At a time when mental health has reached a forefront due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) encouraged its members to tackle their stressors head-on at the onset of its fall conference Tuesday.

“To put it mildly, this year has been a year like no other,” exclaimed Bob Lewis, WDMA chairperson and senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Masonite International Corp.

The event’s keynote speaker, Risa Mish, a professor in Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, urged members to focus on their resilience while responding constructively to the involuntary changes brought about by COVID-19. Other presentations followed with encouraging messages about the housing market and an economic recovery.

“When you decide what the topic of the keynote should be for an event, then you hope that when the conference comes around it’s still relevant,” Mish said, adding that who knew that resilience and self-care would be such pertinent subjects throughout all of 2020. In her address, she discussed the need to marshal personal energy amid the pandemic—including not only physically, through such things as sleep, exercise and nutrition, but also mental and emotional energy to build resilience.

“Change we choose for ourselves is wonderful, but what about the other types of change—the types we would never have chosen for ourselves … that’s the kind that resilience is designed to address,” she said.

Mish warned how people might think they’re feeling emotionally and physically exhausted from a lack of sleep or long hours, but in reality, those issues can stem from what she labeled as “latent stressors.” Latent stressors, she explained, include those that reside in the back of our minds but aren’t consciously addressed, allowing them to linger in our emotional states. As the first step in a system for building personal resilience, she asked attendees to construct a list of everything that’s currently worrying them—ranging from minor annoyances to major concerns. It’s better, she suggested, to acknowledge those issues—even if you don’t intend to deal with them immediately—in order to deconstruct their latency. In the process, she also warned about elevating every issue to emergent status, when not everything is worthy of your time and attention.

“Look at your list and cross off those things you’re going to choose to ignore, because they’re neither urgent nor important,” she said.

After walking attendees through a system for rating and deconstructing their issues, she then urged leaders to avoid allowing themselves to feel like they’re the only who can address those problems. Instead, they were encouraged to collaborate with other leaders who might be facing similar circumstances and to delegate.

“As leaders, sometimes when you step back someone else steps up,” she said. “Sometimes people around you are just waiting for a chance … at first it might confuse them, because you aren’t rushing in,” but eventually they see it as an opportunity, she suggested.

Uncontrollable Factors

Among the stressors that door and window manufacturers cannot control, or delegate, are the uncertainties of a recovering labor force and economy. As employment recovers, the labor force remains 11 million shy of February 2020 measurements, explained Ali Wolf, chief economist for Zonda Economics. At the same time, shifts have surfaced suggesting that furloughs are turning into permanent job losses. In the process, 4.4 million people have left the labor force, Wolf said, no longer intending to become employed—including through voluntary and involuntary retirements. As more people are forced to stay home for schooling and to take care of children, those effects are exacerbated, suggested Grant Farnsworth, managing partner for The Farnsworth Group. Some populations have also “chosen to sit on the sidelines,” he added, “not looking to become employed, but instead relying on unemployment.”
On a positive note, Farnsworth said the pandemic has had impacts on the remodeling industry through nesting.

“You all are well positioned, as door and window manufacturers, to capitalize on this movement,” he said, adding, “All of the things that weren’t at the top of homeowners’ lists are now at the top, because of COVID.” As a result, his firm has measured significant increases in home improvement activities. “And when we look at data points regarding their plans to do more improvements, it remains positive,” he said.

Those activities have also been helped along by stimulus funds, Wolf pointed out.

“Since March, and since the economy tanked and the stock market went down, we started doing weekly presentations … in doing so, we had to have some humility, because we were going through a recession unlike anyone had ever gone through before,” she said. At the same time, “Stimulus staved off a depression,” she added. “We need to acknowledge that.”

As a result, “Households today have more money than they did in January of this year,” Wolf reported, and “People have been wanting to spend their money.” According to her research, sales among building supplies are up by 20%.
With positive indicators registering for remodeling and construction, it’s important for companies to remember that much of the uncertainties portrayed through the news about the overall economy, “Doesn’t always translate to the housing market,” Wolf suggested.

Along with those encouraging messages, at the conclusion of her keynote presentation Mish asked leaders to remember that no matter what lies ahead, they should make the best of their circumstances—including by taking time out for things they enjoy doing. For this, “You need the longest list possible,” she explained, “because sometimes some of the things that bring us joy become unavailable for a short time.” As leaders, “That’s what’s necessary to keep your tanks full,” she suggested.

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