Are You Okay?

Earlier this week I attended an excellent business breakfast on mental health in franchise networks as part of an Australian initiative called R U OK Day. This is an important topic. As a psychologist who has spent most of his life working in the franchising sector, I can tell you that the gremlins of stress and worry are constant companions to most franchisees and franchisor executives and, if these get out of hand, can cause serious health problems, including the ultimate one — suicide.

Photo of R U OK Group with banners and signs

Before founding the Franchise Relationships Institute 28 years ago, I was a multi-unit franchisee and senior franchisor executive with a young fast-growing franchise network. I clearly remember one afternoon, after months of continual financial pressures, franchisee conflicts and operational firefighting, pulling over to the side of the road in my car, feeling deeply exhausted and despondent. I realised I couldn’t go on like this, and the stress was causing me a range of physical health problems.

Fortunately, after talking this over with my wife, work colleagues and a team of wise health professionals, I got my head and my health back into shape. This of course is the point of the R U OK initiative. It’s okay to ask for help or to sincerely ask a friend or work colleague who seems out of sorts, if they are okay. My personal experience and professional work with thousands of business owners has certainly convinced me just how important personal vitality and positive mental health are for sustained success. While the topic of positive psychology and resilience are now part of mainstream business education, there is still much we can do in the franchising sector to help our stakeholders maintain good mental, emotional and physical health.

Some stressful statistics

Our latest franchisee satisfaction benchmarks based on nearly 4,000 franchisee responses show that 51% feel hassled by the demands of their business, 55% leave their businesses each day feeling emotionally exhausted, and 34% feel pessimistic about the future. The main sources of this franchisee malaise are margin compression, where costs are going up faster than sales, uncertainty about the future, and doubts as to whether their franchisor really does have their back. Our studies into franchisor field consultants also reveal 60% find their work stressful. And I can tell you from private conversations with many senior franchisor executives, the responsibility they feel for the financial health of their companies and franchisees, on top of the regular criticism they inevitably receive from these franchisees, can take its toll on their peace of mind, personal health and family relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting doom and gloom as there are many encouraging aspects of the franchising sector that act as a buffer to these pressures. A positive fact is that 85% of franchisees enjoy their work and feel they are making a meaningful contribution to their local communities. Plus 93% say their families are supportive of them and their business. Also 75% of field consultants report their work makes a positive impact on their life satisfaction and self-confidence. So while life in the franchising sector is stressful (as it is for most businesses), it also has many positives to balance this out. We just need to build on these positives as well as reduce the pressure points where possible.

Franchisor executives can provide confidence and clarity over the strategic direction of the franchise network, demonstrate they care for their franchisees’ success, and support them with sound financial management disciplines to control costs and grow sales. Franchisees can be encouraged and educated on how to participate constructively in their franchise networks in a spirit of collaboration. And field consultants can be given the tools to stay healthy and positive so they can continue to make a difference through their important work.

7 strategies for staying positive and mentally healthy

Here are seven simple, scientifically proven strategies we teach in our conference talks and workshops to help franchisees and franchisor teams stay mentally healthy:

  1. Identify the types of activities that draw on your natural interests and strengths, and give you a deep sense of joy and satisfaction. (For me it is learning new things and being creative). Spend some time each week doing these types of activities. To complete a free scientific questionnaire that identifies your strengths go to viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey.
  2. Before you go to sleep each night ask yourself “What are three things that went well today and why?” Tell your partner or write this down. This will help to put you in a good frame of mind, short circuit any negative thought patterns and improve the quality of your sleep.
  3. Remind yourself why you do the things you do. Staying in touch with a bigger sense of purpose will help to reduce the inevitable frustrations associated with short term setbacks, and give you the motivation to keep going when the going gets tough. Your business and your work probably makes a positive difference in many ways to the lives of your staff, customers and, hopefully, your family.
  4. Avoid engaging with people who are negative and cynical, and stay connected with positive people who genuinely care about you. The people we associate with have a huge impact on our state of mind and what we focus on.
  5. Make an effort to be curious, helpful and encouraging when dealing with other people. Not only might this help others, the act of being helpful is also beneficial to the brain of the helper. This is known as the helper’s high.
  6. Do something specific at the end of the day that helps you to separate your work time from your personal life. For instance you might change your clothes, listen to or play some music, walk the dog, play with your kids, have a shower or do some exercise. Put your attention totally into this activity and put your phone way! This is sometimes called a transition ritual.
  7. This last one may sound corny but it works. Remind yourself of the things you can be grateful for. Expressing gratitude to others is also recommended as it puts you and them in a more positive frame of mind, and will encourage them to keep supporting you. This can be a simple email, phone call or text. If you have managed a project with my team you may have received a thank you card. We enjoy writing these cards as much as you enjoy getting them.

There are many other things that might work in helping you to stay positive. These are just a few that I know work.


Greg Nathan is a psychologist, author and an international expert on the franchise relationship. Connect with him on Google+ or Linkedin.

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