Is it even possible to create a healthy workplace culture if the leaders aren’t on board? Doubtful. Let’s face it, at the most basic level, if your boss isn’t nice, your well-being is at risk. Yes, being nice is part of building a well-being culture. The role of leaders though goes well beyond their interpersonal skills.
On the other hand, we’ve probably all had a boss (or two) who proclaim the importance of well-being and yet have no clue how their behavior, communication and demeanor are nothing close to ‘well’. Most leaders aren’t aware of the impact we have on the well-being of others, even though there is no shortage of stories about how one’s boss negatively impacted our day (or interfered with our sleep that night).
Creating a well-being culture is most successful when leaders make a personal commitment, to change their own thinking and behaviors and leverage their influence to encourage others. They don’t have to be marathon-running, non-smoking vegans, but they do have to be credible public promoters of the values and vision. It wouldn’t hurt if they shared their struggles with their own well-being, too.
It helps for leaders to start with self-care. It’s hard to be nice to others when you are tired, stressed or not feeling well. We forget that we need to take care of ourselves to take care of others. There’s always the excuse of “I don’t have time”. Prioritizing is a well-being strategy (and a whole other article).
At Hopkins, we publish stories about how our leaders take care of their own well-being, share photos of leaders participating in healthy activities or making use of our health resources. We also have leaders recognize employees for achieving health and well-being goals. This is only possible because these leaders make a personal commitment to showing up and taking part.
It’s quite likely your leaders don’t know how to support a well-being culture on their team. Perhaps they have an idea, but are uncomfortable with raising the topic, unsure if it’s fair game in the workplace. Of course, there are some leaders who may be forthcoming with exercise or not smoking conversations. Those topics seem to be fair game. However, how many leaders can initiate ‘being nice’ as part of a well-being strategy for the team?
Johns Hopkins Medicine recognizes the critical role of managers in creating a culture of well-being on their teams. We developed 10 Minute Wellbeing Tips for Managers to inform our colleagues on strategies to not only support the wellbeing of their team, but also their own well-being. We literally take ten minutes, once a week, to provide content and give our colleagues wellbeing tips for their team agenda and well-being tips for the leaders themselves.
We are not alone. The University of Michigan provides something similar, to support their Mhealthy culture, teaching people, especially mid-level managers, “how to create work teams where health and well-being contribute to success”1 through half-day workshops and toolkits.
Leaders throughout an organization play a role in every building block of our framework. To lead with a well-being lens, here are some of the things leaders must do:
- Role model well-being
- Share the well-being vision
- Remove barriers to well-being within the workplace
- Build well-being into the business plan
- Recognize and celebrate those who contribute to the organization’s well-being
One of the biggest challenges I hear from colleagues who are having trouble getting traction with their well-being strategy at their institution is that the executives, the president, the ______ (fill in the blank with your favorite leadership title) aren’t supportive. I’ve been there many times and it’s not fun.
However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other leaders that are supportive or that you can’t be the leader that creates change. All of this to say…. there are lots of different paths to take when it comes to leadership and there are lots of things we need to understand and communicate to be successful. Take control of what you can. Start with building a well-being culture on your team.
What happens when leaders don’t take team well-being seriously? The team leaves (see Reconciling the Great Resignation), the team underperforms, and smiles are scarce.
1 University of Michigan Human Resources, “Trainings Help U-M Leaders Build Healthy Workplace Culture”.