Interviews

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Today marks the launch of a series of “15 Minute Business Fixes” clinics on Heathrow Express trains, which enables its passengers to get advice from successful business leaders. Kick-started by Bombay Bicycle Club owner and Dragons' Den investor Sarah Willingham, we talked to her about the challenges that keep Brits awake at night – and how to overcome them.

“We've had to fight harder than we ever have before, and so everyone is eyeing the economic landscape wearily"

"A 15 minute conversation with someone else is all it takes to take your business on a different path"

“’Tis now the very witching time of night,” Hamlet famously said in Shakespeare’s play. He was referring to the hour of midnight, when witches were thought to be most active and supernatural forces at their most powerful.

For modern-day workers, the small hours between midnight and 3am is when some find themselves wide awake, alone in the dark, with work and life worries closing in on their psyches. And, of course, many blame their jobs for this lack of sleep.

Numerous studies have delved into the link between work and sleep, with a British study having suggested that people working 55 hours a week rather than 35-40 are twice as likely to sleep less than six hours, nearly four times as likely to have trouble going to sleep and twice as likely not to feel refreshed the next day. Similarly, Dr Paul Kelley of Oxford University claimed forcing staff to start work before 10am is tantamount to torture and is making employees ill, exhausted and stressed.

Now, research in conjunction to Heathrow Express' clinic has found that business-minded Brits lose over a month's worth of sleep every year.

“This comes hand-in-hand with stress at work,” said Willingham. “You could stress so much over finances or any other aspect of your job that you come to experience insomnia. And when your head hits your pillow at night you almost instantly know whether you've had a busy day at work or not.” 

In terms of what UK bosses dreaded most this year, the Heathrow Express survey unveiled the top ten, including standing out in crowded markets, innovating new products and services, raising funds for investment, understanding the next generation of consumers and market regulations as their top challenges.

Willingham delved further, explaining that weathering the economy topped the list. She said: “We've had to fight harder than we ever have before, and so everyone is eyeing the economic landscape wearily. It echoes my own thoughts as well, and being part of the restaurant sector, I would say it is followed by the rising cost of overheads and the ability to find qualified staff.” 

But given the right support and advice to combat these challenges, respondents estimated they could increase their turnover by an average 36.3 per cent, which equates to a collective increase in earnings of £580bn every year.

“This means that employers and entrepreneurs need to find out what part of the business process is stressing them out,” Willingham explained. “Are you losing money? Have you been constantly working 24/7 and can't see the wood for the trees? Are you struggling to maintain a work-life balance and so haven't been able to spend as much time with your family? These are all problems that can be addressed if you do a proper double check yourself or seek help – even if it is just to talk to another entrepreneur from the same sector. A 15 minute conversation with someone else is all it takes to take your business on a different path and soothe your worries.”

The latter was the reason behind the Heathrow Express clinics, each lasting the 15 minutes it takes from London Paddington to Heathrow. The clinics offer one-on-one sessions with business figures such as Willingham, who offered passengers impromptu advice from 10am to 4pm.

“I think bosses need to learn that it's ok to ask for help,” she said. “We have a slight culture of viewing our lack of knowledge as a failure. However, we just need the confidence – and reassurance – that it may take a few wrong paths before we finally land on the right one.

“The best bit of business advice I received was to always surround yourself with brilliant people – embrace other people’s experience, don’t be intimidated by it – and this has stuck with me throughout my career,” she added. “I definitely don’t believe you have to be ruthless to succeed in business; I’m much more in the camp of those who think a personable nature will get you far – that and a lot of drive and passion.

“I do think having a business mentor – someone you respect, admire and, most importantly, trust – is tremendously important. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me over the years; it really helps you develop as a businessperson and stay on the road to success. That’s why I’ve embraced this project with Heathrow Express, I hope that I can offer passengers my own advice and help others who are potentially facing similar challenges to those I have faced myself.”

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