Is your company in good health? Are your teams engaged, happy and productive? Do individuals in your team eat healthily, exercise regularly and have adequate time to reflect, de-stress and think creatively? 

If the answer is yes, the statistics will show you are one of the great leaders of your generation.

The majority of workplace studies in the UK & US are showing a large percentage of employees are disengaged, stressed and emotionally unrewarded. This is often despite significant investment in corporate well-being programmes, promoted and in some cases forced upon individuals by large insurance companies. Interestingly, initial studies in the US into these programmes now suggest that they yield no visible results and may even contribute to the problems they are designed to improve. 

Employers may be missing the point

For some people, being engaged on a formal wellness programme can actually cause more stress. Having to hit daily “step” targets, have regular cholesterol or blood tests, and fill out well-being questionnaires is one way to add yet more pressure to an already full schedule and also make emotionally fragile individuals feel guilty for not having achieved their targets. It’s no wonder that they may reach for the wine glass at the end of a long day, rather than rush to attend the early evening yoga class and miss kissing their kids goodnight – again.

When you look at the data from the US studies, employers may be missing the point. It is not by obligating employees to participate in these kinds of classes or screenings that well-being will improve, nor is it by providing material perks.

The secret to employee happiness is better leadership

A workplace characterised by humanity. An organisational culture characterised by kindness, trust, respect, and inspiration. Hundreds of studies conducted by pioneers of positive organisational psychology, including Professor Adam Grant at Wharton, demonstrate that a culture characterised by a positive work culture leads to improved employee loyalty, engagement, performance, creativity, and productivity. Is it not time we started paying attention to this? Quite frankly, any good leader with an ounce of common sense knows it already. 

Improving employee well-being

The most powerful way leaders can improve employee well-being is through their day-to-day actions, not funding corporate wellness programmes. Leaders who are inspiring, empathic and supportive will have more loyal and engaged employees. Asking employees about their families once in a while, creating more flexible working arrangements for working parents, allowing time during the day to eat and exercise properly, encouraging networking & social interaction, promoting creative thought and diversity may actually help more than offering a mindfulness class at lunchtime.

Leaders, whether good or bad, will always set the tone for their organisation. A leader’s behaviour determines whether other interactions within that company are characterised by trust, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, generosity and respect. 

Human interaction, not transaction

Some leaders I encounter seem to have forgotten that companies are first and foremost places of human interaction, not just transaction. 

As human beings, our greatest need after food and shelter is social connection — positive social relationships with others. If we create work environments characterised by these kinds of positive and supportive interactions, we create companies that will thrive. Companies with very low turnover. Teams that enjoy fantastic results for themselves and the business they work in. Individuals who are highly motivated and productive.  

This is not to say that as a leader, you should go “soft,” or create a place of work that is too “nice.”  

Just think about some of the simple, day to day actions you can take as a leader to encourage a healthier workplace:

  • greet people with a smile 
  • have 121 conversations walking outside rather than in a meeting room
  • ask people to do things personally rather than send them an email
  • provide healthy snacks in meetings rather than biscuits
  • eat lunch at the staff restaurant and sit with someone new each day
  • take exercise during the day – it’s a valid activity to reduce stress
  • reduce meeting times
  • plan one day a week where you can leave work early to see your family
  • most importantly, encourage your team to do all of the above too

Courteous, empathic, and understanding

This is all about leading with more emotional intelligence and recognising that you can still lead powerfully, you can still exert authority, you can still influence, and you can still communicate frankly while remaining courteous, empathic, and understanding. 

Instead of creating more and more wellness initiatives and material perks, as an emotionally intelligent leader you can do something much simpler, and more cost-effective, that may achieve a better result.  

If you role model and create a workplace culture characterised by humanity you will foster individuals, teams and organisations with real and sustainable health and greater productivity. 

By Tim Richardson,
Founder, Black Isle Group
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