languish

Languishing by-product of the pandemic. But you can beat it

As human beings, we are programmed to plan. Holidays, weddings, birthday celebrations, catch-ups with friends, trips home. As a business, we do the same – conferences, awards events, annual picnics. The anticipation of an event buoys our spirits, provides goals. We plan the details, and get absorbed in preparing. And then – totally unexpectedly – we are in another lockdown. The events we were looking forward to, are cancelled.

It’s something that people – particularly on the eastern seaboard of Australia – are familiar with. And each time something is cancelled, while we shrug it off, accept that what is happening is for the “greater good”, our spirits nevertheless are diminished a little.

There’s been a lot of talk recently by mental health experts about Languishing – and it’s becoming endemic in this pandemic. Surprisingly, it’s the people who believe they are coping, who are working productively, looking after their families and loved ones and generally feel like they are in control, who are often “Languishing”. They have energy and they aren’t depressed, but they no longer anticipate anything in the future like they used to. It’s like they are in third gear, and the vehicle is motoring along, but fourth gear – that free, smooth ride – is beyond them.

Languishing is the opposite of flourishing. Its symptoms include apathy, stagnation, feeling of monotony, foggy, unmotivated – a real lassitude. You are coping, but there are no highs, no feeling of excitement for something in the future.

Describe Languishing to your friends and colleagues and see how many of them nod in recognition.

The good news is that the first step to addressing Languishing is recognising that you are suffering from it. Then there are a range of coping mechanisms you can try:

“Me” time

Carve out a period of time every day when you are just relaxing. No news alerts on your phone – in fact, turn off your phone. Read a book or watch a movie. Go for a walk with the dog. Do some relaxation exercises – whatever it takes to disconnect your mind from every aspect of the pandemic, and how it is affecting your life.

Take some holidays/have a break

It feels like a waste to use your annual leave when you can’t go anywhere – but it’s important to have a day here and there when you can walk away from work. If you’re working from home, make sure you shut the study door so you aren’t tempted to check your emails. In fact, power down your PC and disconnect for a full 24 hours.

Do what interests and absorbs you

In the bunker mentality a lot of us have developed, hobbies have sometimes been packed away. Drag out that model aircraft kit, the comic book collection, the scrapbook making, the Gameboy. Spend time doing what you really enjoy. It might be cooking, watching reality TV, running – whatever it is, lose yourself in it. Or you could look for a new interest to master.

Change the scenery

A five kilometre radius might seem restrictive if you’re in lockdown. And it is if your family is outside that 5km. But it’s a lot of space to explore when you’re walking. Challenge yourself to a new route to explore every day. The important thing to do is refresh your brain with new scenery.

Daily thankfulness

List three things that you are thankful for each day and write them in a notebook. This sounds simple, but some days it can be a real challenge. And it’s on those days, when you are searching for something good that happened in the day, that you recognise the pure gold in your life. A hug from a child, the cat curling up in your lap and purring, the lavender blooming, a Zoom call with friends. Our world has become smaller, but that just makes everything in it bigger.

Reach out to your circle

The act of helping others is great therapy. Reach out to people in your circle – whether that’s a phone call, zoom catch-up or text. Check how they are going, talk about Languishing (and listen to the ah’s of recognition), and plan online get togethers that won’t be cancelled by a physical lockdown.

Get vaccinated if you can (Subject to medical advice)

By getting a vaccination, you are taking control of your future. You are also helping protect yourself and those around you, and there’s a lot of mental relief to be gained in reducing the chances of being seriously incapacitated by the virus. But you are also contributing towards a time when we can open up, and start planning those celebrations and events again – with increased certainty.

Consider therapy

Whilst Languishing isn’t depression, it is recognised as a lack of mental wellbeing. We are all a little mentally fatigued by the rollercoaster we have been on for the last 18 months. Who wouldn’t be? But recognising that you aren’t top of your game mentally is a really positive first step. If adopting some strategies to lift your engagement in life doesn’t work, consider getting professional help.

mental

The mental gym is always open, so use it.

At the beginning of the year, so many of us had high hopes for 2021. We’d done the hard yards (particularly in Victoria) and we now knew how to beat the virus. Unfortunately, we were unrealistically optimistic – not knowing Delta was madly evolving on the sidelines. Seven months down the track and we’ve realised that we still have a few more difficult times to manage – although hopefully not too many.

Victorians have had five (at the time of writing) lockdowns and Sydney is struggling with a significant outbreak. For some, it is difficult not to get overwhelmed by the uncertainty, the inability to plan, the financial distress and the feeling that the world as we knew it is some way off from returning.

If one good thing has come out of this pandemic, it is how talking about mental health issues has become accepted. The understanding of the difficulties people are facing is universal, and many business owners are putting in place approaches to help their teams maintain their resilience.

Working on your mental health is really important. It’s not something we are used to doing, but it’s something we do need to embrace. Here are a few simple strategies that can help us to survive the uncertainty and build our mental resilience.

Mindset.

  • It’s easy for the mind to wander down a dark alleyway looking for the worst outcomes, imagining new threats. When you find yourself doing this, drag it back to a more positive path. Have a list of good things in your life to think about, have an anchor word – a word that you can say out loud or in your head, that will stop these dark thoughts in their tracks, and give you the time to redirect them in a positive direction.
  • Work on a positive mindset. Spend time listing what is good in your life – find at least three things to be thankful for, and write them in a notebook. They don’t have to be worthy of celebration – even simple things such as “went for a walk in the sun” or “saw a wedgetail eagle flying overhead” or even “great zoom catch-up with my best friend”. Do this every day and review them every now and then, to remind yourself that there are things for which to be grateful.

Relax.

  • There’s usually a physical manifestation of the fact that we are stressed. It might be clenching our jaw, loud puffing breaths – most people know what their outward sign is. As soon as you notice it, stop what you are doing (if you can) and take the time to relax. Move away from whatever you are doing and sit and close your eyes, lower your shoulders, relax your jaw and eyes, and just focus on loosening every part of your body.
  • Go for a walk. Put some music on or an audiobook and stride out. Take a different route each day (variety is the spice of life) and make it a regular part of your day, weather permitting!
  • Turn off the news alerts. Catch up on those case numbers and restrictions just once or twice a day. Don’t be captive to every headline. And more importantly, get your news from a responsible and reliable source.

Seek help.

  • If you can’t cope, ask for help. There’s no shame in it. It may be from a family member, a friend or even an organisation like Beyond Blue or Lifeline. The act of sharing how you feel is cathartic and works to lessen your mental stress.

Help others.

  • It’s been amazing to see communities pull together during this pandemic. The gifts in letterboxes, the teddy bears in windows during the first lockdown, the donations of gifts and money to those who needed it. Helping others is a great way to take your mind off your own problems. If you can afford it, give some money to the local grocery shop to pay for the food of someone who is struggling; volunteer; help an elderly or struggling neighbour, for example.

Stay physically fit.

  • Whether that’s going to the gym (when allowed), walking, doing online yoga classes, riding that exercise bike or playing golf, it’s really important for your mental health to be physically fit.

Working on your mental health is probably one of the most important things you can do right now (apart from getting a vaccination). It will help you cope with your circumstances whatever they are; it will help keep your relationships healthy; and your mental strength will put you in a good place to help others if necessary.

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Rev up your marketing calendar

Whether you run a financial – year marketing calendar or one covering January-December, it’s important to review it regularly, looking critically at budgeting and resources.

If you don’t have a marketing calendar, then now it’s a good time to get a plan in place. Here’s how:

  • If you are starting from scratch with developing your marketing calendar, look at your key events and lock in when they are occurring for the next 12 months. These may be seasonal driven; product release; key sales periods; cultural events; national days of celebration or a worldwide event (e.g. Earth Hour, the Olympics).
  • Work out the delivery medium for your message – e.g. billboards, radio, industry publications, letterbox drops, cinema, social media.
  • Plan both a start date and a deliverable date. Don’t rely on just having enough material for when things need to go out; build a buffer into each deadline to ensure you are giving your team the time to develop content, as well as to assess what is working at the end of each campaign.
  • Use themes to build a cohesive message across all the different points of information that you are putting out there.
  • Utilise online systems, like social media schedulers, to post in advance – that way, you can hit feeds on the day and at the time that suits you.
  • Cross-post across multiple platforms instead of one. Facebook has deep integration with Instagram that makes posting across both platforms fast and simple.

Well-planned, marketing calendars with realistic deadlines, clarity around responsibility and with scope for flexibility, will allow your marketing team to meet expectations, while providing valuable exposure for your brand and growth for your business. By reviewing it regularly, you can take into account changed market conditions as well as considering the implication of feedback you’ve received from review and research.

brandrefresh

Is your brand crying out for a refresh?

Businesses are often reluctant to tinker with their look – their branding. Why? Well, there’s significant money invested in their current brand. They’ve spent a lot of time and money working with a creative agency (or an in-house team), then applying the logo, font and colours across all their touchpoints. Then, there’s all the money they spend in marketing the brand – from social media to packaging, to shop signage to magazines, or outdoor ads. Why would they want to do that again?

Brands get tired, and a dated brand could lead potential clients to judge you as a stagnating business. Maybe you want to target a new market but your current look won’t cut-through.

There’s a balancing act between being a familiar brand and being perceived as an up-and coming, tech savvy brand that’s going to deliver a 21st century experience.

It’s called brand evolution. This means taking your current look and refreshing it. It’s not a wholesale change: it’s subtle but powerful in that, correctly done, it will retain your brand essence but lift it to a new level. This may mean small changes to your logo – e.g. cleaning it up, making it simpler or something more dynamic – that is still recognisable as you, but a new look that will now pop on social media and on your stockists’ shelves.

Fonts can be changed to better reflect your brand personality. From open faced to serifed, light to medium or heavy weight – your choice of font and typography is also part of the personality you are portraying.

Think about your slogan. Does it promote a benefit for the customer? Or is it about you?

Finally, if your colours are dated (remember when everyone went heritage in their palette?) then consider tinkering with the shade – for instance, moving from dark sombre blue to a blue that’s several shades lighter. If your colours haven’t dated, consider adding another colour to your palette to give you more options.

If you keep the spirit of your current brand but lighten and brighten it, rolling it out (and the accompanying cost) can be staggered – bearing in mind that consistency is important. By all means, introduce it to your website and social media immediately – any digital assets can be changed quickly.

Finally, before you press “go” on your changes, do some market research to see what your customers think about the proposed change.

employee

Does your employee handbook reflect the latest legislation?

The laws around employment are constantly shifting and evolving. It’s difficult to keep up to date with all your legal responsibilities in this area, let alone keeping on top of updating all your relevant manuals.

You need to put in place, a system for being informed when these changes happen:

  • Subscribe to updates of Modern Awards that apply to the employees within your business.
  • Subscribe to the Fair Work newsletter and other updates.
  • Utilise the business.gov.au website information and resources, as well as the one relevant to the state or territory in which you operate (e.g. business.vic.gov.aubusiness.sa.gov.au).
  • Subscribe to receive newsletters from reputable information sources, such as FC Business Solutions.
  • Franchise Council of Australia’s HR service, your industry body’s HR advisors.

When a legislative change is passed through parliament (and bear in mind when you first hear about changes, they are often proposals that need to go through the parliamentary process), then update all of your manuals immediately.

You need to inform all of your team members about any changes to their entitlements, and the best way to do this is to put the updated manual on your intranet, and make the changes mandated reading for all staff (a good intranet will track who has read the manual and any updates).

Keeping across all the changes in employment law is tricky, but acknowledging that this is something that must be done, and allowing the time to be allocated to it, is a good start. Whether it’s you as the business owner, or someone you nominate, a good process of information gathering, coupled with immediate manual updates and distribution, will keep you off Fair Work’s radar.

artofocomm

The lost art of meaningful communication

Genuine, engaging communication isn’t achieved through fancy bottled technology.

I love it when people call me! It’s so refreshing and meaningful that someone has found time in their busy world to choose to use their phone to communicate with me. We use our phones for every conceivable digital communication, but we use it less and less as a plain and simple phone – that function is becoming obsolete.

I love to hear what’s happening in someone’s life, how they have experienced new things, what they have learned, what burning issue are they seeking answers for. It’s not an email, a Facebook feed or Instagram – it’s an exchange. Verbal, insightful, passionate, emotional – I thrive on it.

Are we losing the art of communication in business? How does your team connect with each other? Do they sit across the aisle from one another and email each other? How do they chat with your franchisees or other business units? Do they really know what’s happening in the life of the franchisee? Do they have that insight so that they can manage any issues or problems in the most effective manner? Do they have their finger on the mental wellbeing pulse of those people they are working with?

All methods of communication in a business have a role, however platforms or apps, while critical for bulk communication and systematisation of that communication, do not provide the mechanism to greet, connect, listen, ask questions and care for one another. Too much reliance on written words rather than face-to-face communications has the real risk of reducing the effectiveness and success of your business.

policies

When did you last update your policies and procedure?

Policies and procedures are often overlooked as “dull paperwork” in the cut and thrust of business. But their impact is significant – both in helping your run a better business and in keeping you out of legal trouble.

They are living documents – they need to be reviewed, updated and changed regularly or they become meaningless.

When you undertake a review and update, there’s a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Ensure that you include systems, resources and tools that have changed or evolved – tech, platforms, logins etc.
  • Check for changes in industry legislation and other employer obligations – e.g. Fair Work, Awards, Franchising Code of Conduct, Privacy Act, industry specific criteria.
  • Engage subject matter experts within your business – don’t assume that you (or the person tasked with updating) knows all the details.
  • Consider including video instructions as part of your manuals.
  • Look at the language – is it consistent across all policies? Do you need to be gender inclusive in your terminology? How about talking about “team members” rather than “employees” or “staff”?
  • Ensure the person writing or updating your manuals is a detail – driven person. While a creative person might create a marvellously engaging manual, it’s likely to be thin on detail!
  • Tell your team members about the changes. Look for the most effective way of sharing them. Consider putting them on an intranet and have them read and sign-off on them.

If you don’t have the time or resources to write or update your policies and procedures, consider seeking an outside expert to help. FC Business Solutions has the expertise and experience to help you. Give us a call and see if we can help.

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IT Audits are critical to your business survival

Technology is embedded in every business: it’s so important, that if it fails it can take a business down with it. Auditing the robustness of your firewalls, virus protection and ensuring your team members are aware of scams and phishing, should be ongoing and ever vigilant. But there are other areas of your IT system that need auditing on a regular basis.

With the start of the new financial year, it’s a good idea to carry out an audit now. It gives you a benchmark and will provide you with a list of actionable items.

What is an IT Audit?
It’s a process of collecting data and analysing it across all the technology and systems across your business. This should tell you where your business is sitting, from both a compliance and performance aspect.

Whether you are a franchisor or a business with multiple locations, these are the questions you should ask yourselves.

  1. Are all your locations compliant across all the systems they are using?
  2. Is there online brand consistency across all your locations?
  3. Is there additional training required for team members in problem areas?
  4. What benchmarks should each business location (versus the entire network) be measuring themselves against?

What should you include in an IT audit?
This kind of audit involves surveying all locations across the business network, to gauge where they currently sit at a given time, as far as IT compliance and best practice are concerned.

Key categories for an audit would include:

Back-ups and systems

  • Is all virus protection regularly updated (minimum daily, ideally automated search for updates constantly)?
  • How are back-ups managed internally and are they on devices that aren’t part of the network?
  • What is the data retention and restoration plan in case of failures?
  • Are protocols for IT support known to all team members?
  • Are there protocols for regular changing of passwords and the secure recording of them?

Social Media

  • Is each business location’s online presence on-brand?
  • Are businesses engaging successfully with customers through social media?
  • What is the turnaround time in responding to any queries online?

Website

  • Is your SEO setup to optimise your appearance on organic searches?
  • Is the website performing well when speed tests are carried out?
  • Is there correct branding on all websites?

Project Managements systems

  • Are your team members using the project management tools and systems correctly?
  • Is all necessary data (legal and practical) input into the system?
  • Is there training needed for team members to use the system correctly?

Local marketing (campaigns that are driven via social media / website)

  • Are there adequate support systems for requesting products and distribution?
  • Is the brand style guide followed for all instances of local marketing, by subsidiary offices or franchisees?
  • Are there support systems for requesting assets and distribution?

Paid online advertising

  • Ad campaigns can be set and forget but it’s important they are reviewed for their effectiveness regularly, and tweaked or cancelled if not providing results.

An IT Audit will help protect your corporate assets, determine any risks and ensure your processes are compliant with laws, policies and standards.

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What’s your digital backup plan?

Every business, regardless of size, needs a Digital Helpdesk. There are very few businesses that aren’t reliant in some way on technology – from record keeping to online ordering, customer support, to stocktake, all the way up to technology driven production lines.

Technology is everywhere in your business, and it is gaining in sophistication all the time. However, very few of your employees would be able to understand and keep up with these developments. That’s why you need a skilled team to run a Digital Helpdesk for you. This will allow your employees to focus on their key roles within your business, rather than having to problem solve their IT issues, as well as remember to update all the software that not only improves how you operate, but keeps your business safe from hackers and digital ransom.

Let’s look at how a Digital Helpdesk operates:

Structure instead of chaos
A properly structured Helpdesk can greatly improve business efficiency. When a request for help comes in, a ticket is generated and then categorised into levels or tiers. Depending on the complexity of the issue, the ticket can be routed to the first available person with the right skills to solve the issue.

Allocating priorities
Many Helpdesks address tickets on a priority basis, with higher priority tasks taking up most of the support team’s time. Other tickets can remain unaddressed until a technician responds to it.

Another way of allocating tickets is to queue them on a first come, first served basis, and use automated assignment models like round robin and load balancing to keep on top of requests. It’s important that an estimated response time is sent to the person requiring help and that if the timeframe alters, that they are updated quickly.

Conducting surveys
Everyone is so reliant on their technology making it critical that your Helpdesk is adequate for the task – both in team numbers and skills. To assess this, managers should evaluate basic achievements such as response times, expertise and innovation. To get feedback on individual tickets, send a survey to users when their tickets are closed. For higher-scale feedback, conduct annual or semi-annual surveys. This gives key insights on what is working and what areas need improvement.

Empower your staff
Your Helpdesk team will regularly receive requests for help on simple issues that most people can resolve themselves. By training your staff on the basics, and providing a resource that answers frequent technology-help questions this, will help them solve simple problems themselves and remove some of the workload from your Helpdesk team – allowing them to concentrate on using their skills where most needed.

Report, assess, improve
To gauge whether your Helpdesk is performing at its optimum, you should collect and assess information such as:

  • What are the most frequently asked questions
  • What problem areas need immediate action
  • Which staff members may need additional training
  • What are the response times of support staff

A Digital Helpdesk will ensure that your technical assets are fit for purpose, working efficiently, and are protected. If you don’t have the ability to establish your own in-house Digital Helpdesk, you can outsource the function. At FC Business Solutions, we provide a highly effective Digital Helpdesk to our clients. We’d be happy to talk to you about whether we can help you.

Probation-period-is-not-set-and-forget

Probation period is not set and forget

A probationary period is not meant to be a responsibility-free escape hatch, if your new recruit doesn’t turn out as you anticipated.

Most people will agree that it takes someone a good three months or so to get settled into a role – regardless of the level of seniority – to learn the hierarchies and quirks of a workplace, and to feel comfortable in contributing as a fully functioning member of the team.

Your role, as the employer, is to ensure that your new hire is given every opportunity to succeed.

This is meant to be a period of time where you and your team help your new employee to integrate into your company, and to come to grips with the position. You want the outcome to be successful both for the stability and future of your team, but also to avoid having to go through the recruiting process again.

Assign someone to thoroughly induct your new team member into your business, including showing them what their role entails and providing all the necessary support, tools and documentation they need.

You (or the recruit’s manager) should have regular review meetings to identify any problems they are having – whether it’s understanding the role, grappling with a specific part of it or if there’s a training gap.

Ensure that you approach these meetings with an open mind.  You may be getting reports from others on the team that the new hire just isn’t cutting it.  Treat this with a little scepticism.  Your team members may well have lost a colleague who had been in the role for a long while, understood it, understood the team dynamics and had developed shortcuts.  They may well be frustrated with having to work with someone who is, in their minds, not up to scratch and making their jobs more difficult.

Your regular meetings should give your new team member a good idea of how they are travelling with fair and constructive feedback (both good and bad).  Tell them your expectations and the impact their role and actions have on the rest of the team and if change is needed, agree on a plan to solve the problem. If, at the end of the probation period, you decided to move them on – then it shouldn’t be a surprise to them.

Whether you are subject to an unfair dismissal claim will depend on the size of your business, but no one wants that distraction or tension.

If you treat the probation period as an opportunity to embed your new hire into your team correctly, ensure that they have any additional training or mentoring they need and then there is every chance they will grow into a successful, contributing member of your team.

Tip:  A defined time for the probation period must be written into the employment contract.  If you wish to extend the period of probation because you are unsure, your employment contract must allow for it and both parties need to agree.