Season 1: Finding and keeping great people

Michael Acton Smith Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Calm

Why companies need to be more human

As someone who’s been at the centre of the start-up world for over two decades, I know first-hand what an exciting and exhilarating place it can be. But also, how chaotic, relentless and demanding it is. Eventually, it takes its toll. I’ve been burnt out, stressed, unable to sleep, the list goes on. Not exactly an attractive proposition for people coming into the business.

The good news is that we know a frantic pace is not sustainable. Not for you, and certainly not for your frazzled employees. As the co-founder and co-CEO of Calm, the world’s leading brand for mental fitness, our shared mission is to bring some sanity to this crazy world of ours. To help us become better humans. To unlock our true potential and do our best work.

The need for a calmer workplace

There is an often-quoted statistic that one in four people struggle with their mental health. The reality is one in one. That means everyone—every single person—who walks through your doors and sits at a desk or Zooms into a meeting, has something else on their mind. It could be an endless to-do list, there may be childcare or relationship issues, a parent may be seriously unwell. Or something more serious and harder to pinpoint at the clinical end of the spectrum such as anxiety, PTSD or depression.

If you have a body you have physical health, if you have a mind, you have mental health. We all have good days, and we all have bad days.

Putting people first

Right now, there’s a war for talent. People are re-evaluating what they do, where they do it, and who they do it with. This means that as employers, we have to do some re-evaluating too. We need to support and care for those people we work with day in, day out. If we want people to show up and do their best work, we need to have the right tools and practices in place.

Tools for a more mindful workplace

We’re often asked whether we practice what we preach here at Calm. All I can say is that we try! It’s ongoing and it can be a challenge, especially when the volume of work feels unmanageable, the deadlines out of reach, or there are external pressures to contend with. We’ve put a few things in place to support our teams and help build resilience. So when the going gets tough—as it inevitably does—we’re braced to weather the storm. I’d like to share a few of them with you:

The Daily Calm—every morning at 10a.m. we do a 10-minute guided meditation together. This can be done in person (if they’re in the office) or remotely. It allows everyone to mentally prepare for the day ahead. To calm the mind and become fully present. It’s a beautiful way to transition from home life, to work life.

The Mindful Manager—we train all our managers to be more aware of their teams and equip them to ask the right questions. Of course, this doesn’t mean taking on the role of therapist, but we want our staff to know that their manager genuinely cares and sees them as human beings—not just as cogs in a wheel. Even knowing that can make a real and lasting difference.

Mental Health Days—these are single days throughout the year that are devoted to our mental health and not work. It gives everyone permission to step away from their computer, mobile devices, Zoom, and Slack channels, essentially to hit the pause button. It’s a simple 24-hour reset. And it works wonders.

Ignore your mobile!—this is super hard, but it’s literally changed my life. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, I’d like you to try to not look at your phone until you’ve left the house. Just give it a go tomorrow and see what happens and how it feels. Allow your brain to wake up and stay focused on household tasks and conversations for a few extra moments, before being marinated in social media, world news and emails. It will thank you for it!

Take a deep breath. So simple but it works!

When well-being exists within a company, it can lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and creativity—and when those elements are in place, you have a more sustainable and profitable business.


Put well-being front and centre

We’re in a moment of change. We need to put our people (not profit) at the heart of our businesses. We need to look after them. When well-being exists within a company, it can lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and creativity—and when those elements are in place, you have a more sustainable and profitable business. Imagine if everyone went home from work thinking: “That was a good day.”