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Stewart Brown
Stewart Brown

LEADERSHIP LAB

How hobbies can make us better in the workplace Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories here.

A few years ago, I came across a fantastic book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The whole premise of the book is that people who are happy do better at everything, including their work.

Most of us make the mistake of thinking that once success comes, so will happiness. But in reality, success doesn’t come before happiness – happiness comes before success. “If happiness is on the other side of success,” Achor tells us, “your brain never gets there.”

The new way of thinking of happiness and success is, if you build it (happiness), they (success) will come.

Happiness makes us better at our jobs, makes us more productive, resilient and less likely to burn out. We’re more drawn to happy people – in both our personal and professional lives. You would obviously want to deal with someone who’s happy if given the choice. Ditto with companies – who doesn’t want to do business with a company that’s full of happy and helpful people?

A company that’s full of happy employees will see an upward spiral of success: bigger sales, better morale and less turnover. More collective power, the sum is greater than the parts, 1+1=3, and so on.

Which brings us to the important question: How can we become happier? How can we provide an environment where employees feel the same and are motivated to do great work? This is the big question that many HR departments face, and companies spend a lot of money coming up with initiatives to boost morale. But in reality, the solution can be so simple.

It’s my opinion that hobbies can help to boost our day-to-day happiness and make us better at our job.

What is a hobby? A hobby isn’t mindless TV watching, or passively scrolling through social media. A hobby is something that we actively (and mindfully) choose to spend our time on. Things like gardening, ballroom dancing, collecting things, bowling, volunteering, underwater basket weaving – you get the idea.

Devoting time to a hobby encourages us to use our time more wisely by choosing an activity that will provide this upward spiral of benefits, like boosting our mood, making us feel more relaxed, and/or helping to build skills. These are all things that can help to boost day-to-day happiness and make us better at our jobs.

Being in nature is my favourite hobby. It doesn’t really matter how you spend time in nature; it’s really just about putting down your phone and mindfully participating in an activity outside.

For me, it’s mountain biking in the Don Valley in the warmer weather. I love both the thrill of riding the trails and the fact that these trails exist in downtown Toronto. I love the typical Canadian pastime of getting onto the ice for a game of shinny in the colder weather. And, I love to read, preferably outside when it’s warm.

Being in nature is cheaper than therapy; it has the amazing ability to energize and reduce stress. If you want to learn more about the science of how nature can help to boost cognitive function and help you be better, read Your Brain on Nature by Alan Logan.

When I started Genuine Health 25 years ago and we started making our first product, greens+, our goal was to help people feel so good that once they finished the things they had to do, they had energy to do the things that they wanted to do. It’s not only been the cornerstone of what we’ve wanted to provide to consumers, but it’s also a big part of our company’s culture.

We believe in work-life balance. I’ve always encouraged our employees to have hobbies and to do whatever lights them up outside of work. That flame extends to everything that they do in the workplace, and I think that we’ve got a pretty engaged and passionate workforce. I think it says a lot that some of the people who work at our office on Adelaide Street have been with me from the beginning.

Stewart Brown is founder and president of Genuine Health in Toronto.

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