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COVID-19: 6 tips to reduce employee stress

Screen Shot 2020-09-29 at 10.54.04 AMWith the recent surge in numbers related to COVID-19 comes added stress, especially for c-store and gas operators and staff who continue to meet the needs of Canadian consumers.

Convenience Store News Canada reached out to the Canadian Mental Health Association for advice. The organization shared these six tips to help organizations support employees when comes to managing ongoing stress and uncertainty.

 

  1. Have a plan. Let employees know that you are thinking and looking ahead, that you will stay well-informed and that you can answer the questions they already have: What if I get sick? How do I take time off work? What if my family member contracts the virus? You may want to compile frequently asked questions and direct employees to them often.
  2. Communicate, share and be open. Worry and fear grow in the absence of up-to-date information. Let your employees know that they can expect regular updates from you. Communicate even if the situation remains unchanged.
  3. Empathize. Share that you know it’s stressful. Recognize that it’s okay to be anxious. Remind your employees of resources (EAP) that are available for those who are experiencing stress.
  4. Reassure—as best you can. You can refer to reports indicating that most people who become infected with the virus will recover.
  5. Understand. Recognize when stress has become unmanageable for individual employees. Stress can lead to anxiety and even panic. Some employees may need mental health days and medical intervention in order to cope. Encourage employees to practice self-care activities on-the-job and reassure them that it’s ok to take steps to manage stress, such as relaxation exercises, listening to relaxing music or taking regular breaks. 
  6. Recognize this is not quite ‘business as usual.’ Know that work will likely be impacted—work will slow down (or get busier). Reassure staff that expectations will shift accordingly, and that’s ok. We will get through this! 

Additional resources for employers: 

COVID-19: Practical workforce strategies that put your people first

How to stay emotionally healthy during the coronavirus outbreak


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Consumer insights: Coping through food

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 6.47.16 PMAs Canadians entered 2020, they could not have foreseen what the new decade would bring. The lives of all Canadians—and indeed everyone around the globe—have been upended by COVID-19, making the future even more difficult to predict. While predictions at this time are challenging even for the most confident of prognosticators, companies and brands can look to how Canadian consumers have, thus far, reacted to the current pandemic to map out their plans for moving forward.

At Mintel, we’ve been tracking Canadians’ reactions to COVID-19 since early March. What have we learned? While anxiety levels rose quickly in March, they appear to have levelled off as of mid-May, in terms of consumers’ concerns about exposure and the impact of the virus on their lifestyle. While COVID-19’s impact remains stark, our findings show Canadians are resilient and are adapting to what has become a new normal. Such findings can provide some comfort to grocers in that Canadians are responding to an utterly new shopping experience and have adopted a “search and extract” mentality, with 70% of Canadians making fewer trips to the grocery store and 69% spending less time at stores when they do make trips.

For food and drink manufacturers looking to introduce new products on shelves, these findings represent a challenge. While grocers and manufacturers should by no means shun new innovation, it does highlight the need for brands to be cognizant of what Canadians are going through to inform their innovation and messaging strategies.

Much of the innovation that has taken place in food and drink has related to physical well-being. COVID-19 has accelerated a movement that Mintel has been monitoring, which is food’s relationship with emotional well-being. As Canadians practise social distancing, the link between food and drink and emotional health has never been so important to so many.

For Canadians right now, emotional well-being is manifested in their ability to connect. Our research shows there is no other aspect of life that has taken on a higher priority than staying in touch with family and friends. And when social distancing measures are relaxed, Canadians most look forward to spending time in person with family and friends.

While there’s been a general increase in the number of food and drink launches incorporating ingredients that promote calmness and stress reduction in recent years, food and drink’s more general role in offering comfort at this time is readily apparent. When asked about health and wellness in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, just over a quarter of Canadians say they are eating more indulgent food and drinks to help (them) cope, which is slightly ahead of the number of Canadians who say they are taking more supplements/vitamins to help boost immunity. These findings suggest Canadians are looking to balance their emotional health with their physical health.

Feedback also shows that nearly half of Canadians claim to be cooking more from scratch, and while this is undoubtedly influenced by the fact Canadians are eating out less, it can be argued that cooking can be therapeutic in a time of great uncertainty. In this context, baking’s surge should come as no surprise given that 86% of Canadians who bake agree that baking for someone is a way to show love, while three-quarters agree that baking with family/friends allows them to connect emotionally.

A path to relevance in an era of uncertainty is in providing consumers with a sense of grounding. Brands that help consumers tend to their emotional needs in addition to their physical needs can come through this tumultuous time in an even stronger position.

Joel Gregoire is a food and beverage industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter

This article appeared in the June/July issue of Canadian Grocer.


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Handling pandemic-related stress

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Like it or not, we’re learning to function in pandemic times. But despite the many positive efforts made by retailers to improve the health and safety of their staff, employees are still anxious—and front-line workers like in-store staff are especially so.

To explore the pandemic’s ongoing impact in the workplace, human resources technology leader ADP Canada and Angus Reid launched a series of surveys starting in April that revealed 42% of front-line employees felt pressured to go into work during the pandemic (particularly those aged 18 to 34). Furthermore, only 27% of retail/foodservice/hospitality sector employees said they were getting additional mental health resources.

Andrea Wynter, head of human resources at ADP Canada, says the heightened anxiety doesn’t surprise her. “In addition to uncertainty around the pandemic itself, grocery workers are suddenly an essential service,” she says. “They can’t work at home and they’re exposing themselves and putting their families at risk by providing this essential service every day.”

Wynter predicts that as the labour market starts to return to normal, employees will be approaching potential job opportunities with a different lens. “Did they [companies] put their employees first during COVID-19 and will they have my best interests at heart is something they’ll be thinking about more than ever,” she explains. “Those who did will be seen as top-tier employers, even if they’re paying less.”

Here are some strategies that can help employees feel secure and supported, especially in these unprecedented times.

KEEP ON COMMUNICATING
Even months into the pandemic, staff need and appreciate regular updates, says Wynter. “It’s not only about keeping them informed on the situation and the business, but about how you’re going to protect them and what will happen if they get sick,” she says.

Save-On-Foods established a COVID-19 Task Force, committed to dealing with staff queries. “Management and team members can access either a dedicated COVID-19 telephone line or email address if they have any concerns amid the pandemic,” says Heidi Ferriman, vice-president, people & communications. Not only have staff been regularly consulted on how to best enhance their health and safety, she says they’ve provided valuable feedback as “we worked through updating our existing standard operating procedures and developing new ones.”

MAKE MENTAL HEALTH PART OF THE DISCUSSION
In addition to making mental health resources readily available to staff, make talking about mental health a “normal” thing, says Sarah Chamberlin, vice-president marketing and donor experience at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). She says managers and other leaders who are more open and honest about their own experiences can help to normalize conversations around mental health. “It’s OK to say, ‘today is a tough day and I’m not liking it,’ and by sharing that experience, your staff will be more willing to share theirs.”

Organizations like CAMH have a wealth of free tools online, including tips on how to talk to front-line staff, including grocery workers.

THINK OUTSIDE THE FRONT LINES
While these are challenging times for staff in grocery stores, pandemic pressures are hitting head office staff pretty hard too, especially those who have been working from home for months on end. According to the ADP Workplace Insights surveys, 27% of remote workers said they were too busy to take breaks and 24% struggle with managing their mental health.

“This is a new reality [of working] for many and means setting up their homes so they can be productive while creating boundaries between work and life,” says Liz Volk, chief human resources officer at Longo’s. She says the company made sure to survey staff to find out what issues were top of mind and how to make things work better. “Part of that included consistent schedules, getting breaks when they can and taking the time to refresh.”

CELEBRATE THE WINS
“Our customers are showing their support by posting signs on our windows, delivering coffee and other treats to the store teams, and making our stores a stop on their vehicle parades in support of essential workers,” says Save-On-Foods’ Ferriman. “We created a page on our internal team member site dedicated to celebrating and sharing these wins and messages of encouragement so that our team members can see how valued they are by their customers and communities.”

At Longo’s, Volk says there is a similar push to share positive feedback from customers coming in via social media and the customer care centre. “Sharing good news helps people stay positive,” she says. The company also provided a financial boost (a $2 hourly increase to all hourly employees and one week of additional pay for those on salary until the end of June) to reward staff commitment and passion. “Showing appreciation of our teams, especially those who have stuck it out on the front lines, has worked out really well,” says Volk.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUTSIDE RESOURCES
You don’t have to do it alone. Lean on the expertise of service partners in your communities and encourage staff to do the same. Save-On-Foods’ Ferriman says her company’s employee assistance program has been a godsend during the pandemic, providing staff and their families with health and wellness resources, including 24/7 counselling support. “We recognized through this pandemic the importance of reminding our team members of the tools and benefits that they have access to,” she says. “We also created a new COVID-19 resource page on our team member website giving our teams easy access to any support resources they may need.”

This article appeared in the June/July issue of Canadian Grocer.