Title: Creating a healthier work-life life balance

Sub-title: Like Canadians in general, many C-Store employees are under tremendous stress. A healthier work-life balance will often make them both happier and more productive.

 

It’s no secret that the convenience store life is a tough one. Margins are tight, and merciless competition from both inside the industry and outside players (such as grocers) keep stakeholders on their feet almost all the time. As a result, store owners, many of them new Canadians struggling to build businesses in their adopted land, often put in incredibly long and punishing hours.

 

Convenience store employees, many of them students, retired Canadians looking to make an extra buck, or workers displaced from other higher paying jobs by the latest recession, don’t have it much easier. Though employees typically work less hours than the owners, those hours are often staggered and sometimes irregular and, let’s admit it, wages are at the lower end of the salary scale.

 

So it should not be surprising that convenience store stakeholders, like many North Americans, suffer from high stress levels. That stress, experts say, can lead to huge productivity losses in businesses that don’t manage it well. “It can manifest itself in several ways,” says Jim Bird, CEO of WorkLifeBalance.com, a business consultancy. “High stress levels among managers inevitably flow down to lower level staff and are a major cause of employee turnover. Many other employees merely “quit in place,” by providing little or no discretionary effort.”

 

Reducing stress

One key to reducing stress levels says Bird is to make sure that managers and employees have a good work-life balance, which he defines as “meaningful daily achievement and enjoyment in each of four life quadrants: work, family, friends and self.” Bird however stresses that different people have different ideal work-life priorities. For example some generally their love work, and cannot get enough of it. Others prioritize leisure or study time.

 

Similarly ideal work-life balances change as we go through life. For example a student struggling to pay her way through school will often be willing to make considerable time sacrifices to achieve her dream. “It’s a lot of work right now,” says Allison Grant, who puts in 30 hours per week at Kwik Way Chicken and Convenience in Rothesay, New Brunswick, while studying business at a local community college. “But I am working towards something concrete that will be quite valuable in the future.” Many CStore owners, managers and franchisees also happily devote a lot of extra time to their careers and businesses in the hope of building tangible long-term value. However it’s important to remember that not everyone thinks the same, says Bird. “Just think of a mother with a new born baby. Her focus may no longer be primarily on her work life.”

 

The Mayo Clinic publishes several tips on how people can maintain a proper work-life balance. These include tracking your time, prioritizing your activities and cutting out those that you can’t easily schedule in. Furthermore the staggered and flexible hours common in convenience store work can be a help as much as a hindrance, particularly for those who need to juggle school classes, babysitter schedules and other activities.

 

Separating work and family lives and taking care of yourself, maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and finding time for at least one regular fun activity that you do just for yourself are also highly recommended.

 

Management challenges

Bird however notes that while bringing down employee stress levels is important, the stakes and opportunities rise as you go up the management chain.  “If a manager scowls at his employee, that employee will scowl at his customer. It’s a viscous circle.” notes Bird. “But it also works the other way around. If a manager smiles at his employee, then the employee will smile at the customer and the business will grow.”

 

However Bird argues that managers and owners, many of whom claim to eat up stress, aren’t doing as good a job as they think. “Work-life balance is taking a bigger bite out of corporate profits than any other bottom line issue today,” says Bird. “As a result, it also provides the biggest and easiest upside opportunity.” Among the biggest gains to be had by bringing down employee stress levels and improving their work-life balances are cuts to worker turnover, a key challenge facing convenience stores.

 

According to Bird, the process starts with management. “A recent Gallup poll (noted that) the main reason people quit their jobs is because of a bad boss or immediate supervisor. Furthermore, half of those working today would fire their boss,” says Bird. “That means good people may be leaving their bosses not your company.”

 

One often cited technique used in many Japanese businesses to reduce employee stress is to allow five minute breaks during which they do stretches or calisthenics. Despite the fact that moving one’s body is an excellent way to change thought patterns and to reduce stress, it will probably be a long time before North American companies go to such lengths.

 

That said, Bird cites an example from grocers, which are key direct competitors to convenience stores regarding keeping employees busy in order to maintain morale. “When I visit a nearby chain grocer store I never anyone standing around,” says Bird. “If business slows, they close a cash and send the employee to do other stuff. The shelves can always be stacked straighter, the floors can always be cleaner and the bathrooms can always use another wash.”

 

Unfortunately, there are no simple or easy solutions to managing employee stress levels, which here days are higher than ever.  “People today are exposed to vastly more personal and professional choices today than their parents ever were,” says Bird. “Managing the transition is not easy.”

 

 

 

Sidebar: Tips to improve work-life balance and reduce stress

 

  1. Track the time you spend on each of your activities.

  2. Prioritize those activities.

  3. Make choices based on your priorities such as health, family, work etc… (in that order).

  4. Learn how to say no. If you don’t have the time to take on a commitment, turn it down.

  5. Find time to do regular exercise. (A healthy body equals a healthy mind.)

 

 

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Montreal-based freelance business writer.

 

 

 

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