Planning For The Worst

May 1, 2019

Kind of a scary title isn’t it?  I, being the eternal optimist, really hate thinking about worst case scenarios.  It’s not in my DNA to look for negatives before positives. However, my life was recently changed forever after being admitted to hospital and discovering that I was suffering from a blockage in the left main artery of my heart.  Writing this, I am one-week post surgery, recovering well, and feeling good.  I got lucky and caught the issue early before any permanent damage was done to my heart muscle.  Provided I stick to a healthy diet, lots of exercise, and medications, the long-term prognosis is good, and life will return to normal.

Ask anyone who has spent weeks in a hospital, not knowing how bad or good things are, and I am sure they will tell you that the mind races and you tend to re-evaluate all aspects of your life.  Family, past mistakes that you won’t let happen again if you make it out, and last, but certainly not least, our work life.  Many of you reading this likely find yourselves in positions of authority: managers, foremen, business owners, etc.  All of you are making daily decisions that not only impact how a business is run, but impacting the lives of those who work for and with you.  One thing that became clear to me during this experience, after having conversations with our awesome staff in Ottawa, is that while we may not want to think about it, there is a huge need to make plans in the event that your day to day life becomes compromised and you cannot tend to your daily duties.  

In your manufacturing operations, you likely have a couple of individuals able to handle specific jobs.  This is usually in preparation of the likelihood that on any given day you may face employee absences.  That is good planning.  Ask yourself this though…what happens if I am the one absent?  What if I face a situation where I cannot participate in any work activities for a prolonged period of time?  Am I prepared?  Who can cover for me?  Who even knows what I do on a daily basis anyway? For many of us our work or our companies are like our children.  We take pride in them, love them, hold them close, and make autonomous decisions about how they operate, and often don’t always share our thoughts about them.  Because of that, we run the risk of damaging them if we do not prepare for the worst.

I have my own thoughts about the depths to which information and detail is shared with key staff, and I am sure you do too.  However, I think that in fairness, in order to ascertain just how ready you are in the event of a long term absence, it is best to consult with your staff.  We will be working through this consultation here soon, but in advance of that we felt that it would be a good exercise to have Lori and Stephanie take over and describe how they felt through all of this.  Were they ready for an event like this?  What didn’t they know that they were apprehensive about dealing with?  What could I have better prepared them for?  What key information needs to be shared, and what is the best way to share it?

I hope that their insight will help some of you take a look at your business operation, take a step back and plan for what would happen, should you face an unexpected leave of absence.

Where do we start… As a small team, to say the past couple of weeks have been a real eye-opener for all of us is a bit of an understatement. We certainly didn’t expect to get a call from Scott telling us he had been admitted to hospital with “possible” heart issues. And for any of you that don’t know Scott, while lying in hospital, he advised us that he needed to reach out to a number of people to let them know he was unavailable for a few days. Gee Scott, I think we can and should do that for you! That is our General Manager; it’s not his nature to put himself before anything else, including work. Well, if any of you don’t know us, it’s not our nature to sit back quietly without “lovingly nagging” him that he needs to stop burning the candle at both ends, and start placing some boundaries on the number of hours he works in a day! 

It’s been a wake-up call for all of us to say the least, in more ways than one. As Scott mentioned above, no one wants to “plan” for worst case scenarios but this just proves how important it is. We certainly didn’t experience the same fears on the level that Scott did, but we also worried about the uncertainty of Scott’s health and the outcome. We are not unique from any other small office, but we are most definitely in a different situation than a large corporation that has the luxury of having multiple staff managing one department, or has multi-layered management teams. We are unique in the fact that Scott works remotely from the two of us, which adds another level of complexity (although this hasn’t prevented us from forming a work-family bond). 
The one thing this has proven to us is how important it is to have a plan and procedures in place to prepare for the worst, for all of us, not just Scott. It was him this happened to but what would we do if Lori, our sole payroll person, goes on sick leave for example? Communication and planning now take on a whole new meaning for a small team. Things that we had to think about include:

  • What was Scott working on? Are there any deadlines for these tasks/projects? 
  • Who is going to take over a task?
  • Who makes decisions in Scott’s absence?
  • How is confidential information handled? 
  • How can we ensure access/sharing of documents? 
  • Do we have emergency contacts for family members?
  • Are we properly setup for online banking & backup signing authorities?
  • Should we be more prepared for “remote” access in an emergency?

To use an example of a disruption while Scott was on medical leave, getting the data for the lumber price trends is a monthly task only he is in charge of. Who does he contact? Would these sources even share the data with someone else? Do you need to be an expert in the lumber industry to ask the right questions? On another note, had any issues arisen in the HT Program who has the authority to make decisions? Do we have all the documents we need and are they all stored in the cloud, so they are accessible? 

When this wake-up call came in, we immediately felt we needed to become the gatekeepers at Scott’s door. We literally had to heavy hand him into telling us who he had outstanding issues with that needed to be advised to “leave him alone” for a while. Initially, we felt that he should be shielded from everything work related, email and telephone alike. Then as time passed, knowing how bored he would be, we felt that some phone calls and lite-duty work might help keep his mind off of things. This brings us to a struggle that we still face: the fear of causing stress and that he’s going to overdo it too quickly now that he’s back. How much do we share with him as he returns to active duty? How many tasks and projects can we remind him of? 

These conversations are not pleasant, but take it from us it’s a conversation worth having. Most of us prepare for these emergencies with our families, yet we seem to take for granted that we are just going to continue to show up at the 
office/plant every day until we PLAN to retire. We’re fortunate that this was an “awakening” moment and that Scott is on the mend. We now have an opportunity to plan for the future, and we think you should too.


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