Most of us live in a world where stress feels inescapable. Maybe you relate to this scenario: working endless hours on little sleep, seeking opportunities for social connection while balancing life responsibilities, trying to eat right, and struggling to find time for exercise. In addition, there seems to be an imbalance of equity and inclusion within the male dominated finance industry in which you have to compete twice as hard. This cycle of trying to keep up can be overwhelming and lead to burnout and exhaustion. Kira Golenko, a former professional tennis player and Principal at Actis – a global equity company – recognized the toll such a lifestyle can take on one’s health and decided to do something about it. She realized it was time to take the leap and develop a solution based platform to implement sustainable well-being resources while encompassing diversity and inclusion (DNI) within the corporate working environment.
In November 2021 you took a career leap and launched your own company: Motko. Can you explain some of the driving factors behind your decision to leave your position in the corporate world?
Prior to founding MOTKO, I was at Actis, a leading global investor in sustainable infrastructure. I was truly inspired by the firm’s investment framework that reached beyond the value of monetary assets to support growth in communities’ infrastructure, education, and job opportunities. Growing up in Latvia, I experienced the impact that well-allocated capital can have on communities.
The exposure awoke in me the desire to have the greatest impact I could have on people’s lives – to improve the health levels and well-being of others.
Furthermore, when COVID-19 hit in 2020; the problems around physical, mental and emotional health further intensified. We were feeling stressed, depressed and anxious. In 2019, 8.7% of employees in the U.S. reported anxiety or depression. In 2021, it reached a staggering 39.5%. Moreover, the pandemic increased the gender inequality gap; sadly, data shows declining female employment in 2020.
I knew it was the time to take the leap and launch a solution that improves well-being and DNI in the corporate world.
What was missing in your previous corporate experience that you wanted to create from your vision of developing sustainable self care habits?
When I started my career in finance in New York, there were two problems that stood out to me.
The first is the lack self-care in the corporate world. We used to compete who slept the least in the office! So many of my colleagues, myself including, were constantly tired and sleep-deprived. Self-care was rarely viewed as a trivial factor for continuous performance– an opposite to my experience in professional sports. In tennis, if you want to win and perform continuously, practicing until you drop on the court will not get you there. Professional success should not come at the expense of our health and well-being.
The second problem that I observed pertains to diversity and inclusion. I felt I had to be on 110% of the time because I was being judged as a woman and an immigrant. I remember thinking I wish there was a venue I could connect with my colleagues outside of the office; a venue we would get to know each other better and get more comfortable working together.
The beauty of sports is that it unites people. When you play sports, it doesn’t matter what your gender, background, or race is, it’s all about enjoying the activity together. Sports is really a phenomenal venue to bring people together, whether you are participating in it or observing.
While there has been significant progress in increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there is still so much change that needs to happen, particularly pertaining to inclusion.
Motko solves the lack of self-care and the inclusion in the corporate world by engaging employees in a healthy way and providing access to wellbeing resources.
You were a professional tennis player at one point in your life. What did playing sports teach you that has translated into your core belief that great things are achieved through movement?
Professional tennis has taught me valuable lessons. Besides, the importance of self-care and DNI we discussed earlier, I realized the power of movement – literary and physically. The word Motko is derived from Latin ( motus and vinco ) and stands for winning movement.
To achieve great results personally and professionally, you need to keep moving; whether it means working on your hard and soft skills, learning new things or taking care your physical, mental and emotional health.
As for the physical movement, there is plenty of evidence and research showing that exercise is the best medicine. Regular exercise fosters neurogenesis, cardiovascular health, metabolism and immune function, and protects from aging and diseases – to name a few benefits. Physical movement increases positive wellbeing, confidence and reduces stress and emotional exhaustion. Moreover, exercising is a great way to enhance connections, meet likeminded people and build relationships. Social connectivity and belonging keeps us motivated.
Movement fuels you, and gives you energy to live your best life. Feeling happy and having energy improves our quality of life – whether it is driving performance at work or spending time with our dear ones.
Would you explain in more detail the 7 pillars of your holistic wellness philosophy?
We believe wellness is personal, and there are founding blocks to achieve it.
Our core pillars are diversity, community, inclusion, movement, happiness, sustainability, and wellbeing.
The first step is an opportunity – opportunity to access diverse health and wellbeing tools. What works for one person, may not work for another person, which is why trying different approaches is important. For example, personally I rigorously follow intermittent fasting 12:12. I fast for 12h between my last meal ( or snack) of the day and my first one. When I first looked into fasting, I started with 16:8 – fast for 16 hours and eat during 8 hours. It was horrible. I felt hungry and tired; I found myself thinking about food and overeating during the 8 hour window. Moreover, I was even having stomachache. In other words, 16:8 did not work for me. However, it has worked well for other people that I know. The key is having access to resources and guidance, and experimenting what works for you and will develop into sustainable habbits that will bring positive energy and health into your daily life. Community is another trivial component. Being a part of community keeps you motivated and engaged, and foster your mental and emotional wellbeing.
In the end of the day, we all want to be happy. What happiness means to each of us may differ, but one thing is certain – moving, being a part of inclusive and diverse community, trying various activities and initiatives will help you to develop sustainable wellbeing habits and bring you closer to your “happy” place.
What are some suggestions you have for others to achieve sustainable self care habits?
Wellbeing is a journey. Whether you are an avid athelete or are just getting started, there is always space for growth and improvement. Motko’s approach to developing sustainable habits is based on small steps, visualization and community.
Getting moving and doing the right thing for your health does not require running a marathon. Taking stairs, going for a walk, doing a brief stretch – all the little things count and sum up to a large difference. We recommend starting small; instead of planning for a one-hour workout, do 5 minutes or 10 squats – anything is better than 0! That way, regardless of how busy your day gets, you will have done the right thing for your physical, mental, and emotional health AND met your goal.
The second component is visualization. Visualization is the technique of repeatedly imagining a scene of previous success or a future desired outcome in order to accomplish it. Elite athletes use this practice to prepare themselves for an outstanding performance. Good news: you do not have to be an Olympic athlete to take advantage of this practice and improve your performance. This relates to your professional career, personal life, and wellbeing.
Last but not least, community is such an important pillar to our wellbeing. There are so many benefits of belonging to an active community or having a workout friend. You may bail on yourself, but what about your friend or colleague? Having a workout buddy makes the activity more fun and engaging. Social interaction emphasizes the mental and emotional health benefits of exercising and keeps you committed and motivated. Furthermore, participating in an activity will allow you to get know the other person better and grow your circle of friends. The more, the merrier!
How does a focus on self-care and well being affect one’s productivity in the workplace? And further, how do you see it extend beyond the office into one’s personal life? Do you see one affecting the other?
Someone once said: health may not be everything, but without it, we have nothing.
When you feel good, you perform well. Your wellbeing is directly linked to your performance at work. If you do not feel well physically, mentally or emotionally, you will not perform at your best in your job. As such, it is in company’s interest to develop a firm-wide health and wellbeing strategy, and empower employees to take advantage of the resources.
Moreover, wellbeing and self-care goes improves your quality of life. You may sacrifice a night or two of no to little sleep for a deadline, however, continuous sleep-deprivation will have impact on your health and energy ( and performance) in the long run. This applies to other areas of wellbeing. Nutrition is a great example. People often look for a “quick fix” to loose weight or get energized – the magic diet, caffeine – options are endless. Instead of looking for a short-term fix, we should develop sustainable habits that will improve our life quality sustainability.
Another important thing to add is how our experience and relationships in the workplace impact how we feel outside work. Think of a time when you built an effective solution or identified a great investment – did you feel proud? Excited? Inspired? Did you continue to feel uplifted and positive after the workday was done? People will be healthier and happier when they are a part of a community that values and supports wellbeing, and cares for the person and not just the performance.
What can companies offer employees that will help employees achieve sustainable self care habits?
What strategies could a company incorporate to create a more diverse, healthy, and inclusive environment?
Every company is different and has unique characteristics and needs. The strategy to create a diverse, healthy, and inclusive environment needs to be tailored according to that. With that said, we have identified two components that yield positive results universally.
The first one is employee engagement in a healthy way. This is trivial now more than ever, as we are returning to the office and are re-connecting with our colleagues. Some may have started a new job during the pandemic, and have never met their colleagues in person. Holiday-party should not be the only opportunity to engage with your colleagues, nor are happy hours the best way to foster relationships in a workplace. At Motko we provide employees with healthy opportunities to connect with each other, while improving health and wellbeing levels. It could be a tennis match, sunrise jogging, maybe it’s rock climbing, or perhaps it’s a dance party at the end of a meeting.
The second factor is employee empowerment. A company can provide a vast range of health and wellbeing resources but if employees do not feel empowered to take advantage of these opportunities, there is little to no result. How do you change that? It does start from the top. If there is a management buy-in, employees are much more likely to feel empowered and safe to take advantage of the opportunities. I will give you an example. Think of a traditional wellbeing perk provided by an organization, say a gym membership. So what? I know regular exercising is good for me, but I have household responsibilities before and after work, and dont have time to go to the gym. But if I saw my manager and other people from my office heading to the gym during the work hours, I would feel empowered and confident to join them. Taking this thought a step further, I need to feel safe to use the resources. If I reach out to a therapist through my companies’ wellbeing portal, I need to feel safe and secure that this will stay remain and will not be used against me. Empowerment is a key component to creating a diverse, healthy and inclusive environment.
Would you share a few examples of what a workplace that is happier and more inclusive would look like?
Great question. One of my favorite examples of a healthy and inclusive workplace is a winning sports team. While each team’s DNA is unique, for an outside eye, they appear alike – there is a sense of unity and energy around them. Remember the Titans is a great tale of what a team can achieve when everyone comes together.
Another great example is a music concert. Think of the last time you went to a concert. How did the performance make you feel? Mesmerized? Immersed? Each musician had a different role, perhaps a different tune. Yet, together they were creating a memorable performance, leaving you in the zone.
The same applies to a workplace. A company is a team; a team of people, each of whom, performs a different tune on the field. To be at their best, people need to have resources to fuel their performance. In an inclusive and happy workplace people are energetic, work together towards a common goal and support each other. As a result, everyone wins – as an individual and a corporation.
Is there a way to contact you if any of our readers want to learn more about anything discussed in this interview?
Absolutely, would be thrilled to connect and always happy to help and exchange thoughts. Or even better – go for a workout and catch up afterwards! #motko
Please contact me at email@example.com. Thank you – I enjoyed the interview!