I realise now what people mean when they say they’re not feeling ok

Tuesday 07 July 2020
Clive Wratten’s job is to lobby for the Business Travel Sector. So how has he led through an extraordinarily tough period? With real emotional honesty...

In June, Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association (BTA), wrote a moving post on LinkedIn in which he explained: “10 weeks of this crisis and the constant stream of bad news makes it difficult, mental and physical fatigue creeps up on you and suddenly you find yourself feeling unwell and drained… I know there are millions out there who are a whole lot worse off than me but I just wanted to say, this situation is tough no matter what your situation is, it’s relative and unique to each human.”

The response was overwhelming. At an exceptionally tough time in an industry that was being pummelled by the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, many people opened up about how they were struggling too. “Talking about how you feel is difficult,” Clive admits. “But I think if you do, that it builds trust on both sides… I got very down and I thought I’d speak about it because I’m of the generation where you just... don’t. It just felt the right thing to do: To say, ‘I realise what people mean now when they say they’re not feeling OK.’”

Such an approach may prove vital if you’re heading up a team or organisation at a time of crisis. According to Brand Genetics, a recent DDI analysis of high-performing leadership with 15,000 business leaders confirmed a link between empathy and leadership performance – yet only 40% of bosses are assessed as having proficient empathy skills.

“It’s about talking, communication and collaboration,” says Wratten. “I’m listening really hard to what and how the industry is suffering and am trying to put it all together into bite-sized chunks so as to know how to deal with it…” As head of a trade association he adds: “You take a lot in from your members who’ve all got their issues and then you’ve got to go out and try and find the solutions, and fight for them. You’re getting hit from all directions.”

Clive says he’s identified three stages of the Covid-19 crisis. “When lockdown came it was what I call ‘shock stage’. People were thinking it was the end. Everything grounded. That’s not to say that we haven’t seen that before with 9/11 and the Icelandic volcano, but it just felt like there was no end to this… The tills had stopped ringing, money stopped coming in, but still there are all your staff and overheads there. It just felt really, really horrible, frankly.”

He says that the situation facing the business travel sector has been referred to as “death valley” – “because we’ve got to have cash in the industry to restart but we still have all our overheads… As many as 50% of staff are being told that their jobs aren’t going to be around.”

The second stage of the crisis came when the government introduced its business assistance packages. “We moved into what I’d call ‘hibernation stage’,” he explains. “People were on furlough, everything was relatively calm…”

Now with the arrival of air bridges – or travel corridors – “there is a little bit of light, but it’s going to be a long road back…”

When things are looking unendurably bad on the macro level, focusing on the micro – by helping those you work with – is essential, says Clive: “In truth, I’ve probably got closer with my team in many ways because we shared a bit of how we’re feeling more than we would have done if we’d been in the office environment.”

Ultimately, sharing how you feel can make everyone feel less alone.

Are you having to have difficult conversations at work? Here's how they can be made easier.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England have also released advice for looking after your mental health during Covid-19 – take a look here.

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