Lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing have all played a part in bringing many of us down; SUE BARRETT explores how the pandemic has put workplace mental health in the spotlight.
Not long after the pandemic began and we were all feeling unwell and out of sorts, the Harvard Business Review published an article that named what we were feeling, it was grief. Now we know that was only the tip of the iceberg of what we would go through.
The pandemic and its consequences – on our health, way of living, work, how business operate, on our livelihoods, etc. – affected everyone. For business owners and management there was no choice but to work through.
Many had to make critical decisions about the viability of their business, grasp the impact of gaps and changes in supply chains, customer behaviour, public health, employee welfare and face the fact that some people’s livelihoods would be lost.
Workers had to adjust to work-from-home, home-schooling children, the uncertainty and chaos, and in some case the reality of no longer having a job, sickness, financial distress, childcare, parent care, to name a few consequences of the pandemic.
Research also showed that people are often working longer hours because it’s difficult to create and structure boundaries between personal and working time.
Staff spend more time reporting to managers and customers so work doesn’t seem invisible and many are burning out due to the sustained concentration needed in video meetings.
The lack of personal social interaction has also taken a toll, particularly for in-field salespeople used to visiting clients.
All this has brought to the fore discussions about mental health in businesses. So, what do businesses and sales teams need to do to stop, start, and continue doing for mental wellbeing?
Toughing it out by yourself: sales has long held onto the myth of the tough sales professional who can go it alone and survive. We have our limits. There should be a shift to collaboration and a raised awareness about mental health, asking people how they are and taking time to listen. Seeking help should openly be encouraged.
Pretending everything has to be positive all the time: Let’s move away from the sugary-coated, super positive hype often inflicted on sales staff. We already know this stuff does nothing for anyone’s short, medium, or long-term success and is a waste of time, effort, and money.
Instead, expect to see more candid, real and constructive communication about ‘what is’, ’what’s possible’ and ’what we can do’. This approach will be far more enriching and long lasting than any hyped-up motivational speech.
Acknowledging salespeople as more than just closers of deals: sales leaders are reporting that some staff were experiencing, in essence, existential crises during lockdown because their day-to-day interactions were taken away.
For many salespeople their daily interactions with their customers, markets, and competitors are a vital part of their social life and their identity.
Finding new ways to stay connected: effective salespeople understand the vital importance of staying in touch with clients and markets.
Workplaces, especially retail stores, have much more stringent COVID safety standards in place so people won’t be able to ’pop in’ like they used to.
To give your staff some degree of agency and take the worry out of staying connected, smart managers are already rebuilding how their teams can keep selling, stay connected, and create an office ‘vibe’.
This includes collaboration software, help to set up functional home office spaces, safe and flexible working arrangements and regular communication with each other to show support, share ideas and find ways to be successful together.
Providing mental health support: organisations that are yet not providing some sort of mental health support will have to look into this. Support can mean raising awareness and guiding people to where they can find professional help, tips and tools and activities to promote wellbeing.
Collaborating and communicating: smart business leaders should collaborate and communicate on a deeper level and more often. Creating open communication is not only worthwhile but also essential for success.
This is where we are likely to see the sales profession really become a collaborative team sport as we find better ways to stay in touch and maintain relationships internally and externally.
Humans, after all, are social creatures and rely on interactions with each other to get along and work together. This is our true nature and so it can be with sales.