I joined Actualize Consulting in 2005 to help build out its internal operations. In my first five years at the firm, we were experiencing financial and operational success, yet as a leadership team we were not focused on our people. In fact, nor were we setting a good example - I didn't even take a proper maternity leave for either of my two children born in that five-year span of building out the company and found myself exhausted. This lack of balance echoed throughout the firm as we suffered from an extremely high turnover of 33%. In 2010, I wanted to commit to my personal growth to end this burnout, but I had a black and white mentality that made me feel as though I had to choose between my career or my wellbeing.
While I tried to balance keeping them separate, I quickly realized that this wasn’t possible; every aspect of our lives is connected. If we’re unhappy at work, we will inevitably take that home with us in our personal lives and vice versa. There can’t be a stark line between our wellbeing and our career – they must flow together. Nor can wellness be an afterthought - it must be something you're proactively seeking to achieve, instead of creating a band-aid fix after the fact. With this epiphany in mind, we shifted our focus to supporting our people and their personal wellness first.
As a firm, we saw immediate success, and our numbers improved each year. In 2016, not a single employee left our firm and we have maintained less than 4% attrition over the last four years. We have won numerous awards for our culture, like Washington Post’s Top Workplace, and became Great Place to Work-Certified. Our client satisfaction scores have never been higher. To us, this 180-degree shift speaks volumes about how mental and physical states directly relate to how we show up each day and the work we produce. And it shows the importance of top down infusion - when wellness is a company value, not an afterthought, your wellness programs will be more genuine and therefore more successful. Feeling well not only changes our demeanor, but improves our leadership style and desire for connection. Because of this direct correlation, we’ve been able to maximize our team connection with this wellness-focused approach.
1. Take time for yourself each day
When I begin to see a team member displaying signs of burnout, like taking longer to do simple tasks, seeming forgetful, or being less social with the team, my first instinct is to ask them what they’re doing to support themselves. There is a saying for this – “you can’t give from an empty cup.” We are better positioned to support others when we give to ourselves first. I have found that when I take quiet time in the morning for myself, I am calmer and happier throughout the day. And the greatest part is that many of the actions we take to stay well have a domino effect. For example, exercise can help improve your mood and even help you fall asleep faster at night so you are well-rested for the next day. According to CA wellbeing data, only 48% of employees feel fresh and rested for work each day - a harrowing statistic. Being well-rested can then help you make better food choices – ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate hunger, are greatly affected by sleep habits.
2. Remember that wellness is vast
Wellness is usually associated with images of exercise, salads, and meditation. Don’t get me wrong; these are things that can be a part of your wellness routine. But wellness shouldn’t stop there. Wellness is about taking care of yourself and has various forms. Did you know that laughter contributes to your wellbeing? It is recommended by the American Heart Association as a key way to reduce stress. Laughter and connection are more important than ever, especially with the uncertain times we are in. At Actualize, we have been scheduling what we call “Mindful Breaks” that have a variety of themes, such as virtual comedy competitions, fitness classes, and show-and-tell. It’s a great way to build comradery with your team and get to know each other. And if you are hosting a firm-wide wellness program, remember that it doesn’t have to cost much to be effective. You can track points internally via Google Sheets or Excel - you don’t need to outsource for another firm!
3. Practice active listening
It’s hard to trust people you don’t know. When we feel that we can trust others, we are more likely to feel comfortable in their presence, share new ideas, and develop friendships – all of which are essential to innovation. Getting to know one another helps you feel supported. Before jumping straight into business during each meeting, take time to connect - ask how their day is going, how they are enjoying the projects they are working on, or if they have anything fun planned for the weekend. Truly take time to listen to their answers. As we begin to learn more about them, we also get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses, and can more easily delegate tasks.
4. Find passion
When we are doing tasks that we enjoy, we’re more likely to feel content at work. Take time to find out what really “lights up” your team members - ask them about their passion and career goals and strive to align those to their project work. Having employees who feel fulfilled at work is a great way to ensure they are happy to show up each day, lend a helping hand to team members, and do great work. It’s a true win-win situation; one study from the University of Warwick found that happiness makes people 12% more productive!
If you want your organization to be successful, it is important to start from a foundation of wellness. Strive for top-down infusion, where you get leadership buy-in. It is the ultimate form of leading by example. When wellness is your firm’s first priority, your programs will be more genuine and you will find that balance, strong work ethic, and team connection will follow.
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