Change is the only constant in life, but even in the most uncertain of times, the importance of good leadership remains unchanging. While this can sometimes seem overwhelming, the good news is that leadership tends to occur naturally - such as when others follow our lead. Our decisions, behaviours and habits make up the crux of these lead-by-example scenarios. Fortunately, this also means that the tools that we need to take care of our health and wellness, as well as to be an effective manager, is one and the same.
Why leading by example is essential
As managers and team leaders, we are often in charge of setting expectations, allocating resources and managing our teams. This means that we also have the power to prioritise and foster a wellness culture in the workplace to set our teams up for success. More often than not, company wellness initiatives fall short in terms of employee participation. Research has shown that only 20 - 40% of employees participate in offered programmes in any given year1. Even more worrying is the fact that this lack of participation often begins at the top, even though leaders are best positioned to champion the efforts. In this context, leading by example can make a big difference in closing the participation gaps as employees are much more likely to get involved if they perceive a similar level of commitment from their leaders2. With that said, here are three tips that can help you point the team in the right wellness direction by leading by example.
Promoting health and wellness in the workplace via leading by example
While there is no one fixed way to boost workplace wellness, we believe that it often starts with cultivating a culture of trust, empathy and respect.
1. Initiate and participate in open conversations
Leading by example does not necessarily have to mean taking strong, decisive action or being charismatic. In the case of promoting health and wellness, something as simple as opening up, learning to be vulnerable and sharing your own struggles with your employees can be a good starting step. By taking the initiative to do so, it will make employees feel more at home sharing about their issues and struggles. Furthermore, it will also go a long way in building a sense of mutual trust between you and your employees as well as lead to more honest communication.
Despite its importance, this can often be overlooked during the pre-pandemic days. Nowadays, with many people working from home, it can be even harder to notice the tell-tale signs of someone that is struggling. In a recent study3, it was found that nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had checked in on them during the pandemic to make sure they were doing alright. As a leader, it is up to you to take the initiative to do so. By being the first to open up, it will not only help improve your team’s mental health but also help to foster stronger team bonds in the long run.
2. Model healthy habits and behaviours
While opening up and sharing works, actions do still speak louder than words. Instead of simply saying you support mental health and self-care, make it a point to also do so yourself. This way, it sends out a message to your employees that their own health and wellness is not any less important than their work and sets a precedence for them to follow.
There are various ways through which this can be achieved. For one, consider actively practising self-care while also encouraging your employees to do so. If possible, refrain from working overtime or on weekends, and take vacations for longer breaks when needed. Encourage your employees to do the same and make it an effort not to contact them on their off days for work-related matters.
Another step you can take is to provide opportunities for employees to stay active at work. You could initiate walking meetings, take short breaks as needed throughout the day, or even source for standing desks that you and your employees can use.
3. Make wellness programmes and healthier choices readily available
The final tip that we have for you is to make wellness programmes and healthier choices readily available for your employees. These can include mental health workshops, cooking classes and stress management programmes. You can even look for healthier meal options for your employees. It would also help to make these options tailored, flexible and convenient for your employees to further encourage participation. Finally, do not forget to take part in these programmes yourself so that you lead by example.
Even after setting up these programmes, take time to ensure that they can remain flexible in adapting to your team’s changing needs. These changes are inevitable over time, which means that it is crucial for us to stay on top of them by checking in regularly with our employees, especially during transition points. These conversations will allow you to understand and cater to any changes that your employees go through so you can adjust the existing programmes without having to make any assumptions.
Over to you
A workplace thrives when its leaders commit to and prioritise the health and wellbeing of their most valuable asset - the employees. After all, it is our teams that allow us to continue growing and expanding as an organisation, which means that investing in their wellness is also inherently an investment in the business. As leaders, determining how we can best support our teams will ultimately be central to the development of a healthy, cohesive workforce.
1. Mattke, S., Kapinos, K., Caloyeras, J., Taylor, E., Batorsky, B., & Liu, H. et al. (2014). Workplace Wellness Programs: Services Offered, Participation, and Incentives.
2. Aldana, S. (2021). How to Get Leadership Support for Employee Wellness..
3. Greenwood, K., & Krol, N. (2020). 8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health. Harvard Business Review.