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Why the C-Suite Should Treat Employees Like Professional Athletes

Just as the best athletes consider personal health a part of their training, employees in high pressure work environments must focus on their personal well-being if they are going to deliver peak performance.
Why the C-Suite Should Treat Employees Like Professional Athletes
Image credit: PAUL ELLIS | AFP | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder and CEO of League Inc.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a serial entrepreneur, I used to believe the only path to success was being connected to my work constantly. Turns out I'm not alone -- Americans spend more than 50 percent of the work day on email and as tech has evolved, there has become a universal expectation that we are always "on call" and reachable. After years of accepting stress, relentless travel and junk food for dinner as the norm, I realized it was actually just a path toward burn out. Once I sold my third company, Kobo, and my daughter was born, I had an epiphany -- when I played sports growing up, I left my body ample time to rest between practice and games, and this same practice should be applied to my professional career as well.

Related: Mental Illness: The Silent Destroyer

Just as the best athletes consider personal health a part of their training, employees in high pressure work environments must focus on their personal well-being if they are going to deliver peak performance. I believe that leadership at any company must take on the responsibility for their employees health and wellness, just as a head coach plays an active role in a team's fitness regime. Here are a few things the C-suite needs to keep in mind to achieve this.

Be a coach and a player.

Company culture starts at the top. I am a firm believer that if you want to create a culture of wellness, you need to lead by example. We're trained to react as fast as possible to any immediate notification or email that we get, but this is causing long-term damage to our health. Most people cannot go 12 minutes without checking their smartphones, and devices have become the glue that holds our lives together.

It is important to disconnect from work, and our phones, to get the rest your body and brain need. Encourage employees (and yourself!) to inject small moments of healthy habits into their daily routines, even outside of the office. Personally, I work out for 90 minutes every morning, with no iPhone, email or Slack; just my music -- In fact, League's original name was the Everlong Project, based on the Foo Fighters' song.

At the office, help people build in these moments of rest and self-care throughout the day, by encouraging employees to take walks outside or stepping away from their desks to grab a cup of coffee. As the expression goes, "it takes a village," and change starts with a hands-on approach from the top.

This leading by example approach is just as important when it comes to cultivating employees' benefits packages. Take vacation policies -- saying you have unlimited vacation is great, but if leadership never takes vacation, then your staff never will either. CEOs should take a personal hand in designing these policies, just like a coach designs plays, but also need to lead by sharing publicly about our vacations, so employees understand the culture encourages taking it.

Related: 4 Reasons You Should Be Meditating, From a Man Who Sold His Company for $130 Million

Defense wins championships -- and improves employee health.

Beyond updating a benefits package, companies must take a more holistic view of employee health, putting a higher focus on proactive, preventative healthcare. In our post-WWII societies, most employers provide healthcare to help treat employee ailments once they are sick. Due to shifts in technology, access to data, the role of company culture, etc., company leaders now have an opportunity to support healthy habits and personalized insight that actually help prevent employees from getting sick in the first place. Studies show that preventive care has fallen short to-date, with only 8 percent of U.S. adults receiving all appropriate services, but that investing in these types of services improves employees' quality of life.

At League, we offer our employees meditation Mondays, providing them a regular opportunity to tune in and recalibrate. We also provide capabilities like onsite flu clinics and massages to save employees time and hassle. Some of our customers have interesting life spending accounts designed to help employees with their learning and development. Implementing these types of tools and services is an investment, but considering how much time people spend at work and how much employers spend on health care, there is a real incentive to take a more proactive approach, from both a physical and mental perspective.

Beyond being the right thing to do, focusing more on health in the workplace is good for a business' bottom line. Take mental health for example -- in a recent League survey identifying HR blindspots, we found that only 8 percent of HR respondents said their organization sanctions mental health days, but that these types of days off were employees' top request from companies, in support of their mental health. Company leaders should take a closer look at mental health, as caring about it is also good for a business on a financial level. A survey from the World Health Organization estimated that for every dollar put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, companies saw a return of four dollars in improved health and productivity. There's no denying that when mental health is front and center, the business flourishes, all while helping people live their lives to the fullest.

Related: The Best Place to Support Mental Health? The Workplace.

Don't take shortcuts.

The battle to hire and retain top talent has become a driving factor in building strong workplace cultures. Companies are racing to offer the best perks to attract prospective hires, but are approaching benefits all wrong. Many think that by throwing out a proverbial "kitchen sink" of perks and seeing what sticks, they can attract the best talent and are "helping" their employees. From catered lunches to onsite game rooms, this has led to a number of companies (especially in tech) to make a critical error -- mistaking convenience for wellness. People don't need their laundry done at the office -- they need more time away from work to spend with families or developing other aspects of their lives.

As we've seen in recent years, perks don't inspire long-term loyalty. People stick with companies that support their holistic health, personal development and goal pursuit. Shortcuts don't work in sports, and they definitely don't work in the office. By investing in helping your employees learn a new skill, afford a gym membership or have more time with their families, companies can build the type of morale, productivity and loyalty that drives sustainable success.

Change starts at the top. That is true for a sports franchise and it's true for your organization. By taking responsibility for, and a personal hand in shaping, your employees' health and wellness, you are investing in their future -- not just as professionals, but as people. Ultimately, that's the type of company that people want to work for.

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