Podcast

Paula Sáenz López 01 June 2020

Managing Stress in the Workplace with Barton Warner

We stress about stress A LOT. Stress can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. In short, stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand, which means that the workplace is usually one of the main sources of physical or emotional tension.

To try to understand stress further and how to use it to our advantage, we have invited Barton Warner, CEO & Co-Founder at R3SET, a new consumer wellness company that launched in CVS , Amazon and Target this year. Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavour, Barton was a senior executive at Bayer where he was responsible for strategic planning, resource allocation, and new growth initiatives for its $3 billion portfolio.

Topics covered in this podcast:

  • R3SET or how to make stress less stressful
  • How does stress impact and individual’s performance at work? How does it affect team dynamics?
  • Is stress a taboo? How can we address it in the workplace?
  • Advice on how to use stress as a driving force to push us forward.

Barton Warner:

Equally, I never went to my boss, nor was I asked, “How are you feeling from a stress point of view?” And I think it traces to vulnerability, and shame, and looking like we’re not coping. I think we all are being judged all the time, and we know that. And so for that reason, people are uncomfortable showing that vulnerability, because they worry that it sends the wrong message.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Welcome to the LS International Career Success podcast. I’m Paula Sáenz Lopez, and today I am pleased to introduce you to Barton Warner. After over 14 years of successful senior corporate career at biopharmaceuticals, he decided to make the radical change and founded his own health and wellness startup, Reset. In this episode, we’ll discuss how this transition changed his life, and how he took over a big mission, making stress less stressful. Welcome, Barton.

Barton Warner:

Thank you very much for having me.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Yeah, sure. A pleasure. So yeah, at the beginning of this year, it was announced that you founded your own company. What was your vision for it? And of course, when did you know that it was time to do so?

Barton Warner:

I founded a new company, along with my two cofounders, and we’re focused on stress management. And this is a topic that has been a big one for me personally, over my whole career. And it’s really the moment I said, “We really have an opportunity to really do something about it.”

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Okay, great. And why stress relief, like why did you decide that that was kind of your mission? What’s the impact that stress has on an individual’s performance?

Barton Warner:

It’s certainly been a topic for me at a very personal level for my whole career. I would say, I’m somebody that is probably more impacted by stress than most people, at least in my peer group. I’m certainly not the only one who feels stress in the workplace.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Definitely not.

Barton Warner:

Yeah, that’s right. And this was all before COVID, of course, where now it’s a completely different experience. But I always felt it in my life, and I felt like it was getting the best of me. Sometimes I felt like it was helping me, but in the main I felt like it was probably undermining my effectiveness. And I also started to see it doing the same thing to my children. And so, once I saw it really affecting their lives, and I started to think to myself, “Okay, there must be more to learn about stress, there must be a way to really understand it.” I’ve been really studying it for a number of years. And then it was really only when I left Bayer that I decided to actually make it something that could actually be a business.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

And when you decided that it could be a successful business, what were the first steps that you took in order to make it a reality?

Barton Warner:

The first thing I did was just learn about it, and really tried to get a deeper scientific understanding of stress in the body. And of course, it’s a very well-studied topic. It’s just not something that’s been applied into the world of work as much as I think it could be. You know, I’m not a scientist, but I did take the time to really learn and talk to people in the medical professions, and to read a lot. Just so that I understood exactly why we have a stress response in the first place, and why we were programmed that way.

Barton Warner:

And what it really taught me was that stress can be very good for all of us. And that’s why we have a stress response. It creates energy and it helps us to perform in very quick bursts. But if stress is something that is chronic, then it can actually become a real health care issue. So that’s really where I started, which was really understanding stress at a more scientific level.

Barton Warner:

And from there, I just did more research to say, “Hey, what are the most scientifically proven approaches to manage stress?” And I was surprised to see so many, so many things that people can do to manage stress differently. And that’s where I said to myself, “Someone needs to create a brand that consumers can really go to as the expert in stress,” because I just didn’t see it on the market today. Everybody I know is talking about stress, everybody I know is worried about stress, but there’s really nowhere to go to get the right information. I had to look through all these medical journals, and had to find all these psychologists to reach out to, but it wasn’t easy. And so I just feel like there has got to be an opportunity for a brand to really play that role of healthcare expert on stress in society. And so, that’s the real mission of the company I started.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

It’s very interesting, because I saw in the website that the mission of your company, of Reset, is to make stress less stressful, which I believe it’s something very true, that sometimes we stress more about being stressful than the actual thing that makes us stressed.

Barton Warner:

Yeah, that’s right. And

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

So do you have any tips and tricks for a leader, on how to understand the level of stress in their team and how to redirect it and make it less stressful in a way?

Barton Warner:

I would start by saying that the message that we have in society right now, is that stress is bad, and you should avoid it. And what I’ve learned, and what the science would say, is that that’s not at all true. Imagine a world where there’s no stress, right? It’s probably pretty boring. It doesn’t feel like it would be a place I’d want to live.

Barton Warner:

And so, I think the first thing people need to do is to acknowledge that stress is in our lives and that it will be no matter what. So that’s really the starting point, I think, for everybody. To acknowledge stress and to say, “Okay, it’s going to be around. It’s going to be a part of my life. How do I acknowledge it and how do I manage it?” And so, I think even as a manager, that’s the first thing to do, is to say with your team, “There is going to be stress in this work. Let’s just get that on the table. And that that’s going to be enabling. It’s going to help us do many of the things we need to do, but it also has the potential to be harmful. And so, let’s talk about that as well.” And so, I think it’s that normalizing stress and really seeing it as an enabler to your work, as opposed to something that should be avoided at all times. So that’s one thing.

Barton Warner:

I think the second thing is, managers can actually normalize it in their own discourse that they have with their teams. You know, they can and should talk about, “Guys, I did not sleep last night. And it’s because I’m worried about the budget meeting.” People should be able to say that. And then, I think that vulnerability actually helps teams to say, “Okay, this is probably not the best day for Barton to make a big decision about X or Y or Z. It’s probably a day where we need to leave him alone,” or whatever it is. You know, so managers have to be able to call it in their own lives, and they need to be able to see it in their teams. They need to be able to see it in people and say, “I’m just, I’m worried about you. You seem to be feeling stressed. Is that what’s going on?” And you should be able to have those conversation.

Barton Warner:

Two other things that I think are really easy things that people should be thinking about. One is something to avoid, and that’s lip service. I’ve seen many organizations say, “Well, we’ve got a gym. We’ve built all these programs to help people. So we’ve ticked the box. Now, we can basically work people to the bone and say, well it’ll be okay. We’ve got a wellness program.” I think people see that for what it is. And that actually can be counterproductive, right? It can actually make people feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

Barton Warner:

And the last thing, and this is something that we do in our company, probably the thing that I’ve learned has the best data about its ability to help manage stress. And it’s also the easiest thing to do, is to teach people how to breathe. Right? So if you think about it, if someone surprises you, you will take your breath in, right? You’ll take a deep inhale. And when someone says, “Hey, Paula, you’re the nicest person I know,” your reaction is to say, “Ahh, thank you,” right? That’s something where you let your breath out. And so what I think people need to do more, is really learn how to have that balanced breathing.

Barton Warner:

And so we start every meeting with a breathing exercise. And what that does is it basically just gets everyone in the room fundamentally to be in the same place at the same time, right? Stop playing on your phone, whatever it is people are doing, just be together for 30 seconds. Let’s all get in the same place and do the same thing. And let’s get our breathing in a better place. And we find that that just helps everybody stay more centered. And it also just reminds us that, we’re all in this together and we need to look out for each other. So finding little rituals that can actually improve stress levels, is something that I would really recommend. It might not be a breathing exercise, but it actually could be going for a walk. Doing walking meetings is something I’ve had a lot of success with. And again, that just gets people into a different frame of mind. And it acknowledges that sitting at our desks in front of your computer all day, all the time is not a great way to do that. And that actually creates more stress.

Barton Warner:

So finding rituals that your team can buy into, is another great way to think about stress. We actually have 14 different tips that we’re training people on in our business, on our brand, because everybody’s different, right? And there’s no one thing that’s going to work for everybody. We actually vetted 14 different things you can do to manage stress that have good science. And those are a part of what we train people on, on our website.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Okay. Very interesting. And why do you think that stress is a bit of a taboo? Why do you think that we find it so hard to tell our manager that we’re stressed out, or to kind of drive some type of solution to stress rather than just complaining around, to actually try and address the situation in a constructive way as you painted? Why do you think it’s such a taboo?

Barton Warner:

Yeah. And I have to say, I mean I as a manager who never once talked to my team in the way that I probably should have, and the way that I’m doing now. Equally, I never went to my boss, nor was I asked, “How are you feeling from a stress point of view?” And I think it traces to vulnerability, and shame, and looking like we’re not coping. I think we all are being judged all the time. And we know that. And so for that reason, people are uncomfortable showing that vulnerability, because they worry that it sends the wrong message. They worry that it sends the message that they’re not ready. They’re not ready for the job. They’re not ready for the next job, whatever it is. However, I think the truth is probably in I think the other place, which is to say, it’s the people who are confident enough and who are secure enough to be able to say, “Hey, this is something that’s getting to me now,” are actually the people who are probably in the best mental state to be able to rise to challenges in the future.

Barton Warner:

That’s the job of, I think, the next generation of leadership. And I think we’re seeing that. We’re seeing gen Z and millennials being much more open to talking about stress in life in general. You will see people say, “Hey, I’m going on social media detox, because I’m not handling it.” And so that’s something people do. And it’s kind of like, yeah that’s a smart thing to do. I think we’re seeing that the next generation of leaders will have a higher stress IQ and will be able to kind of look after each other in that kind of more holistic way. But there’s no question in my generation, and then in my peers, it is absolutely a taboo subject still to this day.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Yeah. Well Barton, thank you so much for your insights on stress. Is there anything else that you’d like to say? Any tips or tricks to our listeners today that you would like to tell them, regarding stress relief or stress management?

Barton Warner:

Yeah. I mean, the first thing to say is I’m not a doctor. And so I wouldn’t want to pretend that I have the ability to recommend detailed things for people. Everybody’s very different. There are a lot of professionals that you can go to for more specific and one-on-one support, but there are some great tools as well. Probably the best two minutes I could give to people would be the Ted talk by Kelly McGonigal, who is a Stanford psychologist. And she in two minutes basically explains the science of stress better than I could. She also talks about how stress can actually be good. Right? It can be a good part of your life, and how do you really make stress something that can really empower and fuel you? And that’s really what we’re trying to do in my business and with the Reset brand.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Okay, great. I’ll for sure check it out. And as I said, thank you so much for your time, Barton. I feel like I’ve learned a lot today from you.

Barton Warner:

Sounds good. Thank you very much.

Paula Sáenz Lopez:

Yeah. It’s a pleasure. And also thank you to our listeners, and see you in the next edition of the podcast.