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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Workplace stress has been a “thing” since, forever, and it continues to be the case. Our culture is known for its work ethic, and sometimes people wear it like a badge of honor, which I don’t think should be the case.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford Graduate School of Business, recently published the book Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance––and What We Can Do About It.

  • 7 percent of employees have been hospitalized because of workplace stress.
  • 61 percent have been sick because of workplace stress.
  • Job stress costs U.S. employers more than $300 billion.
  • 120,000 deaths can be attributed to workplace stress.
  • As Pfeffer’s title states, people are dying for a paycheck.

You can call me old school, but why is this even happening? It’s not necessary. I’m not trying to blow my horn, but here’s the reality for my team and I’m sharing it with you because my businesses are proof that leaders and managers can support a work-life balance and make the workplace less stressful.

  • My team and I manage a suite of brands worth millions of dollars.
  • We have a team of 25 full-time professionals on staff and at least 3 teams of independent consultants operating from around the world.

With that, you would think that the collective team would be pushing 60-80 hour work weeks. While, admittedly, from time to time it does happen if we’re working on a particular project, usually that affects only the members working on the project, and it’s not common. I don’t allow the work environment to be hell’s kitchen, and as the CEO, I’m smarter than keeping people working themselves to death for the paycheck.

Vacation is Sacred

I view holidays as sacred and a time when my team, including our consultants and partners, unplug, recharge and, most importantly, spend time with their families or doing whatever they want to do. Because hard work is so ingrained in our culture, not a year goes by when I’m not reminding someone on my team that’s on vacation and checking in to not send me any emails and to truly disconnect from us. While I appreciate their dedication, I make sure to allow for everyone we work with to take their vacations, even if we have to adjust our schedules and project timelines, because humans can’t be at their best if they are exhausted. The body needs rest.

Fun in the Office

Not too long ago, my vice president of operations, Yvonne, had taken a few days off and when she returned we discussed adding more fun in our office to lower stress. Despite the fact that I believe a person’s time-off is their time, when we’re working, we work hard. You don’t get to grow eight brands to multi-million dollar businesses by not being demanding at the office. Still, the office can quickly become a toxic environment if there is not an outlet. Yvonne and I decided to bring a little play to work.

Benefits of Having Fun at Work

Once Yvonne and I made the decision, we sent a notice to our team informing them of the benefits of a little decompression time at work.

  • Play encourages us to approach opportunities instead of
  • Play promotes
  • Play induces the state of flow–the feeling of being totally absorbed in what you’re

Play helps lower the stress that can create a toxic environment. When our bodies are stressed, and there’s intense pressure, the body’s “fight or flight” response kicks in. This response is part of our nature, and it occurs automatically in the nervous and adrenal-cortical systems. The body becomes tense, speeds up and that causes the blood pressure and heart rate to increase. While this is important, if you’re in a dangerous situation, it cannot be sustained, and it is this heightened stress that leads people to their doctors, the hospital or even an early grave.

How We Brought Play to Work

Once you understand the human capacity, and also business costs due to illnesses or lowered productivity, as a leader, the last thing you want to do is have a group of people working for you that consistently have their fight or flight response kicked into high gear. It’s a terrible mistake. And it was with this knowledge that Yvonne and I brought in a little more fun.

We bought a basketball machine so that people can blow off steam and have a little fun during the day, especially when things get a little tense and team members need to take a step back. We bought a 9-foot putting green where people can practice their golf game if basketball was not their thing. But, wait, Yvonne and I weren’t finished. We also bought a 4 in a row (Connect Four) that’s the size of a desk, checkers, and of course, if you read my blog, then you already know that we have a cornhole game.

And, because we care about the overall health and well-being of our team members, we bought standing desks and relaxed our business attire from business casual to something we call “Dress Appropriately.” We are now allowing sneakers and more casual attire, but expect our team to have a relaxed but professionally informal appearance. Every little bit helps and although these shifts can be subtle, they make a difference.

Candidly, I don’t have all the answers, but what I know is that as a human being and businessman toxicity and workplace stress that is not addressed––positively––affect my team members and the bottom line of my businesses and brands. I also know this is always a work in progress and is something that has to evolve with the times and culture of our brands and team.

Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact”(Free Digital Download)


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