Bailey (Bahareh) Vaez helps employers create healthy workplaces – and her interest began with her own life hardships.
In 2004, while Vaez was doing an internship at GlaxoSmithKline as part of U of T’s industrial engineering program, her grandmother died; not long after, two close friends lost a parent. The wave of deaths made it hard to stay energized, and she experienced a shift in her mood and attitude. Vaez also had trouble breathing at times, and although a few doctors thought she might have asthma, it became evident that she was experiencing anxiety.
A longtime health enthusiast and certified fitness instructor, Vaez used yoga, meditation, running and balanced meals to cope, plus some cognitive behavioural therapy. But the experience made her curious about how stress affects job functioning. “I started wondering how anxiety can impact performance, and about the link between productivity and health,” says Vaez, 30.
The interest gained momentum after she graduated with a bachelor of applied science in 2005 and began working at CIBC as a process engineer. Vaez learned from employees, mainly through casual conversations, that their biggest barrier to being effective was stress. She began researching the impact of stress-related physical and mental health issues at work, which cost employers billions in disability claims.
At age 24, Vaez started Proactive Movement, which creates employee wellness initiatives for small- and medium-sized businesses, mainly in Ontario. She develops the programs by drawing on her process-engineering knowledge of improving performance, plus best practices in health from the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum. Her services include not only wellness consulting but implementation – she and her team, which includes personal trainers, dietitians, lifestyle coaches, ergonomists and medical doctors, deliver everything from stressmanagement workshops to fitness assessments and yoga classes.
“Employers are starting to get it,” says Vaez, who was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network last year. “If you take care of your people first, they will have the brain power to do what they need to do at work.”