Are You Emphasizing Team Brain Health?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Are your team members struggling with poor brain health? Only 16% of the U.S. population has good self-​esteem, which is one indicator of brain health. These folks generally feel good about themselves and their situation and they will bring their best to work every day. But what about the other 84%? Dave Kenney, co-​founder and executive director at Emergo Recovery, shared his advice on this topic during a recent Manage Smarter podcast.

Actualized Recovery®

As part of his work with recovering addicts, Kenney focused on brain health. His Actualized Recovery® process includes a focus on “euro-​balancing technology, nutritional therapy, orthomolecular restoration, positive psychology, SMART Recovery, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, robust fitness, biophilia, and more to restore mind-​body health and inspire the spirit.”

Poor Brain Health

You may not have many recovering addicts on your staff, but some of your team members may have brain health issues. Brains that don’t function at an appropriate level impact an individual’s behavior. The behavior exhibited at work by a team member with low self-​esteem, for example, can range from poor performance to engaging in toxic interactions with co-workers. 

An individual with low self-​esteem may complain that a staff member who suggests they change their behavior is out to get them. A person with higher self-​esteem would consider a co-worker’s suggestion through several different lenses and may adapt their behavior if they decide there is some truth to the comment.

Culture Improvements

In the workplace, bad culture has the same negative effects as living in a diminished environment and can contribute to stress and poor brain health. Employees with low self-​esteem won’t get their work done on time. And they may blame co-​workers for their lack of commitment. 

Managers can improve the situation by giving employees more meaningful tasks and emphasizing how the work connects to the corporate mission. They can enrich the culture by strengthening team relationships. A group outing, whether it’s an axe throwing contest or an afternoon spent volunteering at the local food bank, allows individuals to see each other in an environment outside of work. The interactions they have in these new environments can build trust and empathy. 

The COVID-​19 crisis is another example of a changed environment where employee stress has increased dramatically. Employees can no longer connect with each other in person and they may be worried about their jobs.

Leaders can improve corporate culture by setting up video chat technology for meetings. Nationwide, these kinds of meetings have given us a peek into our co-​workers’ private lives. It’s one thing to hear that a team member is always tired because they’ve been up with a colicky baby night after night. Our empathy for this team member will increase when the baby starts to cry while the employee is making a presentation.

Physical Health

Corporations have gone all in when it comes to subsidizing gym memberships for employees. This wellness benefit pays off in terms of healthier team members who will have a better focus on the job. While you want to make mental and brain health resources available to team members, studies also show that regular exercise can be an effective natural treatment for depression in some individuals.

If you’re stocking the corporate kitchen with highly processed foods, you may want to pivot. Humans will naturally gravitate to sugar-​laden sodas, candy bars and granola bars. And at 3:00 p.m., team members who have indulged are likely to have a sugar crash and experience a big drop in productivity.

A better solution is to take a 10-​minute break every hour and walk the halls or step outside for a stroll. When employees see leaders taking breaks, they’ll be more comfortable about doing so.


The concept of mindfulness might sound more New Age than most managers are up for. Being aware of your thoughts, especially the negative ones, is extra important these days. The constant uncertainty about where the next COVID-​19 hotspot will erupt and how much economic damage will be done is enough for most people’s negative thoughts to overwhelm them. Before they know it, they’re sleepless, eating bad food and performing poorly at work. 

Our brains become focused on ‘automatic negative thoughts.’ These tendencies, says Kenney, lead to a downward spiral. “A thought can create a feeling of feeling which can create an action and then we become noise, making some negative choice.” Being mindful of negative thoughts and training our brains to replace them with something positive can improve your day. If you and your team members aren’t able to accomplish this alone, it might be worth hiring a life or executive coach with brain health expertise.

We won't all have perfect brain health every day, but it's a goal to work toward. When leaders set the example, team member will follow.