Editor’s note: Gregory Ng is CEO of Brooks Bell. This article was originally published in Fast Company.
RALEIGH — My employees applaud and encourage each other when they Slack that they’re taking a pause from work for mental health time. As CEO, nothing could make me prouder. It means I’m leading by example.
The culture of wellness and self-care that we had baked in before COVID-19 is carrying us through the worst of the pandemic’s effects. The example above is real. When my team takes time to share they are taking a walk, meditating, or even—gasp—snoozing, they are met with encouragement. It’s universally acknowledged that these things are healthy and that the boss is wholly supportive.
But this level of support for one another’s mental health didn’t appear out of thin air. Admittedly, it started because I needed a place to take a nap after becoming a first-time father. The power I found in short, restorative 20-minute naps led to my enthusiastic support of the construction of a “nap room” at my company. It was a belief our founder shared with me and an amenity I encouraged teammates to use for their own wellness routines. In time, the room evolved with the addition of a Peloton, comfortable cushions, and a collection of crowd-sourced wellness books and devices that grew with time.
It’s not just the popularity of boss-encouraged naps that keeps our wellness values in place, it’s sound business practice. Studies show about half of Americans sleep at work anyway, but those who take naps can improve their performance, and companies that allow them may be enabling a healthier workforce through improved immune systems from napping.
While the room hasn’t seen many guests recently, the mental well-being the room came to represent remains in our remote work lives. As CEO, seeing the practices that have kept me mentally well instilled in my employees is one of my greatest achievements—and I think other leaders can take a page from our success.
I’ve done my best to maintain the culture of wellness, mindfulness, and self-care we built for everyone inside our office in our new remote reality—myself included. While these tips might not work for every organization equally, I believe every CEO and workforce has something to gain from a few short naps and more broadly, focusing harder on balance. Here’s what I’ve found works.
HARNESS THE POWER OF NAPS
Embracing wellness began when I discovered short, 20-minute naps (which were in some cases just time to quietly refocus) were helping me remain effective at work as a new dad. But all CEOs and leaders can benefit from a workday nap. Studies show it helps regulate emotion, improve creativity, and lower stress. But more importantly, I’ve found, napping can become a gateway to other healthy activities. How to lead by example: If you plan on napping, meditating, or adding anything else to your wellness routine, make it public on your calendar. Leaning into your own wellness will encourage employees to do the same.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WELLNESS SCHEDULE
COVID-19 has upended our routines. The commute, for example, was my mind’s sanctuary to turn off and reset after the workday. Without a period of time to transition between work and home now, things can blur easily and grow tiresome. In times of disruption, it’s important for leaders to be extra mindful of how downtime factors into their new home routines. For me, that means 20 minutes of quiet time after work to read and decompress. How to lead by example: Consider letting your team off the clock 20-30 minutes early to give them time to unwind before transitioning back to their personal lives.
PUT MENTAL WELLNESS ON PAR WITH PHYSICAL WELL-BEING
CEOs and leaders are feeling the strain of COVID-19 as much as anyone else. But for all the handwashing and distancing we’re doing for our physical health, we don’t seem to be as vigilant about taking defensive measures for mental health. Just remember there’s no judgment if you need to reach out for help, and that nervous breakdowns are real and warning signs shouldn’t be ignored. How to lead by example: Make subscriptions to mediation apps like Headspace or Calm free to employees. Additionally, consider encouraging healthy activities like exercise through friendly employee competitions.
I don’t get bored of celebrating an employee’s long walk, or seeing the surprise on their (virtual) faces when a new team member learns of our nap policy. Having these values built-in as we entered into COVID-19’s wake has kept us strong. Applying this embrace of wellness with your team can help ensure your organization remains healthy as well.