Working Well: Friederike Fabritius On How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness
Respect your employees’ working hours. Encourage and support them to take their vacation time, follow a strict “no emails after office hours” policy where anything sent after hours is scheduled to go out the next morning.
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 work well.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Friederike Fabritius.
Friederike Fabritius, MS, is a neuroscientist and trailblazer in the field of neuroleadership. Her brain-based leadership programs have transformed how Fortune 500 executives think, innovate, and navigate change. Fabritius is a thought leader and keynote speaker, known for engaging global audiences at organizations like Google, Ernst & Young (EY), Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Adecco, Accenture, Deloitte, BMW, Bayer, SAP, Harvard Business Review, trivago , and Audi. She is the award-winning and bestselling author of the book The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier. Her highly anticipated follow-up The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay is available for pre-order now and will be released October 11, 2022!
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.
It was my time spent working in consulting that really changed my relationship with work. I had spent a lot of time in the laboratory before, studying neuroscience and how our brains function at their best and I wanted to bring that into the corporate world! In reality, what happened when I started consulting is that I started working in ways that I knew were counterproductive, and against everything I had just spent my life studying. I was working around the clock, traveling across the globe with no sleep and gallons of coffee; I couldn’t even think straight during that time. When I look back now, everything from that time just seems a blur. This really forced me to realize and reflect on the fact that in order to be truly productive, we need to integrate what we know about the brain from neuroscience. So, I quit consulting and I started integrating those two worlds myself — the neuroscience world with the business world.
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?
I tend to look at wellness through a scientific lens, which may be a bit different than most. From that perspective, wellness is all about brainwaves and it is actually something that can be measured objectively. A relaxed and focused brain will have much different wave patterns than a stressed brain! But this isn’t entirely practical for most places of work — they don’t have EEG’s hanging around to follow up on how their employees are managing. Without all of the beautiful machines from my lab, the easiest and most consistent way I have found to measure wellness is this: Ask yourself how you are feeling. Often, we are so busy with work or life that we become disconnected from how we are really doing overall and setting aside time to consciously and deliberately ask ourselves “On a scale from 1–10, how happy/fulfilled am I feeling?” (and being honest with the answer!) can tell us a lot about our overall wellness. If your number is too low, something needs to change.
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?
A happy workforce, a respected and valued workforce has been proven to be more productive (and therefore more profitable). When we are less stressed, we are better able to reap the benefits of oxytocin as well as serotonin; we are able to form stronger emotional bonds with our co-workers and employers and our brains will naturally want to work to see these people whom we care about succeed and do well. Neuro-economist Paul Zak found that on average there was a $10,000 INCREASE in revenue per employee per year in companies where high levels of trust and kinship were fostered. That’s a definitive example of how wellness impacts a company’s bottom line!
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?
Firstly, I would encourage them to reframe how they view wellness in the workplace. Employee wellness is not something that should be considered a perk or a benefit but rather a requirement, and the baseline for creating a brain-friendly workplace. If companies view the wellness of their employees as an Investment, rather than an Expense, they will see an irrefutable and positive impact. Look, I get it — big change is hard, so that is why I always stress for small, measurable and sustainable changes to create long-lasting effects. So, if an organization is struggling with integrating wellness into their culture, I would suggest starting with a small pilot programme. This could look like offering lunchtime exercise classes or more flexible working hours — it doesn’t have to be anything complex. I guarantee that if companies made these small changes and measured their KPIs they would see that as wellbeing goes up, so does productivity! Employers who take the wellbeing of their employees seriously will see greater talent retention, fewer sick days, increased profit margins, and will spend less time on recruitment and on-boarding. It’s a total win-win.
Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?
There are 4 key elements that companies should be investing in, in order to recruit and retain top talent: Sports, Sleep, Snacks, and Sunlight. It may sound a bit odd at first, but the science is clear — the connection between the body and the brain is synergistic, when one is healthy then the other will follow. Companies that offer these factors to people are immediately more attractive! So, what can you do to address these elements?
Sports: Offer walking meetings or encourage employees to take calls while walking. Extend their lunch break by 30 minutes and offer a company exercise during this time.
Sleep: Respect working hours of your employees, don’t ask them to engage with emails or notifications in the evening and allow them to truly wind down at the end of their day.
Snacks: Offer healthy snack options in the office. Switch out access to highly processed foods to fresh fruit or vegetables. Ensure your employees have enough time to eat and digest a well-balanced meal, not just eat something convenient as fast as they can.
Sunlight: Install circadian lighting in the office. If you have windows in the office, try to keep the shades open so that employees’ brains are exposed to the natural cycle of the sun. Encourage employees to get outside and walk for even just 2 minutes (but 20 is ideal) as soon as they can in the morning to get a healthy spike of cortisol and dopamine to start the day.
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.
- Understand and foster your employees’ unique neurosignatures. Don’t try to force people who dislike group work to always collaborate on projects. And inversely, don’t isolate folks who need social interaction to reach their state of flow.
- Respect your employees’ working hours. Encourage and support them to take their vacation time, follow a strict “no emails after office hours” policy where anything sent after hours is scheduled to go out the next morning.
- Offer more opportunities for movement throughout the day. Include a reminder in everyone’s calendar a couple times a day to stand up and move their bodies. Try to take walking meetings or active meetings whenever possible.
- Support hybrid or unconventional working arrangements. If someone is great at their job, but unable to come into the office due to taking care of a dependent at home, is that really enough to warrant them not keeping their position? If the arrangement can be flexible, then it should.
Companies that are adaptable and take the wellness of their employees seriously will see (quite dramatically) that this has a positive impact! Not only on the employees, but the organization as well.
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?
Companies that prioritize the wellness of their employees are going to see a dramatic return on investment! Not only will they have greater employee retention, but things like recruitment will practically disappear because the turnover rate will decrease, AND employees will be recommending their workplaces to those in their circles who are looking for a change!
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
The most important thing that leaders can do is understand neurosignature diversity. It’s what I speak about in The Brain-Friendly Workplace and it’s so often not even considered when companies are having DEI discussions. All of us have a combination of four brain systems: The dopamine and serotonin system and the testosterone and estrogen system. These are the different chemicals that shape our brains and depending on which activity pattern is present in your brain, you’ll have a different neurosignature from other people. Neurosignatures shape how you think, how you act, and how you feel, and how you move through the world. You know that saying, You can fit a square peg into a round hole? Well, neurosignatures are like that. And when leaders don’t recognize that their company is made up of not only round pegs, but square ones and triangle ones and octagon shaped ones too, they will realize that not everyone is going to fit into the same predetermined mold and that is OK! Fostering neurosignature diversity really allows each employee to perform at their best.
Another thing to consider is that we all have different optimal stress points. Some people thrive under pressure; give them multiple deadlines and they have never felt more in their Flow state (these are my High Testosterone neurosignature workers). Other people will feel overwhelmed when there is a sudden change to their calendars and need a few days to reflect on the best course of action. Making sure that we are not overwhelming those with low optimal stress points (and not boring those who love a high pressure environment) will make your workplace truly Brain-Friendly for everyone.
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?
Understand that our brains are different and that we need to create different optimal work environments for different neurosignatures! Expand your understanding of diversity to also include neurosignature diversity.
What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
- Understand Neurosignature Diversity. The conversation around neurodiversity is just starting to be more mainstream — and it’s from this starting point that thinking about neurosignature diversity will become more commonplace. We all know that everyone is not the same, but for some reason when it comes to the corporate world that understanding goes out the window. Is it that only outspoken, outwardly confident, direct, and quick-to-action people are those who want to be at the top of industries, or is it that we don’t make space for other people to be there too?
- Move from Hustle Culture to Outcome Culture. If we have learned one thing over the last few years it could be this: work can be done from (almost) anywhere. So why are we spending up to 2 hours a day commuting to an office just to prove that we are working hard (hustling) when the outcome would be the same if we could work from home, or even a co-working space within walking distance? Hustle culture is bad for our brains, it forces us to work long hours, say Yes when we should say No, and in the worst cases it causes burnout. By focusing on Outcome Culture, companies will see that their employees’ well-being will increase (and we already know that productivity and wellbeing go hand-in-hand)
- Nurturing Our Neurobalance. When your body is healthy, your brain is healthy. Knowing what your body and brain need to perform at their best, and making those things a priority, is how we nurture our neurobalance. Ensuring that you get enough sleep, that you exercise and move your body regularly, and that you get outside in the sun at least once a day are all easy, tangible ways to make your brain healthier (and happier!).
- Make Stress work For You (not against you). Long term stress is detrimental for our health, this is a fact. But short term stress? Well, sometimes that’s just what the body needs to get into Flow. When we are slightly over-challenged, that’s when the magic happens. The key is to understand that short term stress is good, but when it turns to long-term that’s when it becomes a problem. If we set up our routines in such a way that we are given short bursts of stress, mixed with periods of rest, we will be able to reach our highest level of performance — without burning out!
- Get Into Group Flow. In a group, even when we have the best of intentions to support diversity of thought, people tend to get into the rut of Group Think. They will adapt their opinions (or at least appear to) in order to align with the opinion of the majority. There is risk involved when your opinion on a matter goes against your superior’s, even if they say it is an open and safe forum to express this opinion. Our brains just want to keep us safe — and this risk, potentially being reprimanded or vilified, is too much. What we need to foster is Group Flow. When you are highly skilled, and when you truly have psychological safety, so that people can work together and bring in their diverse opinions without being judged. By understanding that our tendency is to get into Group Think we can make sure that there are strategies in place for people to get into Group Flow instead! And, the interesting thing is, that research has shown that when people get into group flow, their brains sync up and they actually show very specific activity patterns in their brains, that are even different from individual flow. Group flow is a state of excellence!
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
That we have thought leaders and experts in neuroscience who are discovering a new body of evidence every day! Neuroscience shows us clearly that a well-rested brain performs better, and the fact that leaders, executives, and organizations are starting to recognize this is incredibly exciting. There is so much research coming out every day, and I am lucky enough that I get to combine my passions for science and helping people by sharing these findings to progressive, innovative workplaces!
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?
The best way to connect with me and stay up to date on what I have going on is to visit my website (FriederikeFabritius.com) and to sign up for my newsletter. I always love connecting with people on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, so feel free to find me on there — I am frequently sharing neuro hacks that people can implement to make their lives better! My mission is to improve people’s lives through neuroscience, and I’d love for you to join me so that together we can make the workplace a brain-friendly place to work.
This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!