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“You never know what someone is dealing with, so if they seem off from their usual self, simply taking a few minutes to ask how they are could make all the difference.” with Sammy Courtright

In the past, individuals were tight-lipped when they were dealing with mental illness. 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 […]


In the past, individuals were tight-lipped when they were dealing with mental illness. 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, simply taking a few minutes to ask how they are could make all the difference.

I had the pleasure to interview Sammy Courtright, Co-Founder and COO of Fitspot.Hailing from Australia, Sammy is the co-founder and COO of Fitspot. She’s also a certified Pilates instructor and lifelong lover of wellness. After finding it frustrating to stay healthy in a typical 9-to-5 work environment, she and her business partner, Jonathan Cohn, teamed up to create Fitspot, a leading provider of workplace wellness. Fitspot is a fully managed on-site and digital wellness solution that provides fitness classes, workshops, massages, meditation, and more for employees around the country. Fitspot is on a mission to help companies and properties reap the benefits of a healthier, happier workforce.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up in Australia, I was always active: swimming, playing sports, dancing — you name it, I did it. I continued to have a healthy lifestyle all through college, and even became a certified Pilates instructor, teaching athletes how to improve their game using muscles they didn’t know they had. Then I got my first desk job, and it hit me: It’s really difficult to stay healthy when you work at a desk all day. That realization is part of what motivated me to found Fitspot with Jonathan. We started Fitspot with the goal of making workplace culture more fun and wellness a priority for employees. Generally, workplace wellness included basics like flu shots or a slimmed-down online portal. At Fitspot, we offer a holistic wellness approach that focuses on five pillars essential to well-being: mental wellness, physical wellness, nutritional wellness, financial wellness, and stress management. Through customized on-site and digital wellness experiences, we are making workplaces more balanced, and we’ve seen employees become healthier and happier.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

I think over the past year the stigma around mental health is shrinking, but it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It can start in the workplace, where many adults spend so much time. Believe it or not, research has shown only 40 percent of employees felt that someone at their job cares about how they feel. When people don’t feel like they get the support they need from their managers and co-workers, that can translate to dissatisfaction and depression at work, which easily trickles down to personal life.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

Research has pointed to mental illness as having a negative impact in the workplace: it racks up healthcare costs for both individuals and companies. These costs result from a variety of workplace issues including presenteeism (employees coming to work, but not being productive); absenteeism (missed days from work); and healthcare costs shouldered by the employer (such as pharmacy costs, medical services, and more). With Fitspot’s wellness programs, our goal is to change those stats and de-stigmatize mental wellness in the workplace. We engage with employees at companies and properties, both large and small. We help by bringing mental wellness programs on-site through personalized experiences, such as meditation sessions, chair massages, stress management workshops, and lunch n’ learns; and digitally we offer services through partners such as Whil, a mindfulness and resilience tool.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

In the past, workplace wellness programs tended to focus solely on improving employees’ physical health. In order to achieve optimal well-being, employees’ mental and emotional health must come into proper alignment as well. After all, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about $1 trillion in workplace productivity is lost each year from anxiety and depression alone. When it’s not managed, this can affect absenteeism, turnover, and medical costs. At Fitspot, we believe mental health is just as — if not more — important to overall wellness as physical health. That’s why we take a holistic approach to health to ensure employees have the tools they need to take care of their mental well-being at work. We’ve seen that when companies invest in an employee’s well-being, it shows the employees that companies care, and that makes employees feel more invested in the company.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

A) Individuals

In the past, individuals were tight-lipped when they were dealing with mental illness. 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, simply 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.

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

C) Government

I like the WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan (2013–2020) and would like to see local and state governments supporting mental health in the workplace. Particularly, keep the lines of communication open for employees to seek help, and increase access to care for any who need it, no matter their seniority level in a company.

What are 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

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 wellness 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.

2. Surround yourself with friends.
 
I don’t know what I’d do without my supportive group of girlfriends who are also in the startup community. We go to dinner or drinks at least once or twice a month, where we talk about big (and small!) wins we’ve had, drink some wine and have a good gossip. You tend to lose your social life when you’re running a business, so it’s important to talk about other things besides your work.

3. Use natural remedies, such as essential oils, to relax.

I love my essential oil diffuser. I fill it with lavender or peppermint and leave it sitting on my desk during the workday. It’s amazing how powerful scents are: I instantly feel relaxed or energized when I catch a whiff.

4. Take care of your body.

I always make time for exercise, because when I feel physically well, my energy levels are higher and I feel healthier. My two favorite workouts are yoga and pilates, which focus on both physical fitness and spiritual wellness.

5. Take time for mindfulness.

The benefits of meditation are nearly endless — from lower blood pressure and improved sleep to less stress and anxiety. 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 have found that these mindful moments help me stay centered and make better decisions throughout the day.

6. Hire a coach.
 
I have regular coaching sessions with a leadership coach (who I treat like a therapist) who helps me become a better leader. My coach helps me tackle the areas I’m working to improve, such as giving clear directions to my team; requesting help from team members; or learning how to give better feedback.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

One of my favorite resources is Whil, a mindfulness and resilience app geared toward workplaces. Whil’s app features digital guided sessions that cover employee health, performance, and relationships, in as little as five minutes. That’s one of the reasons Fitspot has partnered with Whil.

I love listening to the “How I Built This with Guy Raz” podcast on NPR. As a startup founder, I have to remind myself how others have navigated their journey to success.

Thank you for joining us!

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