Healthy Habits for the Productive Leader


How self-care practices can change the way we work

While the primary focus of our work at Kenyans Come Home is to match talented professionals with excellent employers, we are also concerned with helping leaders sustain their work. And one of the greatest risks for high performers is burnout.

A recent study by Gallup found that 23 percent of workers reported feeling burned out very often or always, while another 44 percent said they sometimes felt burned out. That means that, in total, about two-thirds of employees struggle with burnout in some form or another.

If you have been feeling particularly stressed or exhausted on the job, it’s always a good idea to see if your job responsibilities or work environment could be improved. But one of the most effective strategies for preventing burnout—while improving focus and productivity—is to take better care of your body and mind through practices like mindfulness and regular exercise.

Mindfulness, according to the Institute for Mindfulness South Africa, is “moment-to-moment awareness, cultivated by purposefully paying attention in the present moment with an attitude of non-judgment, kindness, and curiosity.” Most often, mindfulness is practiced through some form of meditation, which can be as simple as deep breathing exercises or meditative walking.

Across countries and cultures, research is clear on the physical and psychological benefits of mindfulness. Your immune functions improve and stress resilience grows after as little as eight weeks of practice. Individuals also demonstrate better decision-making, higher creativity, longer attention spans, and reduced distractibility. When pursued at an organizational level, mindfulness has been linked to better team and company climates.

The positive impacts of mindfulness are so significant that it has even been brought into prisons in Kenya, transforming relationships between prisoners and guards for the better, reports The Star.

If mindfulness doesn’t seem like it’s for you, another option for preventing burnout and increasing productivity is regular exercise. In addition to its obvious physical benefits, exercise leads to many of the same positive outcomes as mindfulness, including greater concentration and memory, faster learning, reduced stress, and enhanced creativity.

Sunny Walia, general manager of Visa East Africa, works out with a personal trainer at 5 a.m. three times a week. “I have learnt that working out a couple of times a week is critical for people who want to be on their ‘A’ game, as you have energy to tackle complicated issues,” he told Business Daily in a recent article.

Perhaps you want to engage in more self-care practices, but you feel like you don’t have time during the day to incorporate anything more than work and home. There’s actually a business case to be made for doing something for yourself during the workday. For example, a Leeds Metropolitan Studystudy found that professionals who exercised during work hours managed their time more effectively, were more productive, and had better interactions with their colleagues.

That’s why a growing number of businesses, including corporate giants like AppleGoogle, and Nike, provide meditation rooms and gyms in the office. Other companies allocate time during the workday for self-care activities like journaling, goal setting, and coaching.

The good news is that even a small amount of effort towards self-care can make a difference. Five minutes of meditation a day can positively impact your health and performance, with longer practices having greater impacts. Exercise can also be simple, including walking or even standing instead of sitting. The BBC reported that standing up three hours a day, five days a week for a year is equivalent to running 10 marathons.

Setting aside a few minutes a day in exchange for so many benefits at work and home seems like a worthy trade-off—especially when considering your long-term career. If you want be your sharpest on the job, if you want the opportunity to advance and grow as a leader, then we believe a self-care practice is as important as professional training or networking.

Here’s how Simon Hodson, the director of food and beverage at Marriott Hotels in East Africa, explains it: “I’m in a high-pressure, fast-paced job, and it is a demanding phase of life, and to be able to perform and have longevity which we all want, I need to look after myself.’’ Despite his very busy work schedule, he gets a rigorous cardio workout through Thai boxing two or three times a week and meditates each morning.

If you’ve tried mindfulness or exercise, how has this affected your performance on the job? Are there other forms of self-care that you would recommend? And if you’re a manager, what do you do to encourage your employees to take care of themselves? Share your thoughts and ideas with us, and we’ll be happy to pass them on to the KCH network.