Margo & Jelyse Dawson
A Workplace Well-being Journey
Jelyse Dawson learned the value of staying mentally and physically present while working corporate jobs despite work-life balance challenges. In 2010, Dawson was recruited out of college by John Deere. She headed to Kansas to work in a marketing rotation program beginning as a tactical marketing representative, traveling around the country to trade shows to engage with customers. Soon, she became a diversity college recruiter. he travel schedule was demanding with little time for exercise causing her to take control by activating certifications in group fitness and yoga. Now, she could exercise in the hotel room, lift weights in gyms, and do a drop-in at the local YWCA for a quick Bollywood dance class. Fellow colleagues shared their fitness and fatigue challenges with Dawson causing her to approach HR with an idea. Let’s hear how she used her gifts to connect employees around the world to stress less and move more. A tagline that she would eventually use to launch Fusion Fitness by Jelyse LLC.
When did you see the need for fitness in the workplace?
Amazingly, after transferring from NC State University to Grambling State University, I was hired as an undergrad to teach yoga to student-athletes and faculty. It wasn’t until I was a full-time employee at John Deere that I noticed my own fatigue and stress not to mention that of co-workers. HR graciously allowed me to teach fitness during the lunch hour in addition to my regular duties. We all felt the benefits of breathing and moving to increase flexibility and reduce stress.
How did you start working with multi-age groups after returning home?
After leaving Deere, I returned home to assist a family member with a medical condition using gentle yoga and dance. After restoring her mental and physical well being, I began working with medical patients, faith-based groups, and seniors at the Vidant Medical Wellness Center in North Carolina. I loved helping people to build their strength using cardio, pilates, and strength conditioning exercises.
What were the challenges of starting your fitness business after having job security and benefits?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs which fueled my confidence. I had the challenges that all start-ups have; writing a business plan, creating an LLC, and financing the business. It required a lot of sacrifice. One of my jobs was a three-hour round trip causing me to stay with family and friends. That experience taught me that passion is everything as a business owner.
When did you decide to focus on employee wellness?
I taught strength and conditioning for Fidelity Investments, reigniting my passion for workplace wellness. I enrolled in the MBA Program at NC State University and pitched my employee wellness product around the country. This helped me to refine the messaging around stressing less and moving more. Back then, people didn’t think virtual fitness was needed. They were wrong!
What was the outcome?
In 2017, I was hired as a marketing intern for Cisco. A coworker shared her consuming fear of being laid off causing stress. I’ve been told that I have a knack for creating a safe space for people to share their feelings. I proposed free mind-body classes for employees to my manager who agreed. The focus was decreasing stress through deep breathing and reducing neck, back and shoulder pain. The following year I returned full-time as a marketing manager and joined an employee resource group for black women called Mocha Pros. We worked long hours on a screen with minimum movement during the day. Once again, I approached HR to lead virtual yoga classes using WebEx, the company’s flagship video conferencing software. This led to classes with other employee groups.
When did you take a stance on addressing mental health in the workplace?
I saw the connection between mental health and fitness decades ago. Many employees have access to mental health counseling as part of their benefits package but don’t use it. I was blessed to be promoted to the role of executive communications and employee engagement at Cisco. While conducting focus groups in Texas, India, and Poland, I was reminded how stressed employees can be. I reached out to a mental health therapist who delivered a virtual town hall on wellness for managers. The responses were positive along with the action plans which included checking in with employees and reinforcing support services.
How did you go from corporate America to owning a virtual fitness business?
COVID-19 happened. I found myself without a job, quarantined with my family, and growing my own vegetables for the first time! I started teaching free classes on Facebook Live which turned into customers working out with me on Zoom. The timing was right.
Your business is built on video. What do beginners need to get started?
If using a phone:
Phone Tripod: https://amzn.to/3fljcol
Purple Panda Microphone: https://amzn.to/3leklQx
Limo Studio Lights: https://amzn.to/3fliSG9
If using a camera:
Canon M50: https://amzn.to/35Tsbdf
Camera Tripod: https://amzn.to/339tt1P
Rode Wireless Go Microphone: https://amzn.to/35Sl7xf
Limo Studio Lights: https://amzn.to/3fliSG9
Everyone is on video calls these days. How can they look their best?
Webcam for laptop: https://amzn.to/3eGDMil
Ring light for cell phone: https://amzn.to/3lfkp2o
What's new at Fusion Fitness by Jelyse?
Diverse instructors offering virtual mental health, physical therapy, personal training, yoga, and dance! Sign up for classes at www.fusionfitnessbyjelyse.com. Tune into Well-being Wednesdays starting December 2nd featuring Ron, a certified personal trainer.
What is your advice to entrepreneurs?
Follow your strengths, sharpen your skills, tell your story, and collaborate.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.