Balpro: The balance project

Balpro helps businesses balance aggressive revenue goals with employee wellbeing, creating aspirational corporate cultures that are safe to log off from. A typical client would be a company that’s flown through hyper-growth but forgotten to nurture their staff along the way, meaning that they’re suffering from a decline in productivity and have started haemorrhaging staff. Balpro helps their leadership get their mojo back, reignite employee engagement, help employees reconnect to the corporate vision and create a more safe, supportive and sustainable environment. Here we interview Founder Amber Coster.

Where did the idea come from? 

I joined a tech startup back in 2013 and helped take it from $100m valuation to $3.7bn acquisition, then through M&A integration. My career trajectory mirrored the hyper-growth of the company, assuming a regional CMO position and then VP Strategy & Operations. It was a 6 1/2 year journey that included a glorious mental breakdown along the way. The experience inspired the belief that there’s a better way to do business. I decided to steal the best bits and set out on a mission to help organisations grow, but not at the cost of their employees. 

How would you define a positive company culture?

It’s safe and supportive, community-first, inspires people to do great work and master their craft and enables them to do it in a way that’s sustainable - both for those people and for the business. If an employee is proudly telling a company tale with a smile on their face to a pal at a midweek dinner - their employer is doing something right. 

How important do you think it is for companies to have the right culture, and to work on their culture?

It’s critical. It must be recognised as a strategic priority for businesses. Without appropriate investment, the culture becomes toxic. Toxic cultures lead to a reduction in productivity, an increase in employee turnover and burnout. All of which are expensive to employers. The cost of doing nothing trumps the investment. 

Can you explain a bit about burnout, and how often do you see it?

Like anything associated with “mental health”, burnout is a spectrum. It can be feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from your job and a decline in performance OR it can be completely debilitating. When I experienced burnout, I was unable to speak properly, I couldn’t walk for more than 10 minutes down the road without having to take a break. I had a constant headache, suppressed appetite, nausea, abdominal pains... In short, it was a period of time (six months) where I felt like I was simply surviving. 

We’re experiencing a burnout epidemic. YouGov reports that 74% of us feel so stressed that we’re overwhelmed or unable to cope and Deloitte have found that poor mental health is costing more than £43 billion each year. Every company needs to play its part in helping turn the ship around. 

How have you adapted with the recent COVID-19 situation? 

I’ve hiked up all the compassion. Other than being decent human beings, I keep coming back to the fact that there’s no right or wrong way to do Covid-19. 

At first, I felt guilt for not stepping up and rolling out a whole new Balpro offering. The word “pivot” was being used more than in my high school netball class, and I had a tonne of creative ideas that I considered running with in a manic attempt to #bethechange - I’m sure many founders relate! However, I made a conscious decision NOT to do that. 

From experience, I knew that rather than run into the chaos and try to do it all, I needed to knuckle down, focus and streamline. I cut out many of my secondary tasks and have focused on increasing the support I’m providing to my current client base, logging additional volunteering shifts with Shout UK, and using the rest of the time to look after myself to ensure I’m match fit for the aftermath. 

Is there more risk of burnout, with the remote working?

Remote working must not be blamed for burnout. With careful boundaries, clear objectives and strong leadership remote working can be beneficial to employee wellbeing. However, it’s critical that organisations help their employees adjust. Now that our office is also our kitchen, living room and/or bed, it’s easy for lines to be blurred. 

This means enforcing stronger boundaries around communication (for instance, using delay email sends during the weekends) and leaders having compassionate conversations with their teams to know what each person is able to give on any given day. 

This isn’t just remote working, this is remote working during a Global pandemic. There’s nothing normal about the situation we’re in, and extra support is needed in all areas. 

Do we need to be more careful with the current situation with our mental health in the workplace?

Absolutely. The whole wide world is experiencing ambient anxiety right now. It’s impacting us all at different levels, in different ways, at different times. For some, it’s a gentle hum, for others, paralysing. This will mean that whilst one employee gets a shot of adrenaline and is more pumped than ever about #beingthechange and getting a project done, someone else will be feeling withdrawn, demotivated and finding focus impossible. That’s before you layer on the added pressure of financial uncertainty, health concerns and homeschooling which continues to build over time. Employers have never had such an important role to play in helping look after their employees’ mental health.

What advice do you have to give companies right now?

1. Get the communication right. Too much and employees feel suffocated and disengage, not enough and employees feel disconnected and paranoid. 

2. Motivate through providing purpose. Employees are feeling apathetic. Companies need to help them connect with why the work has meaning. A strong company vision or mission has never been so critical - many of my clients have been working on temporary calls to arms to rally the troops and help give them purpose in this time. This helps to keep people motivated and provides a distraction from the constant grim news cycle. 

3. Different strokes for different folks. Because of the different ways we react in a crisis, and how diverse our living situations are right now, it’s critical that leaders are adapting their style to suit each team member. 

What challenges have you faced as a founder yourself? 

Sometimes we forget that we too are human - or at least, don’t like to admit it. I practice what I preach and have had to be very mindful of putting an extra focus on managing my own mental health and putting that before the business. After all, if I lose my mind, I lose my business. 

What do you have planned for the future?

The Balpro offering has never been so important. Having the opportunity to help organisations adjust and get back on their feet after this period is an exciting and critical mission. I’m looking forward to working with clients on creative projects to reengage their workforce and rebuild better businesses.