Welcome to our SPOTLYFE Wellness series. This week we’re talking with Steve Fernandez, Co-founder of Pause+Expand, a corporate wellness program that leverages unique visualization, sound and meditation techniques to drive greater productivity and wellbeing at work. Check out the interview below:
SPOTLYFE: Welcome, Steve. We’re excited to learn from you today. Let’s start by helping people understand why it’s so important to prioritize the ability to pause.
- STEVE: At the basic human functioning level, it’s fundamental to our existence. We may not realize it, but like air, the ability to stop and rest is also fundamental to survival. We have been resting in different forms (embracing boredom and play, daydreaming, napping, sleeping) since we were born yet as adults we forget to take breaks and pause during our daily lives.
SPOTLYFE: Why do we find it so hard to prioritize ‘pausing’?
- STEVE: We have built an “always on” or “do not stop” culture. One that is based on having things immediately, where patience has been weaned out of existence, and that speed of operations and staying distracted is what we have trained ourselves is ‘healthy’ or normal. I believe it’s fear at the root of it all. Fear of not being enough– that if I pause, I might not keep up with the rest of the world around me; might not make enough money; might not be as good as the person I’m comparing myself to. Comparison and competition – the two ingredients of low self-worth. We have engineered lives that are tethered to streams and ‘screens of distraction’ whether it be our phones, TVs, or computers, which are the most addictive activities that prevent us from getting the rest we need or pausing. We built technology thinking our lives would becomes easier, when in reality we’ve allowed technology to train us to never slow down or pause, doubling down on this societal notion that rest is bad
SPOTLYFE: Why is now more important than ever to focus on overall wellbeing?
- STEVE: I think it’s an important time because our physical health is being impacted. Looking at workplace culture you will see burnout, stress and anxiety levels at all time highs, which all impacts physical health. Already we’re seeing data that points to the impact burnout has on our health with the American Psychological Association finding evidence linking burnout with increased risk of stroke, heart disease and sudden cardiac deaths1 and I believe these impacts are only going to increase.
SPOTLYFE: What are you doing within organizations to help with emotional wellbeing in the workplace?
- STEVE: My co-founder, Jenn, and I both come from corporate backgrounds, so the first step in helping corporations is putting forth a product that works within corporate teams, their time tables and showing some effective results. Second, we wanted to do more than just ‘talk’ about wellness, and actually train clients how to do it. We are using the modalities of sound and mindfulness to virtually train people in the moment how to slow down and learn how to take mindful breaks that help them slow down to speed up. We do most of our mind training virtually to suit the hybrid and work from models that are popular. Third, we talk about the science of meditation and sound so that we anchor what we are doing in facts. It’s important to shift the mindset of what has largely been deemed ‘spiritual’ practises and adapt a scientific, left-brain lens to take the fear out of doing this type of work.
SPOTLYFE: What kind of impact have you seen at the businesses you support – both to the people and the organization?
- STEVE: While it’s been challenging to measure emotional well being, our work has had a direct impact on the wellbeing of the people and businesses we work with. How do you measure emotions like feeling ‘calm’, ‘peace’, or having more ‘focus’? These are the effects of our work. However for science purposes, if we cannot measure and replicate some accepted number, it cannot be true, right?! So we’re seeing a clear rise in positive sentiment by taking a commonsense approach:
- Did you like what we did?
- Did it help you feel better?
- Would you do it again?
SPOTLYFE: What inspired you to get into the work you’re doing now? How do you see this impacting the world around you?
- STEVE: I don’t think there is any one thing or person that inspired what we were doing, but instead an internal passion to find a calling that fulfills me, that helps me grow, and that can help others learn about themselves. Pause+Expand is the culmination of 40 years of training in music production, MBAs, corporate jobs, psycho-therapy and personal growth.
SPOTLYFE: What are you noticing amongst Human Resource and Corporate Cultures that is changing?
- STEVE: We have an interesting view into the corporate landscape with our work. We have worked with over 80 companies in the past 16 months, across all sectors (including government) largely through the US and Canada. We are noticing that too few companies are waking up to the mental health fires that have been culminating in their workforce. Companies have been slow to designate roles that are wellness focused. The ambassadors to our work have been across many different departments including Culture, HR, Employee Experience, Marketing, Sales, Operations, with many people telling us companies aren’t sure who should be handling this task of emotional wellbeing amongst employees. So, we are in the early innings of figuring out how to deal with the emotional wellness needs of employees.
SPOTLYFE: What does the future look like for wellbeing?
- STEVE: I think a number of practitioners are creating the model as we speak. I think mental wellbeing will catch up to physical health in terms of importance and being able to drop the social stigma around it – no longer will it be weird or awkward to see someone’s eyes closed at their desk meditating before a meeting or out in public. I think you will see mental breaks put into the day that are mandatory. I think CEO’s will lose enough employees to burnout that retaining their workforce will have to include a wellbeing plan that isn’t just a token nod to wellness like the random ‘friday off’, ‘free lunch’ or ‘bring dogs to work day’, but rather the implementation of mandatory mental health practises inserted into employee schedules no different than lunch, or an all hands meeting. And recognizing inside the workplace that we are whole people, not just workers, and allowing people to be whole at work. I think we will all learn to slow down and see our screens as the addictive drug they are and the long term effects of distraction will become apparent to us, forcing us to change the way we think aboutAI and the tech we built. We will wake up and we’re already seeing some leaders and workers do this. It’ll just take some time for this to become the new normal.