For me, doing the job that I do — stress and mental health in the workplace is something that bothers me a great deal. If I could, I would bring about a movement whereby mental health support workers are available for every employee, from managers right through to Saturday staff — around the clock. A large percentage of stress in our lives is caused by our work and how poorly managed our workloads are — so it seems only right to make support and care at work the top priority. Only when this kind of system is commonplace, even compulsory, will we be able to fully understand how big the problem is and how to fix it. When it is part of the daily conversation and routine, the stigma can be removed and those who are particularly vulnerable might find their voice.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Merrywest. Amy is the founder and director of Moaning Cow Corporate Massage & Wellbeing, London. Moaning Cow provides a bespoke wellbeing solution to businesses throughout the city, offering a range of treatments, classes and workshops.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you — I’m very pleased to be part of the series. My journey to where I am now was not at all by design. In fact, it was so adventitious it is almost comical.
In my younger years my sole aim in life was to teach wakeboarding. I lived and breathed for the water, with all the space and adventure that it brought. I travelled far and wide to pursue it.
It wasn’t long before I was qualified to teach, it was a hard slog but in hindsight the training was the easy part. The part that was most testing was finding a job — I had all the gear but no idea!
Though, as I am a very resilient character who never takes “no” for an answer, and after many rejections, I decided that there was another way in — massage! Every wakeboarding school that I had been to had an in-house massage therapist.
Spending the next few years at The London School of Sports Massage was the best thing I ever did. All the preconceived ideas I had about the way my career and life were going to be, were suddenly altered. Yes, I love to wakeboard still, but my true calling is wellbeing.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be spiritual, but I am certainly on a journey of self-growth and I really enjoy immersing myself in massage, mindfulness and exploring different states of being, which is why now, I focus my attention on holistic treatments and developments for the most stressed-out people I know — the city workers.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve just expanded, actually! Moaning Cow started life purely as a massage company. I am a firm believer that massage cannot be taught, it can only be developed — you either have ‘healing hands’ or you don’t. It seems I do, so I’ve come to realise it is my calling. With this in mind, it was important to me that I made sure all of my therapists had that same passion and gift and that we provided first class treatments — because of this we really flourished as a brand.
A path naturally formed so I sought alternative ways of providing wellness and yoga, mindfulness and meditation were my next focus — which brings us to where we are now!
It was not easy to find good teachers (I sense a theme here) and I have really struggled with this. Being a massage therapist, I see many injuries caused by badly-performed yoga, so in my search for yoga teachers I signed up to a very arduous regime of classes only to be disappointed by below-par teaching.
So, the journey was long (much longer than expected), but I finally found some diamonds amongst the rough and now we have a team of lovely teachers on board who really know their stuff!
I’m keen to continue exploring additional wellness offerings and so I’m excited to see how our programs help the workforce of London.
Our two main areas of focus are a) healing and preventing the physical harm that a sedentary lifestyle can cause and b)supporting and developing the emotional resilience and wellbeing of workers who carry a heavy mental burden. There are millions of days lost to work-related injury and stress and quite often, this can be preventable. I am hoping that we continue to develop our programmes so we can support the growth of workplace wellbeing.
And of course, there is the massage — if that is not worth going to work on a Monday morning for, then I don’t know what is!
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
We live in a very competitive world and the workplace is often very stressful, workloads are high and because we are all connected through technology it is very hard to leave work, at work — the mental expectation is all consuming.
This study shows that workers are feeling a lack of appreciation and recognition.
It goes without saying that employee benefits, like healthcare and flexible working hours are essential but some companies overlook other benefits, such as healthy food offerings, mindfulness to help manage the mental and emotional stress, and yoga or massage, both to address the physical pressures of work.
These kinds of benefits make the difference between staff feeling appreciated and cared for or neglected and undervalued. The essentials, like healthcare, should be considered the bare minimum and whilst wellness programs that look after staff on a holistic level are maybe not be considered essential, they are certainly needed. This shows employees that a company is willing to go further to show them that they really matter.
Regarding the percentage of employees not utilising the wellness facilities that were on offer — this is so often because they simply do not have time, much the same as the staggering number of workers who eat their lunch at their desk, whilst working! Furthermore, they might be concerned that taking time out to “indulge themselves” when everyone else around has their nose to the grindstone.
We cannot be offering these programs and not encouraging staff to take a break — it is simply not acceptable.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Think of the workforce as the blood pumping through the veins of the business — it is essential that it is healthy. For a workforce to be healthy it needs to be happy, energised, engaged and valued or the company productivity will fall.
Let’s start by looking at how productivity is impacted. If staff are unwell or unhappy there is usually a higher absence rate or staff turnover — this leads to shortfalls in the work being undertaken and adds pressure to other employees who are picking up the slack. If staff are uninspired and unmotivated by the work, they are doing it is likely to be of a lower standard and produced at a slower rate.
This leads us to profitability. High turnover and sickness inevitably leads to man-hours lost which has a direct impact on work produced and profit gained. Much the same as uninspired and unenthused workers — imagine getting a call from a potential service provider and they are unhappy, uninviting and generally downbeat — would you buy from them? Probably not.
So how does all this unhappiness impact the health and wellbeing of the employees?
We have seen a recent spike in social media campaigns addressing the issue of mental health first aid in the workplace and this is because mental health issues are on the rise and managers are often not trained to either recognise or support those in need. If workers do not feel happy at work it can lead to much larger problems such as depression, anxiety and other further illnesses as a result. We spend such a high percentage of our life at work, it is paramount we are happy there.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
Great question and the list could go on and on but if I can only choose 5 then it would be the following:
Encouraging and maintaining an open dialogue
Particularly if you have staff that are quite introverted, it is important that they feel they can initiate an open conversation about anything they feel needs addressing. Many people might not raise a concern without prompting as it is not always easy, so a wide-open door and encouragement provides a safe space to talk without fear of being judged or berated.
Giving staff rewards sends them a message that you have noticed them, and you appreciate them. If a reward such as massage, meals or activities are provided it is a way of going above and beyond for them — by giving something that they might not need but they really want.
We have all been there — when there are certain schedules that just do not fit into 12 hours! Giving staff the flexibility to build their own schedule can make the world of difference to their life.
Create belonging and worth
From personal experience I understand the importance of having a sense of belonging and how it helps to make us feel important. I encourage my team to develop their own style — they are all valued for their individual skills and what they bring to the company and that is why they are with us. If there is a board meeting, let them be there — they should feel they have an important place.
This one had to be on the list. Healthy starts on the inside and if we are going to all these lengths to look after their emotions, we must go the extra mile and look after their physical wellbeing! A selection of healthy, nourishing food to fuel the workforce is a really simple and effective way to care for them. I see this aspect often in offices that we visit and it is clear that a healthy food offering is a firm favourite amongst staff.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Work culture is a very trendy buzz phrase right now and the spotlight is firmly on it, but do we really understand the key elements involved?
Culture, to me is the ‘feeling’ and ‘atmosphere’ at work and by that, I mean how staff confidence levels are; what they feel they can achieve; how secure they feel in the team; where they feel they fit in; how balanced they feel and how happy they are.
These elements are achieved by implementing changes, like those mentioned above, but the real challenge is making this the expected standard of work culture in society so that companies have a benchmark for what is acceptable.
To change society, we need to look at harnessing the current hype surrounding work culture and use this platform to encourage workers to speak up freely. So not only are we addressing the managers on how to make change, but we must work from the ground up by giving employees a voice and give them the tools they need to initiate those changes higher up.
If we set a higher benchmark as a society it will become the expected standard.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Naturally I am a person with very high standards, but I strive to keep our service quality high by encouraging autonomy amongst the team. Holistic wellbeing is very personal by nature and the teaching and treatments offered are a fundamental part of the therapists’ own personality and style, so it is important that they work and deliver in line with their own methods.
When I work with new therapists, I ask them to show me how they work and to teach me in their own unique way. There is no routine, no guidelines and no hard and fast rules; if their style, interests and values compliment that of our own then they will make a great part of the team and there is no need to make them fit into a mould.
By doing this, I hope that they feel important and appreciated for their own individuality. This, in turn, means that they can grow and evolve their own skills with passion, enthusiasm and excitement.
To give you an example of how this is particularly suited to the wellness industry — our clients are able to be very specific when choosing types of therapies from us. I can match a massage therapist to a team that might want a very strong massage, or I might be able to recommend a yoga teacher with a more traditional style of teaching; rather than having a team of employees whom all teach or treat in the same, scripted way and feel no autonomy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would not have got this far without the help and support I get from my husband. We can sometimes have a funny way of building each other up — occasionally I am trying so hard to convince him that something is a good idea that I talk myself into it even more.
But most of the time the encouragement comes from a place of real support and belief. He is fanatical about self-growth and the power of positivity that he can’t help but give me a boost — often knowing when I need it the most.
I should also mention that he is a wonderfully creative designer and he absolutely captured my vision when designing the Moaning Cow brand.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to use my skills as a massage therapist to help people however I can — treating people who really need to feel comfort at a time when they need it most.
Charity work is also very important to me, so I volunteer with a lovely team of ladies who provide afternoon tea and friendship to a very dear group of elderly people, whom otherwise would not have the chance to get out and have companionship.
I am very excited to also be involved in supporting ‘Team Samaritans’ at this year’s Brighton Marathon and Ride London. I will be providing massage to the amazing fundraisers taking part in both events to raise money for the Samaritans.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This one really got me thinking because I am drawn to a few and try to live by them but if I had to choose just one, it would probably be — “Don’t sweat the small stuff” — Richard Carlson.
It ever more relevant to me, my life and my business. I juggle a lot at home and work and there have been times when I felt that the burnout was inevitable. It took a toll on my health and happiness, so I saw a wonderful life coach who helped me realise that I was trying too hard to have it all together, literally all the time. It was crazy.
I think I mentioned earlier that I naturally have quite high standards and the expectations I had of myself were unrealistic — so it was a hard process to go through and I still must remind myself that I need to let the small stuff go.
Most of the time now I delegate to my husband — he is currently on passport-renewal duty!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is another tricky one to answer because I think we all have a vision of our ideal world and we are so quick to have an opinion on how to fix everything.
For me, doing the job that I do — stress and mental health in the workplace is something that bothers me a great deal.
If I could, I would bring about a movement whereby mental health support workers are available for every employee, from managers right through to Saturday staff — around the clock.
A large percentage of stress in our lives is caused by our work and how poorly managed our workloads are — so it seems only right to make support and care at work the top priority.
Only when this kind of system is commonplace, even compulsory, will we be able to fully understand how big the problem is and how to fix it. When it is part of the daily conversation and routine, the stigma can be removed and those who are particularly vulnerable might find their voice.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!