Working Well: Corporate Clown Coach Em Stroud On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine

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Breathe more. Instead of rushing through your day, find a few minutes to breathe before you click ‘join’ on your next online meeting or walk into a room. This will help ground you throughout the day, cultivating moments of calm.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Em Stroud.

Em Stroud is a Corporate Clown Coach for the brave and the curious. Using a vast array of tools from both the personal development world and business improvement techniques, which includes those mastered from the art of clowning, Em encourages businesses and employees to “work well, play harder”. Her clients include a roster of CEOs of SMEs and global businesses for whom she delivers workplace talks, events and coaching to address staff happiness and wellbeing.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I was sitting in a room of entrepreneurs about 15 years ago, listening to a person talk about something I should care about. There was no joy, no energy and no play in the room. It was so stale. I remember making a promise to myself then and there: never again would I put on a “work persona”. Never again was I going to sit in a room like this. Something had to shift. At that moment, I resolved to build my career around my authentic self, including my fun, joyful and curious self. This is what my career has now become, helping myself and others to work well and play harder.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

“Defining wellness” is something that I struggle with, because how do you put something so intrinsically human into a metric? Wellness means different things to different people. Businesses need to be braver and not just consider wellness as a tick box exercise. Instead, they should start to ask other, more tangible questions — are their employees happy? Are they having enough rest? Are they physically fit and emotionally fit?

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

In one way: staff retention. Recruitment is the biggest challenge I see CEOs as having, because it’s a massive cost to every business. To keep great people, it is so important for CEOs to ask “how do we build a culture where key human traits are valued?” Being a conscious leader and creating a conscious culture where people can work out how to be more human is the key. If you have a happy, human workforce, they will stay.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Business leaders are so terrified that if they spend more money on people, profits are going to go down, but COVID has given us an opportunity to reset business in the West. Countless businesses are now starting to do four day weeks and allowing humans to be far more human. This is fantastic, but there is more work to be done. Businesses need to look at wellness not just as a tokenistic exercise or a programme, but really ask “what are we doing culturally, across the board?” As leaders, do you want to spend thirty years of your life working all the time? Or do you want to be choosing how you want to show up for it, full of the things that make your heart sing? In the words of a client of mine Niki Fuchs, Managing Director of Office Space in Town, “if you keep people, purpose and profit front of mind, then profit will flow.”

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

As well as my job using techniques mastered from the art of clowning to help business leaders improve their wellbeing at work and in life, I am part of a group of co-founders setting up Laugh Think Play, a global foundation for mental wellbeing. We are challenging how we are showing up as a new and forming business, making sure that how we’re setting up culture is at the forefront.

What this means is we spend as much time thinking about ourselves as people as we do about the business. We don’t approach ‘wellness’ as a one off — it’s baked into the whole culture of the organisation and it’s about reminding ourselves to have the courage to prioritise the human over business. In doing that, the business will always benefit.

What this looks like is everything from encouraging colleagues to use their out of office everyday, to taking a lunch break; from leaving early to go to the gym, to using technology to support us to be well. We are making sure that all of our meetings are short and they have fun in them. We want being well to be at the heart of everything we do.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: We are implementing a combination of coaching, regular breaks and kindness. All of our people will have access to a conscious coaching programme and to a mindset coach. We are also asking ourselves, from a leadership perspective, how can you create more space to allow the kindness of human beings? VaynerMedia, one of the biggest media companies in the world, has done this brilliantly by appointing Claude Silver as “Chief Heart Officer”, as opposed to a “Chief People Officer”. There is bravery in that; that is the future.
  • Emotional Wellness: Making sure that our people have access to, and an awareness of, different types of therapeutic support at all times; not only when a person is in crisis. We are highlighting different modalities, philosophies and ways of healing, shining a light on things that we can learn from as an organisation.
  • Social Wellness: creating experiences that people can come together and really connect — an example of this is the experience I curated for the recent launch of my book, Lessons from a Clown. It was a social experience in a space where people could come together and choose to play in different rooms offering communal singing, partner yoga, dancing and games. We need to be a bit better than just getting people together in the pub.
  • Physical Wellness: We are looking at running retreats for our people where they will have their own PT and enjoy yoga sessions. In terms of the day-to-day, we want our staff to feel they have the permission to look after their physical wellbeing throughout the working day. So, instead of having to squeeze it in around work by, say, getting up at 6am for a run, we will cultivate a culture where people can take a long lunch break to go to the gym and have a shower or leave early to take a class.
  • Financial Wellness: A lot of people, and especially women, have problems talking about money and wealth, but encouraging people to talk about — and learn about — money is very important to our financial wellbeing. We will provide access to heart-led IFAs who can educate our people and help them understand how to manage their money and their relationship to it.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Employee wellness starts with healthy leadership, which is my first port of call. Unfortunately, many toxic workplaces are far too reactive in management of employee wellness, which leads to ineffective ‘token gesture’ tactics after ‘burnout’ has occurred. I help leaders connect with themselves to rediscover their purpose and replenish their energy which in turn develops their understanding of the needs of their employees. I’m a big believer in proactively managing employee wellness to avoid stress building up in the first place. I work holistically with leaders and staff to develop tools that help build resourcefulness and resilience. Often, it’s through daily joyful and creative experiences that each employee can improve their capacity to show up for themselves first and then their colleagues. This is the true essence of teamwork, undertaken through a framework of healthy boundaries.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

As well as my day job, which is focused on helping leaders to work well and play harder, I am, together with various cofounders, launching a global movement called Laugh Think Play. This exists to fundamentally shift leaders’ thoughts and actions to make the world a better place.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Breathe more. Instead of rushing through your day, find a few minutes to breathe before you click ‘join’ on your next online meeting or walk into a room. This will help ground you throughout the day, cultivating moments of calm.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

I feel positive about the fact that people are beginning to realise that workplaces need to be humanised in order to enable workplace wellness. The pandemic has allowed us to get to know more about the lives of colleagues and understand each person’s daily stresses and demands. We should hold onto this and create space for authenticity without judgment. Having honest conversations about wellbeing and what this looks like at an individual level will ensure that everyone’s needs are met. And for leaders, it’s not just about seeing investment in workplace wellness as a way to boost productivity; it’s about unlocking potential by being seen and understood.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Readers can head over to my website at https://emmastroud.london. They can also follow me on Twitter @emmastroudldn and on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/emma-stroud/ My new book ‘Lessons from a Clown’, includes 5 key lessons towards a happier life and is available to purchase in paperback from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lessons-Clown-Courage-Yourself-Laugh-ebook/dp/B09JMWXLJ5. You can also follow my ‘Clowning around’ podcast at https://emmastroud.london/clowning-around-podcast/

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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