December 19th, 2023
What is a healthy business? Are you coping or thriving?
When I started my career, (quite a while ago now) the concept of a 'healthy work culture’ wasn’t really thought about or discussed. My first experiences of work centred around hard work, ‘putting the hours in’, ‘in the office’ and of course, financial performance.
Culture wasn’t really talked about and being a young woman working in two relatively male based industries (agriculture and then construction), it was easy to ‘work hard and play hard’ both in work and in life, to try and keep up!
I went along with that approach, not really knowing any different and not knowing how to take care of myself. It would have been unthinkable to discuss mental health challenges or show signs of ‘weakness’. Looking back, I most definitely suffered from ‘burnout’, which triggered anxiety, panic attacks, lack of energy, and lack of enthusiasm for work (and life in general). I didn’t call it a mental health crisis, but my body was certainly telling me to slow down and rest (although I ignored that!)
Starting Intandem, 21 years ago, I wanted to create a culture where people could grow and thrive. That sounds easy… but in truth, I had no experience of working in a ‘healthy and sustainable way’ as being successful was seen to be about ‘hard work’. I didn’t have a model for creating a successful business with a strong, successful and thriving team, although part of me knew that there must be a better way.
Working with literally hundreds of different businesses, I have seen first-hand, both good and bad leadership and ways of working in. As a result of my journey, I have become fascinated about how to create such a ‘healthy culture’ and still maintain productivity and profitability.
These days, of course, we can work anywhere in the world (literally – I am typing this in an airport in New Zealand) and there is an ‘always on’ culture. Smart phones, social media, emails and messaging means we are all in contact 24 hours a day (if we want to be) and so it is even more important that we learn to switch off and relax. We have all had to learn how to create healthy boundaries with our work, so it doesn’t take over our lives.
But that’s not really the only point – even when work was more 9-5, it was still sometimes hard to switch off a nagging thought in your head, or not to feel anxious at weekends – so how do you learn to switch off and learn that working harder isn’t necessarily better?
Knowing the Intandem team and how much we all care about our work and our clients, I wanted to explore how we could create a healthy business with the well-being of the team at the core. I realised that we may need to ‘reinvent work’ so that it is not only delivering brilliant results for our clients, but also serving the team. I was intrigued to see how this would impact on the business.
This year we have done a lot of internal training both with Will Matthews from Pro-Development and Sam Alexander-Vasey, Wellbeing Practitioner.
Early this year, we embarked on a two-pronged approach – one learning about ourselves and how we behave as individuals, and as a team, so we could become more of a ‘self-managing’ team. The aim here was to build trust, encourage honest conversations increasing self-awareness so that everyone recognises their place in the team and is empowered to step up and make an impact using their strengths and talents.
In parallel we have been exploring wellbeing by working with Sam, and we have been learning how to go from ‘coping to thriving’ - incorporating breath work, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and qigong practices.
Some of this has been about becoming more aware about the levels of stress we are feeling and the impact of this on our nervous systems and our longer-term health. We have learned how to take a mindful pause during our busy daily lives and create good habits which deliver a more sustainable way of working for the long-term.
That all sounds great in theory, but we are a business and so how has this impacted it?
We have been on a transformative journey together as a team looking back from when we started nine months ago – it has not always been easy or comfortable, however we are in a place where we have more honest and vulnerable conversations. We were already a caring team, however we now have the vocabulary a deeper understanding of each other, creating stronger relationships and learning better ways of supporting each other. So, in effect it turned out to be an effective team building programme which I can highly recommend!
As a business leader, of course I am still focused on the bottom line and so what of this investment? Well, I am very grateful that we invested in this ‘softer stuff’ this year. The economic climate is challenging, and we like many other businesses have had to deal with uncertainty and unexpected situations which create fear and anxiety. I am very glad that I know we have the tools to help us deal with this both as individuals and as a team, and I am happy that we have invested in the longer term ‘health’ of the team and the business.
Having a shared approach has made us more resilient and given us a backbone of strength that I am certain would not be there without the work we have done. Hopefully, we are in the best shape we can be to weather the stormy seas of business, giving us a positive mindset, helping us to make calm and rational decisions and build a strong and successful business.
An unexpected outcome has been to relook at our values – really exploring what matters to us and having the courage to open our hearts to become more authentic in the way we work and what we stand for. Without realising have been creating a more sustainable ‘well-being’ based culture and way of working so we can attract the right people and clients to work with us going forward. More on that soon.
And you may ask, how does this relate to helping businesses with their marketing? Well, company culture is at the core of a strong business, and I have always said that successful marketing works from the ‘inside out’ – I believe that more than ever. More on that too!
A big thank you to Sam and Will for guiding us through this empowering year, I am excited to see how we continue to grow as a team and as a business in 2024!