Nobody ever said running a construction supply company was easy, but just about everyone will concede that working in LBM this year has been an even tougher challenge than usual. One telling sign is the increasing concern I'm hearing about potential staff burnout. Blame several factors for the fear and fatigue that employees feel these days. COVID-19 certainly ranks as the most public problem, given its potential to force much of the team into quarantine suddenly and simultaneously. There's also the extra stress caused by the unexpected boom in DIY and pro sales, compounded by the frantic search for pressure-treated lumber and other goods in short supply. Then there are family issues: kids who can't go to school and are too antsy to learn at home, plus financial worries that might arise if an LBM worker's partner was laid off. The combined pressures might be a bit more tolerable if staff could take a break. But the way things are going, demand probably won't let up until Thanksgiving. That's a long time in active duty. Given such a scenario, investors would be well advised to explore how a prospect's management is treating its staff. For instance: * How often do executives show employees that they are paying attention to workers' physical health given how easily coronavirus can spread? This is a time when empathy is a key part of leadership. * What signs of appreciation--as big as pay raises and as small as regularly saying "thank you"--are executives bestowing on their teams? * How frequently do leaders inform employees about what's happening inside and outside the company? How well do they explain and advocate necessary behaviors? * How flexible are executives with regard to working hours, particularly if the employee has children and the area's schools have gone online? Katie Erno, an attorney with the law firm of Crowell and Moring, notes that some state and local leave laws regard familial status as a protected category in their equal employment opportunity laws. * How much attention to leaders pay to challenges staff members are having in adjusting to the New Normal, such as making sales calls via videoconference rather than in person? Specialized training may be the answer. * Are executives using devices such as surveys and focus groups to solicit input from staff who might not otherwise speak their mind? This might be a good way to detect grumbling.
Lumberyards also could learn a lesson from hospitals on how to handle stress. New York's Mount Sinai hospital has created "recharge rooms" (example shown here) where staff can take a break from COVID care. The rooms combine plants with soothing music, aromatherapy, and images of campfires, trees, and water to reduce heart rates and stress hormones. "Fifteen minutes in a recharge space across 146 experiences resulted in on average 65% reduction in stress," Mount Sinai reports. Melissa Swift, a senior partner at management consultant Korn Ferry, warns that the heightened state of agitation "could morph into a serious cultural problem for leaders." Short-term moves like layoffs, salary cuts, and other measures can aggravate cultural issues that had largely been dormant.
“So task one for long-haul planning,” Swift says, “is actually to take a really searching look at short-term engagement issues before they become permanent.”