Employee wellbeing was top of my mind when I started to write this post earlier in the week – then suddenly lockdown was announced and our working patterns were upended once again.
There’s lots of messaging around ‘we’ve done it before and we can do it again’ swirling through the networks and media and, yes, we have and we can – but that doesn’t make it an easy task for anyone.
Each lockdown brings different stresses and pressures for business owners who have to switch into crisis mode to keep their enterprise alive and balance the wellbeing and needs of their teams. Unless you are on the list of essential services, it is inevitable that activity will slow or stop and, as the daily list of locations of interest grows, the probability of your team members spending their day waiting for a test rather than working is considerable.
As we stare at the possibility of a longer lockdown and a significant outbreak what’s the best course of action? Our Winter Pulse Check told us that while owners were confident about the future of their business there was no room for lockdowns. Yet here we are.
Hard as it might be to hear, my first suggestion would be relax. Go for a walk – locally of course – and give yourself a chance to breathe. When you come back, look at the various scenarios that might result from the current situation. Many business owners will have contingency and continuity plans in place drawn from experience after our previous periods of restriction but others won’t. If it all feels overwhelming, ask for help. The challenges will be common to everyone and, as the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, so talk to others – and talk to your team. Let them lead, provide suggestions and solutions. It may be your business but you don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Involvement, collaboration, inclusion and managed change are all positive outcomes for businesses in these trying times.
When you think of your own – and your employees’ wellbeing in the coming weeks – remember your values and work to them. Sharing your concerns, open communication, empowering others to speak up and trusting people to do their jobs in the most difficult of circumstances will ease the stress, address the challenges and strengthen your business bonds for the future.
Listening to an audiobook this week, I found myself reflecting on some of the issues raised in our Winter Pulse Check, particularly the reports of exhaustion and stress among business owners.
The book – Move by Caroline Williams – takes a look at the science behind movement and the problems that moving very little can cause us all. As well as urging us off the couch, Move looks at how society has slowed down to a sitting position and the harm that results.
Many of our jobs today involve sitting for long periods of time and, for the business owner spending longer and longer at their desk because of the external pressures of a pandemic, shifting economic conditions and government regulations, they can, in a world moving too fast, find themselves not moving at all.
It is easy to unwittingly become trapped by the computer screen and this enforced immobility is without doubt detrimental to the business owner and the enterprise.
Long periods of inactivity at a desk slow the mind, sap creativity and increase anxiety – all of which undermine good mental health. It is also the fastest way to disconnect with your people and your business so my advice would be – get up and move. Walk round your premises, chat with your team – get up and explore your workplace and leave the screens behind. A ten minute move once an hour will make an enormous difference and, if you are completely absorbed by what’s on your laptop and likely to forget an hour has passed, set an alarm or borrow a fitness tracker that will remind you it is time for you to shift gears.
Making a move isn’t the answer to everything – but it will refresh you, heighten your problem solving ability and boost your creativity all of which will help you manage your business in our increasingly challenging times.
That said – I’m going to take my own advice, leave the screen behind and take a walk. I know it will be a wise move.
Our Winter Pulse Check results showed that while many business owners remain confident their businesses are doing well, there has been a marked rise in those reporting anxiety, stress, and disturbed sleep as operating conditions worsen.
And it’s not just business owners feeling stressed. The impact of Covid on workplace stress levels has been significant over the past 12 months and media coverage has highlighted the potential financial liability business owners may have if they choose to ignore the signs among employees.
The first step to reducing workplace stress is being able to identify and acknowledge it exists. There are several tools available to do this and it is an area we’ve been exploring for some time, in association with TTI Success Insights and an online tool – called Stress Quotient® – which helps Kiwi business owners identify, measure and monitor various stress types within organisations and teams. Defining stress as ‘the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker’, Stress Quotient® identifies seven key workplace stressors that both employers and employees need to watch for.
DEMAND: While today’s employees may want challenging tasks to maintain their engagement and motivation, it is important that demands do not exceed the ability to cope. Workplace stress tends to build as demands and responsibilities increase. Stress can be directly tied to poorly designed jobs, excessive workloads and talents and skills not matching the work. The goal is to have a balance between demands and time.
EFFORT/REWARD BALANCE: Having purpose or job satisfaction is an important factor in any job. High effort without satisfying one’s need for rewards can lead to workplace stress. Rewards come in many forms; recognition, helping others, gaining knowledge, personal growth, structure or compensation. High effort in the workplace is essential but must be matched by the reward that the individual desires. Workplace stress arises when there is a significant disconnect between needs and rewards.
CONTROL: A feeling of powerlessness is a universal cause of job stress. You alter or avoid the situation because you feel nothing can be done. Common sources of stress at work include complaints of too much responsibility with too little authority, being involved, not being heard and no one understanding what you really do. Workplace stress increases as one’s degree of control decreases. The goal is to have a balance between responsibilities and personal control.
ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE: Organisational change affects people differently. While some people welcome it, others become apprehensive and stressed at the mere mention of change. Organisational change can be defined as any change in people, structure, technology or procedures and can vary in degree and direction, produce uncertainty and initiate both stress and opportunities.
MANAGER/SUPERVISOR INFLUENCE: Common reasons given for stress at work include lack of effort from your employees or self-imposed pressure on yourself. Most people don’t realise that stress is a part of every job. That’s why, when you are working under reasonable demands you can get the job done more efficiently. However, when you do things that go beyond normal pressure this can cause stress.
SOCIAL SUPPORT: A lack of support from colleagues and leadership can lead to workplace stress. A supportive environment is one where leadership provides clear and consistent information and co-workers stand ready to assist when needed. An environment that promotes positive working relationships and addresses unacceptable behaviour promotes productivity and employee engagement.
JOB SECURITY: People worry about many aspects of their jobs, but most of the fear comes from job security. Job insecurity comes from the fear of job loss and the associated unemployment implications. Stress can also originate from a lack of advancement or being promoted too slowly. People also can have a concern with being promoted too quickly to be successful in the job.
By measuring each of these seven key workplace stressors, we can focus on the things that are within one’s control without having to make huge changes or rethinking career ambitions.
There’s a well-known saying: What gets measured gets managed so it may be time for NZ businesses to start measuring organisational and individual stress levels. Not doing so may overlook important health and safety issues in the workplace.
If you think Stress Quotient® could be a valuable tool to identify, measure and monitor stress levels in your organisation please get in touch with me or one of The Alternative Board team.
“We’re going to have to put the prices up”- that’s the message from more than half the small business owners in the Winter Pulse Check.
Pressures from labour shortages, rising input prices, port and shipping delays have combined, leaving business owners increasingly exhausted and frustrated.
While many remain confident their businesses are doing well, there has been a marked rise in those reporting anxiety, stress and disturbed sleep as operating conditions worsen.
Top three things reducing small business confidence are government policies, the critical skills shortage and a slow COVID19 vaccine rollout while the main confidence boosters include any potential for the skills shortage to ease, New Zealand opening its borders and the next phase of the COVID19 vaccine rollout.
Frustrations with Government centre on immigration policy, the skills shortage and a growing sentiment that small businesses are being ignored. Working capital is showing signs of stress with an increase in the number of businesses facing late payments and defaults.
Stephen James commented: “There has been a marked change in sentiment in the Winter Pulse Check. Business owners report they are feeling ignored and there is a lack of understanding on the part of Government as to the operational pressures they face, particularly regarding the ongoing – and deepening – skills shortage. Their concern is not for their businesses alone – they are seeing first-hand how immigration policy is pulling people apart and the trauma that inflicts.
“It seems contradictory to have high levels of confidence on the one hand and warnings of price rises on the other but this shift has been unfolding as trading conditions have got harder – to the point where business owners are exhausted trying to keep on top of things. For many of our members, The Alternative Board has been the key to getting through as their peer board gives them the opportunity to discuss and tackle issues with other business owners facing the same challenges. I would urge all business owners to ask for help or seek support and not think they have to be stoic and struggle on alone”.
The Pulse Check is run as a regular monitor of the business sector and the Winter edition surveyed 271 of our members and associates between 26 July – 1 August with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.
It’s time for our Winter Pulse Check which means it’s time for you to tell us how you are and, in the process, take the opportunity to inform government policy.
Our quarterly Pulse Check is designed to track the progress of small to medium businesses and their owners. You keep your business going and we are here to keep you, the business owner, on track, motivated and equipped to cope in our current times.
Your insights ensure we continue to have the right resources to help you and, by listening to and understanding your perspectives, we can better support your needs. We also make your views heard by sharing your perspective with Government and policy makers who have shown a keen interest in what you have to say.
Last month, Hon. Stuart Nash, Minister for Small Business said of The Alternative Board’s Pulse Check series: “I find them invaluable. My thanks go to members for participating. It informs a lot of what we are doing and gives us insights we wouldn’t otherwise have”.
Now, as we arrive at the mid-winter mark, it is your turn to let us know how things are. You’ll find the Winter Pulse Check here and you can let us know how you are managing, the challenges and opportunities you face, and what would help you and your business in the months ahead.
The survey will be live until 1 August 2021 with the results available soon after.
There’s no doubt that the shifting economic sands are eroding resilience among business owners.
Insights from our members show that mental wellbeing has suffered immensely with owners feeling increased stress while running their enterprises. Many business owners are exhausted, anxious and living in a constant state of uncertainty which is undermining mental health. Instead of leading their business, members report they are back working on day-to-day operations, existing on disrupted sleep, taking fewer holidays and increasingly disconnected from their family and friends.
This is not a good state of affairs – and not one that is sustainable in any shape or form. COVID19 has affected everyone in some way and over the last eighteen months we’ve observed some sectors thrive while others have unravelled. Now we are starting to see the longer-term impact of COVID on businesses that have worked long and hard to keep going but with owners who are beginning to feel the heat of rapid change and relentless challenges.
Our regular Pulse Check monitors the wellbeing of business owners and we’ve seen how stressors such as employment issues, skills shortages, rising input prices and shipping delays have increased pressure on the small to medium business sector.
My message to you today is to reach out for support. You can’t take care of your businesses if you don’t take care of yourself. Our members have said they wouldn’t have got through this period without the help of other business owners in The Alternative Board network and they’ve been actively encouraging others to follow their lead and help each other.
Members report that pre-COVID, their confidence was high, they were able to lead their businesses, sleep was regular and they were connected and present when with their families and friends. Today, their state has shifted to feelings of anxiety, they are back working in the business, dealing with constant uncertainty with their sleep disrupted and fearful of the next challenge.
So don’t neglect your own wellbeing – if the business owner isn’t right, the business won’t be right either. We’re in for a long haul yet so get proper support in place. If you have been struggling through on your own – stop. Have an informal chat with us, come and see a board in action and how business owners like you help each other tackle challenges, solve problems and find ways to ease the pressure. You don’t have to do this on your own.