One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that healthy businesses depend on healthy entrepreneurs. Here’s one business owner’s story.
It’s now been more than a year since the pandemic began. As the situation evolved, new issues emerged and society had to be resilient and adapt. Unfortunately, this led to a rise in anxiety, distress and fatigue.
Entrepreneurs worked hard to protect their employees’ physical and mental health, sometimes at the expense of their own needs. They also contended with changing realities, new priorities and evolving client needs.
Business owners have born the brunt
Did you know that people in leadership positions are less likely to ask for help? But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to psychological distress, whether or not they recognize the signs or admit to it.
All this rings true for Annik Lachance-Gravel, President and CEO of Lachance et Gravel, a Chicoutimi-based company that specializes in cleaning solutions for the industrial and commercial sectors. And she wanted to do something about it.
Annik Lachance-Gravel aka Robin Hood!
Like many entrepreneurs, Annik’s story breaks from the norm. Even in her youth, she thought of herself as being like Robin Hood—not because she aspired to be a bandit, but because she had a big heart.
In 2014, she took over her father’s janitorial business and suddenly everything changed. She’d found her calling.
Lachance et Gravel before the pandemic
Six years after Annik took the helm of the company, her father had doubled his salary and the business had grown from 0 employees to 70. During those years, Annik applied a rigorous management approach and helped keep the company out of the red, year after year. She also made sure profits were reinvested to help grow the business.
She worked hard to elevate the image of janitorial services. This is a point of pride for Annik, along with the knowledge that she’s helped provide an income for many families while helping her own family prosper.
The pandemic and its collateral damage
“A total free fall.” That’s how Annik describes the early days of the pandemic and how it affected her business.
Since most of her customers are businesses that were forced to close, demand for janitorial services plummeted. Although many of these customers were bound by contracts, Annik decided not to bill them. This courageous decision, which reflected the entrepreneur’s personal values, made sense for the business’ long-term interests, but it could have been devastating over the short term.
When revenues fall off a cliff, you have no choice but to cut costs. Annik was forced to lay off 60 of her 70 employees. Each worker received a personal call, a visit from a company representative, a gift and a special request: to trust Annik and her ability to turn things around. Despite the crisis, she hasn’t lost a single employee to date.
But on a more personal level, this phase was really tough for Annik. During the first wave, there were virtually no confirmed cases in her region. To avoid hemorrhaging money, she had to lay off the vast majority of her employees—and not even her husband was spared! This meant Annik had to assume almost all of the company’s administrative positions.
Then came the second wave
When the virus took hold in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, the phone rang. The area’s integrated university health and social services centres (CIUSSS) needed 22 custodians for the next morning. Annik said yes on the spot. She put together a crisis unit to respond to the urgent needs in facilities that were now in over their heads.
Within two weeks, everyone who had been laid off during the first wave was recalled and another 85 new employees were hired and given express training. Her business was now the region’s most trusted cleaning and sanitation service provider.
This sharp upturn was very demanding for Annik, who had a lot to juggle and numerous sources of stress. There was a risk that her workers wouldn’t have sufficient training, the company’s reputation would be affected, and that cash flow wouldn’t cover the financial obligations related to hiring new staff and adjusting for the turbulent past few months.
When Robin Hood runs out of steam
Annik would do anything to prevent her business from failing. Her top priority is to protect its long-term viability. Even though current and potential customers recognized everything the company has achieved, the fact that office buildings remained closed or with just a handful of occupants meant that customers were still wary of paying for cleaning services. New players also entered the market.
But what about Annik? Has she recovered from the year of unprecedented work-related stress? Are the sleepless nights, constant worries and countless hours to save the company well behind her? Not quite. Tough periods can take a bigger toll than you might think. Your resilience starts to erode. Your body feels the effects of accumulated stress and fatigue. And your support system starts to run out of steam.
Then there are the impacts on your family. That heartbreaking moment when your kids say they don’t love you anymore because you’re never around. The time you realize just how powerless your partner feels in the crisis management whirlwind. Our whole family felt turned upside down and reacted to the changes. Then, little by little, guilt set in. I struggled to balance my responsibilities as a mother, business owner and wife. But failure wasn’t an option, so I put a smile on my face as I went into the office and kept it there all day, trying to convince everyone that “everything’s going to be okay.”
The impact on my social life? What social life? Socializing got put on the backburner because when you’re in survival mode, having fun is the least of your worries.
Anik shook off social expectations and made the decision to focus solely on her business and her kids. She knew it was impossible to be Superwoman indefinitely. She accepted that others could help her with grocery shopping, meal preparation and housekeeping. And she had faith that her friends would understand and would wait for her to resurface.
Surrounding yourself with the right people
Like many other entrepreneurs, Annik slipped into survival mode in all aspects of her life. Looking back, she realizes just how lonely she felt and how reluctant she was to open up about her vulnerabilities. She now realizes that people need to talk about mental health prevention for entrepreneurs and the importance of getting support from a neutral person when the pressure becomes too great. She knows she ignored some of the warning signs, which are clearer to her today. More than ever, she believes that a healthy leader is more likely to have a healthy business.
Just as companies rely on good accountants, HR advisors and salespeople, she believes that business owners should set themselves up for success by having a good psychologist as an ally. It’s about breaking down barriers, opening doors and allowing others to act as your Robin Hood. Today, Annik’s company is thriving, but she realizes that she needs to take care of herself if she wants to be able to take care of others, including her customers.
What about overall health?
If a company is unhealthy, it’s sure to impact the wellbeing of its owner, and vice-versa. That’s why our firm is focused on promoting good overall business health. How? By working on:
- The business’s overall health (based on seven factors used to determine challenges and potential sources of stress for business owners)
- Entrepreneur mental health and wellness
- Strategies for transforming the reciprocal relationship between the company and business owner, where negative experiences for one have positive repercussions for the other
- Action plans that put people first
If you’re a business owner, take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to contact our experts. Our goal is to help you stay balanced as you safeguard the health of your company, employees, yourself and all facets of your business.
This article was written in collaboration with Nancy Boisvert, psychologist.