Wellness is everywhere these days. It’s in the home. It’s in the workplace. And it’s a topic of national conversation. But wellness means more than just staying healthy and eating right.
“When you look at wellness, you have to examine everything — your career well-being, your financial well-being, physical well-being, social well-being, community well-being and, ultimately, your spiritual well-being,” says Dr. Deepak Chopra, wellness guru and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.
Smart Business sat down with Chopra, who works with individuals, executives and companies to foster wellness in numerous forms and discussed the impact health and well-being can have on individuals and organizations.
Dr. Chopra, how important is wellness and can you put an actual economic number on that importance?
There is a lot of good data that shows how well-being correlates with economics, and there are huge implications of how one’s well-being affects the bottom line of a company.
It is currently estimated that 15 percent of the work force in the United States is ‘actively disengaged.’ These are unhappy people who go to work each day and make it their business to make other people unhappy. The cost of actively disengaged workers in the American work force is about $350 billion a year. There are another 57 percent of people who are not actively disengaged, but they’re disengaged, which means they’re just punching the clock. That leaves only about 28 percent of workers who are actively engaged.
I’m on the advisory board of the Gallup Organization, and we’ve studied this issue. What we’ve begun to find is that the economic implications of this are not only in the billions but probably in the trillions. What’s more, we don’t understand the relationship between physical and mental well-being and economics very well because medicine has not focused on this. But the fact is that new information shows that your physical well-being is linked to all these other things and there’s an enormous economic impact tied to wellness.
Can you give me an example of how this works?
If you are having an unhappy time at work, for example, such as if you’re not only disengaged but your supervisor ignores you, your likelihood of getting disengaged and ultimately becoming sick goes up by 44 percent. If, on the other hand, your supervisor doesn’t ignore you but criticizes you, your disengagement falls to 20 percent because you’d rather be criticized than ignored. That is because, when you’re ignored, you don’t exist. Finally, if your strengths are noticed by your supervisor or by your colleagues, your disengagement falls to less than 1 percent. That has huge economic implications, not just for a person’s well-being but also for their family.
Likewise, there is data on social well-being, community well-being and financial well-being. If you work for a firm that makes sure there is some safeguard for you not to get into debt, if you have a certain amount of savings taken care of through automated plans and if you can afford to pay your taxes comfortably, those have direct implications on your health and, therefore, on your productivity.
When you actually sit down and analyze it, you can come to the conclusion that, for companies, wellness and well-being may just be your biggest investment because it has huge returns for you economically. Think about it from this perspective: If you have happy employees and you’re happy yourself, you’re going to have happy customers. And if you have happy customers, you’re going to have a healthy company and happy investors.
So you’re saying that there’s a correlation between happiness, health and wellness, and prosperity?
Absolutely. We now know so much about happiness and workplace happiness and how that has direct effects on your neurophysiology, on your biology, on things like immunomodulators (the things that modulate the activity of your immune system), so no longer is the connection between emotions and wellness and well-being disputed.
If you’re a business leader, you need to consider whether you engage emotionally with your employees and even your customers, in order to improve and increase your business. This emotional engagement requires immense amounts of knowledge about what makes people emotionally intelligent.
For 40 years, we focused, as a medical profession, on the deleterious effects of stress. We now know that with people who are stressed, there is a direct correlation with addictive behavior, cardiovascular disease, infections and some types of cancer. But we hadn’t looked at the opposite: If stress could make you sick, could happiness make you better? And the evidence shows it can.
What can someone do to spark that happiness and, in turn, become healthier?
There is a lot of good data on happiness. Happy people see opportunities where others see problems. Happy people have ways of getting over the limiting beliefs that hold them back. Happy people have meaning and purpose in what they do. Happy people make other people happy. And they know the fastest way to be happy is to make someone else happy.
Here’s something worth thinking about: If you have a happy friend, your happiness level goes up 15 times. If your happy friend has a happy friend, it goes up another 10 percent. And if your happy friend has a happy friend who has a happy friend that you don’t even know, it goes up another 10 percent. Here’s why: Because when two people meet, it’s not just those two people meeting, it’s all the relationships and factors in that person’s life that influences their behavior.
These days, we are doing a lot of research on social networks and how they not only improve the quality of life but also the quality of well-being, economics, productivity in the workplace, engagement and even biochemical responses, such as your blood pressure level. It is all tied to wellness and well-being.
Wellness seems to be something everybody should be interested in pursuing, but it goes well beyond just eating healthy, exercising and trying to be happy. You’re talking about a complete behavioral change, correct?
That’s true. I work directly with companies and executives to provide training on leadership skills in this area. True leadership requires several strategies. It requires the ability to listen, but the ability to listen not only as a good observer but as an analytical listener, emotional listener and spiritual listener. Leadership also requires the ability to create a vision, the ability to engage emotionally with people and the ability to enhance your awareness to understand what people need — whether it is your customers, employees or investors.
Finally, leadership requires the ability to strategize and take action.
There is a whole section I call responsibility. When you talk about corporate or leadership responsibility, you talk about initiative, investing the right resources, risk management, values and establishing corporate missions. But what is missing for corporate leaders and leadership training is that as leaders we need to be healthy ourselves, physically and emotionally, and we need to make sure the people we work with we have at least some tools to ensure their health, wellness and happiness. That does require a different way of thinking, and yes, it is a behavioral change.
How do you get to that point? It’s a lot harder than simply waking up a little earlier and working out before going to work or eating that salad for lunch instead of a double cheeseburger.
If you motivate people through fear it usually doesn’t work. There’s a high dropoff rate, and furthermore, fear has its own consequences, such as stress. So many times, when people are motivated by fear, they end up worse than they were before. Instead, people have to be inspired and feel some type of joy in this transformative process. They also have to understand that if they take on this transformative process and take responsibility for their well-being, they’ll be much more productive. They’ll be able to accomplish more by doing less.
Take stress for example. When people are stressed out, they do things they shouldn’t, like drink to excess. If somebody has a hangover because they were stressed out and sought refuge by drinking too much, half the day is wasted just recovering from the hangover. And by the time you’ve recovered, then you’re ready to create another hangover.
So it’s very important for people to recognize that their energy level, their creativity, their ability to motivate others and their ability to produce more is directly related to how they’re feeling inside and their health.
What are some ways people can take to increase their wellness?
There are a few simple things that will help create well-being.
Get good sleep. The importance of sleep has been underestimated. There is an overwhelming percentage of the population of the United States that take sleeping pills to sleep. That doesn’t produce normal, rejuvenative sleep, which is necessary.
Engage in a minimum amount of exercise each day.
Be a little careful about your diet. Don’t be compulsive, but try not to eat anything that comes in a can or has a label.
Have healthy relationships.
Use some technique for stress management, even if it is 10 minutes for meditation, reflection or thinking about how you want your day to go, sitting quietly or strategizing around your priorities.
Build up on your relationships — both at home and in business.
You mentioned relationships. What’s the importance of personal relationships in wellness and well-being, and how can those directly impact one’s mood?
Emotions are contagious. If you’re feeling stressed, even if you don’t say or do anything that’s inappropriate, there’s a phenomenon called limbic resonance. People around you will start to feel stress, their blood pressure will go up and their heart rate will speed up even though they are not aware of it. All of this means that, as a social species, we are constantly monitoring, regulating and being regulated by the emotional state of others around us.
This emotional state not only affects our emotions but our physical state — blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline levels. If you are emotionally fulfilled, happy, you affect other people not only by what you say or do but by your very presence.
And the opposite is true. If you’re stressed out, you affect people in a negative way, not only emotionally but physically, just by your presence.
So what can you do to keep this from negatively impacting your wellness along with the well-being of others?
There are techniques to change this. You can acknowledge other people’s strengths, help build teams and foster teamwork, and actually make sure that people work only in those areas where they can utilize their strengths.
We have identified 35 strengths where people fall into and found that even if people are really good and productive, if you put them in the wrong seat on the bus with regard to their strengths, they’re not going to be happy, and that’s going to affect their productivity. Therefore, team-building and putting together the right set of talents based on people’s strengths is imperative in the workplace. And, you must acknowledge people’s strengths. We don’t always do this.
We asked people in over 150 countries the same question: Do you like what you do every day?
Only 20 percent of people said yes. We also found out that more people die in the United States on Monday morning at 9 a.m. of a heart attack than any other time because they hate their jobs. These are facts that are immediate and alterable, and they all correspond to wellness.
How important is getting the right amount of sleep each night?
Sleep is very important. Restful sleep is the time when your body rejuvenates. There is a period during sleep, dream sleep, which is when you have some sort of detox activity, where the stress is removed. For many people, between six and eight hours of sleep makes sense.
So what should be the first thing people do to take responsibility in their own wellness and well-being?
Sit for five minutes with your eyes closed. Put your attention in your heart every morning and ask yourself, ‘Who am I? What do I want? And how do I want my day to go?’ If you start living that question, you will spontaneously know what your priorities are. And that will ultimately lead to a healthier, more productive and happier life.
How to reach: Chopra Center for Wellbeing, www.chopra.com
Dr. Padma Allen never intended to become an entrepreneur. It just happened.
Allen, a board-certified physician, was practicing internal medicine in New Jersey in 1998 when her husband, Reddy, left his job at Ernst & Young to found TechnoDyne LLC, an IT firm that provides a range of services to large public and private companies as well as government institutions.
“He thought he could provide more value to customers, so he asked me to help him out for a couple of weeks and take a two-week break from my practice to help him set up payroll, HR, secure office space and register his domain name,” Allen says. “I said, ‘Sure,’ and we were lucky enough to secure our first large project right away. My husband hit the field, and someone had to hold the fort at home. That turned out to be me.”
It wasn’t long before Allen’s two-week break became two months and then turned into a full-time job. Today, Allen, the company’s president and chief financial officer, has become a nationally recognized innovator in the IT services field. Her company was named a 2010 Ernst &Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in the Consulting Services category for the state of New Jersey.
Smart Business sat down with Allen to discuss how she helped take the company from startup to nearly $100 million in annual revenue in just over a decade.
What skills did you learn as a physician that you apply to TechnoDyne as an entrepreneur?
There are three. First is the ability to deal with stress. I was in one of the doctor residency programs in Harford Hospital in Connecticut and worked a lot in the emergency room. After that, I shifted to East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey. There were a lot of life and death situations that I was faced with. I saw cardiac arrest cases for many patients and saved many lives. Based on that, nothing that happens at TechnoDyne is a life and death situation. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to die here, so I’m able to work very well under stress — even the worst-case scenarios where a client may cancel a project. It’s not that stressful.
The second is the ability to work several hours without sleep. Residency training in the United States prepares you for that. We used to work 36-hour shifts.
Third is the ability to multi-task. When you’re a doctor, you’re doing numerous things at the same time. These three skills helped me alot in the early days of the company.
What were some of the early challenges of getting the company up and over the first hurdles?
Getting the initial team in place. For about a year, it was just me and Reddy. He was always outside in the field on client-related projects; I was always inside, managing everything that had to be managed. So moving away from that and getting the people in place was challenging, mainly because it was the first time I had hired people. So it was really about trust and me trusting they would do what needed to be done.
Then, by the time we started to be a viable business came the Internet bust. We were two years into the game and suddenly found ourselves facing one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced. Several of our competitors closed shop, and we were inches away from closing shop, too. But we hung in there, fought and stayed afloat.
At that point, we realized we had to have a different strategy, expand our business and work with different businesses. We needed to figure out how to be recession-proof.
How have you done that?
From 1998 to 2000, we were focused on the commercial sector — large enterprises in the commercial sector — because that was where the relationships were. When the economy changed in 2000 and 2001, we were literally looking on the ground for business. So we started looking at other markets and asked ourselves who we could work with who would be reasonably recession-proof. There was this big segment of the government sector and we said, ‘Let’s try this out.’
We stayed the course, got all of our certifications in place, and it was a long road. But once we got onto it, it’s turned out to be very good and helpful. They’ve been good clients. We work with 13 of the 50 states, providing technology solutions. We work with four agencies in the federal government, as well. Once you get to that point, where you’re a known quantity, government is a great customer to work with. And, given this most recent economic downturn, we weren’t as affected as many of our competitors were because we had expanded our market and diversified our client base.
How would you describe your value proposition?
From a TechnoDyne perspective, we have the pedigree of people from former Big Four and Big Five accounting firms, as well as people who come from large private sector industries and even some from large governmental agencies. But because we’re small, we’re much more nimble and our cost is lower. Our clients get the same quality of service that they may get from a much larger firm, but they get it faster, better and at a lower price. Today, we have 500 employees scattered across 13 states in the U.S.
Where do you find opportunities for growth?
We’ve been very conservative in the offerings we have to provide, given the economic cycles. So we look at where the customers are spending money. A couple areas we’ve identified for growth are virtualization of data centers and cloud computing, both on the government side and private sector side.
How have you forged relationships in the government space?
Coming from almost zero relationships when we started, my husband and I have built it one contract at a time. One thing that helped was being certified as a minority and woman-owned business. The government has good set-asides for those. That helped a lot. We do have competition — the big guys like IBM and Accenture — but we are able to get a piece of the project that we can deliver because of the minority set-aside. And, once we show what we can do there, we’re able to compete against the Big Boys for the larger contracts.
Looking back to 1998, what do you know today that you wished you knew on day one?
Having a board of directors very early on would have been a difference-maker. Today, we are reaching $100 million in revenue and still don’t have a board. We do a lot of it ourselves, but having a good board of directors of past CEOs would definitely be helpful. The second thing I wish I’d known back then was that I shouldn’t have been as conservative with cash. We were slow and organic with our growth. We didn’t want to take any loans from our bank or leverage ourselves. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have mixed organic growth with leveraged growth.
Third would be getting a formal education in business. I finished my MBA last year but wish I had done it sooner. Your out look changes when you have a business degree from a good school.
How do you balance your dual roles of president and CFO?
As president, I am looking forward to how I can grow the company and take it to the next level, work with the CEO and how we can get to our billion-dollar goal in the next seven to 10 years. The entrepreneur in me likes when there are folks coming in with ideas that I want to launch to get us there. But then as CFO, the numbers need to make sense. So every time someone comes with an idea I need a business case, the numbers, etc., so I play two roles that constantly are internally colliding with each other. But it’s a healthy balance.
Let’s talk about the future. Where do you see yourcompany in the next seven to 10 years?
Reaching our billion-dollar goal. We have a pretty solid road map. What we’ve done is define our goal of where we want to be and then we work backward — what do we need to do now to get there? One is those items is that we definitely want to expand more in the government sector. If you look at the history of companies that have passed the billion-dollar mark in our space, between 60 and 70 percent of their revenues are from the government sector, especially from the federal government. We already are in that space, so we are looking to expand it further. We’re looking at which next big thing they want to get more involved with, and one is cyber security. With so many applications moving onto the cloud, there is definitely a big risk that needs to be addressed. Mobile security is another. We also want to expand our commercial sector.
How to reach: TechnoDyne LLC, www.technodyne.com
This is a cautionary tale about the danger of going to market with a product before you’re truly ready to handle the crush of consumer demand. It may sound like a dream come true in these tough economic times, but it was nearly too much for Ron Vigdor and his 70 employees.
It all began about four years ago when concern was growing about Bisphenol A, also known as BPA. The presence of this substance in plastics was creating concern among young parents who worried that their babies may be exposed to it. So Vigdor developed a line of products that were guaranteed not to contain any BPA.
The response was overwhelming.
“We saw a tremendous spike and upsurge in demand for our product,” says Vigdor, founder, president and CEO of BornFree Inc. “So much so, that we probably had to work 13 to 15 hours a day literally manufacturing the product and flying it internationally to the United States for next-day delivery.”
When you have a product that everybody wants, you have a choice to make: Spend what you need to in order to meet the demand or wait until you’re sure you’re ready to handle it. The problem, of course, is the demand may not be there anymore if you decide to wait.
“You have to do more or less a cost analysis of what it’s going to cost you versus what kind of market share or gain you’re going to receive,” Vigdor says. “We spent millions of dollars getting the product to the shelves.”
Vigdor was confident that revenue would make up for the costs incurred in the beginning.
“Our manufacturing capability was roughly 1/10 of our current manufacturing capability,” Vigdor says. “Everything was exponentially anywhere from two times to 10 times the demand or needs we originally envisioned in our business plan. At the end of the day, it was a smart decision. Financially, I don’t know if it was the smartest decision, because we had to spend so much money.”
The decision to try to meet the demand created a high level of stress for Vigdor and his employees for a period of about six to eight months.
“We had to make sure we could try to please as many retailers as possible,” Vigdor says. “And try to gain as much market share. When you don’t have enough supply and great demand, that’s probably the most amount of stress anyone could have trying to combat that.”
Vigdor was able to work through the stress and meet demand, but there were risks involved. And that’s the choice you have to make when faced with the same situation.
“Do you come out and release a product when you have 50 but demand is 250?” Vigdor says. “Or, I can manufacture 250, but the product is 95 percent great and not 100 percent great. Do you go to market with that? You should always go to market when your product is 110 percent. You always want to be on top of it, and you always want to make sure you have the best product available.”
Vigdor’s advice, despite his success, is to take the patient approach.
“Don’t come out to market before you’re ready,” Vigdor says. “You’ll just end up with egg on your face. If you’re not ready, it won’t do as well as you want. If you have a great product but your manufacturing is not able to ramp up to scale, you’re going to upset some customers because you can only deliver to a handful of customers.”
How to reach: BornFree Inc., (877) 999-2676 or www.newbornfree.com
Keep your cool
Ron Vigdor thought he deserved one deal and his buyer did not feel that way. At one of the most stressful times of Vigdor’s life, the result was not good.
“I exploded,” says Vigdor, founder, president and CEO at BornFree Inc. “I stuck my foot in my mouth. I said, ‘You’re only the stepping stool for me getting bigger and better.’ That did not go well with the buyer.”
You need to recognize those times when your patience is thin and you’re prone to losing your cool, says the leader of the 70-employee company.
“If you are in a position in which you believe you are going to be confrontational, even if you think the customer is wrong, the best thing to do is step away from the actual problem,” Vigdor says. “Give it some time and rethink it.”
If you do lose your temper in front of your people, use it as a lesson to show them that you’re not perfect either.
“Teaching humility shows all people that you are human other than just being a tough CEO who says it’s my way or the highway,” Vigdor says. “It allows you to have a more personable connection with your employees as well as your vendors and manufacturers.”
As a business leader, it’s hard to avoid the stress and strains of the job that can lead to high blood pressure. If you’re suffering from high blood pressure, medication can help control the disease, but there are many things you can do to help control your blood pressure before resorting to taking drugs, says Julie Sich, the health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc.
“Lifestyle changes can play an important part in lowering high blood pressure, reducing or delaying the need for medication,” says Sich. “It may be difficult for busy executives to find the time to eat right and exercise, but the consequences of not doing so could be fatal.”
Smart Business spoke with Sich about how changing the way you live can help change your blood pressure for the better.
What is high blood pressure, and what steps can someone with high blood pressure take to lower it?
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when blood moves through the arteries at a higher-than-normal pressure. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower, while anything up to 140/90 is considered prehypertension, which develops into hypertension when numbers top 140/90. Failure to act to treat it can damage your blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke, kidney failure, heart disease and heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States — more than 2,600 die each day as a result of it. Many people who are suffering from it are unaware that they have the disease.
Being overweight plays a large role in contributing to causing high blood pressure. Losing just 10 pounds could both help reduce your blood pressure and, if you are taking medication for the condition, help improve the effectiveness of the drugs.
But it’s not just the number on the scale that’s important — it’s also where you’re carrying the weight. Those who tend to store weight around their waists are at higher risk of high blood pressure and should take steps to lose the excess weight.
Regular exercise will not only help you lose weight but can also help lower your blood pressure. Although 30 to 60 minutes a day of physical activity is recommended, even short amounts of activities such as walking, taking the stairs and parking your car farther away from your destination can have an impact.
Some studies have found that those who own a dog react less to the stressors in their lives and get the added benefits that come from walking the dog.
How can diet impact blood pressure?
One of the biggest dangers in diet is high salt content. Most adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, the equivalent of about one teaspoon. Most Americans consume nearly twice that at 4,000 milligrams a day. By switching to a low-salt diet of 1,500 milligrams a day or less, adults can begin to lower their blood pressure. To make up for the lack of salt that many people crave in their diets, spices can be used as a seasoning substitute to add flavor to food.
Many prepared foods are very high in sodium, so stay away from packaged foods such as frozen dinners, pizza and soup. Instead, prepare fresh foods with a focus on fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and low in calories, in addition to whole grains and low-fat dairy items.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 4.5 cups per day of fruits and vegetables, at least two 3.5 ounce servings of oily fish per week, at least three 1-ounce equivalent servings of fiber-rich whole grains each day and no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per week. Also, limit intake of food that is high in dietary cholesterol, transfats and added sugar. Instead, choose items such as skinless lean meats and poultry prepared without added fat and salt, and unrefined whole-grain foods that contain fiber.
Although studies have shown that alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on heart health, it can also have the opposite effect if consumed in excess. Aim for no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men.
Finally, limit caffeine consumption, and if you smoke, take steps to quit, as inhaling smoke — either directly or second hand — increases the risk of high blood pressure.
What role does stress play in high blood pressure?
Stress can increase blood pressure, and the longer the stress continues, the bigger impact it can have on heart health. Identify what your stressors are and try to find ways to lessen or eliminate them. Absent that, identify coping strategies such as meditation that can help you better manage your stress.
How can employers help employees take steps to be healthy?
Employers should identify trends in the workplace and work to address health issues among employees. Changing unhealthy behaviors before they lead to chronic disease can help a company control its health insurance costs, as 75 percent of an employer’s health care costs and productivity losses can, in some form, be traced back to lifestyle choices made by employees.
An outside provider can help you find out what ails your work force and determine which triggers are issues among employees. By targeting existing issues, you can ensure that your employees stay happy, healthy and on the job.
Julie Sich is the health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org. SummaCare offers a full line of health plans and ancillary products. Through its extensive network of more than 7,000 providers and more than 50 hospitals, SummaCare offers coverage to more than 115,000 members throughout northern Ohio.