Employees are expected to communicate their mental health challenges. If there is anything that Is worrying them to the point that they can’t do their work properly, they get time off. E.g. it’s absolutely natural to be a wreck after a breakup or if a beloved one dies. If that happens, the person needs space to recreate themselves and regain energy. Work can sometimes be a valuable distraction, but they are by no means expected to get any work done in such situations.
As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Pamela Wagner.
Pamela heads Ajala Digital, a global boutique marketing agency focused on Google and Facebook advertising. Before founding the company in early 2016, she worked at Google and in several other industries. Ajala Digital is a Google Partner, and she has helped 2000+ advertisers grow their businesses through custom paid ads strategies. She has been to 80 countries and runs her company completely location-independent with a worldwide team.
Since 2018, she teaches Paid Ads at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and since 2020, she also hosts two courses on the same topic at Hult International Business School in London and Boston.
In 2018, she was honored as one of only two recipients of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Award for her mentoring engagement of entrepreneurs in Ghana and Nigeria. In 2017, Pamela was honored as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 list makers for Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
Her insights have been featured on media outlets such as ABC News, Forbes, Yahoo, Mashable, MSN, the Washington Times, Google Startup Grind, and many more.
Though she grew up in Austria as a monolingual, Pamela speaks English and Spanish fluently, further learnt French, wrote her Bachelor thesis in Russian, and studied Mandarin in Austria and China, and dabbles in Arabic and Swahili in her free time. She considers herself a lifelong learner and is currently studying at Harvard Extension School for a Master in Liberal Arts with a focus on psychology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Working in marketing or even running my own company was never really something I had on my mind or as the ultimate goal. I, more or less, stumbled upon the role at Google as I was asked by my career advisor if I wanted to apply. Barely knowing the learning curve I’d put myself on, I passed all the interviews and joined the company as an Associate Account strategist. That pretty much means helping small and medium businesses grow through Google Ads and Analytics. It was a mix of 50% troubleshooting and 50% consulting on ad strategies. Once I left the company, I realised what an immense amount of knowledge I had gained. So, I decided to give independent projects a try as a freelancer. After a few months, I already made more money in a month than I made at Google in a month, so I decided that it’d be a good moment to found my own company. If I had made it thus far, I thought, I’d also be able to figure out how to bring in revenue sustainably — without any background or family history in entrepreneurship whatsoever. It’s been 5 years now!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What a good question! People who know me would probably say that there are so many. Whether that is helping 6-figures businesses grow into 7-figure businesses by using Google Ads, or the story of how I got on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, or running a company successfully completely location-independently for 5 years and how that is done. I could expand on each one, let me know if there’s one that you think your readers might find particularly interesting.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
- Don’t touch your phone for the first waking hour of the day.
- Set specific meeting days (no more than 3 work days a week), so you actually have time to create and focus on getting work done.
- Hire a virtual assistant as soon as possible and learn to delegate. It will increase the output of your work, hence the value of your deliveries will increase and your cashflow will improve.
- Schedule off-days in your calendar (e.g. every second Thursday) as well as at least one spa day a month. When you’re an entrepreneur, your brain anyway never really switches off. But, you need rest, you need breaks, so force yourself to take them — your mind, body, team, and clients will highly thank you for it.
- Work on your mindset. The reason of why you are not where you want to be is in your thought pattern. Your current life is a reflection of exactly that. If you don’t like where you are, you have to change your mindset and approach to business and life.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
- Put your own well-being first. If you are not happy, content, and healthy, neither will be your employees or customers. I like to say, “You gotta put on your mask first before you can save or serve others”. Just like children are an immediate mirror of their parents, employees are a reflection of their boss.
- Be vulnerable from time to time. Nobody expects you to be perfect and if you show your human side, it also gives permission to your employees to open up and express themselves better.
- Ask your team members what else they need to get their job done. What else can you do or provide so that they can deliver a better output. You’ll be surprised by the simple yet amazing responses.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Hafez: “I wish I could show you the astonishing light of your own being.” It almost seems as if every human being is constantly undervaluing themselves. I don’t remember anymore where I found this quote, but it also reminds me of the fact that I have so much more yet to accomplish than I can think of. It reminds me that I am so much more than I see myself to be. And, it has also become some sort of a guiding phrase for how I engage with people. It is one of my key purposes to show other people opportunities they haven’t seen before, and make them aware of how amazing they can be.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Nobody in our team works more than 30h a week. Human beings are barely productive for more than 4–5h/day, and they need sufficient rest to be able to do good work.
- Employees are expected to communicate their mental health challenges. If there is anything that Is worrying them to the point that they can’t do their work properly, they get time off. E.g. it’s absolutely natural to be a wreck after a breakup or if a beloved one dies. If that happens, the person needs space to recreate themselves and regain energy. Work can sometimes be a valuable distraction, but they are by no means expected to get any work done in such situations.
- In our weekly team huddles we discuss the main learning point of the past week. This puts everyone in a place of vulnerability and helps us connect beyond the usual tasks.
- Employees are encouraged to take time off and focus on their well-being. Whether that is meditation, doing sports, or any other mindful activity.
Unfortunately, I can’t come up with 5 at this point, I hope these 4 are fine.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Right?! And, to me, it always seems as if that should be something natural to do for every company!
- Monetary motivation will only take your employees so far. Already in 2010, Kahnemann & Deaton have found that one’s happiness increases with salary raises up to 75k dollars per year. After that, any financial gain does not directly increase one’s happiness. You have to find other ways to keep your employees happy besides financial rewards.
- Oswald and colleagues have found in 2009 that happier employees are on average 12% more productive. So, taking care of your employees’ mental wellness automatically adds up to your bottom-line.
- The American Heart Association has found in 2018 that depression alone costs the US economy roughly 210bn dollars per year and 50% of that is carried by employers. So, taking care of just reducing depression can help you save a lot of money. Additionally, one has to mention that these costs are likely underestimated since 40% of people with mental health issues do not seek help at all.
- Since, apart from sleeping, work is the second-most time consuming activity in our lives, we have to start right there as it will have a massive impact.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
- Offer a safe space. E.g. once a week, each team member can say what’s on their mind and your only job as a leader is to listen, do not judge, do not try to jump in and help. Just listen.
- Practice self-awareness: are you really as good of a listener as you think I am? If people tell you that you are not listening or understanding them, YOU need to listen more.
- Encourage people to seek help. Help them understand that it’s ok how they feel, but it’s also not something that has to last. It is something that can be changed.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
- First of all, your health is 80% your mental health and 20% your physical health. Are you working our your mind 4x as much as your muscles? If not, it’s time to do that and you’ll get 80% of the results with 20% of the work output. Scientists have found that if you’re stressed, e.g. your abs don’t grow as much as they could since you’re more likely to get abdominal fat. So, you might be having a pro workout routine, but if you’re stressed, you’re only achieving a tiny portion of what you could. Or, you could cut your workout in half and still achieve as much if you worked out your mind more.
- Put yourself first. And don’t negotiate that. Put 10–20min of mental health time in your calendar. As if you’d have a meeting with yourself. And, don’t let anything move that. Use it as if it was each day a meeting with your most important client, which is, indeed, you yourself.
- Get a mentor or coach. Seriously. We suffer from information overflow and yet another thing to think about and put on our list is no good for real success. Have someone you’re accountable to and someone you can speak with about all and any thoughts and doubts you might have. That person can give you the additional push and growth, which you’d otherwise give up on if you were by yourself.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
- Breathing: 5sec in, 7sec out. Immediately calms the mind and helps you think clearly again in less than a minute. It helps in any kind of situation…whether you’re having a difficult conversation with a customer, are waiting in line somewhere, or are getting agitated by other stuff.
- Put on a fake smile for 60sec. Even if you’re not happy, this will change the neurochemistry of your brain. Why? Because by moving the muscles in your face as if you’d be smiling, you’re simulating happiness and that tells your mind to be happy.
- 10–20min meditation every day. Either with apps, or loving-kindness, or transcendental — whatever seems to be a good fit in the respective situation. Preferably in the morning. This helps me stay focused, organized, and concentrate on what really matters. It helps me let go of any worries or fears that are not useful, and replace them with thoughts that are much more beneficial.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
- Jen Sincero: You are a badass at making money.
- Bruce Lipton: The Science of Belief
While I don’t have a particular story for each of the books — I found the first one by chance, and the second on was gifted to me by one of my mentees — they have both had a massive impact on my life. Jen doesn’t just break down all kinds of thought barriers one has about money, but she does so in a very easy and playful way. Bruce’s book is a massive eye opener in terms of the immediate impact our environment, belief and thought patterns have on our health and body. Nobody else shows the connections as clearly as he does. If we manage to get hold of our thought patterns and change them, we can change every single piece of our life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Hustle Less & Live More: to show people that the hustle is NOT necessary, that there are many other ways to achieve great things, and that, essentially, we should live life a bit more because it’s short anyway. And, regret has been proven to be the #1 thing that people worry about on their death bed. They regret all the missed opportunities they didn’t take because of some fears they had that never materialised. Additionally, Angela Duckworth has shown in her famous research that grit and passion are key to long-term success. She further mentioned 10+ characteristics of high-achievers, but none ever listed hard work!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!