Norm Pure Busts Wellness Myths in the Name of Healthy Business

Jason McRobbie

With chronic uncertainty taking up a lot of our post-pandemic mindset, the quest for balance and betterment continues for many—and it’s a quest more employers are backing and employees demanding for a bevy of reasons, ranging from personal choice to just plain, good business sense. We sit down with Norm Pure, VP of Organizational Consulting with The Energy Project, to talk the finer points of energy management and bust a few myths still holding back employers and employees alike.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders need to see through the myth that wellness and productivity are at odds;
  • Employees need to accept that wellness ultimately lies within their own power;
  • Sleep and movement are the key to beginning any and all change; and
  • All parties need to realize that Millennial talent calls for care in culture serve to empower greater creativity, innovation, and productivity throughout an organization.

Having just finished a session with a group eight floors down, which he has been working with for years, Norm Pure, VP of Organizational Consulting with The Energy Project, is primed to talk about energy management—a topic that has long gone by many names since he first graduated from the recreation field in the 1970s.

“I have seen the wellbeing mantra ebb and flow a few times since I graduated college in the late 70s when wellbeing and wellness was really employing people,” said Norm.  “But when times got tough, those were the things that were ejected. Then there was a resurgence and ebb a decade or so later and we’re seeing it surge again. The difference now is that I really do not think this is a trend or fad. I think it is here to stay this time because there is just too much information around the negative impacts of not taking care of our people. We will lose them. We will suffer.”

The challenge, Norm notes, is breaking down some yet enduring myths, which continue to position wellness as something other than a mark of smart business. In that light, he points to the pandemic and the work from home movement for revealing what wellness and HR professionals have been espousing for years. 

“The pandemic showed that what happens at home impacts our performance and productivity at work, and that work has a profound impact on our happiness and fulfillment that we bring back to our private life. It is clear the two parts are inextricably linked,” said Norm.

As a result, Norm firmly believes the work/life balance narrative needs to be exposed as a delimiting myth.

“Forget work/life balance. Work is a huge part of life. And balance implies equity. And that is quite frankly impossible with the increased and increasing demands, expectations, and responsibilities. So, balance is not possible and should be stricken from the psyche,” said Norm, before turning to a topic has helped many take to heart. “What we can do with energy management is have reserves for whichever side of our life requires tending to now.”

Norm credits The Energy Project’s physiological approach for its appeal to even the pragmatic cynics who see the science and experience the results. Drawing upon the earlier work of The Energy Project’s founder Tony Schwartz—developed for athletes together with his business partner, sports psychologist Jim Loehr—Norm has spent the past 13 years delving ever deeper into the corporate world with the same physiological insights that have served countless professional athletes.

“In our work, we use the analogy that are the four dimensions of energy we all share—physical, mental, emotional and purpose. They’re all physiologically based and have been pushed to the limit in recent years,” said Norm. “People became physically exhausted from the new way of working: no boundaries, non-stop. They were mentally overwhelmed by the adaptations required to work from home and how technologies like Zoom brought us into true back-to-back meetings—without anytime between as in the office days to say hello while grabbing a coffee in the kitchen. Then we became emotionally distraught because nobody knew what our individual and collective futures looked like.”

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Norm explains that with those three resources being worn down, what has kept people going, getting up every morning, is their purpose—that critical connection to work and income. However, he notes, without addressing full spectrum of the stressors, purpose alone is seldom enough to sustain either employees or organizations in the long run.

What needs to match pace with the increased demands and expectations is increased awareness and empowerment of individuals around how to step up to mastering their own energy management.

“That leads to another myth we are constantly trying to debunk—that if I am taking care of myself as a leader and encouraging my team to take care of themselves, we will get less work done,” said Norm. “Fortunately, what more are seeing is that it’s not a dichotomy and while we’d like to take some credit for starting this 20 years ago, it’s great to see so many others doing so today. People are realizing that it’s not an either/or. We can manage our energy, sustain, and take care of ourselves AND get good results.”

“Research actually shows that when you optimize your physiology, you get more productive because you are more efficient. So, it doesn’t mean you’re more productive by working longer hours. It means you’re more productive because you’re more efficient in the hours that make sense to work,” said Norm.

“The question Tony asked years ago was: ’How do we help people take care of themselves by attuning with their physiology and ultimately showing up as a better version of themselves—whatever it is that they are doing?’ We root everything in physiology because it constantly gives us all the information we need—then we need to act logically and responsibility on it. It’s not just a nice idea. It’s real.” said Norm. “We become more efficient, but also more grounded and capable of engaging. Most importantly, we can move away from the transactional interactions into relational interactions, which have consistently been shown to produce better workplace results.”

That leads to another myth around who is ultimately accountable for those results.

“There is another great myth that perpetuates from the employee side and that is the notion that ‘the organization will take care of us.’ For sure, organizations have a responsibility, but we are blunt about one thing in particular with our work—you are responsible for you. Stop putting your energy into things you have no control over and take control over what you do. Stop making it ‘their’ responsibility,” said Norm.

A good deal of the negative energy we carry, we have not control over, Norm notes, but taking simple actions where possible can yield large amounts of relief and overall results.

“We’ve gotten a bit more sophisticated in our approach. We used to come in and talk about a specific behavioural patterns. We still believe in those, but we now actually start at the lowest possible place, which is the mindset shift,” said Norm. “How can you begin to view your life a bit differently? That really begins with putting your energy and mindset on, ‘What CAN I do?’ and empowering yourself to make those changes.”

As for where those changes should begin, Norm anchors us with what dogs and babies know best:

Sleep On It: Sleep comes first because too many people are sleep-deprived or sleep-disrupted. If you are not getting enough quality sleep that is the place to start—simply establish a bedtime every night that’s the same and this all based on sleep research. Sunday through Thursday, even if it’s 11:45 pm, make it that way every night so that your physiology begins to accommodate it,” said Norm. “Just like we train our kids to go to bed at the same time, it primes our physiology the same way. That’s a small, but powerful start. Keep in mind, we’re not telling you when to go to bed, but to make the choice that works for you.”

Get a Move On: Especially since we are sitting so much more now, whatever we can do to get movement is going to be beneficial. It could be as simple as standing up to stretch. Whatever mechanism you can apply during the day, use it. Developing small rituals to anchor that can be helpful too—like bending down to put your joggers on, heading out that front door and giving yourself a 10-minute walk.

Create Micro-Renewals: The final thing we do is help people identify how, during the day, they can build intentional moments where they are leaving their work to do something that gives them a dose of energy. We encourage people to create these small micro-renewal opportunities and they can look different for everyone.

Even delving into what you might do if you had just 60 seconds between meetings can be revealing and re-energizing, Norm notes.

“Stand up, look out the window, stretch your back, roll your shoulders, take a deep breath, have a sip of water—then log back on. Every one of the eight groups today had something calisthenic in that minute—planking, jumping jacks. Intuitively, people know that burst of movement will help them,” said Norm, who admits he got an even bigger grin from ‘primal screaming into a pillow’, ‘making someone laugh’ and ‘singing at the top of my lungs at home office’.

“We went from the one minute to between three and five minutes, then explored if they had up to 10 minutes—and the ideas just flew up onto that board. They’re developing these, not me and the lists were huge and creative,” said Norm, who sees it not just as further validation of The Energy Project’s work, but an equally huge warning to leaders who continue to view the human side of development as fuzzy or soft.

“I think the mythology that some leaders continue to operate under is the assumption that they have unlimited self-efficacy and if people are working a certain way its because they want to and if they didn’t want to they would leave. But that only holds true until they step back and ask, “How many people voluntarily leave when they have mortgages or rent, kids in diapers or in college, an appetite for three meals a day?’” asked Norm.

“We need to be reminding leaders that they are in a competitive market, not just for their end product, but their talent—and there is no other industry as competitive as tech. They are going to be contending with more discerning people, both internally and externally,” said Norm. “This ties to attracting talent and retention in a big way. You have to provide the culture that honours those individual needs. Not because you are catering to soft, needy Millennials, but because the game has changed and Millennials are actually just more attuned to what they—and all of us really—want and need to live a good life.”

It’s also what organizations are going to need to drive a good business.

“That intrinsic drive, which provides the catalyst for so much innovation, can only be optimized when we can get our brains out of the left-brain tactical thinking and into the right hemisphere big picture thinking,” said Norm. So the only way companies are going to remain competitive is to innovate, but people can’t do that if they’re kept in the ‘get-it-done-now’ mindset because it doesn’t allow them to step back, breath and imagine. Make that space. If you don’t have intentional strategies built in to allow your people to step back and be, you’re not going lead the field for very long.”

One final bit Norm always drives home for leaders in tech in particular is the onus that lies upon them for setting the bar when it comes to taking care of the talent who will ultimately help take care of us all.

“We need great talent in tech for the next big disruption. We know there is going to be another global or regional disruption that tech is going to be held accountable for getting us out of, so the ball is in your hands as leaders,” Norm said. “The world looks to tech for solutions, so taking care of your talent is key for everyone—and your organization.”