5 tips from Fearne Cotton on creating joy in your workplace

The global podcaster and broadcaster shares her insights into mental health and happiness at work, as part of an exclusive YuLife interview.

Yugi the Giraffe - 23 June 2022

Fearne Cotton was once best known as a Radio 1 DJ and the presenter of TV shows like Love Island, The Xtra Factor and Top of the Pops. But all that changed in 2017, when she released her first book, Happy. A Sunday Times bestseller, it was the first in a series talking about Fearne's own experiences with mental health.

It then became the launchpad for a podcast, Happy Place, in which she chats to personalities, thought-leaders and change-makers – ranging from Gary Barlow to Hillary Clinton – about life, love, loss, and everything in-between.

Running since 2018, the show has received over 50 million downloads to date, and continues to top the podcast charts. In 2021 she also launched Happy Place Books, which has already published titles by Lawrence Okolie and Dr Olivia Remes.

In an interview with YuLife Co-Founder and COO Sam Fromson, Fearne reflects on her own career and mental health struggles, and shares advice on how business leaders can build cultures of joy in their workplaces.

Watch the interview here.

1. Be open with each other

Fearne believes that the most important way to build joy in the workplace isn't about the layout of the desks, the interior design, or even the actual work itself. More fundamentally, it's about how people relate and talk to each other.

"If you're working in an office space, the most important thing is for there to be open communication," she explains. "I've worked in quite a lot of offices, because a lot of the jobs I've had – like when I worked at Radio 1 – required me to go into the office every day before the show. And you don't want to walk into an atmosphere that feels sterile."

So how does a company create that relaxed atmosphere, and open culture? For Fearne, it has to start at the top. Rather than walling themselves off from subordinates, seniors need to be as open and approachable as possible.  

“If you're working in an office space, the most important thing is for there to be open communication.”

"It's important for CEOs and managers to have that accessibility; that people can come to them freely, and see that they're showing vulnerability," she says. "That means being able to discuss life openly and talk about human feelings and life-related stuff, rather than just being work. If there's that human approach from the top, then everybody else relaxes into that, and feels they can also turn up to work in whatever mood they're in that day… without having to put a suit of armour on."

As a manager, it's tempting to hide any problems or stresses you're experiencing, and project an image of infallibility – but Fearne believes showing vulnerability is a good thing.

"If your team know it's hard for you, and people can see you have days where you're struggling, or you're overwhelmed or whatever, that's to be commended," she argues. "Because otherwise, employees look at the boss and go: 'It's alright for them. They know what they're doing. They feel confident and they've got it all sussed.'

"But in reality, when you turn up to work, you might not have slept because you've got four kids, or whatever it might be. And so I think it's really good that managers can be open enough to say: 'Yeah, I've had a tough morning at home or I didn't sleep last night; I'm feeling a bit wobbly…' That gives others permission to go, 'Oh, I'm not feeling great either'. Or, on good days, to boost everybody else. Like, 'I'm being resilient today, I'm feeling good.' I think to have that open dialogue is so important."

2. Give yourself a break

We all need to work hard, but Fearne believes that if you never stop working, you're on a hiding to nothing. It's important to make time to take breaks. Although this is something she struggles with herself.

"Making time to give yourself a break is a tough challenge," she says. "Because we're all really hard on ourselves, and always think we could be doing better. I'm saying this for myself more than anyone, because I don't take breaks often enough. And that means that every couple of months, I'll have a period where I feel so overwhelmed; I feel like everything's getting on top of me."

This isn't because she doesn't like her work. In fact, it's the exact opposite. She loves it… and therein lies the problem.

"I feel very lucky, very privileged that I adore my job," she explains. "But that means I don't necessarily walk in the door and think: 'I'm home, switch off.' Because I'm excited about what I'm doing the next day, or an idea we've already started on. So I think that's the trouble a lot of the time; not allowing my brain to switch off and go, 'Let's just put that aside for a minute. Just relax. You haven't got to think about anything. Strategize, plan, brainstorm. Just let it go.'

"I certainly haven't sussed that one out," she concludes. "I just am aware that I probably need to give myself a bit more time. And space. But I'm also like an excited kid who wants to keep creating and doing stuff. So I think it's really difficult to get that balance."

3. Be 'good enough'

Another important way to create joy in the workplace, Fearne says, is to walk away from the notion that we have to be 100% perfect the whole time.

"You know, sometimes you only have the energy to be average, and that's absolutely fine," she says. "We can push ourselves to an extent, but if it's detrimental to you physically or mentally – it's probably more mental a lot of the time for many of us – what is the point of it? You know, if we're comparing ourselves to others constantly, thinking that we could have done better every day and beating ourselves up, it's just futile."

"Sometimes you only have the energy to be average, and that's absolutely fine."

The solution is simple: accept that you – like everyone else in the world – have good days and bad ones. "I think we need to just be average some days, and not then play it over your head a million times afterwards with regret," says Fearne. "Be a bit more flexible. And just go: 'Yeah, I'll try again tomorrow.'"

4. Avoid 'compare and despair'

One of the main reasons we think we need to be perfect, every day, is that we constantly compare ourselves to others. For instance, if you're running a startup, you might obsess over other startup founders hitting the headlines with their huge audience numbers or massive funding rounds – but that isn't necessarily the whole story.

"You can look at stats and numbers, or just people saying 'I'm smashing it'," she says. "But of course there's that deeper layer, which is: How are they feeling on a personal level? They could be running the most successful company, but going home at night feeling unbelievably stressed. They might be insanely tough on themselves and just feel broken from it."

In short, you don't know what other people are going through, so don't make assumptions. "We've got to be careful to avoid that 'compare and despair' model, where we think everyone else is doing so well," Fearne says. "Because I'd rather have a company with a real feelgood culture, rather than one where everyone's stressed and pulling their hair out."

5. Accept you may be wrong

Fearne says the biggest lesson she's learned from a podcast guest to date came when she interviewed former forest monk Björn Natthiko Lindeblad in 2020, shortly before his death from ALS. During the episode, Björn told her that the mantra he lived by was: 'I may be wrong.'

In an era when social media is pushing us all into conflict, and we may feel the need to be 'right' about everything, this simple – and undeniably true – sentence can be a powerful one to repeat to yourself.

As Fearne explains: "When you walk into a situation where there's conflict or confrontation, you instantly go on the defensive. We all do it, our egos trying to protect whatever's going on. But if you can have 'I may be wrong' in the back of your head, everything changes.

"It doesn't mean that you necessarily are wrong," she adds. "But it's the openness to go: 'I can see the other person's perspective. So there's room for me to allow that in and I don't have to end up right at the end of this.'"

It may seem counterintuitive in a world that values certainty, but Fearne urges you to try it. "Because as difficult and humbling as it is to pull that one out the bag, if you can have it just rumbling in the back of your brain when you walk into tricky situations, it is a bit of a leveller."

To read Fearne's interview, alongside insights from YuLife's Chief Wellbeing Officer, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, and Peter Hovard, Lead Behavioural Scientist at RGA, on behavioural health and building a better business from the inside out, download our Health Happiness and HR eBook, here.

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