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Leaders, Employee Wellbeing Starts with You

May 21, 2019


Whether your company is considering wellness initiatives or has a solid program already in motion, the most important things you can do to better support the wellbeing of your employees have very little to do with biometrics, eating or exercise.  Health fairs, office yoga, and healthier food choices are valuable benefits for your employees, but they won't contribute much to a more productive, engaged workforce if they're offered in the midst of cultural norms that don't foster wellbeing. And by cultural norms, we're not talking about sit-to-stand workstations and stress management classes. We're talking about how people treat each other and what is valued (or not) in the organization. 

Leaders, creating the conditions for a culture that supports wellbeing starts with you. Consider the following: 

  1. Go to the source: To help your team genuinely flourish, you need to ask the right questions so every employee, no matter what role or level, can answer as honestly as possible. Consider an anonymous all-employee survey that solicits feedback on both individual well-being and organizational health. Have a third party conduct the survey so employees feel confident responding candidly without fear or repercussions. But keep in mind that the only thing worse than not asking for employee feedback is asking for feedback and doing nothing about it. Only invest in an all-employee survey if you're truly committed to taking action with the information you gather.
  2. Over-communicate: As a team leader, one of the most valuable ways to foster individual wellbeing and a healthier team is to create conditions where two-way communication is frequent and candid. This means checking in regularly with your team members about their working experience and personal wellbeing - and really listening to what they say. It means creating an environment where your team members feel safe expressing what they need from you and the organization - and what they need to do themselves in order to fulfill their potential - and offering support in whatever ways are feasible. 
  3. Walk the talk: No matter how much you say it's fine for your team to participate in health and wellness initiatives at work or honor boundaries that help them care for themselves, your own actions will always convey the most powerful message about what's encouraged and accepted. If you never take breaks, work late every night and seem to be emailing at all hours of the day, your employees will inevitably feel compelled to follow your lead. Do your best to demonstrate the behaviors that are best for you and your team. If you're out of balance with work or not attending to your own self-care, acknowledge it, share how you're working on it, and encourage others to care for themselves.
  4. Think about wellbeing holistically: Many things affect your employees' well-being outside of physical health, such as financial security, career satisfaction, emotional health, and relationships. Your support on a holistic level could involve anything from encouraging the use of the onsite fitness center to scheduling breaks so your team can do lunch-hour meditation classes to establishing professional growth plans to creating flexible work schedules that support work-life balance.

If this sounds overwhelming or in the "it's not my responsibility" realm, let me be clear: I'm not suggesting it's your job to "get" your employees well. (In fact, I'm certain it's impossible for any human being to "get" another human being well!)

As a leader, you have an incredible impact on the lives of those you lead. You have the privilege and responsibility to create conditions where your employees feel empowered and can thrive. Ultimately, the best way to create the right environment is to be the best version of yourself and support your team the way you would like to be supported: fully, respectfully and compassionately.

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