Episode 56

Published on:

9th Jan 2024

Promoting Workplace Wellness with Dr. Steven MacGregor

Have you ever stopped to think about how much of your life is spent at work? It's a staggering amount, and yet, so often, we treat our work life as something to endure rather than enjoy. Integrating wellbeing at work isn't just a fancy concept; it's a necessity for a fulfilling life.

In this episode of the HAPPINESS SQUAD Podcast, Dr. Steven MacGregor, International Speaker & Chief Wellbeing Officer, shares tips and tricks to unlock your wellbeing and performance at work.

Dr. Steven MacGregor is a teacher who has taught over 30,000 executives face-to-face, and a further 250,000 online through his Sustaining Executive Performance program. He also taught at IMD in Lausanne and CIBS in Shanghai. His varied clients include McKinsey & Company, Salesforce, and Uber. This global exposure has given him a keen sense of cultural awareness and a deep understanding of how to inspire and change behavior.

He's currently an adjunct professor at Madrid's IE business school and is a prolific author who, over the past 11 years, has either authored or co-authored a total of six books. These include Sustaining Executive Performance, Chief Wellbeing Officer, and The Daily Reset.

In our conversation, we explore further the importance of work-life integration.

Things you will learn from this episode:

  • The importance of work-life integration
  • The Value of Adaptability and Learning from Failure
  • Building Resilience and a Growth Mindset
  • The Role of Community and Meaningful Connections in enhancing well-being at work
  • Understanding Sustainable Leadership 

Ready to turn your workday around? Tune into our latest podcast episode on wellbeing at work and discover the secrets to a happier, more productive work life! 

Listen now 🎧




Anil Ramjiani:

Hey HAPPINESS SQUAD, happy to have you with Ashish and me as we host guests who are industry leaders, helping individuals and organizations unlock their inner happiness and flourishing.

Are you ready to learn tips and tricks to unlock your wellbeing and performance at work? Our next guest shares his expertise and so much more.

Meet Dr. Steven McGregor, a teacher who has taught over 30,000 executives face to face, and a further 250,000 online through his Sustaining Executive Performance program. He also taught at IMD in Lausanne and CIBS in Shanghai. His varied clients include McKenzie, Salesforce, and Uber. This global exposure has given him a keen sense of cultural awareness and a deep understanding of how to inspire and change behavior.

He's currently an adjunct professor at Madrid's IE business school and is a prolific author who, over the past 11 years, has either authored or co-authored a total of six books. These include Sustaining Executive Performance, Chief Wellbeing Officer, and The Daily Reset.

In this episode, we're going to discuss an upcoming 30 daily nudges coming out in January of next year, and you're going to hear a few of them here first.

In this session, we discuss wellbeing and sustained leadership at work. As we enter hybrid working models and focus on work-life integration, how can leaders model and incorporate specific practices or tips into their daily lives to encourage this integration amongst their employees in order to promote a healthier work-life balance that enhances happiness and job satisfaction?

Remember, wellbeing is not only wellness. It's how we can leverage it to unlock our performance and potential. We need to thrive rather than just survive at work. So join Ashish and me as we welcome Steven to the HAPPINESS SQUAD podcast.

Hey, good evening, everyone. Ashish, Steven, it's a pleasure to be with both of you.

Steven, you and I are on this side of the pond. Steven, you're in Barcelona. I'm in Amsterdam. Ashish is in Boulder, Colorado. We've got some proper international conversations happening here. I'm excited. How are you two doing?

Steven MacGregor:

I'm great. I'm delighted to talk to you both. This is a real show. You know, I've been on a lot of podcasts over the years, and it's usually been two people. The fact that there's three of us is awesome. I'm looking forward to this.

Ashish Kothari:

Yeah. It's amazing to have you, Steven. We started exchanging emails almost a year ago, and we obviously have so much shared history with McKinsey and others. I'm just so excited for this conversation.

Steven MacGregor:

Me too.

Anil Ramjiani:

Nice one. To get us started, our favorite question to ask our guest is, what's your definition of happiness? And how has it changed for you since your younger years?

Steven MacGregor:

It's a good one to kick off. For me, it's a lot to do with fulfillment and believing that I'm living my purpose. There are other issues in terms of utility and being of use to the world. Do I feel that I'm really using my talents?

In terms of how it's changed over the years, when I was younger, it was about achievement, perhaps, and striving and external reward. That's still important. I'm attuned to the importance of progress in what I'm doing. Am I really moving forward? Or am I going round in circles? Am I going backwards?

But the difference now is that I'm less concerned about those external shows of achievement, and I'm enjoying the process more. I talk about this a lot in my leadership development work and my writing. About learning to love the process and not just the outcome.

In a nutshell, it's still about fulfillment and purpose. But when I was a kid, it was all about the outcome. I was a competitive athlete, so I was driven in that respect. Now, I'm appreciating the nuance of the process, and I love that I'm able to do that.

I can't do it every time, sometimes I'm pushed towards the outcome. But I try to remind myself to stay in the moment and enjoy the process.

Ashish Kothari:

It's so important, Steven, what you're highlighting. A lot of people, when they think about happiness, immediately go to happy-go-lucky. They think you're shallow. But that's not what happiness is about.

If your happiness is driven by outcomes, think back to your life about those moments which have truly made you happy. Think about all the moments leading up to the moments where you were miserable, you became happy, and then you were starting to go after the next milestone.

Loving the process and being happier with the actions you're putting in rather than just the outcomes makes the whole thing worth it. That's point number one.

Point number two is the research is very clear. If we make happiness a way of being, enjoying the process, we can pursue any end. Happier people are more successful, adaptable, and resilient.

The last one, which is really important, is what you highlighted, Steven. We love to be in control. But in today's world, the only thing you control is your actions. That you can control 100%. You fall down, you control whether you choose to stand up and go again or give up. You don't control the outcome, you control the action.

Focus on your actions, don't worry about outcomes. And if you are, then you are happier. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it takes a lifetime to learn it. We just keep hustling and working harder and harder, trying to be happier. You can't pursue happiness through fame, control, and money.

Steven MacGregor:

Totally, and I love those comments, Ashish. That view also builds resilience. You're going to be up and down. Even earlier this year, I had a negative occurrence in my life, and I was able to reframe it pretty quickly. I was proud of myself. I thought this really sucks what happened, but look, I'm alive.

That's part of the richness of life. The next time I get a win, I'm going to appreciate that even more. And so I give thanks for it as well. And I think that was very much in line with those three things you mentioned and how we conceptualize and live happiness in our day-to-day lives.

Anil Ramjiani:

So how do you reframe in the moment? Is there something specific, Steven, you've done that's worked for you?

Steven MacGregor:

It's interesting. I've been writing about it this week. The framing of the context was… I was working on a workshop about digital distraction with busy managers. We were talking about the habit loop and how you implement habits and recognizing that we're often triggered. It's not just the habit we need to be aware of, but what is the signal to do the thing? And then what is the reward?

In today’s day and age, digital devices are the biggest culprit in triggering us. But in general life, and especially in a busy business life, you can be triggered by other people, an email, a conversation with a client, or a circumstance.

Often it's about distinguishing the difference between reacting and responding. We've evolved and our brains have evolved with that amygdala hijack. When you have this perceived threat, you're triggered immediately, and it's often not in your best interest in the long term.

I've been thinking about that a lot, and often it's just time. You just give it a pause. You can count to ten and breathe, and you allow that prefrontal cortex part of your brain to take over. It's looking at the bigger picture, looking at it more rationally.

So, over the piece and even that example I gave, I'm just recognizing the difference between reacting and responding. Before that happens to you in the moment, a useful exercise is to think about your life and when you are normally triggered. What are the circumstances? Are you driving in the morning, going crazy with other drivers, or are there other circumstances where you are more vulnerable to that immediate reaction? But no, hold on. Let's take a moment. Let's process this and respond more measuredly, and happiness is going to come from that.

Ashish Kothari:

Absolutely, and it's powerful, these differences. I'm going to repeat this back for our listeners. Even though this is something we've heard over and over again, I don't think it's a practiced habit. It is becoming a practice habit for me, but I'm still nowhere close to fully being there, which is the power of breathing.

We take so many breaths every day, completely unconsciously. The breath is the link between the conscious and the unconscious, the past, future, and the present moment. The breath is the link between our sympathetic system, which is the fight, flight, freeze, triggered, scared five-year-old person system, versus the parasympathetic, the rest and digest system.

The breath is the link. So this notion of breathing 10 times, or even 30 times if you tend to be more of the explosive kind sometimes like I am in certain situations, to really then respond rather than react out of our habit nature or what we already do.

Breath is the key. It is so simple and yet so difficult for most of us because we don't even fully breathe deeply. We don't recognize we are breathing. And breath can be the signal that something is bothering you right now.

Steven MacGregor:

Yeah, it's those signals of stress, that shallow breathing, that you lose control of your breathing. I love the whole focus on breath, and I love that we're putting more legitimacy into that in the workplace. I remember it was one of these hospital dramas from the U.S., Grey's Anatomy, and I always remember the quote in it.

They were doing a surgery, and one of the junior residents was getting really nervous, and one of the senior surgeons said, "Look, just take a breath." When you stop breathing, you stop thinking. That primitive part of our brain takes over. It doesn't need to take a lot of time. That belly breathing, when you're in the middle of a Zoom, or whatever, you're in a high-pressure meeting, you know, displacement of your belly, just put a touch to your waist. So impactful.

Ashish Kothari:

I just realized something, and I want to share this with you because you're an athlete. You run all the time. I recognize that most of the time when I'm not conscious, I'm only breathing from about 25% of my lungs, maybe 30% if I'm being generous to myself. But definitely, 70% of it, I'm not breathing. That's point number one.

When you're a triathlete, you run, you are a lot more regulated with your breathing, and that's how you're able to go as far as you do. What also comes to me is this reflection. Steven, opposite me, is a tree with birds, rabbits, and squirrels. I've noticed that wildlife, other than humans, seem peaceful unless they sense a threat. They're peaceful at the moment.

I wonder if they have built the habit of always breathing deeply and that's what makes them present with what they are doing. An antelope running when it sees a tiger is not peaceful, but apart from that threat, I think as humans, we're always running around like the antelope. We never are peaceful.

Steven MacGregor:

I just came off a session where we were talking about mindfulness with a group of leaders. I gave them the story of my dog and how I started to learn a lot about being mindful from my dog. And on one level, I started to become more aware of my own emotions and energy in the moment because it was reflected on my dog.

Dogs and animals are mirrors. They pick up on your energy and emotions. If I was anxious or high energy or even low energy, my dog would reflect that back to me. Dogs are not thinking about what they're going to do tomorrow or later that night or what they've just done in the past. They're just in the present moment.

I started to take my dog on programs with leaders in a natural park in a forest. We would do mindfulness walks, and I said to people, "Don't take your phones, keep talking to a minimum. At least if you’re talking, make reference to what is around you. But pay attention to my dog, and watch how she acts.” They're at peace, engaging their senses, and I think we can all be more dog a little bit and pay more attention to that.

One more example, Leo Messi, a fantastic football player. He walks for most of the match. That came from the start of his career when he was incredibly nervous. He'd be physically sick at the start of a match. So he walked to keep his breathing under control. That then became his superpower. It allowed him to do a powerful diagnostic into what was going on.

Pep Guardiola, his coach at Barcelona, said he spends that time to sniff out the weaknesses in the back four. He gets this panorama in his brain, and then he's able to exploit those weaknesses as he goes through the match. So, taking a step back, being calmer, you get much more powerful insight from that.

Anil Ramjiani:

I love that. As a fellow football lover, I've moved over 17 years and no longer use the S word. I'm an F word kind of guy, pun unintended. The sporting analogy of how you would always expect an athlete to be explosive, on the go, ready to pounce.

But the fact is no, pause, take a deep breath, get a gaze of what's happening around you. Then, a measured response rather than reacting and probably making mistakes because you'll know what you need to do next time.

I'd love to shift to your last book, "The Daily Reset." I love nudges. In our rewire program, we offer daily nudges to folks, linked to one of our nine hardware for happiness practices. Daily nudges are important as they're an opportunity to take a pause in your day and do something that can benefit you. I would love to know your top three most impactful nudges and maybe for our listeners, share one of your new nudges from your upcoming book in January.

Steven MacGregor:

So, there's a few there. The Daily Reset is the most personal of my three books. I put a lot of personal stories into that. On one level, it's like an encyclopedia covering all bases of wellbeing. Every month has a theme, like August is purpose, March is sleep, April is energy. I've tried to cover all the things that I think are important to develop wellbeing in our lives.

I most enjoy sharing the personal stories, making myself very vulnerable, talking about my own fears and personal things.

One nudge that comes to mind is about failure. It links back to our first concept about process versus outcome. It's about a mountain biker from the Isle of Skye, Scotland, named Danny McCaskill, a trials biker sponsored by Red Bull. He’s got a couple of million followers on Instagram, and he does all these crazy tricks on his bike.

What’s interesting is he films not just the successful stunt but all the failed attempts that led up to that one successful execution. It's not a sanitized, outcome-driven approach, but about enjoying the process. He rode his bike across a metal chain that connected two blocks of concrete at a beach in Blackpool, England.

The metal chain was thinner than the tread thickness of the tyre, and it was only a couple of bike lengths long. So the stunt only took maybe 8 or 9 seconds, but he talked in the post about how it took him over 10 years to find the perfect chain. When he did it, it took him three days, over 100 attempts, and he fell off about 100 times. And I just thought it was amazing and it showed the whole importance of perseverance or grit in our lives, but for him, he was just having fun.

And maybe sometimes in our lives, if we’re going to fall in our ass 90 times, we have to be aware of when it’s time to call it quits and move on to something else. But I was just amazed at this experience that he just kept going and then he got that successful execution on that 100th try or whatever it was. That for me was about trying new things.

Ashish Kothari:

Steven, what I also like is the implicit piece of playing, joy, and having fun on what you’re doing. And also, not being afraid to look stupid, because it’s not that he was doing it in the comfort of his house. It's a very public action.

It's powerful. It's also what babies who learn to walk do. How many times do they fall before they walk? They're not thinking about what people around them are thinking. Otherwise, they would never walk. We often don't do it because we're focused on the outcome. What does it mean? What do people think of me if I'm failing? Rather than enjoying the process.

Even with this notion of work and play, why can't work be play? You want people to take risks, make it playful, define the boundaries of where risk is acceptable, but when you tell somebody, make it play, that's what really comes up for me.

Anil Ramjiani:

in Barcelona in Calella in:

Rather than giving up, I felt the emotion, then spent the summer going back to basics. I started exploring doing shorter distance triathlons to build up my speed, pace, and technique.

Sometimes it may actually be the failure that could be your biggest achievement. It's okay to make mistakes, not to finish, because there is no finish line. It's just about your next race.

I love that as your first nudge, my friend. It's just how we look at failure and how we embrace it rather than fear it.

Steven MacGregor:

Yeah, thanks for sharing that. The obstacle is the way. If we think about that well-known book from Ryan Holiday. Sometimes it's when things happen in our life, it's there for a reason. And we win in the longer term.

Another one, and I'll keep this one shorter, is about learning, and I put this in the Resilience Month, and it's one of the personal ones. The nudge is called Love Learning. It talks about when my kid was seven, and he bought his first skateboard, and I decided to buy a skateboard at the same time. I'd never skated, and it was the first skateboard in both of our lives. I talked about just falling on my ass, so it's linked to the failure part, but I think it was about continuing on that learning journey.

That learning journey came to me in another circumstance when I dropped my kid off at swimming class and I went for a cup of coffee. I thought, when did I stop thinking about just developing myself?

So, what we've done since then, it's not just been skateboarding, but we've been playing basketball, we've been playing made-up games, we've been playing catch. His rate of learning compared to mine, it's just incredible. I'm just trying to hang on to his coattails.

So I talked about loving learning, and it doesn't always have to be in that purely cerebral, information-based work level, but just learning in any area. I think we need to keep doing that in life and that's going to make us more resilient as well. He's my biggest inspiration to keep learning and developing.

Ashish Kothari:

This notion of, we create and we notice what we pay attention to. So in that moment when we fall, are we focused on the fall? Are we focused on the script in your head saying you're not enough? You don't know how to do it. Are you focused on “I don't have what I need to be successful here.” Victim. I don't know how to do this. I'm not good enough for this. Fixed mindset.

Instead, you can focus on what can I learn from this? Growth mindset by Carol Dweck. I can focus on what becomes possible. What am I learning from this? What's the smallest step that I can actually take here to make a difference? I might not control all of it, but what's the smallest? That's agents versus victims, right?

And this mindset, the most important, the mindset of always learning, making meaning in what we are doing, is so important for resilience.

When I was at McKinsey, we spent a bunch of time studying resilience, in fact, resilient mindsets. Steven, you talk a lot about it in your book too is that these are mindsets that we can build as habits. Resilience is something we can learn. We can become antifragile. It's all about what we pay attention to and how we reframe in the moment. Because what we pay attention to becomes our reality.

Steven MacGregor:

Totally. Absolutely.

Ashish Kothari:

So tell us one of your nudges, my friend, from the new 30 nudges. You already have 366 brilliant nudges in your book, which I have here on my table. What are some of the 30 new ones that you created that come out on January 1?

Steven MacGregor:

ublished the book in December:

, most of it in the summer of:

Even when the book was released, I couldn't do any in-person events. People were still having strict mask mandates and all these different things. So, I had that realization.

We did an analysis on the 366 nudges. There were over 60 that had the word pandemic, COVID, or lockdown. I thought that's too much; we're not going to move forward. So, I wanted a more positive sense.


One I want to share, which links to these comments on resilience, and thinking first of all on failure and the personal story on learning, and then this one is on community, and being a proud Scotsman, this one is called "People Make Glasgow." It talks about the positive interactions you get with people you don't know when you travel to Glasgow.

Every summer, I go back to Scotland and spend time in Glasgow. Each day, I would have between four to six positive, spontaneous, meaningful conversations with people I have never met.

In Barcelona, that is about one to two per week. Glasgow is an outlier, an international community with the warmth of the people. Maybe it makes up for the climate. We need that community more than ever in today's society, which is driven by division and the things that make us different.

The city of Glasgow is such a welcoming place on so many levels, regardless of where you're from, what language you speak, or your social demographic status. They had this marketing campaign a few years ago asking what makes Glasgow special. The slogan that came out was "people."

So "People Make Glasgow" is seen everywhere around the city in bright pink neon at bus stations and train stations. The importance of community is essential for our wellbeing.

Wellbeing starts with ourselves, but it has to involve the people around us – our teams at work, our families and friends, wider society. And that's the path to happiness as well. How can we connect to society? How can we make those meaningful relationships?

Anil Ramjiani:

We had a guest on our show a few weeks back, Jessica Weiss, and one of her fundamental beliefs is that friends at work can really make or break your experience. You may know why you work at a place or what you do there, but it's who you're doing it with.

And what I love about what you just said, by the way, one of my last trips before lockdown was actually to Glasgow. I ran the city and I absolutely think it's one of the most beautiful cities, mindful in the rain, a conversation for another day.

But this is something that's incredibly powerful because when you take a moment out of your day to connect with someone, you're giving yourself a pause as we talked about earlier.

It's a great way to move around. If you could go for a coffee, go for a coffee or tea, but also go for a walk, catch up with someone, ask them what's going on in their world.

Ask them how they're feeling, not just how they're doing and really truly connect. When you do that, something changes, especially coming out of this lockdown space, we're able to interact with people in person. So take that time.

Ashish's wife, Lizzie, does our program's daily nudges, and Saturday's links to build community. Whether it's picking up the phone and calling a friend or going out for dinner with a friend or friends or reconnecting, I love how you say that because people make this world around. And if we don't do that, we don't connect, I think we miss an important trick.

One thing I'd love to ask you, Steven, as we move on to leadership is you've canvassed the globe. Your experience in Spain, Europe, you were recently at Apple and observed their work culture on-site on campus.

Could you maybe share with our listeners how you've seen leaders effectively integrate the wellbeing practices that you've spoken about in their daily routines to foster both personal resilience as well as creating that supportive work culture for their teams? Knowing that a lot of companies are encouraging, if not requiring their employees to actually come back on campus, at least three to four days a week.

Steven MacGregor:

It's a tricky one. The same pressures that teams are under, the leaders have that, and they're squeezed on both sides. There’s a couple of things in it.

First is flexibility. There are mandates around, and even in that experience at Apple, it was one of the two mandated days that I was there. The place was teeming with people, but it was so vibrant.

I had a number of discussions during that week when I toured the Bay Area. A lot of the places were empty and a lot of the conversations from leaders were about how to incentivize people to come back.

It helps if you have a fancy spaceship campus and that critical mass of people. But what is the belonging and the meaning at work and friendships at work that you just mentioned?

One of my clients here in Barcelona, during the pandemic, talked about some of the younger staff, all of their friendships were tied up in the workplace. So when the offices were locked down, they lost their friends also.

They started to rent coworking spaces so that they weren't just in Zooms all day in their own homes, but they were with their friends in these coworking spaces in Barcelona, which I thought was really cool.

There are mandates here and there and a couple of days a week perhaps, but I think flexibility has to be on results, are you getting the job done? In terms of wellbeing practice, even if I think of over the years, like the CEO of Telefonica, a runner, he ran every day in Telefonica headquarters and people would see him running.

That flexibility in your day giving permission to other folks. We know that work is going to enter into the times of the day which used to be only for family or only for rest. But sometimes in that middle portion of the day, we don't give ourselves the same permission not to do non-work stuff.

So I think flexibility in letting people work and follow the patterns that they know will get the best results is absolutely key, and that flexibility can happen in many different ways. How you run your day. Are you in the office? Are you not? Are you going to leave because you've got something important with a family matter? You don't need to ask permission because we have life outside the work, all of these different things.

And I think the one addition to that, there has to be humility from leaders. Humility that they don't have all the answers. We're going to find out together. We're going to have to experiment. And we're all going to bring something to the table. So there's that democratization of ideas. It's not about hierarchy. So I think those two things I would settle on are flexibility and humility.

Ashish Kothari:

going through the pandemic in:

What I would say is, at this stage, two years out, we have the direction. We might not know the exact destination, but we have the direction. I'm going to highlight a couple of data points here, including one from my recent report that my dear friends at the McKinsey Health Institute released two weeks ago at this point.

The report is called "Reframing Employee Health: Moving Beyond Burnout to Holistic Health." In that, one of the data they highlighted and they looked at was saying, Does work location influence health outcomes?

And the research was very clear. It wasn't about whether you are in person or whether you are remote. What mattered was, are you working in your preferred work location? So when people worked 100 percent in person, but the ideal was 100 percent remote, the impact on holistic health and well-being was much worse. Around 37 percent reported well-being or holistic health.

When people were allowed to work at their preferred location, whatever it is, if you prefer to be three days in the office and two days at home, and that's what you're doing. If you want to be all remote and you're allowed to do that, that's what you're doing. If you want to be in person, you are able to be in person. When we do that, 60%, almost double, in terms of health impact.

By the way, the same was the issue on everything else. On innovative work behaviors, we need so much more innovation, right? When you were a hundred percent in-person work, an ideal was a hundred percent remote. That number was 31% versus 53%, but people preferred more remote versus 65%. And if you were in an ideal work location burnout scores were much lower if you were allowed to be in your work location.

So it does matter, but I don't think the answer is it's more remote, it's more in person. Exactly to your point of flexibility and autonomy of meeting people where they are so that we can mold work and life and integrate them together, which is kind of the topic I want to get to next, right? Which is you talk a lot about when you started talking about this, frankly, Steven, a lot earlier than many other people around don't balance, integrate.

So talk to me a little bit about work-life integration and how you coach individuals and leaders to truly integrate their work and life so that they can drive higher performance and be more satisfied at work because they are flourishing.

Steven MacGregor:

There are a couple of things there. I started looking at the history of the first industrial revolution and I wrote about that in my first book, Sustaining Executive Performance, about how we live those 24 hours and how that's changed.

Some of my recent comments are testament to that and the fact that we have 24 hours, we are allowing work to come into previously non-work periods of our 24 hours, but we don't do the opposite.

I gave a keynote on this several years ago called "Beyond the Hateful Eight." We have that negative reaction, but we cause it ourselves. Even in the session that I just gave with a group of leaders, one of the comments was “it's not the company, it's me.” So often it's the individual's habits and behaviors that they are manifesting and extending out to the team.

So often when we work with leaders, we're drilling down on what are your own attitudes? What are your own mindsets? Are you creating that busyness for yourself? I think that's on one level.

On another level, one of the main things that we try to really dig into is this aspect of separation. And for me, it is the difference between well-being and wellness.

Sometimes, even if we use the word well-being, we talk about wellness, which means that we will do things when work is finished. So in the evening or at the weekends or when we're on vacation, that could be things like sleep or purpose of community, or it could be any of these areas that we know make a big difference to well-being. But that's fixing ourselves from the damage that we do within the normal flow of daily work.

We need those things to be there. But what I try to make a call for is to bring a lot of these things into the normal flow of work, not separate. If we are just exclusively looking at that kind of wellness view, it is an admission that the workplace is imperfect. We're happy with our status quo, but I'm trying to bring it in and it looks different. It could still be sleep, it could still be purposeful, it could still be different things.

But in many cases, it has to be much more actionable, much more practical in a shorter time frame, but absolutely bring it into the middle of your busy day. And if you bring a lot of these things into the middle of your busy day, you will get that performance improvement.

And then the third one is on just what I call sustainable leadership. Sometimes I don't even use the word well-being because there's sometimes a lot of beliefs about what that means. People still believe it's a compromise on performance.

And so sometimes I just say, hey, this is about building more positive cultures. And there's a whole literature out there on positive leadership, and I try to build on that. I called it sustainable leadership.

I was looking several years ago, a business school here in Barcelona. And I was in the business ethics department. I was doing research on corporate social responsibility, and I felt a lot of the belief system around sustainability could apply at the organizational level at the societal level, of course, as we know, but also that individual level.

So I felt that being a sustainable leader was being that role model. It is about really having that humility, but thinking about your own habits, how that created the culture and teams around you, but not forgetting about performance.

So bringing that into your normal working day, yes, being healthier and happier, but how does that drive performance? What is the business case? So, coming from an engineering background and a design thinker, for me, it was about showing that utility on showing that very quickly and powerfully. So I think those would be the three big messages that I would bring to the table there.

Anil Ramjiani:

I just want to say I'm nearly jumping up and down over here. When I hear you say that, most companies would say they're offering benefits to their employees that line up exactly to your definition. “Hey, go to the gym after work, we'll give you a pass.” Or, “hey, take a week off, we'll give you a few days extra that you need, take it off.” Or “we'll give you access to programs or software where you can probably get some headspace.” But whether people are allowed to integrate this into their day, one thing that's a fact.

People are suffering these days from meeting overload, working back to back. And so I love each of these points that you brought up. From one perspective, again, giving people that focus, that intention of really integrating that well-being, that wellness into their day is critical. People aren't going to be encouraged to do it. They need to be supported, rather than fearing a deadline, it's like, “Hey, take that time, go for lunch, go for a walk.” We need that.

Otherwise, guess what? What the company's doing is, it's almost putting you into an unexpected expectation that, “Oh, when the weekend comes, as everyone says, TGIF. Now wait till Monday. Ah, Monday morning is scary.” So we know that people want that time to recharge during the day. If your cell phone died during the day, you're not going to wait till you get home at night to recharge it. You're immediately going to plug it in at that moment, right? So why should your body as a human being be any different?

The second thing that comes to mind about how you bring this into normal work is how do we incorporate giving people the opportunity to be happier at work, to be flourishing at work. You know, something that Ashish and I even discussed is, you know, happiness is a tough topic. People see it, as we said earlier, as it's a smile on your face, you're feeling good, thumbs up. There's so much more to it.

The research shows if you're happier, you are more creative, you are more antifragilic, you are more satisfied. And when you're at work, do you want your team to be creative, or do you want them to feel under the gun? You clearly want that creativity, and if you're feeling happier, and you're therefore more creative, why not?

So, I really do celebrate what you're talking about, and this is why, when you say it's all about performance, that's why happiness is human performance. Because you will operate at a higher level when you're feeling good. Feeling great than not.

You'll enjoy that process, rather than, “Oh, I can't wait till the weekend's done and I can go home.” No, you're actually gonna enjoy being at work. You're gonna enjoy who you're working with. You're gonna enjoy the work that you're doing.

And we know studies show 70 percent of the workforce out there are barely surviving at work. We gotta change that number. If we don't, Steven, to your point, we're gonna misunderstand the difference between well-being and wellness, and how we offer it to our employees. I absolutely love what you said there, and I cheer it on.

Steven MacGregor:

And I get it, I get the way that companies are operating, because the easier thing is the separation, right? The harder thing is the integration, and companies need to take a leap of faith. But we all know that it works. It just needs a bit of investment. You need that commitment, that sponsorship, but it happens. The magic happens. Absolutely.

Anil Ramjiani:

Hey, you know, we're mindful that we gave you that tough one at the end. So I think knowing that it's late in the evening on a Friday and we're waiting for you to get you to your Negroni of choice, I want to go ahead and take the opportunity to wrap us up.

So, one thing that we love to do is just to get to know you better and give our listeners an insight to you. We just want to ask a couple of rapid questions. So you're ready to go?

Steven MacGregor:

Go for it. Lovely.

Anil Ramjiani:

The first real question is, Hey, when you're looking to listen to something that picks you up, makes you feel good, what is your favorite song to listen to?

Steven MacGregor:

I don't know if it picks me up, but it just makes me feel, because I've been 20 years away from Scotland. So the Blue Nile is an amazing band from Glasgow and my favorite song from the Blue Nile is Tinseltown in the Rain. Amazing songs. If you've not heard the Blue Nile, you need to, any listeners need to check that out, especially that song.

Anil Ramjiani:

Love it. All right, cool. We'll share with you something we're doing for the end of the year, compiling these. So there will be that squad playlist and you'll be noted for it. The second question is your favorite book, and this can be any book.

Steven MacGregor:

It's tricky, right? And it changes over the course of your life, right? But I think I'd go for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. And to counterbalance the heft of one of these classics, I'm reading a ton. And it's still great writing, don't get me wrong. I'm reading a ton of Lee Child books this year. Jack Reacher character, I think that's amazing. Pure escapism. I've read like 15 already this year. Amazing.

Anil Ramjiani:

Awesome. We're going to add that to the list. Now, the final one. Hey, what's your favorite activity? Again, when you want to pick yourself up or you just enjoy doing it with family, with friends or on your own.

Steven MacGregor:

So I love being with family and friends, but I was even thinking about this recently as one of the 30 new nudges about are you an introvert or an extrovert? I love being in big crowds. I love speaking in front of a large audience, but I recharge alone mostly, which I think is more of a definition of an introvert. And so I absolutely love running in the forest with my dog.

Anil Ramjiani:

Dog's lucky, mate. That's awesome. Goes with you to work and into the forest. Awesome. Well, from my side, Steven, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We'd love to go into more.

We'll keep an eye out in Jan,:

Ashish Kothari:

looking forward, my friend in:

Steven MacGregor:

Thank you both. I've loved it. I think when you connect with other human beings that have got a shared mission, that's just a wonderful thing. So lovely to talk to you both and yeah, looking forward, hopefully soon, face to face, and some good times. Thank you.

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About the Podcast

The Happiness Squad
Welcome to Happiness Squad.

This is the podcast dedicated to helping you unlock your full potential by mastering the art and science of happiness.

We bring on the best leading experts on these topics to help you unlock your true potential and live with more joy, health, love, and meaning in your life.

Your host is no other than Ashish Kothari who is on a mission to provide you with an unfair advantage to be the masters of your experience and leaders in your industry.

Get ready to be moved, challenged, and enlightened on this podcast. It may change your life.

Thanks for being here and joining the squad!
Learn more: https://happinesssquad.com/

About your hosts

Ashish Kothari

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Ashish Kothari is the founder and CEO of Happiness Squad, a company focused on democratizing happiness and touching a billion+ lives over the next 20 years and helping them live with more joy, health, love, and meaning.

Prior to founding Happiness Squad and writing his best-selling book “Hardwired for happiness”, Ashish spent 25 years in consulting, including the last 17 at McKinsey and Co, a premier management consulting firm, helping thousands of clients and their organizations achieve breakthrough performance by building new mindsets and capabilities.

Ashish is a trained ontological coach and a lifelong student of human thriving.

Anil Ramjiani

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Anil Ramjiani is an experienced senior leader at Nike, Inc., most recently as the Commercial Director managing key athlete partnerships and business with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, and Marcus Rashford.

Anil's passion is grounded in empowering people, unlocking potential, and driving performance. He has worked in consulting and corporate across the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia acquiring over 20 years of experience in strategy, brand, and general management at IBM, Adidas, and Nike.

He created the podcast and platform Live. Breathe. Believe., to enable reflection, motivation, and inspiration for his peers. #Knowyoutobeyou!