Flexibility in Schedule: Our team works from a results driven approach. Meaning, while there are meetings and obligations that we all attend, employees mostly set their own schedules so that they can be productive during the times of day that work best for them. This encourages trust, performance and a freer flow of productivity.
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 Wendy Yates.
Wendy Yates is an entrepreneur and philanthropist dedicated to leading by example as she inspires her team and like-minded leaders to create a culture rooted in value. After dropping out of college to prematurely launch into the world of business, she’s experienced failure on many levels and she’s learned how to use her grit and purpose-driven motives to ultimately succeed. Yates is the CEO and founder of Abigail-Elise Companies, which presently includes Abigail-Elise Design Studio, Well Fit Human Retreats, and a newly formed non-profit AE Cares. Together she works with her team to elevate the overall quality of people’s lives by being a force for good.
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?
Growing up we moved homes often, which made it difficult to create and maintain friendships. This reality had both a positive and negative effect on me which gave me both strengths and opportunities to work on. In many ways I began to be more resilient at an early age. I learned how to create space for myself and how to initially communicate with many different personality types. Since my relationships were almost always short lived I was also very lonely and can now see that I lacked trust when it came to building more long term relationships. I never really had a sense of home, nor a community so in a roundabout way I believe those aspects moved me toward my specific career path.
It was when I was going through a divorce in my young adulthood, didn’t have a place to live and had a two-year old that I decided to start Abigail-Elise Interiors (aka AE) in Summit County Colorado during a recession. Although the timing wasn’t the easiest, my shift into entrepreneurship was very natural and it enabled me to build more long term working relationships in an area I now call home.
A couple years ago I was craving more human connection and felt compelled to make adaptations to my own life that inspired more joy and more self-fulfillment. It was from this idea that I created Well Fit Human Retreats, a wellness, fitness and humanitarian company that promotes travel, growth and giving back on a global level. Through local and international events we are activating purpose in people, while also creating experiences that improve an individual’s mental, emotional and physical sense of well-being.
All in all, I’ve always had a drive to constantly grow in ways that made me incrementally better so that each day I can live with purpose and joy. It took me failing several times to learn how to successfully utilize my natural creativity and leadership skills so that I can create and collaborate with high-reaching design teams, change people’s lives, and create both spaces and experiences that change what others believe is possible for themselves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Hmmm… Can you define interesting? If by interesting you mean valuable then I have a story.
Beginning my career may be one of the most interesting/valuable stories I have because it forced me to grow up and live with intention. I was divorced with a baby, my car was broken down, I didn’t have a job or friends, and …I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Add in the fact it was during a recession and there wasn’t a single person to help me at that time. I did what was necessary, I started a company.
As a side note, I fully believe that if you are paying attention life forces you to be intentional with your time and resources. My experience showed me that once I was able to recognize this reality, I was able to accomplish what I put my mind to. In the long run, I want to help guide others to know and embody this life lesson so that they too can create their lives in a positive and productive way.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
To avoid burnout, I challenge myself everyday to evolve into a better leader, thinker and overall person. My craving to learn from others’ success is so overpowering that there is no room for self-doubt. By using these methods and having faith that I will thrive, I am able to stay mentally healthy during times of stress. I would suggest to my colleagues to surround themselves with people they admire and set goals that challenge them to evolve into the person they have always wanted to be. After they are able to find their purpose there is no room for burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I would say that giving people clear direction, freedom, flexibility and being transparent is the most productive work culture. Also, acknowledge that there will be times when you are going in multiple directions in a way that may feel chaotic. It’s ok because chaos can give way to a clearer direction or path and it is often a part of growing a stronger team. At the end of the day find team members that understand your mission and vision so that they can fully get behind the purpose you are fueling. Make sure that their motives and mindset align with your own so that together you can level up to achieve more. Lastly, empower your team to self-educate, to seek our new and innovative tools that will benefit both their personal and professional growth. They will not only appreciate this, but the entire company will benefit from it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I would like to share a mindset instead if I may. “Mental wellness includes a lifestyle approach to managing.”
Your environment, diet, exercise routine, actions towards others, usage of time, spending habits, and friends create your personal experience which has a direct effect on your mental wellness. Everything we do in life is tied together. If I were to add a quote that I live by centered on mental health it would be by Richard Branson — “You don’t learn to walk by following rules, you learn by doing, by falling over.”
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?
At Abigail-Elise Companies, we are constantly encouraging and acknowledging our strengths, analyzing our shortcomings, and setting goals that value ourselves and add to our community. I motivate and inspire the team to uplift each other, to strive for excellence in service, mindset, and wellness-based routines. Some methods in which we implement these practices are as follows:
- Flexibility in Schedule: Our team works from a results driven approach. Meaning, while there are meetings and obligations that we all attend, employees mostly set their own schedules so that they can be productive during the times of day that work best for them. This encourages trust, performance and a freer flow of productivity.
- Work and Life Goals Meetings: We hold monthly goals meetings where we all have a chance to share our successes, experiences, and goals, both personal and professional. Through the practice of communicating and listening to one another we are able to maintain a connection with the person behind the position while also being held accountable for what it is we want to accomplish. This activity keeps us all motivated, inspired and on point.
- Annual Company Retreat: This is an event based in appreciation and connection. It gives us more opportunities to work on goal setting, personal development and build closer relationships as a team.
- Work Remotely: If the talent fits and fills the need we prefer to invest in growing and evolving our efforts to keep people thriving. If you are dedicated, willing to learn and go above and beyond, we believe you should have the opportunity to live wherever you want. Essentially, be where you are happiest, do the work that you love and avoid fitting into a job that doesn’t resonate or simply just has to be done.
- Achievable Milestones that relate to raises in compensation: Opportunity… the idea is to say, “these are the results I want, and here are different ways in which I can grow my financial status by achieving those results.” The goal is not to incentivise with just money but with recognition. It showcases how you added more value than what was expected by exceeding expectations and improving the company’s overall worth.
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?
My strategy is simple, treat your employees how you would like to be treated and supply them with the proper tools to succeed. Support their growth with weekly training and external education opportunities. Team members that are treated well have a greater mental capacity and aren’t looking for alternate employment to advance their skills. Work becomes noticeably more than a job, it evolves into an entity that brings value to their lives. No one should have to trade their time for money at your company, not to say there won’t be challenges and conflicts, but overall your employees’ work should bring them a sense of wellness.
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?
Most of the time when people are overwhelmed they feel alone or unaccepted. As a community we need to pay attention to others’ mood, actions and language. People subconsciously drop subtle hints when they are in need of help and if we, as a community, aren’t actively consuming this information, it may be missed.
As a leader of a company, creating a safe place for your team to be authentic, without compromise, is the first step. I have an open door policy when it comes to mental health. There isn’t anything that my team should be afraid to tell me because I meet every communication openly and without judgement. This obviously doesn’t mean I have to agree, but when your team knows they have nothing to be afraid of by being honest, anxiety and depression become more manageable.
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?
Mental health is connected to your physical, emotional and financial well being. Starting with goals that are easy and attainable in one of these areas helps set a tone for optimal habit swapping. The best strategy I have found for keeping oneself on track is journaling. Journaling is a powerful tool to record your intentions, wins and failures. The world is constantly changing so by taking the time to reflect and to be grateful can drastically shift one’s perspective. I keep a video diary and am always surprised to look back on the previous month to see how much I have grown in such a short period of time. Try it yourself for three months, you will be surprised at what you learn from 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?
I personally find it difficult to meditate and fall asleep, but the use of calming apps and bedtime storytelling with a positive message have been wonderful tools in setting my sleep up for success.
The use of vision boards and affirmations to change one’s mindset and mental wellbeing can sound cheesy, but once you try it you’ll realize it works. I use affirmations every day and night to speak things into existence. By giving thought to an idea it expands, focus on what you want to exist, it’s a total game changer.
As for my team, our company’s culture is rooted in creating positive impact and in order for AE to achieve this on a larger scale we must first do it on an individual level. By sharing personal goals, we practice vulnerability. For new employees it is challenging, but once they start they realize how much they have in common with others, it takes some of the stress out. To add emphasis on how mental and physical health is supported within the workplace, I provide free audible subscriptions and health benefits. Beginning 2021 we will be offering gym or yoga membership reimbursement and an annual allotment for dermatology appointments.The point is to encourage the act of self-care by listening to one’s body and mind to create a fulfilling lifestyle.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I honestly cannot think of ONE book, but I do fill every moment I can in listening to podcasts. The NPR podcast How I Built This has greatly influenced how I chose to think about my companies. Ted Talks and Ted Radio Hour are two I’ve been recently vibing on as they help me generate more global awareness and ideas about how I can contribute on a bigger scale. Lastly, Broke to WOKE is a great one! If you don’t know about it I highly recommend it.
Worth mentioning… I recently started my own podcast called The Design Driven Life where I talk to seasoned entrepreneurs, leaders and wellness gurus to help others gain the tools it takes to shift their mindset to becoming a Well Fit Human. I had to plug that in.
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. 🙂
I am dedicated to pioneering change by showing others that companies can have a culture rooted in community and helping them overcome limited belief patterns. Founders should view their team as partners by embracing them as intrapreneurs and allowing them to be both authentic and candid. Work and life shouldn’t be two different things, but part of a harmonious lifestyle. If more leaders could adapt this type of mindset it would be a major game changer for our future generations. A leader is only as strong as their team.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Website: https://aeinteriorsinc.com/
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abigailelisedesignstudio/
Well Fit Human Website: https://www.wellfithuman.com/
Well Fit Human Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wellfithuman/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!