Leadership and Management

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Recharging the batteries: how to unwind

Four SME owners tell us how they unwind – and explain why downtime is one of their most powerful business tools.

Last updated: 25 Jun 2019 5 min read

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According to the Health and Safety Executive, almost 26 million days are lost each year to work-related illness, with just under half of these caused by stress, depression or anxiety. For SME owners with a small team, days lost in this way can wreak havoc with the running of the business – and lead to more pressure being piled upon an already stressed-out boss.

When estimates put the cost of stress-related sick days at between £4bn and £10bn a year, it makes good sense not just to create as stress-free a working environment as possible, but for owners to know how to unwind. We asked four founders to share their stories…

Mountain bike racing gives me a buzz

Josie Herbert started her business Phiness PR in 2007 and has now been a freelance public relations consultant for 10 years. Her husband introduced her to mountain biking as a form of physiotherapy after she broke her ankle when climbing – an interest that used to give her a profound sense of serenity. “The concentration required to complete a route meant I felt physically tired but completely rested mentally,” she says.

Having swapped ropes and rocks for muddy tracks, Herbert says she finds that the best way to “unplug and recharge” is to regularly enter downhill mountain bike races. “The buzz I feel as the race beeps count down is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “Racing over jumps and negotiating slippery tree roots provides a complete contrast to my daily work.”

She says that learning to control the “raw fear” on the start ramp has fed into her work as a consultant, meaning that she can calmly assess and respond to situations that would once have caused panic. “I’ve also found that the fitter I am, the more I enjoy my work and the more effective I can be,” she says. “And I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve sat at work trying to come up with an idea, gone out on the bike and suddenly thought of the answer.”

I have a regular social media detox

Chris Abbass and Phil Blaydes are the founders of Talentful, a start-up challenger recruitment company whose clients include Google and Uber. To mitigate against the daily stresses of a growing company, the two business partners spend a whole week away from social media every month. “We concentrate on ourselves for this period,” says Abbass, “rather than being obsessed with what others are doing and what we’re brainwashed to think we should be.”

“I strive to create a zero-stress environment, which my team really appreciate – and I absolutely believe that happy people are more productive”Natasha Hassani, director, Neon Rocks PR

The detox is in keeping with the ethos of the company, where employees are encouraged to switch off work email notifications after 6pm and there’s a compulsory meditation session once a month (more are optional).

But back to the detox – and the benefits: “We have so much extra time,” says Abbass, pointing to the hours saved by not watching Facebook videos and reading tweets. Plus, he says, there’s no mood slump when you stumble across a friend’s perfect holiday snaps and suddenly feel inferior. “On day one, you almost crave social media,” he says, “but by the next day you realise the benefits, and by the end of the week I almost don’t want to get back on board.”

I run on the beach with my dog

Claire Kent, co-founder of premium running-wear brand Iffley Road, says that starting a business can all too easily take over your life. “Even when you’re not working, you’re preoccupied by a work issue 24/7,” she says. “It’s not healthy and becomes counterproductive – you become too close to it. Running – especially with your dog – is a fantastic way to unwind and get perspective.”

Kent discovered this by accident on New Year’s Eve 2015 when she was out on Padstow beach with her black cocker spaniel, Monty. “Suddenly,” she says, “he charged across the beach and I followed him. It was a bit of an epiphany and since then I’ve never gone running without him.”

Like many people who have found a way to switch off from work, Kent says that it’s during these periods that some of her best ideas arrive. “I’ve had many a eureka moment while running,” she says. “Running also helps me to sleep better.”

I deliberately removed stress from the office

Natasha Hassani, director of Neon Rocks PR, comes at the unwinding angle from a slightly different perspective: she does what she can to ensure that stress doesn’t enter the office or her life in the first place. The inspiration for this was an earlier job of Hassani’s which was so stressful it started to impact on her social life. “I hated the thought of creating that sort of atmosphere at Neon Rocks,” she says, “so I strive to create a zero-stress environment which my team really appreciate – and I absolutely believe that happy people are more productive.”

Hassani's stress-free philosophy is applied in a multitude of ways: “If it means taking 30 minutes to get a coffee or nip out for a hot meal on a cold day, we will,” she says. “Music is a big part of what we do and we have playlists for every occasion which really help with our moods.”

Hassani takes her no-stress policy seriously and says she has even been known to stop working with a client if they are too stressful. “I would urge any company of any size to consider the team’s wellbeing,” she says. “It can literally be life-changing to eliminate stress from people’s lives and it’s extremely satisfying to be the one to do that.”

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