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These are unprecedented times. Difficult times. Uncertain times.
These are the phrases we've been hearing for the last few months to the point that they've become cliche and sound like a line from an advertisement. The reality is though, what we're experiencing now is something that no current business owner has experienced before. It creates enormous challenges for business owners and their employees.
Faced with these challenges, it is easy for business owners become overwhelmed and lose focus. I'm going to talk to you today about strategies that can help you and your employees cope, stay engaged, and hopefully keep smiling during these difficult times. Preparing for this talk has made me re-examine my own habits. It has been great to reflect on whether I'm putting into practice what I preach.
When considering how to respond to the challenges we face as a community, I recommend you look after yourself first. It's hard to support your employees, your customers, and even your family, if you are not feeling mentally strong. Fear and uncertainty can put a lot of pressure on you. Thankfully, in our society, awareness of mental health issues is becoming more normal, and the support networks and strategies available are becoming more familiar.
In my opinion, the five keys to maintaining your own mental strength are firstly to exercise regularly. I admit that I'm not always had the discipline to maintain a regular exercise regime. When I increase my level of exercise, my motivation, my ability to problem solve, and my willingness to communicate all improve. Exercise doesn't need to be intense. One of my favorite forms of exercise is a bush walk with my family. It has the added benefit of getting us all out into nature.
Secondly, make sure you eat well and get plenty of sleep. Your body and mind need fuel and rest to be able to function well.
Third, spend time socializing with your friends and family. As humans we get enormous value from talking and spending time with other people. Obviously, with current community restrictions, this can be more challenging, but phone and video chats are always an option.
My fourth recommendation is to take some time to unwind, spend time away from the noise of modern society and do some simple things. Walk the dog, play Lego with your kids, or read a book. Downtime these days seems to involve a device or some form of social media. In my opinion, this does not help your brain recharge. Switching off the screens will give you a much better outcome.
My fifth and possibly most important recommendation is to have some fun and laugh. Laughter really is the perfect medicine for mental strength.
I want to shift focus now away from you as an individual to your role as a business owner. What everyone craves in a crisis is strong leadership. Leadership does not necessarily mean you have all the answers. Leadership in a business crisis is about displaying the right traits to give confidence to your employees and your customers that together you will find a path forward.
I previously worked for a large ASX-listed company that went into administration. I was lucky that my boss the CEO showed outstanding leadership under very difficult circumstances. The lesson I learned from him during that time will remain with me for my entire working career. The key traits that he demonstrated were to remain calm and confident. To be optimistic, but also realistic about the situation. He encouraged those on the front lines of the business to have input and make suggestions. He brought people together to collectively find a way forward. One of the best traits of my former CEO is that he was an excellent communicator. A lack of information leads to uncertainty which leads to speculation and rumors. Business leaders need to communicate frequently and effectively even if they don't have all the answers. Being open and honest will help reassure employees that their business leader is taking responsibility.
Next, I want to talk to you about empowering your employees. During the pandemic there are a lot of additional demands on you as a business owner. Many business owners try to take all of this extra pressure on themselves. An alternative is to empower employees to take on more responsibility. Not only does this lighten the load for the business owner, but it also helps gives the employees a sense of purpose, improving their engagement. When empowering employees to take on more responsibility, it is important to reiterate the organization's values, set clear priorities and then give your employees the space to discover and implement solutions. Empowering employees will ultimately make your business stronger.
The broader community restrictions have made it hard to strike the balance between work, home and life balance. Business owners can help maintain a high level of productivity by being willing to provide flexible working arrangements. Flexible working arrangements have historically had a slow uptake in the Australian business community. Many business owners are now realizing that with effective use of technology, productivity can be maintained.
Finally, I want to talk about assisting your employees to focus on their own health, particularly their mental health. Business owners should be leading by example and encouraging their employees to exercise regularly, eat well and get plenty of sleep, spend time socializing with their family and friends, take time to unwind and to laugh and have fun.
So to recap my strategies to help you and your employees cope and stay engaged in your business are: Look after your physical and mental health. Encourage your employees to look after their own physical and mental health. Provide calm, optimistic and realistic leadership to your business. Communicate openly, honestly and regularly with your employees. Empower your employees to take responsibility and develop new skills. And finally provide flexible working arrangements to assist employees to balance any work and home commitments.
If anything I've said today has brought up difficult feelings for you, please talk to the wonderful people at Lifeline on 13 11 14.