“Why sleep is important” Elliott Phear and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Flexible hours: Long before we all had to work from home, we encouraged our people to find a schedule that worked for them, spending some time at home and some time in the office each week. This policy freed people up to do things like take spin classes at lunch, avoid commutes, work late when […]

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Flexible hours: Long before we all had to work from home, we encouraged our people to find a schedule that worked for them, spending some time at home and some time in the office each week. This policy freed people up to do things like take spin classes at lunch, avoid commutes, work late when they wanted to, etc. It significantly improved peoples’ quality of life, and in one stroke, it boosted morale and productivity at the same time.

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 Elliott Phear.

Elliott Phear is the CEO of Night After Night, a creative and strategic agency that works with global brands in spirits, music and entertainment and nightlife. After an early career at MTV, writing, developing and producing original programming, Phear co-founded Night After Night to help brands connect with consumers when they’re most open — in their after hours, once they’ve disconnected from the day to seek the things that fulfill them most. Through strategic planning, talent partnerships, an in-house content studio, and an always-on approach to engagement, Phear and his team have developed and managed marketing programs that have helped add hundreds of millions of dollars worth of value to their clients businesses.

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 a creative person, interested in the arts, humanities, and what makes people tick. In school, I studied painting and photography, and after graduating, I moved to NYC to pursue a career as an artist. Shortly after my arrival, I started working on film sets to pay the bills, and I ended up falling in love with the way a team of artists would come together to make something amazing. I realized then that while I loved being creative, I also loved being part of a team. I began working in television and landed a job at MTV, where I produced the live daily show ‘TRL’ for a while. It was a thrill to be creating a show that had the most prominent pop artists in the world stopping by every day. It was a great run, but I recognized the budding entrepreneur in myself after a few years and honored that calling by starting my own business with a talented young director I met while directing a documentary about the Bonnaroo music festival in 2004. He and I were fast friends, and we clicked creatively, and he’s been my business partner ever since. In the early days, we did a lot of television shows and content programs for brands. As we’ve grown, we’ve evolved to be business advisors to some of the world’s biggest brands — helping them develop marketing strategies that capture the hearts and minds of young people. Our agency is a team of 24 gifted folks from various professional backgrounds who work together to create impactful marketing campaigns for our clients.

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

This is less about a story and more about a series of things I’ve done that are reflective of a philosophy of mine. Which is that you have to ask for what you want. When I got my job at MTV, it was because I watched the credits of the show I wanted to work at, and then I sent the Executive Producer a letter. When I wanted one of the biggest whiskey brands in the world as our client, I reached out and let them know. Obviously this approach doesn’t always work, but you’ll never know until you try. You have to just keep pushing yourself and discovering what you’re capable of.

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

Our agency was named after our belief that great things happen at night when we can ‘do the things we love with the people we love.’ Part of that means unplugging from work and media and also taking a break from the hustle. I’d suggest to my colleagues that restoring yourself over dinner with friends, at a live music show, or at your favorite local brewery are key to conquering the day. These things are a big part of what makes us feel connected as humans — to life and each other — and, on top of recommending time off the clock to my peers, I also encourage everyone on our team to take the time they need to relish their ‘off-hours.’

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

Create time and space for people to get together without a specific objective. As a culture, we spend so much time with our co-workers, but often, we hardly know them. Our agency has lunchrooms and bars that people are encouraged to use any time they want, for any purpose. Mostly, people get together and have lunch or drinks, or shoot the breeze. But that’s the rich stuff of life. Like John Lennon said, ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ So, you might as well enjoy the time you’re here! Often, at our bars, two people will turn into four or six, and a mini-happy hour will break out. These little things bring people closer together and make a culture strong.

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

I always tell my kids, “Rule number one is don’t panic.” It’s sort of becoming our family’s de facto motto. It’s applicable in so many areas of life, and what it means is this: Even if you’re panicking, don’t panic. Because it probably isn’t that big a deal, and you’ll make far better decisions if you stay calm. I’ve had some tough things happen to me in my life, and what I’ve learned is that most things that happen in life don’t really matter. I’m very fortunate that I have an income that supports my family, healthcare, and that I get to call my own shots. After that, I try not to sweat the small stuff. We spend so much time worrying about things that never happen. Getting past that was a big moment for me in my life.

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?

Flexible hours: Long before we all had to work from home, we encouraged our people to find a schedule that worked for them, spending some time at home and some time in the office each week. This policy freed people up to do things like take spin classes at lunch, avoid commutes, work late when they wanted to, etc. It significantly improved peoples’ quality of life, and in one stroke, it boosted morale and productivity at the same time.

Yoga: We host a free yoga session once a week at our office (and now online). I think it’s a nice way to start your days with your co-workers. You’re connected, you’re focused, you’re sweaty — just kidding. But seriously, yoga is popular for a reason, and we love it.

Celebrating birthdays in unique ways: I think everyone on a team wants to be recognized. And one way to do that is by demonstrating that you know them well. We throw birthday celebrations for all our employees, and they always include some of their favorite foods and drinks. It’s a gesture that goes a long way in making that person feel appreciated.

‘The Kitchen’: Since Covid, we’ve experimented with different ways of fostering connections between our team members. One thing we’ve done that’s been successful is to keep an open Zoom channel for people to join, if they like, on Thursdays at lunchtime. Because it’s optional and casual, people are more likely to drop in for a few minutes and catch up about things non-work related, and t’s helped our team feel more connected to each other.

1:1 Check-ins: We do our best to take people out to lunch or a bar now and again to catch up one on one, over a meal or drink, outside or normal review periods. There’s something about ‘breaking bread’ together that enables better and more in-depth conversations.

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?

You can start by talking about it! I’ve had mental health issues in my family, and I’m very aware of the challenges it presents to even the brightest and most accomplished among us. Yet, it’s still so stigmatized and so rarely discussed. We’ve been lucky that these days pop stars are regularly creating music that addresses it. I would love to see that happen more in the course of regular discussion. It would help normalize it, which would get it more attention and better care.

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?

I think being a good friend is a great start. And knowing when to gently suggest seeing a therapist, and providing resources to someone who has never seen one before. On a societal level, I think hotlines are great resources. Teletherapy seems to have expanded what’s ‘normal’ in our culture. I also believe it is essential that general practitioners include mental health in their overall assessment of someone’s well-being, and I’m glad that there’s a budding movement to implement this.

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?

Good sleep, a good diet, and exercise should be happening on some level every day. It may sound basic, but I’m afraid many people haven’t conditioned themselves to do the fundamentals. I would add journaling to this, as well. It’s a great way to track your moods and also to get some perspective on the things that are happening around you. Lastly, it’s always good to be learning something new. Right now, I’m learning piano and songwriting.

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?

Running is my favorite of all my practices. I run around 25 to 30 miles a week these days. Anyone can do it, and you can do it on your schedule (which is essential to me since I have two kids and two businesses). There’s plenty of research suggesting that exercise prolongs life, keeps you mentally healthy, and helps spark your brain’s creativity. For me, some of my best ideas come when I’m running. It also provides me with the solitude I need to better connect both in my company and as a husband and father.

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

Darkness Visible is William Styron’s autobiographical book that chronicles his terrible depression. It’s excellent. I enjoyed his other books, and this book made me realize that if it could happen to an artist as brilliant as Styron, it could happen to anyone. In other words, for me, it was the book that finally slayed the foolish myth that you can outthink or out will mental health challenges. Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind is great, too.

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. 🙂

Right now, I just want to give people the permission to relax, be their true selves, and have a good time. Everyone is wound up so tight because of everything that’s going on — it’s a crazy world that seems bent on breaking itself! To deal with it, people need to fight, but they also need to be able to relax and be comfortable in their own skin for a little while. How awesome would it be if the revolution turned out to solve climate change, provide healthcare, fix systemic racism, and also be a great time?!

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

Sign up for my newsletter at wearenightafternight.com, follow my agency on Twitter @TheNightAgency or on Instagram or LinkedIn @WeAreNightAfterNight.

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

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