Lockdown is ending; it’s what we all wanted… but in a somewhat uncharted business environment – particularly as government support and funding evaporate like monsoonal rain from the Savanah – for some, it presents a whole new range of anxiety as they forge ahead.
It’s been a hard two years for everyone, particularly those with anxiety and depression, not to mention Autism. Mental health has been at an all-time low. But the harsh reality, both now and historically, is that mental health is secondary to survival, as in all crises.
We have been asked to do so many things that are uncomfortable or that we don’t like. It’s been the first time many of us privileged folks have been told what to do for our own safety, and it’s been fair to say we sucked at it. We learnt slowly, many of us kicking and screaming like it was ripping our soul out. Who would have thought self-preservation, perspective and caring for our community during a global pandemic would be so hard for some?
I digress. It’s been hard for us all, and just as we have adapted to the new normal of lockdown, the many and varied ways we had to operate our businesses just to keep the doors open, and now we begin to open up again, anxiety spikes for many.
Ch-ch-change This has been the motto of the pandemic. So many changes so fast on so many different fronts. And it’s hard to keep up.
As an autistic person, this has personally been my greatest challenge. Running scenarios in my head, planning the future, planning an outing, all done and redone a million times.
It’s exhausting… and something that we will all need to be doing as we reopen. What we do know is things will constantly change based on health advice, new research, politics (sadly), public health data and how messages are communicated.
As silly as it sounds, I’ve found it helps to expect and plan for change. I’ve been reading Taleb’s work, “The Black Swan”, which I’ve found quite unintentionally helpful during the pandemic. It outlines how we assume we know all possible outcomes, when in fact, we don’t. What lies outside our assumed range of possible outcomes is a black swan.
So, as we open up and things start to change and change again, try to notice black swans, and see the beauty in them rolling with whatever comes your way.
Control of self rather than control of the world can help to reduce the mental load.
We all need support… financial or otherwise During lockdown, there has been a vast array of advertised grants and financial support available, but not all businesses were eligible, applied, or were approved. It was and is a mess.
Even the seemingly simple “Job keeper” program saw many businesses miss out, and most of the money spent went to businesses that saw an increase in profits (Harvey Norman I’m looking at you).
It’s been a proverbial minefield of paperwork and red tape to waddle through while trying to juggle running a constantly pivoting business in a pandemic. Many found the work and mental load too much – and rightly so. As we begin to peek out of the once locked door, many funding opportunities have come to an end, and anxiety grows as the support net (real or imagined) is removed.
In these uncertain times, I have a recipe that may help balance internal and external to help us move forward and away from needing fickle grants to survive. For me meditation is key. Before starting anything, before making decisions, make sure you aren’t in an acute emotional state. Meditation brings in more calm and more rational thought.
Our next ingredient is data. Not what you reckon or remember but do a deep dive into your business data from the last few years. Identify your core strengths and look at clearly simplified offerings you can put out to the market. Check your margins are still ok in the new world and reconnect with suppliers to check. Post lockdown is about simplicity – for you, your suppliers, and the customer.
And finally, with a clearer head, and a solid data back understanding of your historical sales, core offering and pricing, our final ingredient is identifying your core customer. Are there particular groups of people that LOVE your core offering and have supported you? Your mission is to engage these groups and connect with them in a targeted personal, and meaningful way.
The result should be a healthy and efficient starting point to get back on track.
It sounds obvious and basic, but it works. Cut through the noise and get back to basics, and do those basics well.
Increased energy being social After so long apart, ruminating on our own internal thoughts, couch time and watching Netflix can make the idea of being social again… draining.
From the last few lockdowns, I’ve found customers can be “soul tired,” wanting desperately to have their old life back but feeling too exhausted to enjoy it as they think they once did.
It’s ok to start slow. Just because we can go out, doesn’t mean we should, and certainly doesn’t mean we need to overcompensate or make up for the lost time. Autistic and neurodiverse people are experts at this, knowing that every outing will take its toll, and will need recharge time to make it sustainable.
Try one on one catchups, shorter shows/events, and group activities to dip your proverbial toe in the social water again. There is no rush. Manage your personal time, and make sure to prioritise recharging.
Many of us will also realise the energy, financial and time expense of our old lives wasn’t actually bringing as much joy as we first thought. It’s ok to change and grow and for different things to bring you joy – just do it consciously and for yourself.
Aggressive privileged people This category had been a problem well before the pandemic; however, the past two years appear to have magnified those personalities creating an even bigger problem than usual. Toxic behaviour, in particular toxic masculinity, isn’t just a problem for women but for everyone.
There is growing anxiety over the behaviour of these people believing the health orders do not apply to them and using aggression to bully their way into venues that are at capacity. They are pushing themselves into a space unvaccinated or going out while experiencing symptoms, or even at its most basic, not getting tested whilst symptomatic.
The health orders apply to everyone and are for everyone’s safety – no matter what you “believe.” Be clear on what your rules are surrounding this, so they are consistent and communicate them to staff clearly, so everyone in your team knows they have support to keep everyone safe.
It’s also good to note a venue or business is 100 per cent in its right not to allow you entry or serve you, with or without health orders. So, the short answer is, my business my rules, so don’t be a d**k.
Staffing Many of the stresses felt by your customers will also be felt by staff. As a business owner, it’s hard to balance the need for optimal productivity to reduce costs and staff adjusting to being at work after so long in lockdown. Think about ways you can have your cake and eat it too by implementing automation or systems, limiting menus, shortening shifts, adding additional staff members, or adjusting opening hours early on just till everyone is up to speed. Managing the roster is important too. If you can encourage a four-day workweek for the first few weeks, this can also give staff the time to rest and adjust.
Don’t be afraid to check in with your staff to see how they are doing – it can make a world of difference for everyone.
It can also reduce staff anxiety to have a get-together or a refresher before returning to work by way of a team dinner or simple event. This will also give your new staff time to meet everyone too.
But most of all, be patient and kind. Lockdown has been very hard on business owners, but we all have our own scars and challenges to carry into the opening of the world.
Every industry is different, don’t expect 100 per cent from day one, but be prepared for it to take time.
SIDE NOTE: If your business didn’t have the best culture before lockdown, this is a perfect opportunity to reset and consciously create a healthy, positive culture for everyone. Take the opportunity to assess and improve it for everyone!
The takeaway It’s okay to take it slow; it’s okay to say no to events and social time and to have your own logical science-backed rules to keep you safer. It’s okay only to see your fully vaccinated friends (reason, season, lifetime), and to sleep more. It’s okay to have alone time and still sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Most of all, it’s okay to take your time to adjust to opening up to the world and letting it in.
We all have a different speed and path that is right for us, and there will be more black swans to deal with.
Many of us have sacrificed or lost so much, and as we venture out, we do not know the extent of another’s burden.
So, take it at your pace, with kindness and respect for yourself and others so we can enjoy life in whatever form we can as a community… together.
It is time to “get on the beers” … but only when you’re ready.
Ben Sorensen Ben is a quirky, witty, eccentric, stylish, multi-platform personality, voice-over artist, writer of columns, lover of music, presenter of stuff. While he is unable to leap tall buildings, he is able to bridge the divide between city living and country culture. _______________________________________________________________________