Yoga and YouTube: A top Wells exec's tips for relieving workplace stress

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Time to think is a necessity, and so is time to get away from all the thinking. Even during a corporate crisis. Perhaps especially then.

As Wells Fargo endured a string of bruising scandals in its retail banking division over the past year, Diane Schumaker-Krieg emphasized to her employees the importance of finding a way to detach from the stress at work.

At a recent offsite retreat for her department, Schumaker-Krieg, the global head of research, economics and strategy in Wells Fargo's investment bank, delivered a speech about the relationship between personal happiness and career success.

The speech was aimed at employees who were starting to question their careers with Wells, in light of the damage to the company's once-marquee brand.

Part of her message had to do with finding small ways to step away throughout the work day, as a tactic for providing a fresh outlook and increasing positivity. "What I tell our team is, it's simple things, like getting up and doing five minutes of a yoga stretch, or watching a funny YouTube video, or calling a friend," said Schumaker-Krieg, who is a regular on our list of the Most Powerful Women in Finance. "All of these can help renew your energy."

Schumaker-Krieg speaks frequently about career advancement. In advising others on how to boost performance as part of her "Be Happy & Win!" initiative, she urges them to have fun away from work.

Over the past year, she traveled around the globe, giving presentations on the benefits of carving out time for art, exercise and other rejuvenating activities.

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It's not easy persuading executives to schedule time off. But Schumaker-Krieg reminds them it's a central tenet of effective management: Business leaders, just like top athletes, need to find ways to renew their energy to maintain peak performance.

"It's not hard to drive yourself relentlessly and succeed for five to 10 years," she said. "But the question becomes, how do you keep that going over the course of a long, 20-, 30-, 40-year career? The answer is to renew your energy at regular intervals."

Schumaker-Krieg learned this lesson during the global financial crisis of 2008. In fact, she remembers the exact day, down to the gloomy fall weather, when she decided to start playing the piano.

It was just as the crisis intensified in the fall of 2008, whipping up fear across the globe, and Schumaker-Krieg was working at Wachovia as global head of research as it was "blowing up."

Wells had announced an agreement to buy the company and President George W. Bush had just signed into law the historic legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

On a rainy Saturday in November, Schumaker-Krieg didn't have much going on when her husband made a suggestion: How about they drive to Branford, Conn., near where they have a home, to buy a piano?

"And I said, 'Why would we want to that? Neither of us plays the piano,' " she said.

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But Schumaker-Krieg nonetheless agreed to go and ended up bringing home a 1928 Knabe piano. She began taking lessons shortly thereafter — and, to her surprise, found herself better equipped to handle the daily stresses of working in an industry under fire.

On her way home from a lesson one day, she gathered the courage to call the head of wholesale banking at Wells Fargo, to ask about his plans for Wachovia's equity research division. She also invited him to chair an energy conference, so that he could see firsthand the value her analysts could provide.

It was easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed amid the chaos of the downturn, but taking piano lessons infused her with energy.

It also gave her a sense of perspective. "I was unable to worry about everything else, because you can't concentrate on the piano and worry about what's going to happen at Wells Fargo at the same time," she said.

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