Three years ago, Michele Nowell was a top manager at banking giant RBS. Now, she advises other women on well-being in the workplace. Adam Hignett reports…
For 30 years, Michele Nowell enjoyed the security of a top corporate job at one of the UK’s major banks, before the financial crisis and a personal tragedy spurred her on to setting up her own business.
Working as a financial services manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, Mrs Nowell admits she had ‘the perfect life’, with a devoted husband, two children and a large house.
But in 2012, Stuart, her husband of 25 years, passed away from bowel cancer leaving Mrs Nowell, 54, not only heartbroken but less financially secure.
The fallout from the credit crunch was still being acutely felt by staff at the bailed-out bank.
She said: “As you know with the Fred Goodwin scandal and the financial crash, things got really awful after that.
“Everybody was really stressed. Many colleagues were off on long term sickness as they couldn’t cope. They just couldn’t function properly, they were skipping lunches and couldn’t go home.
“Everyone was forced to put their job and their career ahead of their health.”
Things got worse when Mrs Nowell found herself out of a job a month after the death of her husband.
At the time, the bank was desperately seeking to cut costs with many of the positions axed in favour of offshore services.
Her position was not hopeless, as she had worked at the company long enough to take retirement, and her experience with her husband had already started to lead her in a new direction.
“My husband was very healthy but in 2006 he all of a sudden became ill. Initially, it was thought to be appendicitis but we later found out it was bowel cancer,” she said.
“That sent me into panic mode and I knew I had to take control of the situation. I wanted to help him.
“I have two children who were both in their late teens at the time. I knew I just had to protect everybody and try and save my husband.”
“So, I started researching everything I could about cancer, reading about it, watching videos and talking to so many different therapists. I was amazed at how many people were willing to share their knowledge with me.”
“So alongside Stuart’s conventional chemotherapy and different operations, we also put in a very, very strict fitness regime with lots of supplements.
“It wasn’t totally embraced by the oncologist but he was quite happy to let us do what we wanted.”
Ultimately, the cancer won. But Stuart lived for six years after he was diagnosed, and even the oncologist admitted he was the fittest patient in the hospital during this time.
Mrs Nowell said: “He would have chemo in the morning and be out playing golf by the afternoon or managing Crowborough Football Club.
“I didn’t manage to save him, but I like to think it gave us five quality years where we made lots of memories, had lots of holidays, and lots of fun with friends.
“Although we didn’t save him, I feel we managed to give him a much better quality of life and the treatment was much more manageable than I saw with other people.”
Having seen the difference her regime made to her husband’s well-being, and realising what she was learning could help others, Mrs Nowell decided to became a qualified a nutritional therapist.
She started working becoming a nutritionist, at Brighton University every other weekend, all the while looking after her husband, her children and working for RBS.
She said: “Because I was learning and had all this knowledge, I suddenly realised I needed to do something different to being in the corporate world.
“Although I was not financially secure enough to leave work while my husband was ill, being made redundant gave me the kick I needed to pursue a career in nutritional therapy.
“And that’s what I have done since 2012.”
With her new knowledge, and witnessing first-hand the worst of corporate pressure, Mrs Nowell set up her own business, Balance2 alongside Susan Gill, a fitness trainer.
The company, works in a consulting role for companies concerned by the health of their staff as well as holding seminars primarily aimed at women’s well-being.
Mrs Nowell said: “Now women are often balancing looking after children, grandchildren or ageing parents with full-time jobs while often getting to good positions within companies.
“But they don’t look after themselves, and if you don’t look after yourself how are you supposed to look after everyone else?”
MICHELE’S FIVE EASY TIPS TO BOOST WORKERS’ WELL-BEING
POWER BREAKFAST – an obvious one but still ignored by most busy workers. Eating breakfast is important for sustaining energy levels and aiding in blood sugar management. For a really quick grab and go breakfast, weigh 50g of dried ingredients of the breakfast of your choice into five small bags on a Sunday to save time each morning.
The wonderful herb ASHWAGANDHA is fantastic if you are prone to anxiety or exhausted from stress or overwork. It calms and sedates and at the same time rejuvenates your energy and vitality – take two teaspoons a day in a shot of apple juice, sprinkled over breakfast or added to a smoothie or juice. You will find powdered ashwagandha in Neals Yard Remedies stores or at most independent health shops. NOT TO BE USED FOR CHILDREN OR DURING PREGNANCY
WEIGHT-BEARING EXERCISES will stimulate physiological changes in bones that will help maintain their mass, making them more resistant to breaks and fractures from falls in later life. We all know that just by using the stairs our fitness can increase but a really simple way to work your glute muscles harder and increase bone density is to climb stairs two at a time – easy and effective (well, the latter definitely!)
DON’T RELY ON COFFEE – excess overloads the liver, dehydrates you and increases the risk of blood sugar irregularities (energy dips in the afternoon sound familiar?) Try to decrease coffee to just one a day and look for the great coffee alternatives and herbal teas – dandelion root (great for liver detoxing), ginseng (for energy), oolong (weight loss), green tea (concentration), and peppermint (stomach easing).
STANDING burns more calories than sitting does. Look for ways to get out of your chair. Stand while talking on the phone. Skip instant messaging and email, and instead walk to a colleague’s desk for a face-to-face chat.