Lady addressing her co-workers in a meeting

The biggest impact on your people’s wellbeing? It’s you…

By Katie Jacobs

We’ve all heard the adage ‘people don’t leave organisations; they leave managers’. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s nonetheless true. Individual leaders and managers have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing.

In fact, according to a recent study of workers across 10 countries by The Workforce Institute at UKG, managers are on a par with people’s partners for the impact they have on mental health. According to 69% of those surveyed, their managers have the greatest impact on their mental health – that’s equal with partners and more than doctors (51%) or therapists (41%).

It’s a stat that should make leaders sit up and take note – especially given we risk sleepwalking into a wellbeing crisis. The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health continues to take its toll, exacerbated by the rise in online communication and how lonely this makes some feel. Link that to raised levels of overwhelm and overwork (44% of people report feeling change fatigue and overwhelming pressure at work), and it’s little wonder Deloitte’s latest Wellbeing at Work study finds most employees feel their wellbeing has either stayed the same or got worse over the last year.

People with perceived poor wellbeing are four times more likely to leave their employer. For the good of organisations and individuals then, leaders have an obligation to support wellbeing, creating environments that enable people to thrive. So, how can you as a leader lean into the opportunity of boosting wellbeing in how you show up everyday? Here are five ideas to help others to thrive under your leadership…

  1. Role model self-care 

Leaders cast a shadow, so think about the shape of that shadow when it comes to your own wellbeing. If you want people to centre their wellbeing, you need to do the same. That means setting and maintaining boundaries, avoiding out-of-hours work where possible, for example. It means not only taking breaks to do things like exercise, get outside, connect with family or simply get away from the screen, but also talking overtly about these breaks. Consider blocking out ‘gym time’, ‘dog walk’ or similar in your diary and making it open for others to see. Seeing leaders take care of themselves gives those around you explicit permission to do the same.

  1. Speak openly about wellbeing

As you role model through your actions, make an effort to share your own wellbeing stories verbally or through written communications. Leaders speaking openly about their own wellbeing and challenges around mental and physical health is powerful. It signals to others that it’s acceptable to be vulnerable. Showing vulnerability creates the conditions for greater levels of psychological safety – core for creating thriving, healthy work environments – and builds trust among colleagues and teams.

  1. Foster human connection

In a world where so many of us are spending more time online and behind a screen, leaders must not overlook the importance of in-person interaction and human-to-human connection. We need trusting, respectful relationships to thrive at work and these relationships are central to our sense of wellbeing. Loneliness, which has worsened since the pandemic, can negatively impact health in a range of ways, from increased stress to sleep deprivation and poor heart health. To combat this, leaders should seek meaningful opportunities to bring people together. This isn’t about ordering people back to the office or rowing back on flexibility, but rather creating moments that matter to come together, connect and share, creating positive energy to carry people forwards.

  1. Don’t sacrifice wellbeing or performance

Wellbeing and performance are inextricably linked. Poor wellbeing will impact performance, as people simply cannot work to the best of their abilities when they don’t feel their best. Conversely, people who feel good in themselves deliver good, sustainable performance, and will derive intrinsic meaning and positivity from working to a high level. As well as focusing on boosting wellbeing, leaders should look for red flags that suggest an overfocus on performance at the expense of wellbeing. If workloads are unrealistic, KPIs unachievable and the narrative one of ‘performance at all costs’, then wellbeing will suffer. Tackle these root causes to create a virtuous circle of performance AND wellbeing.

  1. Focus on positive emotions

Positive emotions are central to our sense of wellbeing and lead to improved performance. According to studies, when people are in a positive state, they can find more than 12 solutions to a given problem compared to two when in a state of anger or fear. Leaders can help cultivate more positive emotions in the workplace by reflecting on and celebrating successes and focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. According to Gallup, people who use their strengths regularly are less likely to experience negative emotions like stress, worry and sadness.

Find out more about how Bailey & French can help develop more human leaders, increasing wellbeing throughout the organisation.