Kimi Sokhi does not have a conventional role. Then again she doesn’t work for a conventional organisation. As manager of employee engagement and wellbeing at Expo 2020 Dubai, her job is to operate a five-year strategy to ensure the Expo team is physically, emotionally and mentally fit to prepare and run the event – but also encouraging employees to build the foundations of good habits that will last an entire lifetime.
Kimi believes there’s already a strong trend for corporate wellness strategies to be seen as a smart business and not just a “nice-to-have” addition, and that the trend is permeating the GCC region as well, and that’s thanks to initiatives like The Happiness Program, spearheaded by the Dubai government, which has influenced how corporations manage their employee wellbeing and has kicked-off new initiatives over the past year.
We put the former IT project manager in the hot seat to ask 5 questions about engagement, wellness and Dubai’s favourite topic right now – happiness.
Engage Me: You have a background in holistic nutrition, so do you put a lot of emphasis on the link between physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace?
Kimi Sokhi: Absolutely. Our body and mind are part of one holistic unit. One impacts the other. There’s so much research in the last decade that proves the irrefutable link between the mind and body. Stress for example impacts your heart rate, hormones, sleep, blood sugar and so much more. An upsetting conversation can impact your immune system for three days!
The opposite is also true. Physical illness has massive impacts on our mental wellbeing and moods. Recent studies have even shown that the lack of good bacteria in the large intestine directly impacts our mental health.
Our wellness program is holistic and focuses on areas of wellbeing that are all interrelated: physical, nutritional, emotional, social, environmental and intellectual wellbeing. Just focusing on physical fitness and healthy eating is a bit two-dimensional. We need to deal with the whole person, not just on their physical fitness.
EM: How can we encourage people who have struggled to find a desired vocation, let alone that coveted sense of purpose?
KS: The first thing I’d say is: don’t give up on being happy in your career. I felt like a square peg in a round hole in my career as an IT project manager. I went on a personal quest to “find my passion”. I explored different hobbies and passions through workshops and courses in evenings and weekends. It took me almost seven years to discover my passion for nutrition and wellbeing and enrol in nutrition school, but it was a worthwhile journey. So look at what gives you joy outside of work. What are your hobbies? What are the skills you possess that seem like second nature? What do you read about in your spare time? Is there something you love to help family and friends with? Do a bit of investigation into what lights you up from the inside.
I’d also add that not all hobbies make great careers. Sometimes turning a hobby into a career can kill your passion for it as it adds the stress and pressure of making a living onto something that should be enjoyed as a fun activity. You might love photography as a hobby but are you comfortable with drumming up business and doing a wide variety of gigs to pay the bills? It’s important to visualise how your life will change when you think of switching to a new career. And remember that no career is perfect. All vocations have their ups and downs. It’s about finding something that matches your personality and natural abilities, and plays on your strengths!
EM: You recently gave a talk at an event called “Spreading Happiness” – a key theme for the UAE – can you share a basic principle that impacts the engagement and happiness levels of employees?
KS: I’ll shamelessly go back to my talk and say that the basic principles of happiness are “Am I loved?” “Do I matter?” and “Do I have meaning in my life?” If we just look at the first one, which is “Am I loved?” That’s the most basic question that all employees should be able to answer with a resounding “YES!”
Treating people fairly and like adults is the basis of making them feel respected and loved at work. Are your work policies fair and transparent? Do you work your people to the bone or do they have work-life balance? The bottom line is: are you taking care of your people or taking advantage of them? The best companies in the world like Virgin, Google, LinkedIn and Zappos all put their employees before profits. They know that if their employees are happy, the profits will come.
EM: What about a practical step forward for a boss or line manager to shift focus to engagement and start encouraging happiness in the workplace?
KS: Listen to your team. Spend some time with each person. All line managers should have a weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meeting with each direct report. Even if that meeting is 10 minutes long. This should be non-negotiable, regardless of how many direct reports you have and where they’re located. All your direct reports deserve 10 minutes of your time once a week.
Take the time to get to know each person on your team as the unique person they are. Find out what motivates them to work hard, their personal dreams and challenges they face in their lives. If you can do that as a manager, you’ll connect with your team on a human level. That’s the first step to engaging with them and finding out what makes them happy.
EM: It seems like millennials are a hot topic. How differently do you think employers should be engaging different age groups and demographics – or do we simply all want the same things?
KS: Basic human needs of wanting to belong, to matter and to have meaning in our lives will never change, regardless of age. Ask yourself, “Are we set up as an organisation to cater to one type of personality?” Sometimes the dominant (and louder) demographic ends up becoming the prime internal customer, and the smaller groups tend of be completely ignored. For example, it’s quite common for a sales-driven organisation to create their processes, procedures, physical working space and engagement programs based on the typical sales person they employ. That’s a tough environment for someone working for a support function like Finance or IT.
Kimi’s recommended reading
Employee Engagement & Wellbeing:
- Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT
- The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace
- Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work
- Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
Becoming a better manager:
- Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent
- An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organisation
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success
Personal Wellbeing & Happiness:
- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
- The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
- The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business