Here we are at last in 2021. Doesn’t that sound good? Whatever might be happening, at least 2020 is now firmly behind us, even if the long-term ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are not. A new year always signifies fresh hope, new goals and embracing changes for the better, but the emotional toll of Covid-19 is still alive and kicking, even if the longed-for vaccine hopes to kick the virus down the road until herd immunity properly overtakes it.
Speaking with my best friend Heather recently, she was describing a family member as being “permanently on send, never on receive”. We were laughing, talking about how some people are terrible listeners but great talkers; how even those close to us sometimes fail to really hear us among all the noise they are making – missing the vital clues that we train our teams to watch for, which hone their consulting skills.
But our conversation seriously got me thinking. Now, more than ever, if you’re a manager of people, you need to be firmly in receive mode; listening for the clues and hoping by just being there, and being a sympathetic ear, you can help ensure the wellbeing of your team, emotionally as well as performance-wise.
One of my oldest friends, Ali, works in social services, managing a team of people in her county dealing with all types of domestic abuse and family issues. Her job is extremely challenging and she has always worked from home for the majority of her working week. The real toll of coronavirus lockdown 2.0 will not be fully known for some time to come, she tells me.
“Salons are not just about delivering hair and beauty treatments, they have proved themselves to be a community service”
Children of abusers and abused partners will die as a result of zero interaction with, and therefore intervention, from the outside world. Abusers and those who use coercive behaviours with their family and partners will have maximised the controlling benefits that lockdown brings, and working from home is undeniably a contributing factor.
In lockdown 2.0, I decided that our small crack squad of senior managers, rather than Zooming a few hours a week to catch up, should go into the office – more for the social interaction than anything work related.
“Good shout”, said Ali; it’s proven that the small photocopier moments, the chats in the staff room, the seemingly unimportant banter about what we’ve been watching on Netflix or other little anecdotes is the very thing that is vital for our social interaction, and, therefore, our sanity.
Another friend, Pat, does the accounts for a fast-food restaurant chain. Finding out their head office, where she worked, was closing for good has floored her. The company was forced to make redundancies, as many have been, so she, as a single mother, has turned her small living room into an office and now she is doing the work of five former colleagues with two synced giant computer screens. Poor time management hasn’t helped – she regularly finds herself doing emails at stupid o’clock, failing to compartmentalise her work-life balance and not taking regular breaks.
Some days she hasn’t even been outside, bar school drop off and pick up. Food shopping is budgeted carefully so monthly online grocery shops help control her funds. But the lack of interaction with other adults has left her mental health in tatters. She longs to go back to her office, where work is fitted into the structured working week and that is where her job role finishes.
We’re lucky that, as a sector, working from home isn’t an option for most of us. The image of how permanent home working will have affected us in just a few short years’ time is truly scary. Fatigued humans shuffling around in slippers and tackling obesity, their mental state in dire straits.
People are not designed to live in isolation. How many times do we hear from clients that the therapist’s couch is much more than a revitalising facial? We are, as one of my regular clients termed it, an escape from Covid-19 angst – a place where the world feels comfortably normal.
Salons are not just about delivering hair and beauty treatments, they have proved themselves to be a community service. No business owner can take responsibility for their staff’s mental health outside the workplace, but ensuring we listen, look for the signs, and above all invite the discussion, may just prove an invaluable and severely lacking element of our roles as leaders. PB
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London, one of the most profitable independent salons in the UK. She is beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).
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