Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, speaks to TTG Media CEO Dan Pearce in the seventh of our weekly Get Travel Leaders Talking video series – looking at the business and mental health strategies some of travel’s most senior leaders have used to get them through the Covid crisis.
How have you been looking after your mental health and physical wellbeing over the past few months?
“My first priority was to our employees and our customers. We had to move the business home overnight. We tried to get laptops and phones sorted for everyone, and it was really challenging. It was just all hands on deck, and I suppose I went into survival mode. I’m a really disciplined person, I did a lot of Taekwondo when I was young and I think that’s made me very determined.
“My attitude has always been, let’s just get the job done. And the size of the job at the beginning was huge. We had over 40,000 holidays cancelled. And for me I couldn’t take any time off until August. That was eight months without a break. And I realised I just couldn’t go on I needed to do something. And it was also my son’s 18th birthday, and it what would probably be our last chance to take him on holiday with me and my husband. So that really forced me to take the time off and go to Greece. I was concerned about leaving the business and it was also, I also felt really guilty about that. But actually it was the best thing I could have done, it cleared my head and it made me feel I should have taken some time off earlier as I have such a great team and I know I can rely on them.”
And how have you looked after your physical wellbeing?
“I’m a bit old for Taekwando now, but I’ve always been pretty active and every year I set myself a challenge that really does give me a focus. I always need something to focus on. So next year I’m running the London Marathon. I did it in 2017 and I’m really competitive and I want to get the same time even though I’ll be five years older. Also last year I took up yoga and pilates when I came back from Greece and I do those classes four times a week. That really helps with relaxation and breathing, I really enjoy it. I also have a black Labrador, and after a hard day in front of the laptop all day, that really helps me to go get out.
“Routine is so important during this know and I’ve encouraged our teams to make sure they get up in the morning as if they are going to work, to take breaks and go for a walks. When the weather’s nice you’ve got to get out and enjoy it, especially in Scotland!”
What strategies have you been using to strengthen your personal resilience?
“One of the things that’s really helped me has been talking to my peers in the industry, I’ve had a lot of calls with other like-minded individuals. Not discussing market secrets, just discussing what we’ve been going through, and what they are doing to help themselves. Also I’ve got a great support network and family, which is fantastic. And I think just talking to each other, to the team, picking each other up when you have a bad day. All these things have really helped me.”
What’s been your most challenging moment of the crisis?
“I think everyone knows Barrhead Travel was on our biggest ever expansion plan last year we’d opened 15 stores at the start of the year and three had only been opened a week just for them. Putting some of the staff on furlough, making redundancies…some of the staff had worked for Barrhead for more than 20 years. All I’d seen as a business leader was growth. That was really, extremely challenging for me to see the business contract because I had never seen that before and the challenges with personnel were really difficult.”
How have you been looking after your teams, and the staff in the shops, during this period? What steps have you put in place to look after their own wellbeing?
“Pre-Covid we’d started to look at a wellness program. A number of employees went through mental health training and became wellness champions across the business. Employee wellbeing is our top priority, and we’ve tried to invest in ensuring we are prioritising this at all times. We have virtual employee meetings every four to six weeks and that gives our employees a chance to ask questions. We also offer advanced and beginner fitness classes and we record them so that if they don’t meet that class they can still join them. And we opened a virtual HR office, to ensure the HR team were visible and accessible.
“Communication has really helped. We’ve always had an open door policy in the business, just encouraging people to open up and talk, to give us feedback, and to let us know what they would like to see from a wellbeing perspective. That’s all helped.
“We’re one of a group of six companies in the UK now, and the group’s actually held wellness group sessions for all the employees. The first one was a motivational speaker, and the second one was with a juggler and we had juggling lessons and encouraged employees to invite the families as well. That support network has been very strong and the feedback from the sessions has been fantastic.”
Do you have any examples of positive steps your teams have taken to look after themselves?
“They’ve set themselves challenges like cooking, and counting steps. Most of our teams have WhatsApp groups, which have really helped and add to that feeling of support and everybody being together. Our teams are really tight, and they’re tighter now than I’ve ever been. When the stores are open and you can really see the camaraderie within the branches. It’s been really great to see you on social media. The teams have come closer through this whole pandemic.”
What positive lessons have you discovered about yourself, or the company, during the crisis? Will they change the way you run the business in future?
“I think it’s definitely shown how adaptable at pace we can be. Communication has been key throughout the pandemic and I’ve had more contact with employees than I’ve ever had before. I’ll continue with the communication sessions we’ve been doing.
“We don’t have answers for everything and being transparent, open and honest is critical with colleagues. Another thing that we’ve learned is about homeworking, everything that we had in place was designed to work from an office, from a branch and it’s really clear now what we can achieve in working from home. So moving forward, we’ll definitely, we’ll offer a blended approach to working from home.”
For mental health resources visit TTG’s Mental Health Hub and look out for more Get Travel Leaders Talking videos being released each week.