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Monday, 02 February 2015 06:00

Putting the Personal in Business Continuity

Written by  Vicki Thomas

Column-2-2How often do you think about your employee’s mental and emotional well-being? Do you talk to your employees to make sure that they are “okay”? What will you do if you learn that one of your employees is dealing with a personal tragedy? Do you encourage your employee to go home and recover or do you pretend that nothing is happening? Do you ask team members to help out your employee so that the pressure is removed, ensuring that deliverables are still met and that your employee feels supported?

Have you and your management team thought about this? If not, it’s time that you do.

We all like to believe that everything is okay, that our employees are able to function at work as we expect them to… But this is an old-school attitude and with the rising awareness of mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the impact of personal tragedy - it’s time to think about and do something that ensures your employees feel confident in letting you know when they are struggling.

I’m writing about this aspect of work and business continuity, because I’m experiencing it first-hand. Last week my cat died. My cat was 19.5 years old and was a very big part of the life my husband and I have built together. We don’t have any children. We had our cat, Murphy.

I’ll spare you the details on what happened to our dear cat, but suffice it to say, last week was a very hard week. A week when I felt like I was sleep-walking through all aspects of my life. I was overwhelmed with tremendous sadness, grief and confusion - but through all of this, I still had work to do.

I balance a three-day-a-week technical writing contract with four freelance clients - this means that I’m very busy. So last week along with being heart-broken over a tough decision that my husband and I were forced to make, I was trying to get my work done. I went into the office and for the first day was able to focus on my list of “to do’s”. The next day I managed half a day and by Thursday, I lasted only two hours. So I lost 1.5 days out of a three-day week… oh, and I work on three products - one of which that is scheduled for a major release on Feb. 13. This means I have real deliverables to achieve (and I’m the only technical writer in the company)… My freelance clients were also relying on my to provide them with content.

Needless to say, I had only so much energy and mental capacity to focus on all of this. Admittedly, my work suffered last week - I didn’t get everything done last week that I had intended. I did bring my laptop home, but let’s be realistic, after my cat died, I really was in no shape to work. Along with dealing with my grief, I was also focussed on ensuring my husband was supported in his grief.

This is a lot to ask of one person. I did tell my manager about what was happening. Luckily he is very understanding and knows that I will get my work done in time for the upcoming release. As for my freelance clients, I was able to get some work done on the weekend so there were no actual delays.

But you see, I’m fortunate in all of this. My life is rather simple: no children, no real economic pressures, an understanding employer, my husband works from home and has an equally understanding employer. But take away one of these and things definitely could have turned out much worse.

Personal stress. Work stress. Emotional stress. Mental stress. All of these can compound for your employees, resulting in situations that you likely aren’t prepared for. So back to the original questions:

How often do you think about your employee’s mental and emotional well-being? Do you talk to your employees to make sure that they are “okay”? What will you do if you learn that one of your employees is dealing with a personal tragedy? Do you encourage your employee to go home and recover or do you pretend that nothing is happening? Do you ask team members to help out your employee so that the pressure is removed, ensuring that deliverables are still met and that your employee feels supported?

What would you have done if I was your employee? You see business continuity goes beyond the hardware, the contracts, the files, the IT system, the buildings, and the deliverables - it has to include your most valuable asset - your employees. It’s important to remember that your employees have lives away from work - and that just like you, your employees will go through times of struggle.