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“Reduce employee burnout.” With Sammy Courtright

One of Ten Spot’s goals is to reduce employee burnout, and we’ve taken steps to optimize and improve our employees’ mental wellness and work with different schedules. For example, our live meditation, stress management, and fitness sessions are available at a wide range of times and then recorded, so they’re available to watch through our […]

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One of Ten Spot’s goals is to reduce employee burnout, and we’ve taken steps to optimize and improve our employees’ mental wellness and work with different schedules. For example, our live meditation, stress management, and fitness sessions are available at a wide range of times and then recorded, so they’re available to watch through our on-demand library.

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 Sammy Courtright.

Hailing from Australia, Sammy Courtright is the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot, an all-in-one platform that helps companies connect, engage, and manage remote and on-site employees.

After finding it frustrating to stay healthy in a typical 9-to-5 environment, Sammy and her co-founder, Jonathan Cohn, teamed up in 2014 to create Fitspot, whose mission was to deliver wellness where employees needed it the most — at work. Renamed Ten Spot in 2020, the company not only rebranded to expand beyond wellness, but now offers a centralized solution for companies to increase their productivity, boost retention, and build a strong culture.

When COVID hit, Sammy learned that customers were facing a similar issue: how do we ensure employees feel like they work for the same company when they are not in the same place? Through research, she discovered that leadership was struggling to manage distributed teams. This led to Ten Spot’s expansion to the workforce engagement platform it is today.

With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Miami, Sammy is a certified Pilates instructor who brings a blend of grit and imagination to the zillions of tasks that confront every startup. While she wears many hats, Sammy’s passion for building culture has created an atmosphere at Ten Spot dedicated to positive thinking and collaboration.

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?

I’ve always been very creatively inclined, and in school, I studied theatre. However, at the same time, there’s always been part of my brain hyper-focused on solving problems.

Anytime I go into a restaurant or a store, I find myself thinking about all the ways it could be more efficient and scalable, and have even emailed the owners with my ideas (I know, I am that person). That is how I met Jon, my co-founder. Mutual friends introduced us and once I heard about what he was working on, I started telling him all the ideas I had to make it scale.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In our first few months of existence, an engineer who worked for us hijacked our entire code base and held it for ransom for 45 days. We learned, after the fact, that he had created a segment of the code using his personal email address rather than his work email address.

For 45 days, we literally had no insight into the product. We didn’t know who was using it or if there were any bookings–nothing! With legal assistance, the issue was ultimately resolved. It was a jarring (and slightly expensive!) lesson for us when it came to safeguarding and protecting the company’s intellectual property.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

This is something that I am actively trying to work on for myself. Ironically, helping employees thrive and avoid burnout is at the core of what Ten Spot is all about. But there are times where I personally find it difficult to pause, take a break, to take ‘me time’ and disconnect. I still have a lot of personal work to do in this domain. On that note, as I have been figuring out what works for me, here is what I’ve learned.

Working and living through a pandemic has forced many people to rethink how they structure their day, and I’ve certainly mixed up my routine to help keep me productive, feeling good, and reduce any extra stressors that come my way. The first item being the lack of a commute. I previously walked to and from the office every day. Rain, hail, or shine, I would always walk. It allowed me to take time myself to prepare for the upcoming day and unwind mentally. Now that the commute no longer exists. I am still talking those 20 minutes to myself each day to either read an article, listen to a podcast, go for a stroll, drink a cup of tea–whatever I feel like I need that day, I do.

Create a separate workspace — I have a home office that I share with my significant other (talk about a major adjustment!) We’ve established that the room is specifically for work and very intentionally separated from our living space. Once I finish working for the day, I leave the home office, shut the door, and leave work behind until the next morning.

Get in some exercise every day — It doesn’t matter what I do or for how long I do it, but I move my body and get my heart rate up every day. It helps me alleviate stress, puts me in a good mood, and I find I’m more productive throughout the day. We are currently running a step challenge internally at Ten Spot, and I am extremely competitive, so I have been taking afternoon walks to boost my rank on the leaderboard.

Take breaks — Just because we are working from home doesn’t mean you can’t take breaks. This was something difficult to establish at the beginning of the lockdown. I felt like time blurred together, and once I had finished Tiger King, I got bored, and I would do emails well into the night. But now I know how important it is to step away for a minute. Sometimes I go out for a 20-minute walk, and I always try to eat lunch away from my desk. A mid-morning or afternoon coffee or tea break doesn’t hurt either.

Meditate or take time to breathe — I’m a big fan of meditation and feel like if you’re not already meditating regularly, there’s no better time to start than now. If the idea of meditating is not for you, then take a couple of minutes each day to focus on breathing. (And I won’t tell you that you’re doing mini-meditations!)

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

First, I think it’s important to be mindful of our current work situation. Thousands of people have shifted to remote work this year as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if a company finds its employees are happier and more productive, as a result, they are also finding out that working on distributed teams brings challenges to maintaining company culture.

We all know that company culture is important to employees for multiple reasons. When employees know where their company stands on its beliefs and values and prioritize the same things personally, they are more likely to stay with the company.

And when a company has a culture that makes it a priority to celebrate its employees’ successes, take care of them, keep things positive, and keep good communication, people tend to be happier, too.

While all of these factors can create a fantastic work culture, they’re not easy to maintain outside of a typical office environment. Employees no longer have the opportunity to get that feeling of pride when they walk through the company’s doors or in those mood-lifting birthday celebrations in the conference room.

Celebrating employees’ successes now needs to be done via email, chat, or Zoom, which doesn’t quite have the same effect as it does in person.

Communication can be difficult, too. Check-ins with employees are harder to manage when they’re virtual. Even day-to-day meetings are different when they’re held from afar, as not everyone feels comfortable chiming in, which can leave people feeling excluded and disconnected from their teams. The good news is that even with these challenges, keeping a great company culture is possible when a company has the right tools.

Ten Spot has worked to address this not only for our employees but for our customers. We offer a weekly schedule of live virtual experiences to bring back that critical feeling of togetherness for the remote workforce. Offering employees the chance to virtually gather for live music, comedy shows, cooking classes, workout classes, and other activities won’t just bring the fun back into their days — it shows them they’re important.

Aside from tuning into events together — which are also available on-demand — Ten Spot’s Challenges also allow remote teams to bond through step-counting competitions, meditation challenges, and more. It gives everyone something to talk about aside from work and keeps employees feeling both mentally and physically healthy in the process.

If you’re not working with an employee engagement platform, here are few ideas on how to create a great work culture:

1) Transparency — let colleagues know what is going well and what isn’t going well (within reason!)

2) Make employees feel accountable and responsible for their work. When someone feels ownership over a project or initiative, it makes them feel responsible for its success.

3) Celebrate the small wins. From closing deals to birthdays, celebrate it all. It brings people together and creates a sense of community.

4) Increase the frequency of your one-on-one meetings. This hasn’t been easy for anyone, and connecting with your colleagues to see how they are doing speaks volumes.

5) Get to know each other. Randomly schedule 10 minutes to chat with another colleague (ideally someone who does not report to you) and try not to discuss work.

When done correctly, the remote workforce can still have a robust company culture. Even though it’s new and may take more effort, having employees who love what they do — and who they do it for — makes the extra navigating more than worth it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”- Denis Waitley.

It is not easy running an early-stage company. I am, ironically, quite risk-averse. This quote reminds me to always take the plunge, make the tough decision, and speak up because any path taken involves risk.

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?

This pandemic has put employee mental health front and center for most organizations. Research shows more people are putting in excessive hours at work and experiencing increased burnout because of the inability to separate personal and professional lives.

1. One of Ten Spot’s goals is to reduce employee burnout, and we’ve taken steps to optimize and improve our employees’ mental wellness and work with different schedules. For example, our live meditation, stress management, and fitness sessions are available at a wide range of times and then recorded, so they’re available to watch through our on-demand library.

2. We offer meditation sessions, anxiety, and stress management workshops, and we also provide access to our partners, such as Whil, a mindfulness and resilience tool. They’re one of my favorite resources because their guided sessions cover employee health, performance, and relationships in as little as five minutes.

3. October is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re raising awareness for this important issue by running a 30-day Mental Health Awareness Month Challenge for customers and internally at Ten Spot. Our team participates in activities on our platform and off, so they can tune into meditation sessions together, attend yoga classes, or introduce a new healthy habit into their day. It’s an excellent way to keep everyone connected, motivated, and accountable.

4. The stigma around mental health and speaking up about stress at work, combined with concerns of economic instability, means we’re far from normalizing mental health conversation in the workplace. We’ve worked hard to ensure our programming offers a breadth of variety for people to become more educated around this critical issue and build up their communication skills to advocate for mental health in the workplace. We’re providing the tools to talk about mental health at work to help provide a safe space for those struggling and create a positive and open culture.

5. And what are probably my all-time favorite team exercises lately are Ten Spot’s Crush-Its / all-hands meetings — that are not focused on work but more personal conversations. They’ve beautifully transformed from peer-to-peer recognition to 30 minutes of getting to know each other on a personal level. It is a welcomed break from work that we all take each week.

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?

1) Know what the symptoms of depression are. Ensure your HR team is well-versed in symptoms of depression — which is more than just being sad or having a bad day. People who have depression may experience severe exhaustion and fatigue, difficulty focusing, feelings of emptiness, sadness, guilt, withdrawal from others, and sleep or appetite changes.

2) Tell employees about available services. Many workplaces have employee assistance programs that include confidential mental health services. You can also provide employees with links to hotlines, such as the Crisis Text Line, or online therapy services, such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace.

3) Avoid pressuring people to open up. Whether or not to disclose mental health issues is every employee’s personal choice. If they feel like it’s impacting their work quality, employees should assess their relationships with their boss and determine how much information, if any, they feel comfortable sharing. They may also tap their HR contact to help provide insight and consult about the best way to approach the conversation.

4.) Encourage short breaks away from work throughout the day. If you use a collaboration tool like Slack, you can choose from dozens of integrations to help with this. For example, we’ve built an integration that reminds us to take a short break and catch up with coworkers (non-work conversations only!) Trivia is another fun activity we do each day for a little fun, friendly competition. Activities like these have been proven to boost confidence and improve employees’ attitudes toward their employers. While they won’t eliminate depression or stress symptoms, they can help increase the overall mood at work!

5) Encourage education — the stigma around mental health and speaking up about stress at work, combined with concerns of economic instability, mean we’re far from normalizing mental health conversation in the workplace. Provide training to leaders and supervisors on effective ways to reduce stress, and create practical goals for optimal performance and communication. Help leaders and managers provide a safe space for those struggling to create a positive and open culture.

6) Promote mindfulness or meditation training. Meditation is a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety, train the brain to regulate emotions, and help people learn how to handle stressful situations. Plus, it’s now convenient and portable, thanks to online apps such as Headspace, Whil, or Calm.

7) Encourage physical activity. More movement equals less stress, according to dozens of research studies. Encourage employees to fit in fitness via group workouts. Or set up workplace challenges to hit 10,000 steps per day or take those smartphones out and turn that Zoom call into a walk-and-talk meeting to help people get more steps in during the day.

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?

A) Individuals

In the past, individuals were tight-lipped when dealing with mental illness because of the stigmas associated with it, particularly if they felt it could be a risk to their employment or future career path. But over the past few years, everyone is opening up. As a leader at a company or just a friend, you can show that you are open to giving support by checking in frequently with friends, family, and employees. You never know what someone is dealing with, so if they seem off from their usual self, merely taking a few minutes to ask how they are could make all the difference.

B) Society

Remove the stigma of mental illness, especially in the workplace. In the past, mental illness was not talked about or addressed in the workplace, but considering that many people spend more than 40 hours a week here, they need resources at work in addition to at home. The workplace can provide stress-relief and mental well-being resources and build a supportive community.

A few ways to do this in society:

● Offer workshops focused on stress management and mental wellness.

● Provide stress-relieving activities in the workplace, such as chair massages and meditation sessions. Considering the time we live in, with COVID-19, it’s essential to provide employees with access to apps like Whil, services like TalkSpace, or incentives to exercise.

● Let employees know about available services, such as employee assistance programs or confidential mental health services.

C) Community

And if we take all those points and bring it all together — connecting with others and building communities is vital. Meetup is a great place to advertise and connect with people who share similar interests. In this COVID age, when many people are struggling and missing real human connection, doing activities from watching a movie or going for a hike creates a sense of community and helps battle feelings of isolation and stress.

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?

Some of the strategies I use to stick to my healthy habits involve the following three things.

1. Start your day with a list.

I’ve learned that there’s an insane amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a startup, from hiring to ensuring that our services are running smoothly. I often work 12 hours (or more) each day. To stay balanced, I start my day by writing a fresh to-do list on pen and paper, carrying over any remaining tasks from the day before. The act of crossing off items at the end of the day is beyond satisfying. It organizes chaos for me.

2. Find people, groups, or apps that help you stay accountable in sticking to routines and meeting goals

Whether your goal is related to exercise, eating healthier, quitting smoking, or making improvements to your home that make you feel more calm and relaxed, sometimes you need a little extra support that a list won’t give you. For example, if you want to stick to working out three times per week, make it a point to find a friend and sign up for fitness classes over Zoom together. Want to drink more water? Download an app that tracks your intake, set a goal, and invite a group of coworkers to participate in a “drink more water” challenge to keep your check intentions.

3. Take care of your mind and body.

I always make time for exercise because when I feel physically well, my energy levels are higher, and I feel healthier. My favorite workouts are tennis, yoga, and pilates, which boost physical fitness and spiritual wellness. Meditation is also something I practice for 10 minutes a day. And I still need to add it to my calendar daily to remind me to do it. Meditation benefits are nearly endless — from lower blood pressure and improved sleep to less stress and anxiety.

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 like to use Whil, a mindfulness, and resilience app targeted toward workplaces. It promotes various helpful tools and practices designed to support mental well-being with topic areas, including meditation, stress and anxiety, increasing happiness, and bettering sleep.

An example of how using Whil has impacted my own life is I try to do 10 minutes of meditation every morning. It helps me tune inward and start my day on a calm, peaceful note before heading into the chaos of the office. I find that these mindful moments help me stay centered and make better decisions throughout the day. It is so effective that it’s one of the reasons Ten Spot has partnered with Whil.

One of the major benefits of running Ten Spot is that I have access to some of the most incredible meditation experts who host services live on our platform daily.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson helps you prioritize what you should actually care about in life and at work.

It helped me accept and improve the life I have. Candidly, there are periods where I feel perpetually entitled to feel comfortable at all times, and let me tell you, running a start-up is anything but comfortable.

This book gives you perspective when you are overwhelmed by the number of items you should care about, and it helps you prioritize. I found that it removed some of the emotions in my decision-making, allowing me to be more agile.

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. 🙂

Studies continue to show that employees are more creative and perform at higher levels when they are in mentally healthy work environments. (Src: https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/psychological-health-and-safety/relevant-statistics)

That being said, and with October being Mental Health Awareness month, we wanted to give our customers and their teams some motivation to take steps towards mental fitness. We’re running a Mental Health Awareness Challenge where participants earn points for completing particular activities, like attending a meditation session or a yoga class with a coworker.

It includes offline activities like creating mantras, unplugging from social media, or adopting a healthy habit. When it comes to starting something that would impact people and their mental health, we envision this challenge going beyond Ten Spot’s customers.

We want to make the challenge an international event for all companies. Ten Spot has been getting rave reviews from our customers about how informative and beneficial the program has been to their employees. Participants report feeling an increase in well-being, stress relief, feeling more connected to team members during this time of distributed work, and feeling more productive at work and in their personal lives. If we can help companies do this across the globe, we’re helping to support people with ways to reduce and manage stress, making caring for the mind at work genuinely accessible. Evolving this into an international program could be beneficial to employees in many different ways, from destigmatizing mental health to feeling more emotionally healthy.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Following Ten Spot on one or more of our social media channels is the best way to keep up with what we’re doing.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/tenspot/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tenspot

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tenspot/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hellotenspot

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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