10 October 2023

9 Ways Leaders Can Support Wellbeing in the Workplace

How to step up and improve the health of your people, and your organisation.

According to a 2020 Gallup State of the Workplace Report, 33% of the world’s employees are thriving. Unfortunately, that means’ that 68% aren’t. As leaders, we have an opportunity to step up and support wellbeing in the workplace to improve the health of our people, and our organisations. We explore nine ways that could be done.

Before you start implementing wellbeing initiatives, you’ll want to adopt two specific perspectives first:

A. Wellbeing is multifaceted. It extends past physical and mental health to encompass a variety of factors including financial stability, social interactions and interpersonal relationships, and job satisfaction.  Without a holistic perspective of wellbeing, programs may not address all the possible causes of poor wellbeing and may be ineffective.

B. Employees are real people with multiple aspects to their lives that interconnect and impact each other including work, health, relationships, children and family, hobbies and interests. Only recognising someone’s ‘work self’ ignores the realities of our lives and forces employees to hide their authentic selves, and potentially traits and skills that could be valuable to an employer.

With these in mind, leaders can support their employees by creating a culture of wellbeing in the workplace in a multitude of ways.

1. Role model behaviours that promote wellbeing. These might include leaving on time, taking proper breaks, eating lunch away from your desk, checking in with colleagues, talking about and prioritising family and health commitments, and celebrating the diverse interests and skills people have outside work. When the entire leadership team does this, these behaviours can become the norm in your workplace, rather than the exception.

2. Offer true flexible working.  This is particularly important for improving the wellbeing of working parents, people with a disability or chronic illness for whom a lack of flexible working is a cause of great stress, and often resignations.

Flexibility is more than offering employees the option to apply for different hours or a work from home arrangement. It means:

  • having a ‘quality over quantity’ mindset – trusting employees that they’ll get the job done well and that work produced is more important than hours sat at a desk.
  • understanding that some people find it mentally and physically difficult to work in an office full-time, and they may do focussed work better at home.
  • allowing employees to take time off for things that are important to them and their families on the understanding that the employee will make the time up later

3. Be vulnerable about your own challenges.  Talking honestly about your own challenges with your physical or mental wellbeing allows others to feel comfortable voicing their own concerns and asking for help. An article in the Harvard Business Review support this idea, suggesting: “Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences”. Vulnerability allows people to bring their whole, real selves to work and promotes understanding and compassion for each other.

4. Check in with employees about their wellbeing regularly or make it an agenda item for scheduled 1:1 meetings. This allows managers and leaders to offer employees support employees before they hit burn-out or emotional distress. Ask if there are any major events happening in people’s lives outside work such as deaths, illness, marriage, divorce, moving house, having children, caring for elderly or disabled family members. They may not wish to discuss these with you, but you can still offer flexible working, reducing/re-arranging workloads, or access to your Employee Assistance Program.

5. Offer training to all leaders and managers.  A recent study found that almost 70% of employees feel that their manager has a greater impact on their mental health than their therapist, and equal to their partner. However, not all leaders and managers are born with the skills and qualities they need. Customised business training programs in leading others, team dynamics, delegation, connecting with and inspiring others, resilience, emotional intelligence, coaching, and mindfulness are beneficial at all stages of leadership – from new leaders to CEO level.

6. Get the whole leadership team on board. Wellbeing is an organisational issue, not just something to hand down to HR. It affects productivity, creativity and innovation, sales figures, customer satisfaction, staff turnover and retention. Wellbeing initiatives need to be owned by the leadership team or risk becoming tokenistic and the opportunity for real behavioural change will be missed.

7. Ask for suggestions about improving wellbeing. We all have unique wellbeing needs, so a one-size fits all program can result in wasted resources due to poor uptake, so take the time to find out what employees really need via surveys, focus groups and 1:1 meetings.

For some, this may look like taking a longer break to exercise, increased natural light, having a variety of workspaces to choose from, a more social or relaxed atmosphere, playing music in the office, acoustic barriers to manage noise levels, class vouchers, or simply a solid flexible working policy. Ask first, determine what the most viable and needed options are, and review them periodically.

8. Implement employee recognition programs that are meaningful. End of year awards have their place, positive feedback in performance reviews is good, but too infrequent, and a single ‘thank you’ day is soon forgotten. A regular gratitude program that allows people to acknowledge the positive things their co-workers do can be highly effective.

Furthermore, celebrating big, and small achievements can go a long way to boosting morale and confidence. Remember, a seemingly small achievement may represent months of hard work for someone.

9. Make mistakes part of a learning culture. Punishing mistakes or setting unrealistic accuracy targets is an unsustainable performance strategy that breeds anxiety, perfectionism, stress and burn-out. Instead, allow all people the time to analyse their mistakes and learn from them – they’ll not only improve their performance, but will feel confident solving greater problems later on.

By prioritising wellbeing, leaders themselves will benefit by becoming more self-aware, empathetic and rounded individuals, which in turn will influence the culture of their organisation, and their employee’s health, for the better.

Interested in finding out more?

TNM Coaching develops leaders all levels in the organisation, resulting in well-rounded, prepared leaders, equipped for whatever tomorrow throws at them.

If you would like to explore how we can support talent in your organisation, we’d be delighted to share our insights and experience with you – simply book a discovery call for a no-obligation conversation with one of our team.

Written by Nina Griffiths


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