There’s a reason why aircraft safety briefings instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first. You need to look after you. Most of us know this to be true, but when you’re running a trades business your own needs often end up at the bottom of the pile. The business won’t run itself, that customer wants that job done yesterday and you already feel like you don’t give your [_insert every important person in your life_] enough of your time. Not to mention that raging pandemic that’s going on.
September 10 is R U Ok Day and we’re making it our business to raise awareness around tradies' mental health. Uncertainty and disconnection off the back of social distancing, mixed with varying levels of fear is the perfect recipe for anxiety. Concrete pills and the old ‘harden up’ approach has never cut it and it ain’t got a chance in hell this year. So it’s time to learn what you, as a trades or service-based business owner, can really do to look after your own mental wellbeing, as well as that of your team.
4 self-care tips for trades business owners
1. Eat well, sleep more and breathe
Well this, like the aircraft safety example above, may be a physical need, but it goes without saying that our physical, mental and emotional selves are all related.
The idea of being ‘hangry’ didn’t come out of thin air. So if your mood is suffering it can pay to take stock. What are you fuelling your body with? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising (outside of work)? And are you giving yourself enough breathing room? All these things come back to habit and lifestyle and they aren’t always easy to change.
The trick for most is to not go stone-cold, but make small, incremental changes that over time add up to something bigger. It could be as simple as swapping that mid-afternoon coffee or 500ml Monster for something more nutritious. Going device free for an hour before you plan on going to bed. Taking a quick walk around the block at lunch time or a moment to sit, breathe and clear your head.
2. A load shared is a load halved
If the business is a little slow, the finances are slumping, or perhaps just the pressure of adapting to new ways of working amidst Covid is weighing heavily on your shoulders, try sharing the load. Whether it’s with your partner, a fellow tradie or just a mate; take the step, reach out and offload what you’re thinking. It won’t take your worries away, but the simple act of voicing your concerns to someone who cares can make it feel more manageable.
If you just need to vent, let that person know, so they don’t start throwing solutions at you. On the other hand, if you’re open to ideas, perhaps a new perspective could lead you to an option you hadn’t thought of yet.
If the load is overbearing, it’s best to reach out to your GP or a mental health professional. Check out the bottom of this article for phone numbers and organisations that can help you now.
3. Connect and be present
You’re so used to living life at a hundred miles an hour that it’s easy to feel disconnected, lonely even. Did you know that self-esteem and a healthy mindset require meaningful relationships and connection to other people? When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone?
Covid has created distance and we’ve had to get creative to connect with others. If you have experienced a lockdown situation, there’s no doubt it’s been stressful, but use some of that downtime to be with your family, your flat mates and find out what’s going on for them. Use video calls or group chats to keep in touch with friends, make connections as important as one of your jobs.
The Danes (apparently the happiest people on the planet) have a concept called Hygge, which basically means surrounding yourself with things that make you feel good. It’s time to switch off the news, and stop strolling your social feeds (this alone will help your mood) and instead crank up your favourite album, cook your favourite meal, zip out for a hoon on the bike, or watch a funny movie. Soak in the moment and let yourself enjoy it.
4. Engage business professionals (you don’t have to do everything yourself)
You put in the hard yards to learn your trade and you put in the hours to become an expert at it, but running a business doesn’t always come naturally. It’s likely that some of the balls you are trying to juggle aren’t worth your while trying to keep hold of.
If you’re struggling to keep up with the accounts or figure out what it’s going to take to keep your business afloat, if you can’t get your website to work for you or if you’ve got business challenges that don’t seem to be improving, give yourself a break and engage a professional to help you.
Asking for help isn’t failure. You didn’t train to be an accountant, a web developer or a business guru. Let it go, take some of that pressure off yourself and see if that makes a difference.
If you start looking out for you, you’ll be in a much better position to help others and to stand up as a leader for your team through these challenging times.
4 ways trades business leaders can support wellbeing in the workplace
Aside from it being a legal requirement that employers manage risks to the mental wellbeing of their staff, by doing so you will not only have a healthier team, but will likely see higher productivity and engagement. So where do you start?
1. Walk the talk
It’s crucial that you, as “the boss” model behaviour that promotes wellbeing for everyone else. If you take the 4 points under self-care seriously, it’ll be a darn sight easier. Take your breaks, choose to eat healthier, avoid getting hammered at Friday drinks and let the guys know it’s because you’re planning on heading out for that run in the morning or that you’re watching your alcohol intake.
Create opportunities for your team to do fun things together. Organise a bootcamp session for everyone, watch some comedy (YouTube and Zoom are the perfect combo for doing this remotely), or arrange a team building exercise and have a laugh.
2. Give people the opportunity to share how they feel
As a male-dominated industry, ‘machoism’ in construction and trades has been rife. The modern era is however, seeing a growing trend of tradies in touch with their feelings and actively seeking ways to support their teams. The likes of Toolbox Talks are becoming more and more common. The point to remember, is that it’s not always about what people need to get the job done, but how they are feeling about their work/life in general that matters to them. So ask and actually listen.
Being mentally well doesn’t mean being happy all the time. Giving your team permission to express the way they feel without judgement and being open and honest yourself about the challenges you’re facing, will have a huge impact on your culture. It will help create positivity, trust and create an environment where your team feel like they can let their guard down.
This isn’t about throwing people under the bus or complaining, it’s about the freedom to express and be heard. Encourage your team to make “I” statements i.e. “_I feel really frustrated that I have to wear this mask all day, I just want this pandemic BS to be over_”. And let them know it’s ok to feel this way. It’s ok to be vulnerable. You can show vulnerability too: “_I’ll be honest, the pandemic makes me nervous about the future, but we have a plan and we’ll do everything we can to keep the business moving_”.
3. Educate yourself on the signs of mental illness
As an employer, you will likely spend more time with the people who work for you than other people in their lives. Learning what to watch for when it comes to mental distress could literally save a life. There are a number of organisations that educate on the signs and symptoms of mental illness, for example Beyond Blue.
In some cases, people won’t show signs or symptoms. So it’s a good idea to make a habit of regularly checking in with each employee one-on-one. The theme of R U OK day this year is “there’s more to say after R U OK?”; it can be bloody hard to know what to say to someone who is struggling. Do check out this handy guide for ways you can respond and keep the convo going.
4. Support them in continuing or coming back to work
For trades and service businesses, offering flexible working arrangements isn’t so straight-forward. However, if someone on your team is struggling, they may need a little extra breathing room so try and be as flexible as possible. Remember mental health is a legitimate use of sick leave, you may also wish to revisit your procedures and policies when it comes to paid and unpaid leave. You may be able to offer the likes of reduced hours for an agreed time period if that works for both of you.
If your employee is up to it, help them set some goals. Goal setting can help with a feeling of purpose which may well help them to feel more engaged, motivated and connected at work.
Finally, make mental health resources available to your staff. The R U OK organisation has some great resources you can use. If you don’t have a central office, you might have to get creative about how you can get these resources in the hands of your team. If you’re using Fergus, make use of your noticeboard to share updates and information on mental wellbeing.
2020 is no longer about resilience, it’s about endurance and we need to do everything we can to support each other. There are a number of organisations offering free support and counselling services should you or someone you know need help.
1737 – Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or text 4202
Youthline 0800 376 633
Mental health foundation
Mates in Construction
United Kingdom South Africa
What fellow tradies have to say
Dan Pollard, Fergus Founder and veteran Tradie
It's really important to acknowledge that it's really stressful running a trades business. There's all the pressures of jobs, cashflow, looking after staff, even the weather. Not to mention family, health and the list goes on. What we go through is a lot of anguish and grief and that has to be processed somehow. If it's getting too much, it's actually ok to talk about it because man, it's difficult. So have a think about who you can talk to and reach out.
Dan also shared his tips for prioritising wellbeing in the workplace with Building Connection and Plumbing Connection this month.
Andy Smith, Lifestyle Tradie co-founder & Owner Dr DRiP Plumbing
In previous generations, we were told to drink a cup of concrete if the going got a bit tough. Times have changed. We’ve got to look at the topic of mental health in a different way, starting with having an open door and a conversation.
Andy has an open-door policy and also invests in supportive listening with his team.
It is about always creating interaction with this team, asking how their partner, wife and/or children are and asking regularly “are you ok?"
In these times, Andy believes that your team needs leadership from you as an owner, he believes the best way to provide support is to listen in a formal meeting with structure either in person or via Zoom (during these times) and also creating short surveys for his tradies to rate how they are feeling.