Sarah Willingham, chief executive of Nightcap credits the legacy of Covid for moving mental wellbeing higher up the corporate agenda. 

In an interview with The Times, Willingham says, “As well as looking after themselves, as business leaders we have a moral responsibility to be looking after our workforce’s heads. It’s not about trying to fix severe breakdowns but offering regular help and support before things escalate, rather than something reactive.”

“The days when people would brag about not taking holidays would never happen now because we know how detrimental that would be to our health it would be to be tied to our desks all day,” she adds.

“Now, even before we start the working day, we ask how everyone is feeling and often start with time outside in the fresh air rather heading straight to the desk. It’s about getting into the right mindset before you start.”

She credits daily walking meditations for improving her focus and decision-making at work.

“I call it emptying my head.”

“I’m not someone who sits and follows a guided meditative practice — I just set off with my noise-cancelling headphones on and zone out. The difference it makes to my productivity is immeasurable.”

This is critical to her ambitions of Nightcap becoming the UK’s leading bar operator, having in recent years taken advantage of “reverse premium” rental deals to buy struggling bar brands, including the Cocktail Club and Dirty Martini chains.

“We smashed our targets last Christmas, but the last six months have been tough in hospitality,” says Willingham. 

“I’ve inherited 1,000 staff and five different businesses, which means five different ways of doing things from till systems to accounts, all of which I’m trying to bring under one group structure, along with a busy family life. Walking daily has been imperative to switching off the chaos.”

“So often, we go into a meeting and we’re taking all the noise and clutter from the last one in with us without taking the time to clear our minds.

“I may even cancel meetings and take no action at all if I’m not feeling my best or ready to make a decision — and if I want to have a one-to-one meeting with someone, we’ll often walk for a while; it may take longer but the difference that can make in terms of finding clarity on a problem is extraordinary.”