It’s only 10:30 on Monday morning and the muscles in your shoulders already rival the Swiss Alps. With three more conference calls to make, a staff meeting to lead, two hundred unanswered emails, and an early-morning battle still festering with a loved one at home, you find it even hard to catch your breath.
Take a second and look around your workplace. See those employees around you? You can bet that they’re trying to catch their breath as well.
It seems that our collective noses are pressed to the grindstone, yet for all our hard work, productivity levels aren’t surging. Fact is, as our stress rises, productivity plummets. And this isn’t groundbreaking news. Way back in 1992, the U.N.’s International Labour Organization (ILO) published a report that named job stress as “the 20th-Century Disease.”
Still here we are – thirteen years into the 21st century – armed with decades of research about stress, and our behavior hasn’t changed much. Workplace stress has grown from an individual affair into an epidemic that reportedly costs the United States more than $300 billion annually, affects 30% of workers in Western Europe, and is spreading fast to developing nations. Because stress is a highly personalized phenomenon, it shows up in a myriad of forms at work: from violence and job-related injuries, to absenteeism and poor decision-making, to the lifestyle diseases of heart attacks, hypertension and other disorders. The ILO has even named April 28 the World Day of Safety and Health to call attention to the individual and economic burden of stress and the need for creating healthier work environments.
Given that your shoulders are already up to your ears this morning, how do you navigate this overwhelming tide of stress? The answer won’t surprise you. It begins with you making wellbeing central to your role as a leader.
You stepped into leadership, and with that commitment, you took on the mantle of creating an organization where people (including you) bring their best energies to work. A place where employees are healthy, happy and productive, achieving positive results for the organization and for their own lives. A place where through the act of work, people gain vitality, not lose it.
Putting wellbeing at the center of your leadership means doing at least three things:
- Role-model the healthy behaviors you want to see in others. Believe me, I understand firsthand how easy this is to say, yet how difficult it is to do. But remember, behaviors in the workplace are learned, socialized and reinforced. Those in leadership positions are looked upon as paradigms of office expectations. Whether you like it or not, to grow a healthy workplace, you must as Ghandi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
- Build one-to-one relationships with employees based on genuine care and trust. Why does this matter? Because a little-known yet emerging insight from recent meta-studies shows that considerate and supportive styles of leadership have a staggeringly positive effect on employee wellbeing.
- Sponsor and implement strategies that legitimize wellbeing behaviors within your entire organization. Don’t be content with only deploying a health risk assessment or subsidizing gym memberships. Instead, support your organization in doing what it takes to integrate wellbeing metrics and practices into the organization’s very heart: its values, culture and infrastructure as well as its everyday meetings and routines.
As the leader, you are among the breed of individuals uniquely positioned to influence the experience of employees and the productivity of the workplace. By committing to lead from wellbeing, you help your organization – and all employees – produce positive results and become healthier by doing so. As leaders in the 21st century, isn’t it time to reinvent the workplace into a vehicle of true health so that both people and profit thrive?