The mainstream and business media have been overwhelmed with stories and commentary on the havoc the Pandemic has wrought with businesses great and small across the whole UK economy. But what about the business owners who own and run them?
Running an organisation is a stressful job. Leading others and being responsible for others’ work, often without being able directly to influence the outcomes is not an easy task at the best of times. Management is one of the occupational groups with the highest rate of suicide.
What has happened to stress levels during the crisis? What is generating the most significant strain for owners and managers?
As lockdowns and local restrictions have come and gone, the prevailing emotion for all entrepreneurs has been galloping uncertainty. When would their businesses have to close, when might they be able re-open and under what rules? Have their customers needs and demands changed, if so, is it temporary or a longer-term shift? Uncertainty can be an opportunity, but much more often it is a recipe for management paralysis.
2. Financial issues
Just when cash flow disaster threatened to overwhelm whole swathes of the economy at the beginning of the crisis, the government stepped with an astonishing array of financial support measures and protections for struggling firms. Government-guaranteed soft loans totalling over £79bn were gobbled up by over a third of all UK businesses.
Creditors were prevented for over eighteen months until the end of September from enforcing overdue debts and landlords in particular, will be penned up behind this barrier until March 2022. It has been estimated that around £6bn of commercial rent remains unpaid.
Government action has certainly flattened out the insolvency curve, but business owners up and down the country have been fretting as the liabilities side of their balance sheets grew ever more bloated. How can all this debt and these legacy liabilities ever be repaid?
3. Commercial positioning
The pandemic has moved the goal posts of many a business model, whether it has been the huge surge in online retail and away from bricks and mortar shopping or the loss of footfall in city and town centres caused by the WFH revolution. In travel, staycationing has replaced international travel. Nevertheless, how can any business or manager predict whether these changes are here to stay, or will they melt away as we return to the ‘new normal’. How should they react, what should their strategy be?
4. Supply chain disruption
Quite whether the current endless and ever-changing supply chain chaos can be laid at the door of Coronavirus, Brexit or geopolitical factors matters very little. When the price of energy is tripling, petrol supplies are evaporating, a shortage of HGV drivers is threatening empty shelves at Christmas, the cost of shipping a sea freight container from Asia has risen from $2,000 to $20,000 and McDonalds runs out of milkshakes, running any business dependent on the smooth operation of its supply chain becomes a practical and a psychological nightmare.
5. Staffing issues
Responsible business owners and managers will have been fretting throughout the pandemic about the impact of furlough on their staff and the general mental health of their workforce. Now they have a new fear as endemic labour shortages mean their key workers are at risk of being poached by rivals or tempted away into other industries.
Mental health of owners and managers
Research published earlier in 2021 by the London School of Economics highlighted a number of key negative factors away from the purely financial and commercial, chief amongst them a strong sense of guilt among owners and senior staff about finding themselves spending precious time doing what they considered to be ‘illegitimate’ tasks, activities beneath their skill set and not obviously productive. This stems from changes in working arrangements such as WFH and gaps created among support staff by enforced staff cuts. Whether these tasks really were ‘illegitimate’, the research found a strong link between managers’ perception that they were and poor mental health. Of course, if senior staff have mental health issues, this will inevitably impact on their junior staff.
Age and experience
The LSE research also identified significantly greater mental health issues amongst younger owners and managers, problems they attributed to less experience of such fundamental change, as well greater exposure to childcare and home-schooling problems during the periods of lockdown.
The vast range of uncertainties and challenges we have listed do not all affect every owner and manager, but few will have escaped them all, most will have been through at least some and others will have had to deal with many of them. Unfortunately, they show little sign of going away any time soon, so people running businesses who have already endured these pressures for eighteen months can see no end in sight.
Self preservation whilst running a business
Sharing and delegating for entrepreneurs is often against their basic instinct to control their commercial environment as completely as possible and be the dominant decision maker. Others feel that the responsibility to deal with issues is theirs and theirs alone. Worst of all, their experience of this period of total turmoil is inevitably limited. This has been a once in a century upheaval.
Business owners have started their companies in a world where growth and success were key objectives and relatively easy to achieve with a sufficiently clear view of their goals, a strong work ethic and the financial resources to support the expansion. Now that view is obscured by a host of factors beyond their control and often hampered by crushing financial pressures.
The best way forward is to share problems, whether it is with a business mentor, an experienced outside expert or maybe even a competitor. There are innumerable business communities and organisations, which bring together owners and managers. They may be strictly local or have an industry sector base. There is no shame in admitting to stress and strain to your peers and asking for support.
A common complaint is that there are so many problematical plates spinning, managers are bewildered about which ones to prioritise. Here too, a second opinion from a dispassionate outsider can be priceless.
Those with the courage to reach out for help will find it if they are prepared to listen to and consider the advice they get. Offering to support others may also be a positive for those struggling with their business issues.
If you are affected by any of these issues, we are here to help. We don’t judge, our ethos is to listen, understand and offer solutions. If you would like to have a confidential, non-obligatory chat with one of our Partners, about the next steps for your business, please contact one of our Partners at your nearest office.