Create company-wide wellness goals. Use your company’s communications channels to share updates and/or for employees to post about their own
Asa 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 Martha Switzer.
Martha Switzer is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Sprout. She is passionate about health and wellness while making a measurable impact. Prior to starting her own company, Martha spent her career in sales and marketing with companies at Fortune500 companies such as Pepsi, Unilever, Nestle, and McCain, where she led brand planning, strategy, and execution.
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?
Iam a longtime, dedicated runner. It’s my go-to for managing the stress of work, and gives me the energy and focus to do my job and handle the complexities that run my day. Early in my marketing career working for top Fortune 500 companies, I started to lose sight of what I needed personally to be well, both physically and mentally. Work was incredibly demanding and I could see my colleagues also becoming depleted. My solution was to start a running club as a way to stay accountable to myself. In turn, I made myself accountable to others. This was the early realization of what a work environment desperately needed: accountability and group support. It was the catalyst for me to start my company and what would later become Sprout Wellness Solutions. Work cultures must prioritize the health of their employees, and employees thrive when there is a community to help them realize their wellbeing goals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In 2013, Sprout was accepted into the Nike+ Accelerator program powered by Techstar. It required us to be in Portland, Ore. for three months developing our product and pitching to investors. Thousands of companies had applied, and we were one of 10 that had been selected to participate. It was an incredible opportunity, but I was a new mom with an eight-week old baby. I didn’t let that stop me and brought my daughter with me every step of the way, strapped into her BabyBjorn she came with me to meetings and boardrooms as I pitched potential investors. Yes, it was challenging to be caring for a newborn, and there were definitely some surprised faces, but I believe that by embracing my dual roles of entrepreneur and mother I was being authentic to myself and to what Sprout stands for: Understanding that our work and personal lives are not separate, and both need to be accounted and cared for.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Share your goals. The COVID pandemic has served to make us painfully aware of how damaging isolation can be. A shared goal keeps us accountable, motivated and connected. I would go further, and urge that you share your wellbeing goals with your colleagues. As company leaders, when we are open about prioritizing our mental health, we can help others in our organization feel comfortable having open conversations around the risks of burnout, and develop preventative strategies together.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Employees are multifaceted individuals. It’s important that we recognize and celebrate that and provide opportunities to allow colleagues to connect. Sprout quickly pivoted to a fully work-from-home environment back in March. We may be physically apart but we are socially connected. Through our internal Sprout platform, we share photos, participate in wellness challenges together, and stay invested in one another’s lives and wellbeing. This level of connection translates to a cohesive work environment. Even though we may be thousands of miles apart, our shared digital world unites us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
We have the incredible opportunity to give the gift of emotional wellbeing to those we meet. Staying in the moment, really listening, connecting, that’s what makes an interaction memorable. I have connected with many great people on my journey as a wellness entrepreneur, and try to focus on always listening as best as I can to what they have to say. People tend to open up to me quickly, and I do my best to reserve judgement and just be present in listening. That builds strong connections.
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?
Certainly. Caring for mental health has always been a priority at Sprout. During these tumultuous times we continue to optimize our initiatives for employee mental wellness and ensure they are accessible and meaningful for our remote workforce.
1. Create a wellness community
As a company we have been running monthly wellness programs. We’ve had team step challenges, mindful lunch goals, a digital gratitude wall and much more.
2. Go digital
Our in house yoga expert now leads online yoga and meditation sessions. It’s so important to provide employees with opportunities during the workday to take a break and focus on restorative health.
3. Keep benefits top-of-mind
As for many companies, providing excellent EAP benefits to our employees is very important. Equally important is communicating their availability!
4. Open dialogue
Our pivot to work-from-home and our plans for an eventual return to the office have involved our employees. Keeping plans transparent and providing opportunities for employees to provide input ensures everyone stays informed and reduces anxiety
2020 has been a tough year, making it vital to celebrate the positive, because it does still exist! One of my favourite new initiatives has been the “Sprout Super Hero”. Colleagues nominate one another for contributing to the company culture with a prize of a healthy lunch delivered to their home! Not only does someone get to enjoy a delicious meal, it’s a fantastic exercise to think about the important ways our colleagues contribute to our work life. We get to share our gratitude with them.
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?
- Communications from leadership and management let employees know that their wellbeing is of utmost importance.
- Share examples from team leaders of how they are staying healthy. Your company is in this together and personal examples go a long way.
- Send reminders to your workforce to take their breaks, lunchtimes, and to make time for family and connecting virtually with friends during non-working hours.
- Provide resources and tips on how to build and maintain healthy habits
- Create company-wide wellness goals. Use your company’s communications channels to share updates and/or for employees to post about their own
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?
1. Maintain regular contact. Zoom-fatigue has set in, but it is still vital to stay connected. Send a text, pick up the phone, even write a letter.
2. Make it personal. Social distancing does not need to mean emotional distancing
3. Look for physical, emotional and behavioural changes. Have your loved ones/colleagues/employees’ energy levels changed? Are they expressing panic or a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed? Are they having difficulty carrying out tasks?.
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?
Physical activity! Get out for a bit. Walk, run, build up a bit of a sweat — a simple movement helps to change your mood instantly. Between work and family, it’s all too easy to lose focus of your own mental wellbeing. I schedule my runs just as I do my meetings. I also try to combine my workouts with others. It keeps me accountable, plus you get the benefit of being social as well!
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 try and do yoga when I can although running is more of my thing. I have recently discovered a fitness program called “The Class” by Taryn Toomey. It combines heavy cardio with meditation and focuses on breathing throughout. It’s an amazing combination of sweat and calm.
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. 🙂
My goal is to make people happier and healthier everywhere. That was the impetus behind starting our company and I am excited to be part of the digital health technology movement that’s dedicated to making happiness and wellbeing accessible.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for these insights.