and offline Mental Health Toolkit. Details of that program are available here: https://www.notmyselftoday.ca/
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also provides information and advice to help businesses navigate through the Covid-19 crisis.
In addition to advice for business owners on how to manage the stress of operating in the time of COVID, the CFIB also has information on how to manage cyber security, on how to manage stress level as a business owner, how to support employees who have anxiety about returning to work, and how to support and manage employees working from home.
Visit their website at: https://www.cfib-fcei.ca/en/
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety also offers on-line advice and training to help business leaders manage their employees through stressful times.
To help support workplaces during the pandemic, the Centre is offering the “Psychologically Health Workplaces” course free until March 31, 2021.