I clearly remember the day a trusted co-worker looked at me and said, “You really don’t look well at all, I’m worried about you.”
The words hit home because at that time, I had mostly recovered from some back injuries and was doing well physically. He was referring to my mental state!
And he was right. At that time, I was micro-managing technicians, selling some service, running the business, AND dealing with an occasional angry customer or problem car. I always got the problem cars and customers because when you micro-manage, your staff is happy to turn back over the reins when there’s an issue.
Like many of you, I had worked hard to get where I was. And I valued that work ethic. I had some of that ego that is all too common in our industry. Thoughts like “no one else will do it as good as I will,” or “I’ve worked really hard and no one else knows how to run this business like I do.” Those two particular thoughts were more relevant to my health than I realized at the time.
We only get one body in this life and it will only take so much abuse. If you worked 60 hours at an assembly line, it would be tough physically. Business owners carry an additional mental burden of responsibility. The combination of physical and mental burdens can be a real killer. I had already suffered some herniated discs and chronic physical pain due to taking on too much work and not asking for help. Hiring my first employees helped get me off the floor but my bad habits persisted. Instead of pushing my physical body, I was pushing my mental capacity. It wasn’t sustainable. Not only was it affecting my health, but also it was affecting my personal life, my staff and the future of the business.
The signs are not hard to see but easier to ignore. Physical pain due to working on vehicles or from sitting at a desk too long is common. If you’re like many people, you learn to ignore it and even consider it a strength to work through that pain. Irritability and frustration are another common sign. Add in long hours, not eating well enough or at all due to lack of time and soon, there you are with your health a distant priority.
It takes time to improve our health. How much time per week are you spending on work? Fifty hours a week can be very reasonable for a business owner. Once you start approaching 60 and over, there is a diminishing return even if you can’t recognize it. How many of you have received feedback from friends and family about not seeing you enough? What kind of example are you setting for your staff or your family? Ah, the elusive work-life balance. Ideally, I make time every single day for my mental health, proper diet, exercise (even if brief), work, and friends/family. It’s a constant challenge but there are some very effective ways to improve your health while under the often harsh demands of business ownership.
There may be a temptation to describe your business as being in a growth phase that requires more effort. Let me tell you, a good business is always growing and you’re never done. So the time to implement good habits will always be now.
Start by recognizing how much time per week you’re spending on your business. If you’re over 50 hours, why are you not hiring another person to help share the workload? Hiring additional staff is the No. 1 way to reduce your stress and give you the time you need to stay healthy. Typically these are front-of-the-house staff that don’t produce income directly as a technician does.
Feel like you don’t have the funds to add additional help? You’ve heard this before: Raise your parts and labor prices. Why does an egg at a restaurant cost $1.50 a la carte when I can buy it at the grocery store for 25 cents? Our customers pay for full service. Full service includes staff amongst other things. Feel like a new hire won’t do it as well as you do? Sorry to tell you that you’re right, they won’t. But a good hire that does the job 90% as well will free up so much of your time that handling the 10% they goof up will not be an issue.
Our bodies are simply not designed to both work long hours and shoulder the burdens and responsibility of business ownership. Find the tasks that are on the bottom of your list and pass them off, it’s that simple. If you’re working as a technician, pass that off. If you’re working as an advisor, pass that off. If you’re not filling either of those roles and you’re still swamped, hire an assistant and pass off the least important of your tasks. Once you have more time, it will be monumentally easier to take time for preventative care of your health. Just like a car. And just like a car, it will be a constant effort.
So how about that preventative care? We’ve got mind and body. Sore because you don’t have time to stretch? Lost some core strength from sitting in the chair all day? I have a 5-10 minutes routine that I do 2-3 times a day. That means I can get it down to 10-15 minutes if I have a busy day. This is just enough to keep the stiffness and soreness away for me. I keep a back-buddy and foam roller in my office. Everyone at the shop knows this about me and also knows I’ll be all over them if I see anyone not taking care of themselves, i.e. trying to lift a transmission alone. Even if you only start with once a day, do it. Habits form in only a few weeks. We’re hypocrites if we preach preventative maintenance on cars and won’t take care of our own bodies.
With mental health care, it gets a little more personal. The most direct approach is a counselor, coach, or therapist. Think you’re weak for seeking advice or help? The most powerful and successful people in the world all have coaches and advisors. More responsibility equals more mental weight. Other more individual approaches could be journaling, having a friend/family member to talk to about your stress, meditation, and/or your faith. My suggestion is whatever your preference, ask for help. Don’t try to carry the mental burden alone.
I’ve seen both in myself and in shops that I’ve worked with, examples of unhealthy owners and healthy ones. The unhealthy stressed out ones, you can just feel it in the air. Our jobs are hard enough without our staff having to walk around on eggshells. On the flipside, walking into a shop where the staff are low-stress, empowered, and engaged in their work is a beautiful sight. I believe very much in a top-down mentality. If the person at the top is suffering and not doing well, that’s going to be the culture of the shop. If this is you, start by getting some work off your plate.
Identify some sources of strength for you be it some piece of wisdom, a spouse, friend, your spirituality, or internal. Start small if need be. Large changes to your habits are less likely to stick. Do it for yourself, your family, your staff, and your customers. If you do, you can look forward to many years of rewarding work and a life outside work that is enjoyable with good health.