COVID-19 Update: How One Dealer Focused on Mental Health

By Desiree Homer

As a dealer owner, you recognize it’s your job to ensure the growth and development of your teams. You also know the speed of the leader determines the pace of the pack. But as we stare down the next quarter of these uncertain times, it may be a good idea to check on the mental well-being of those who work with your organization. Burnout is a real phenomenon, and in some areas of the country, fear of the virus and layoffs are causing serious anxiety among workers.

One dealer took his employees’ mental health seriously enough to create a series of internal resources to help relieve stress. While your best and most loyal staff members may have been resilient through the shutdowns, it may be too much to ask or them to keep up their pace without checking in first. Like the first responders and healthcare workers posting videos with tired faces, creased from their masks, your people may need some relief.

What One Dealer Did for His Teams

Jeff Elhart has always taken the mental health and well-being of his staff. He was inspired to develop internal resources for his teams years ago when he personally experienced a traumatic family loss. He recognized that depression, anxiety, and mental health problems were prevalent concerns and wanted to dedicate his efforts to support the health of those who worked for him. In 2015, Elhart Auto launched the Be Nice program, with the help of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. This program, already popular among other businesses and schools, became required training for employees and routinely discussed in ongoing staff meetings. Jeff Elhart’s devotion to mental health support over the years ensured he was ready to face the challenges brought by COVID-19.

So when the pandemic hit, and Jeff Elhart was forced to layoff 72 of his employees, he empathetically recognized that for most of them, this was the first time they have experienced a loss of work. He understood that even though the staffers knew COVID-19 was the root cause, they would be internalizing the layoffs in a way that would be detrimental to their self-esteem and confidence. Elhart personally reached out to each former member of his team and created a video, designed to offer help coping with the terms of job losses. His video proved effective, and many responded with requests for additional resources.

Other Effective Ideas for Stress & Anxiety Relief Efforts

As you reflect on how your dealerships navigated the pandemic shutdowns and rebound efforts, consider how your employees, current and former, might be handling the changes mentally. Dealer owners can check in with their teams, to see how everyone is holding up, mentally. Some dealers have offered resources for anyone who may need to talk with someone professionally. Others have implemented new ways to incorporate a new open-door policy that allows staff to come in and discuss anything concerning. Team-building exercises are popular and other perks like lunches or bringing in a massage therapist once a week, are also useful.

‘Be Human at Your Core!’

In a recent episode of Dealer News Today podcast series, Dave and Andy sit down with CEO for Cox Automotive, Sandy Schwartz. Schwartz reminds dealers about the human aspect of doing business, especially now in a virtual-heavy engagement environment. Being human and looking for ways to connect with customers, authentically is essential. But don’t forget, too, it’s important to make sure your staff is feeling connected. Ensuring the mental health of your employees will only solidify the strength of your bench. If you have any team members who are suffering from anxiety, depression, or struggling to cope with furloughs or layoffs, take the time to connect.

Consider checking in with your employees about their mental health and well-being. Offer resources and be prepared to support them in coping. The most influential leaders recognize the importance of how well the pack can keep up with the job, including in a mental capacity.