What is a healthy business? It’s a complicated question. When I work with businesses in my role as a corporate wellness director and advisor, I answer such a question by keeping it simple. I break it down into two main areas. One, what’s the health of the numbers and bottom line? Two, how healthy are you and your employees?
What is a healthy business?
The numbers I won’t focus on too much. As an entrepreneur and person who runs a business, you should know that cash flow is king – sales and marketing are how you generate cash flow and keeping your expenses less than your income is how you make your profit. If you’re not measuring and managing your cash flow and expenses, the unknown can cause you huge amounts of stress and anxiety. Not knowing how much money you’re outlaying and not knowing if you’re losing money, breaking even or making profit, also causes massive stress and anxiety. That anxiety and stress are huge factors that feed into your health.
A very quick rundown on stress:
1. It’s the only hormone in the body which raises as we age
2. Its main function is to keep you alive and aware of potentially dangerous situations
3. It wakes you up in the morning
4. It helps to heal you from injuries and get over illnesses
5. It raises performance levels by releasing other hormones to improve eye, brain and muscular function
Left unchecked though, and if you’re not doing recovery work for yourself to balance out the ‘beast-mode’ lifestyle of being an entrepreneur, stress can cause all manner of health issues. From low grade long-term problems like gum and dental issues (which can turn major), to full blown cardiac and neurological issues.
Stress in context
What we need to do here is understand the big picture of stress. We need to wind the clock back quite a few millennia to start. Before we started settling and farming as a species, our main priorities were to find shelter, food and water and reproduce. That was it. Stress back then was triggered by famine, predators, challenging for a mate or food and going on the hunt. This stress was relatively easy to recover from because there were no jobs, no mortgage or rent payments, no car troubles, no phone bills or direct debits and no employees to pay.
The stress response is physiological, which is designed to release hormones and chemicals into the brain and muscles. This helps them perform at above normal levels that are needed when you need to switch from the rest and digest state to the fight or flight state. The stress response is needed to cause arousal, help you heal from injuries and deal with infections. It’s not always a bad thing.
Issues arise when we can’t recover from a stressful event because we’re constantly faced with small stressor after small stressor, plus the occasional massive stressor. The stress response works the same way whether you’re faced with a genuine physical threat, or you’re dealing with a mental stressor. As far as your body is concerned mental or physical, stress is stress, and the hormones and chemicals get released anyway. So, if you’re getting chased by a lion or you receive an email with the subject “I need to see you”, your body is gearing you up to run away from or to fight someone or something.
Issues with elevated stress.
Most of us are familiar with the long-term effects of high stress. The high blood pressure, the heart attacks, the mental fall out that comes with not being able to cope. But there are more issues than you think.
With cortisol (stress) being a survival hormone, it trumps every other hormone production system in the body. This means it can shut down and override thyroid function, digestion, sleep, hunger, pain sensitivity, melanin production (means you get pale skin) and a build-up of plaque in the arteries, leading to potential heart diseases and thrombosis forming.
Left unchecked and without intervention, long-term elevated stress is a genuine killer.
How to measure, monitor and keep stress in check:
1. Get a blood pressure machine and check it at least 3 mornings a week. Ideal gold standard reading is 115/75 with your heart rate being 60 or less. Anything over these scores and you’re at risk of heart issues.
2. Keep a sleep log/diary of how well you’re sleeping and for how long, plus include your bedtime routine if you have one.
3. Exercise. This can be lower intensity exercise and activity like walking, beginners’ yoga and stretching. It can be slightly higher intensity things like aerobic conditioning. Ideally, you’ll aim to keep your heart rate between 120-150 beats per minute for a minimum 45 minutes 3 times a week.
4. Meditation is a great tool for helping to chill out and manage stress. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Headspace app for this.
5. See a therapist. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. The way I see it, is that it’s like personal training for the mind. And a safe space to unload any issues you want to deal with.
6. Invest in your teams’ mental health. Stats from Deloitte revealed that for every £1 invested to a company’s mental wellbeing, there was a £5 ROI in terms of reduced absence, employee engagement and buy in to the company.
7. Coach your staff rather than manage them. This practice I’ve found yields much better performance results and increases productivity and the resulting profitability.
Getting these stress management practices into your daily routine will help to reduce your stress levels, thus ensuring your workplace is a healthier environment. An improved environment will have your staff wanting to come to work, do a great job, make your customers feel great and keep coming back and bringing their contacts too.
Great businesses start with great people. Look after the people and the profit will be the reward for a job well done.
Written by Dean Rahaman: RA Republic