Well To Work teaching wellness exercises to staff at their desks

Why are millennials interested in workplace wellness?

I am sitting staring down the black hole of the camera lens. “Ahem,” says the interviewer opposite me (my attention has wondered), “why do you think millennials are so interested in workplace wellness?” I look up and to the left, and gather my thoughts to answer.

I get asked this question a lot, by interviewers like the one sitting opposite me now, by people in the audiences of the companies I talk at, and by sceptical potential clients. They ask me because I am a millennial and because I’ve lived it. As a stressed-out corporate lawyer, burning the candle at both ends and neglecting my self-care and wellness in sacrifice to that holy thing, the “billable hour”, my career was brought to a painful grinding halt.

Delphine Supanya Berger being interviewed by a BBC interviewer on cameraDelphine Supanya Berger being interviewed by a BBC interviewer on camera

Technology, globalisation, and stress

The doctors at the hospital thought nothing of the spot on my hand. It was my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor 2-weeks later who asked me to smile, then lift my right arm, then said very calmly to me when I couldn’t: “It’s OK Delphine, you are having a mild stroke, we will take care of you.” And that was it, the deathtoll of my corporate law career was a few words of kindness. I was 29 years old and I had truly burned-out.

“Because we work all the time.” I said to the interviewer in front of me, “I was a corporate lawyer for almost a decade and regularly worked three time zones. I was not allowed to put my phone on silent. I was expected to pick up the phone at 4am when my boss called to prepare for a meeting at 7am. We are the first generation to enter work that is completely globalised and technologically-enhanced. Every generation before us has had the chance to switch off when they leave work, to truly rest.” The interviewer took the role of the sceptic, as was her job. “But surely stress is not new, lawyers have always worked hard, is this generation just whining?” Another thing we hear alot as millennials is that we whine. I wondered if she had a point.

Delphine Supanya Berger teaching meditation at The Hive SingaporeDelphine Supanya Berger teaching meditation at Barre 2 Barre Singapore

How did my wellness programme develop?

As I was recovering, I stayed with my brother. I am half Thai, and all the male members of my Thai family are monks. They had taught me mindfulness and insight meditation (vipassana) when I was 7-years-old to help me deal with a painful childhood illness as well as my emotions. I had dropped the practice while throwing myself into my career, but picked it up again after my stroke. I wanted to reset my mind and its negative thinking patterns. My personal research showed that meditation was the only way to take care of my brain.

I began to watch myself, to become more aware of the sensations in my body. I built my practice. There were dead spots. I still couldn’t feel or move parts of myself. To everyone else I looked healthy. Almost like nothing had happened. But I was not the same and my body was not the same. I built my practice.  I often wondered if I could ever trust it again. I spoke to friends about it. One had been a Navy Seal and he taught me some breathing techniques, the same ones taught to soldiers in the US military to help them deal with deeply stressful and life-threatening situations. Every day, I built my practice. I refused to accept that my life was over. While I was staying with my brother, he and his partner had a beautiful boy. This little buddle began cooing and humming at me. I cooed and hummed back. I built my practice. Then one day, I felt it. I believe I felt my left brain. Then one day turned into others, and slowly, the dead spots on my right side began to feel again.

Staff at abillinveg vegan app doing wellness exercises at their desksStaff at abillinveg vegan review app doing wellness exercises at their desks

How big is the problem of workplace stress? Is it real?

As I recovered, and because I had a lot of time, I began to research why this hadhappened to me. I discovered that my profession, law, was one of the most at-risk for suicide and stress-related diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks. Idiscovered how globalisation is causing an epidemic of suicide inyoung working-class men as their opportunities get moved overseas and given to others.

“No,” I said to the interviewer, “globalisation through technology has come with a price, and one of the prices is stress and depression for millennials of all classes. Some of us have too much work, and some of us are unemployed. And we are not taught to handle either, the education system is built for an older world where the ability to switch off and the expectation of having a job were assumptions.”

Did you know that if you check your email every 5 minutes, it takes you 64 seconds to switch back and orient yourself to what you were doing before you checked?

Studies show that we lose 8.5 productive hours a week to this phenomenon alone. In 2016 the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that stress is the epidemic of the 21st Century, they defined it that way and have been researching for 10 or 15 years. “This is not a generation of whiners, to answer your question, to say that ignores the work of top healthcare scientists worldwide.”

Delphine Supanya Berger teaching Rotary Club of Marina City about stress at workDelphine Supanya Berger teaching Rotary Club of Marina City about stress at work

Why are companies interested in wellness?

“Why would workplaces take more responsibility for the wellness of employees?” she asked me, a fair question I thought. “It’s in their best interests to take more responsibility for work-related stress,” I said, “productivity increases and costs for sick leave reduce dramatically with wellness programmes, improving the bottom line and the top line. On top of that it’s a retention issue. One of my clients, a top global company, had a staff turnover of 54% amongst millennials and the average length of stay with the company was just 6 months. Millennials now account for almost 50% of the workforce”.

Imagine if one quarter of your staff left every 6 months – companies can’t operate like that and they know it.

“The gig economy also means employees can choose entrepreneurialism, which means corporates have to compete better on workplace culture. Ironically, technology has simultaneously given corporates ways to invade an employee’s personal time and given employees a way to cut the electronic leash between their desk and their private life. It makes things much more precarious for companies, they cannot afford to take liberties with people’s time and energy. Companies must regulate themselves better and avoid the temptations and pressures that can turn round-the-clock work into the norm.” I’ve stunned her with that statistic from my client, I can tell.

Staff at abillionveg vegan delivery app doing stress-relieving exercises at their deskStaff at abillinveg vegan review app doing wellness exercises at their desks

Do you know people who struggle with stress-related health issues?

People struggling with stress and energy sustainability issues are everywhere, you probably know many. How do I know? Once I had fully recovered movement and awareness in the right side of my body, I had a choice. I could choose to go back to law or choose to do something different.

As I had recovered, I found friends from all generations and walks-of-life came to me to learn how to deal with illness or pain and to keep functioning, to keep healing. I was asked to help at a yoga, pilates, and corporate wellness organisation; I added my meditation skills to the mix. In this new job, I was stunned by how many people from across the spectrum of humanity struggle like I did. While I do think that millennials have never been taught to switch off and truly rest, I discovered clearly that technology and globalisation have increased everyone’s stress.

The pervasiveness of the problem is why I decided to build a corporate wellbeing programme, which teaches employees the SupaWell method. It is designed to build sustainable working habits and empower each person to take care of themselves. It is so simple and easy to pick up. We are seeing:

  • employees facing burnout and health problems recover and thrive;
  • top-performing employees level up their soft skills and emotional resilience, and;
  • organisations create safe working environments where people want to stay.

I built in the Navy Seal breathing techniques, vipassana meditation, mindfulness, even affective touch, vocal warm-up exercises and more proven wellness practices. And it’s working, truly it is.

Delphine Supanya Berger teaching Rotary Club about the toll of workplace stress in SingaporeDelphine Supanya Berger teaching Rotary Club about the toll of workplace stress in Singapore

How can you tackle your workplace stress problems with wellness practices?

If you want to be a more responsible employer and have that reflected in lower staff turnover and a healthier financial situation, contact me and I’ll help you build and implement a wellness programme for your company.

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