There has been a lot of talk recently about workplace wellbeing, and for good reason. With studies showing that workplace wellbeing has a direct impact on productivity, leaders should take notice. But what does the future of workplace wellbeing look like? And what can leaders do to support it?
Many leaders would agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for many people. Moving forward, employee wellbeing should become leaders’ first and foremost priority for 2022, with greater measures to promote it throughout their organisation. By taking simple, common-sense measures, leaders can create a more positive work environment and help employees feel more supported during these uncertain times.
It is a well-known fact that a toxic work environment can have a negative impact on a person's physical and mental health, even shortening their life. Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, discovered that any profession – not only those associated with heavy equipment, volatile chemicals or harsh weather conditions – might have a negative influence on employee health. Pfeffer's research showed that toxic workplaces are toxic to workers' health because they are marked by stress, long hours, and little control. Workers in these environments are at increased risk for heart disease, mental health problems and other illnesses. In addition, toxic work environments can lead to job dissatisfaction and turnover, which can further damage an organisation's bottom line. Given the potential risks of a toxic work environment, organisations should take steps to create a healthy and productive workplace for their employees.
Pfeffer’s research published in his book Dying for a Paycheck shows our professions are making us sick, both physically and emotionally. He claims that toxic workplaces are becoming more widespread as firms increase their demands.
When it comes to addressing the health of our employees, what we need now are compassionate, conscious leaders who will create caring cultures. These leaders will not only support access to both traditional and complementary treatments, but they will also work on prevention. They will create psychologically safe workplaces, allow flexibility in how and where people work, and focus on their output instead of input. They will, for example, promote mindfulness and encourage outside walking meetings (in nature) when possible.
Sunlight, fresh air, movement and mindfulness have been shown to have a plethora of benefits, both physically and mentally. Walking meetings promote mindfulness as they encourage staff to be more aware of their surroundings and their thoughts and feelings. This can help to reduce stress levels and improve mental clarity. Additionally, walking in nature has been shown to boost mood and improve concentration.
Practicing Tai Chi is another great way to promote wellbeing at work. At recent staff development events at Ashridge (Hult International Business School), my colleagues and I benefited from learning and practising Tai Chi, taught by one of the faculty members, with intention to make this a daily habit. Slow, deliberate movements help to focus the mind and the deep breathing has a calming effect.
Educating staff on the importance of mindfulness can help to create a more balanced and holistic workplace. Promoting activities like walking meetings, meditation and Tai Chi can help staff to de-stress, boost their mood and improve their overall wellbeing. Some places have ping-pong tables in common areas to encourage de-stressing during breaks or even pods for short naps.
Breathing and movement are essential for our wellbeing. They help to oxygenate our blood, improve circulation and prevent tension from building up in our muscles. However, many of us spend most of our days sitting at a desk without taking the time to move our bodies or take deep breaths. This can lead to a host of health problems, including headaches, back pain and respiratory issues. Educating staff on the importance of breathing and movement can help to alleviate these problems and create a more productive workplace.
In addition to the above, it is important to create a workplace that is free from toxicity and autocratic leaders. Negative leaders and negative environments create negative employees. Instead, workplaces should be nourishing and inspiring, with compassionate leaders who care about the holistic wellbeing of their employees.
Leaders are well-positioned to promote employee health and wellbeing. They can do this by creating a caring workplace culture, implementing policies that support employee health, and providing resources for employees to access. When leaders take the necessary steps, they help improve the overall health of their employees. And in turn, the organisation as a whole benefits from having healthier employees, who will be more productive and loyal. This would then not only help boost profits but also talent retention which is very important in the age of Great Resignation.
The questions now need to be asked are what are you doing to create a compassionate workplace culture, and how are you supporting the health of your employees? By doing good, you and your organisation will do well.
Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic is professor of leadership and management at Hult International Business School (Ashridge) and founder and CEO of Management Shift Solutions