Family bakery doesn’t mind the stress of working with COVID-19

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For Blair Hyslop, the 200 workers at Atlantic Canada’s largest family-owned bakery are hardworking and dedicated, but the past nine months have tested them all.
Hyslop said there had been outbursts and completely out of character behavior.

And he said feelings of anxiety were on the rise again, “now that everyone knows someone who is getting tested or isolating themselves.” ”

Hyslop protects his employees and their privacy, but has agreed to speak in general terms about how the pandemic is affecting his staff, his business and himself.

“People need to know that everyone faces these challenges, that they are not alone,” said Hyslop, who bought Ms Dunster’s in 2014, with his wife Rosalyn, who is co-CEO.

“On the one hand, you’re trying to be flexible and compassionate while trying to keep the business going and make the payroll next Friday. It is a stressful time to own a business in this world. ”

1 in 4 employees did not come

As a food production company, Ms. Dunster’s employees are considered essential workers. It takes staff on the bakery floor to make fresh breads, cookies and donuts which then need to be packaged and shipped to the area.

“A lot of other people were allowed to stay at home and get benefits, but we asked our people to come to work and go to a building with a lot of people and stand next to them and to make things, ”Hyslop said. “It created a lot of anxiety. ”

There was also a rush to reconfigure the workflow and workspace and as management made a real effort to ‘over-communicate’ why it was necessary to keep people safe, Hyslop said it was was almost too much to absorb.

“We were literally on the bakery floor with duct tape at midnight trying to find the distance,” he said.

Ms Dunsters Bakery’s Blair Hyslop says he lost 25% of his workforce because they were afraid to bring COVID-19 home or had children who couldn’t attend daycare. (CBC)

“It created a lot of stress for the employees who came the next morning and suddenly where they were, what they did in places they were standing, what they were allowed to do and what entrance they were allowed to use, bathrooms and places where they were allowed to eat… everything changed. ”

“And then guess what?” Two days later, we would learn new information, then go back and change it again.

Working parents have also been surprised by the closures of daycares and schools or some employees feared bringing COVID home to elderly parents or immunocompromised family members.

“For all of these reasons, in the spring we lost 25% of our workforce,” Hyslop said.

The risk seems real

Tensions have started to rise again in recent months, as the number of COVID infections in the province began to rise.

Hyslop said he made the risk more real.

“Everyone now knows someone who is tested. Everyone knows someone who is self-isolating. It’s like, wow, it’s getting closer, ”he says.

“I spoke to someone this morning about their business. He has six employees who have tested for COVID. This person had never had someone tested for COVID, so it’s a whole different kind of anxiety and stress. ”

And it doesn’t help when customers express their frustrations on the people who serve them.

“It’s not the majority of people but… it just makes it worse. ”

“I was talking to someone this morning. They were talking about getting yelled at half a dozen times a day because they don’t have an inventory, something they can’t control, ”he said.

“We also get this from our customers who write nasty letters or yell at our staff because the product is not there. They’ll say it the last three times [they’ve been in the store] they can’t find this or that. They really do not understand the consequences of returning people home. ”

Three days of paid mental health

Hyslop said there were times when there was nothing else to do but surrender to the situation, even though it costs money.

“If someone needs to get home in the middle of their day, just walk over and tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘You know, come home. Remove tomorrow. Come back the next day, “” Hyslop said. “We always do that. ”

This year, the company offered its employees three paid mental health days that employees can use at their own discretion.

Hyslop said the company is also stepping up its efforts to put some of its core values ​​into practice, including compassion, communication and flexibility.

As a member of the New Brunswick Business Council and alumnus of the Wallace McCain Institute, Hyslop said he also tries to encourage other entrepreneurs to help each other.

“They have to deal with more mental health issues in the workplace than they’ve ever had before and being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily give you the skills for that,” he said.

“I hope if people understand that they are not alone and that these are normal fears and anxieties, then they are less likely to do things that could negatively impact their own lives and the lives of others. . ”

Emotional responses can be perfectly normal

In October, Hyslop invited Senator Stan Kutcher, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, to give a virtual fireside chat with Wallace McCain Institute alumni.

Kutcher said one of his messages to the group was that negative emotional responses to a threat as serious as COVID can be perfectly normal.

“Not to feel worried or worried, not to be upset, not to have to adapt to the challenges of COVID is completely unrealistic,” he said.

“Of course, we can have negative emotional responses to challenges in life. Their purpose is to alert us that we have a problem that we must face. ”

Dr Stan Kutcher says it is “unrealistic” not to be emotionally affected by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Randy McAndrew / CBC)

Kutcher said work-related stress via COVID will be deeper for “marginalized people, racialized people, people who don’t have the luxury of working from home, people who need to be on the front lines, people whose the ability to protect oneself from the reality of the threat of disease is not good. ”

He said employers have a duty on their workers to support them and make reasonable accommodations and they should include staff when it comes to rethinking the workplace.

“Instead of having a top-down paternalistic model, we’re going to include everyone in this discussion. We are going to use the wisdom of the group to help us design how we are going to move forward, ”he said.

“But workplaces don’t have an infinite capacity for change. It is also the employee’s responsibility to change. It has to be a dynamic that comes and goes. ”

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