The missing piece or “hidden gold” of truly effective leadership lies in self-care, lifestyle and personal health.
The challenges that leaders and managers face both on a personal level and in business are considerable. Chronic health problems emerge due to the demands of stress, extensive travel, operational change, an ever-connected web-centric lifestyle, a shrinking workforce and globalization. The physical and psychological rigors of high workload and leadership isolation coupled with the expectations of peak performance as well as constant fiscal pressure can lead to burnout.
Weight gain or loss, emotional issues, addictions or other unhealthy behaviors can also result. In short, leaders are as much if not more at risk for health issues as anyone else.
Managers are more likely to lead well -- to treat people in a healthful way -- when they live well, which is to say, when they have physical vitality along with interpersonal skills and an ethical compass. Also, because they are leaders, they have the opportunity to show others how to do a better job at self-care. By building wellness into their schedule, leaders and managers may actually help safeguard the future success of their organization, not to mention the health of all those who work for them.
One of the best predictors of associate health and well-being is their perception of direct supervisors who are healthy, and who provide genuine support and encouragement. In other words, self-care is healthy for your bottom-line. A supportive and caring boss contributes to associate health and buffers against the typical stressors of the workday.
The evidence of strong relationships between leadership support and employee health becomes even more compelling when you recognize that the research demonstrates how principles of heart-centered leadership, such as authenticity, mutual respect and health promotion work in tandem and relate to better financial performance.
Studies show that even in market downturns, caring, health-promoting employers sustain the same level of performance as in periods of growth. This and other research points to the importance of balancing supportive management with health promotion and self-care.
What about stress? As most of us are aware, stress is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease among all workers, particularly managers and executives. There are many remedies to high-stress job environments, a few of which are addressed below. These strategies along with solid health promotion programs in the workplace can be fundamental to increased productivity:
Communication. Perhaps the single most useful approach for dealing with stress is promoting a work environment where high stress is not taken for granted, but is discussed with an open and problem-solving attitude. Failure to communicate with employees about stress just makes the problem worse. Examples of ideas that some of our clients have implemented are:
- Set up a wellness committee whose suggestions are seriously reviewed and acted upon.
- Instigate group discussions to ascertain employee perceptions of stress.
- Provide opportunities for management/employee interaction to clarify roles and responsibilities.
Reduce demand and increase control. A job with a heavy workload, a fast pace, or strict timelines is considered to be a major contributor to job stress. This combined with very little decision-making ability, autonomy or control can be cause for increased health problems such as cardiovascular disease, exhaustion, and depression.
Wherever possible, allow your employees some decision-making latitude on the job. Encourage team-based decision-making and modify workflow to be more efficient.
Balance rewards with efforts. When workers feel an imbalance between the level of effort required to do the job and job rewards (i.e. promotion, money, self-esteem), they are at greater risk of the consequences of ill health. Be sure employees are aware of their professional development path. Keep them up-to-date on their performance and achievements and implement a clear and consistent reward system. The approach should be one of support and recognition.
Increase social support. Social support can be defined as proactive communication, care and understanding. Workers with low levels of support from family, friends, colleagues and mentors are particularly at risk for productivity loss and health problems. Start a mentorship program that will allow employees to work with leadership on their managerial skills and initiate team-based activities that encourage camaraderie.
Reduce perceived status discrepancy. Some workers may feel they are in a job that does not match their needs for achievement, power or influence. They feel they can never get ahead or contribute as much as they’d like to. There are many types of empowerment programs that give workers a sense of influence and contribution. Find ways to give associates tasks that allow them to express their needs in satisfying ways.
Finally, bear in mind that when employees are at peak health levels, they are also at peak levels of productivity. By combining supportive leadership and wellness together, it is possible to nudge employees to be well, not just in terms of their physical health but also their interpersonal and social well-being.