Avoiding Brain Freeze: Wellness in the Workplace

By     Mar 11, 2013

CC image by kroszk@

Working in the arts can be extremely stressful. Coordinating exhibits, performances and openings takes much work, organization and cooperation. Personally, I love controlled chaos of starting a new run, but I know how mentally taxing it can be. As an emerging leader, I have not yet encountered mental burn out from working in the arts. I also manage to maintain a pretty good work/life balance. However, I have participated in and overheard conversations with many senior leaders about the challenges of maintaining balance while holding high-demand positions. Because their positions require so much commitment and energy and because these leaders are so focused on the mission and work of their organizations, they may at times neglect their personal well-being. In the post-industrial age, jobs are also becoming more demanding. With the increased use of smartphones, better internet connections and other technological advances, there can be an unspoken expectation in some organizations that employees must be online or available 24 hours a day. This can lead to burn out, stress and even employee resentment. I am not an executive yet, but I do aspire to be one someday, and I hope my consciousness of this issue will help me take precautions to control feeling burned out as my career progresses. Reacting to the stresses I see in the field, this post offers my ideas for how arts administrators can ensure their own psychological wellness and avoid brain freeze.

Organizational culture is a key element in ensuring employee wellness, and one of the most obvious ways an arts administrator can ensure their psychological wellness is to seek employment at an organization that has a flexible and encouraging work environment. As noted in this Harvard Business Review article, it is important to promote and encourage employees’ physical, social and mental wellness. Working at an organization that realizes this will help you be proactive in taking personal responsibility for your well-being.

Organizational culture is typically implemented from the top-down. For senior executives, it is important to realize that the example you set can play a major part in creating a healthy, encouraging environment. It can be hard for a leader focus on establishing a culture that emphasizes employee wellness when they are entrenched in the daily stresses of the organization. But as the leader, you should be conscious your health and the health of your team. Find ways to incorporate wellness in and out of the workplace, as a model for the rest of your organization. Once employees see their leader incorporating wellness, they will realize this new priority is genuine and authentic.

Some leaders may simply not prioritize employee wellness, however, and finding a position with an organization committed to employee wellness that also offers the right opportunity for professional growth can be difficult, especially in today’s job market. In the case that your organization does not take a role in employee wellness, you must be proactive and take the responsibility for yourself, whether you are an entry-level employee or a senior manager.

There are many inexpensive ways you can personally ensure your own wellness. One basic example is to set boundaries to your work day. Even if you have to come in early at times, ensure you are getting adequate sleep each night to make that extra time in the office more productive. Don’t stay late during non-critical times so that you have adequate time to enjoy personal activities after work. If you do have to stay late, make sure you still fit in time for activities that are personally important to you, as Marissa Mayer advised back in her Google days. There are also many inexpensive activities that can keep you mentally alert and balanced, like adding short mid-day walks or stretch breaks. These quick, low-risk activities can be extremely helpful in avoiding brain freeze and reducing the possibility of afternoon lethargy.

If possible, encourage a coworker to serve as your wellness buddy. You can set up informal activities to do as a group before, during and after the work day. Though the primary purpose of these activities is to encourage wellness, you could actually be doing your organization a great service. Working together on personal goals can improve your communication and cooperation when working on organizational tasks. Taking walks together for example can build trust among coworkers and help everyone feel more connected to the company. As mentioned in this Forbes article, an employee that feels profoundly connected to their colleagues and their organization will be more productive and effective in their position. The renewed energy and enthusiasm that stems from participating in the wellness activities can also inspire creativity and innovation.

You may be reading this and getting a little stressed about adding wellness activities to your routine schedule. But radical changes aren’t necessary to stay healthy. The point is to figure out what’s best for you and your lifestyle. I do not consider myself a “health nut,” but I do work out at least four times a week after work. Working out helps me release the stress of the day, and gives me the psychological break I need to feel renewed for the tasks of the following day. As illustrated in this Huffington Post article, exercising can also sharpen thinking and supports problem-solving skills. I also attend church service twice a week, as another method of avoiding brain freeze. This helps me remain positive, inspired and patient. By practicing these methods of releasing stress, I believe I am a more effective employee during the work day.

While these activities work for me, the activities you choose to maintain your own wellness may be very different. For example, NAS Program Manager Sunny Widmann regularly practices yoga, and tries to bring the principles of that practice into her work as a way to maintain balance at the office. Here, she discusses with yoga instructor Sonja Kubota Johansson some of the ways that you can incorporate ideas behind yoga into your daily work:

Taking responsibility for our own health and well-being is a way to ensure overall success – for yourself and for your organization. Initiating the habit of ensuring your own wellness can have positive effects on your personal and professional life. Professionally, you will be a more effective employee; less likely to miss deadlines or forget tasks. Your critical thinking skills may sharpen, making you an even further valuable asset to the organization. Personally, you will likely be happier because you are ensuring time for leisure and to accomplish personal goals. Maintaining a commitment to wellness will help you sustain the physical energy and mental capacity necessary to serve as an effective arts leader and a champion for an improved civil society.