Self-care. Mindfulness. Balance: All terms we are more-than familiar with on social media and in health magazines – not to mention pep-talks from friends – but they are not words that you normally expect to hear in the workplace, right?
Jeanette Bronée, CEO and founder of health consultancy Path for Life, wants to change that.
"Health is the new currency today and how we take care of ourselves at work makes all the difference in how we perform, work and live," she writes on the Path for Life website. "Health is the foundation for peak performance, sustainable success and happiness at work. Not to mention that we can go home with energy to spare and live a life we love."
Crucially, Bronée emphasizes how important healthy and nourished leaders are for businesses and employees today.
"When we work on survival mode, we become reactionary, so we act based on old habits and we react in a way we always have done. This means we push people around us to work harder and faster," she tells us when we catch up with her ahead of her presentation at Future Work Live in New York in October. "A healthy and nourished leader is someone who takes care of themselves first so that they can be available, engaged and pay attention to the people around them. This means being able to pause for a moment to really consider what is needed for everyone to be aligned. That way, they can act in a more direct way to address the intent and purpose of the issue."Bronée (pictured left) founded Path for Life in 2004 after both her parents died of cancer and she was told it was only a matter of time until she developed the disease herself. She wanted to devote her life to creating awareness about how we can take charge of our health and emotional, mental and social wellbeing – preventing stress and burnout – while living busy lives and pursuing careers.
She found that workers do not have to lose their health to be successful. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite: Healthy, nourished workers produce better results both for themselves and the teams they work with. Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) supports Bronée's ethos too, finding that employees who eat healthy all day long are 25% more likely to have a higher job performance while those who exercised for at least 30 minutes three times a week were 15% more likely.
The link between health and work is inarguable, and when unhealthy people come into positions of power it can be damaging for workforces.
"The number one problem with unhealthy leaders is that they tend to look for problems. That's because when we are stressed instead of focusing on outcomes, we tend to look at what's not working," she says. "A nourished leader has the ability to come out of survival stress and be more centered because they are nourished, bodily, physically and emotionally, so they can serve everyone better."
Bronée's argument is that if people are given permission to take care of themselves, they can begin to start "owning what they need". Bronée urges that workers today should be encouraged by their company to understand that they have the tools in themselves to feel more emotionally and mentally resilient, as well as feeling more self-reliant, self-aware and self-empowered. That way, a workplace culture can evolve into one "where people are creating a much more dynamic relationship with each other because they aren't depending on each other to solve their problems".
"Instead, they are then looking at what they need, how they can get it and who they can go to get it from," she adds. "Work cultures should give their employees the tools to do just that through granting the permission, space and time for them to take five minutes and think: 'What it is I need right now?'"
Her belief is that when employees can align with purpose-driven action, as opposed to having the mindset that they cannot deal with negative feelings at work, they are more engaged. And breaking this mindset can be as easy as not scheduling meetings on top of one another, she explains, instead giving yourself and those working for you ten minutes to decompress – "that's a company strategy that can change so easily".
And it is a company strategy that will mean success for the business, as well as happiness for its employees. But perhaps the most crucial strategy companies can implement today to encourage success is even more simple: Asking questions.
"When people care they will take charge, they will notice when something isn't working instead of just ignoring it because they are feeling like their effort matters, that they matter," explains Bronée. "If the company cares enough to ask "How are you today? I've noticed you seem a bit distracted" rather than just responding with frustration – if there's that lean toward asking what's going on and giving employees a moment to share what's really going on – then they can get it off their chest and focus."
This is where a nourished leader will stand out from the pack.
"They will pay attention, have empathy and notice what's going on in the room," she says. "Taking a moment to pause and talk about what's going on will mean the meeting will be more effective afterwards, as they won't be so distracted thinking about things."
Bronée's ethos encourages something that should not be so radical: Emotions in the workplace.
"A lot of the time, emotions are not something that drags us down," she insists. "Emotions are something that moves through us. Our thoughts drag us down and if we can just sit down and have a few minutes to talk the emotion moves through and we don't have to keep thinking about it either.
"All our emotions are little flag posts about what to pay attention to. It's suppressed emotion that is a problem: If we suppress instead of using as them a signpost that's when we get in trouble and that's what we do all day at work."
While, according to MentalHealth.org, addressing mental wellbeing at work increases productivity by up to 12%, taking the first step to express themselves can be difficult for employees. So how can companies encourage their workers to be more open? For Bronée, of course, it starts with healthy leaders.
"For leaders to help the company embrace these ideas, they first need to make sure that they themselves are a role model. I always hear that people are not taking care of themselves and they think their team doesn't care and yes, they do care, for two reasons: One, if you are hangry you are going to be unpleasant to work with; and two, if you don't take care of yourself, they don't think they are allowed to either.
"So, it's a simple thing like taking a lunch break – or, better yet, having a lunch break with your team because you'll realize problems people are having that you didn't know about. Before you know it there's a conversation going on about how to solve problems," she says. "The leader today is much more of a coach, they need to sit down and ask about the problems people are having and what their ideas are for solving them."
We ask her whether empathy is a crucial skill for leaders, but it is not a word that Bronée is such a big fan of.
"It's about asking questions and listening – you can argue that that's empathy, but I think that word's hard to define because it's so different for different people," Bronée argues. "I think empathy is confused with people thinking they know how others are feeling, but to me empathy is about the simple act of asking how people are feeling and checking in on your own emotions. We don't need to assume how other people feel, what we need is concern and care – that should be the new definition for empathy in the workplace."
See Bronée's presentation and learn about how to become a nourished leader at Future Work Live, a new festival uniting leading HR professionals and cutting-edge technology to form the future of work, in New York on October 15–16.