Meaningful Business (MB:) How does running a business that tackles a pressing social issue impact your mental health, positively or negatively?
Alex Stephany (AS:) When I first launched Beam, people thought I was crazy trying to build a company for good, changing the lives of homeless people. After all, solving a problem like homelessness is hard. It’s also really trying at times. But I’m lucky to work with such a passionate, hard-working group of people, who bring great energy to the table. One of our core values at Beam is “we support each other”. As an organisation, we genuinely look out for everyone and care for their wellbeing, which helps us achieve our goals. And there’s nothing more energising than seeing the positive impact Beam is having on people’s lives on a daily basis!
MB: How does it compare to running a business with less of a clear social purpose?
AS: Beam is focused on social metrics: in other words, the number of homeless people we support into stable jobs and homes. Our mission is to give everyone the chance to be amazing – whether that’s the beneficiaries we support, or the people working for Beam. Our social purpose gives everyone energy and focus.
In the past when I’ve run companies purely focused on financial metrics, it can be an incredibly draining experience. Which is probably why I did eventually burn out. After working in technology for a number of years, I reached a point where I wanted to use my skills to achieve positive change at scale. My role models have always been people who have created social impact in their community rather than big business leaders, so I knew it would be the right move for me.
MB: What are the additional pressures of working with beneficiaries and issues that are often underserved?
AS: Delivering high quality services for vulnerable beneficiaries is immensely rewarding, but also really challenging at times. One of our core values is “we make an impact”, so our goals are ambitious and there’s a lot to be done to create the huge positive change we want to see in the world. We believe making that impact is not about hours worked (or where you work from), it’s about measurably improving the lives of the people we serve. That’s why we run specific training sessions on addictions, personality disorders and non-violent communication, to help our frontline teams navigate the added pressure of working with vulnerable people.
MB: What measures do you put in place to take care of your mental wellbeing?
AS: Exercise and a regular routine makes for a pretty solid foundation. I use the Calm meditation app, which all of our employees have a free subscription to and I also enjoy a bit of yoga. We hold weekly exercise classes in Beam’s office as well, which are a great way to re-energise during the working day. Aside from that, I make sure to schedule proper downtime and rest. That could be as simple as doing a digital detox when on holiday, or learning a new hobby (in my case the slide guitar!)
MB: How has the uncertainty created by the pandemic affected you and your team?
AS: The pandemic challenged us to be agile and creative at a time when many things were uncertain. As we moved to a remote set-up, it was also important to define what we wanted our culture to look like in this new era. I spent a lot of time working on our Beam Life culture document, with input from the team. Our strong culture at Beam helps us to stay laser focused on our mission, and ensures that Beam remains the best possible company for each of us and the people we support.
As a business, we’re always guided by our core values – one of which is “we’re open and transparent”. During the pandemic, I introduced ‘open hours’ in my calendar for people to discuss any concerns or questions they had, and we ran regular wellbeing surveys too. Our frontline staff were also given a monthly budget of £80 to spend on any service that was beneficial to their wellbeing or mental health, which we’ve continued.
MB: What advice would you give to other impact entrepreneurs, on looking after their mental wellbeing and that of their team?
AS: It’s important to build an open dialogue with your employees about their wellbeing, listen and take action. For example, during lockdown we recognised that fatigue was becoming a natural part of the ‘working from home culture’. That’s why we introduced ‘YouTime’, where one Friday a month, our team logged off at 1pm and were given a budget to spend on something that made them truly happy. Giving employees the chance to switch off and focus on themselves is one of the best ways to ensure emotional resilience and stability, especially during periods of uncertainty.
*Beam is hiring across the board right now, including junior operational roles all the way to a Chief of Staff – a great role for experienced founders. If that sounds of interest, check out their careers page www.beam.org/careers or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org