We wanted to take a moment to highlight one St. Louis woman who is determined to change the work world for the better – and there is no better time than now to focus on the wellbeing of yourself and your team members! ROI friends, meet Tara Kraus, the founder of BreakWell. BreakWell helps bring what employees care about into focus creating turnkey programs that support individual needs and a thriving workplace culture. Tara plays many other roles too: she is a working, enterprising, mom; newly married woman, and constant cheerleader and connector for other women in business.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background.
I worked in the hospitality industry at a high-end, luxury hotel for nearly 15 years before launching BreakWell. My first experience there was a 2-day orientation and I was sold. I loved everything about what they were teaching us and how we were expected to interact with guests. The expectation was that we were to create a “home away from home” and say “certainly, my pleasure” (before I even knew of Chick-fil-A). Never tell a guest no or give them a reason to go anywhere else. This was the first time, as I was just starting my career, that I had been introduced to a workplace culture.
Fast forward a few years, I became the Director of The Salon & Spa and held that position for a decade. Within a few years, my team and I increased revenue from $400,000 to nearly $1M – same people, same walls, same operating system, but with a different approach. When I took the position, the first goal was to create stability, predictability and processes. Once the environment was calm and there was a new level of certainty and trust, we focused on building up each individual to help them grow in their craft. Like me, many on my team also went through life changes and we had to be flexible and adapt to accommodate new needs. Most of all, we had fun and laughed a lot.
2. Where did you get the idea of BreakWell?
During that time, I observed what motivated employees and what drove them away. I also had my own personal life unravel shifting my own needs and priorities. I was drowning in my day-to-day life as a single mom of two young daughters and a very demanding position in hotel operations which never stops. I took a one-week vacation in 3 years and I was burned out. I needed a reset. I knew I needed to grow professionally, but I didn’t even know what that looked like. I had hit a wall and I didn’t know how to take my team any further. I could not see my blind spots. I didn’t even know I had blind spots.
I knew enough to know that I was at the stage that if I did not make a change in my life that my body would manifest something physically to make me make a change. They say the body always keeps score, right?
BreakWell was born not only from a personal need but also a need that I observed in so many around me. Workplaces have an amazing opportunity to support their #1 asset and help them live their best life. BreakWell elevates the lives of employees by helping employees and companies achieve their full potential. We uncover what your employees truly value, help them feel cared about and then deliver solutions to impact much more than your bottom line.
3. What challenges have you had along the way?
There are challenges every day. Building a business is like putting a puzzle together and you do not always have all of the pieces. Once I let go of needing to know how everything would work, it got a lot easier. I also have gotten really comfortable with being uncomfortable. I recognized where my gaps were and either trained myself or partnered with some amazing women to reach my goals. You can’t always go it alone – and there are so many women who genuinely want to help support you.
4. What have you found most helpful as you built your business?
My cheerleaders have gotten me here. The days that I do not believe in myself, they still believe in me. They see the vision as clear as I do and when I’m tired, their encouragement gives me the strength to keep going.
5. What has been the biggest surprise about this experience?
My habits as an employee and as a business owner are the same. The difference is that now I have been exposed to all of the tools that can help me grow.
I recently noticed that my plate is still too full, that I feel stretched in too many directions and that I would like to be more present with my family. It reminded me of my life prior to starting BreakWell and I realized it is ME. It is not where I work or who I work for, it is ME. I need BreakWell too.
6. Who have you looked to for inspiration? Guidance?
I look for guidance and inspiration EVERYDAY. I have not gotten here by myself. Again, I look to the people who believe in me. I look to other business owners and women who have been here before.
And there’s a little voice in my head that tells me to KEEP GOING!
7. Tell us about the evolution of Breakwell…where you started and where you are today.
BreakWell started focusing on physical well-being in the workplace – chair massage, yoga classes, etc. I quickly observed that employees were starving for something so much more than these perks. They want to feel human, they want to feel connected, they want to feel like they are contributing and that they are cared about.
8. How has the pandemic changed your business focus?
Understanding the needs of your employees was important pre-pandemic, but now employers realize that they have to make this a priority. People first – always. People are your process and your profit. People drive your organization. They are your #1.
The pandemic did not change our focus. It reinforced our focus and it’s good to see companies recognizing this too.
9. What are some of your greatest lessons learned personally and professionally in the last two years?
Luckily, I had a lot of practice being uncomfortable because every in-person event that we had scheduled, cancelled indefinitely. I knew that what I was building needed to be built faster because there was a need.
I learned to give myself grace. Like many parents, my world shifted overnight and my 1st grader and 3rd grader were home for a year doing virtual school. A part of me loved having them home and then the productive part of me was struggling because I was distracted and drowning again.
I had to practice going with the flow instead of resisting it. Sometimes the timeline gets stretched and that is okay. We’re all human and trying our best.
10. What advice would you give to organizations looking to focus more on team member wellbeing?
Before you build it, understand your people. I can almost guarantee that what you think they want and need is not what they want and need. And there really is no one size fits all approach. So ask them what they want – and then deliver what you can. And when you can’t meet a need? Tell them! Be transparent and connect feedback to action now and ongoing.
If you do not know where to start or maybe don’t even have a budget, start with something simple and free. Start with appreciation – it’s pretty powerful.
Stay tuned to hear about other incredible leaders that are making a difference in St. Louis in future articles!