Alex Elmywood: leading well

We live and work in a world that is incredibly fast paced, where poor work-life balance, long-hours, and increasing work pressures are far too common.  This increases stress levels and mental health issues within our workplaces, which is directly impacting on our performance as organisations and as a country. So, the wellbeing of staff is paramount to the productivity and performance of an organisation, and a key conduit to achieving wellness are the leaders and managers.

Forward thinking organisations often call on leaders and managers to create mentally healthy workplaces for their employees, and yet it seems that those who are looked upon to create and drive these initiatives often have the poorest wellbeing. How can an organisation be truly happy, healthy and indeed productive if its managers and leaders are not?

The increasing needs of leaders and managers (in the context of wellbeing) is therefore not only to develop their confidence and capability in supporting people effectively, but also to get them thinking about their own wellbeing and what it truly means to be happy and healthy in their world.

Indeed, only when we are in control of our own psychological and emotional wellbeing can we start to support the wellbeing of others.

What does the research say?

  • Whilst advances in technology have created flexibility, 9 out of 10 employees claim it leads to an inability to switch off outside work hours (CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey 2018)
  • Workplace Stress Report BITC 2018 found: 6 out of 10 adults cited work as being the primary cause of stress in their life
  • Of the 51% of people that spoke to their manager about a mental health issue, 56% stated that their employer did nothing significant to help.
  • Less than 25% of managers haven’t received any training in mental health… and 49% would welcome some.

What can our leaders and managers do?

There are 2 simple questions to ask:

Am I a role model when it comes to leading well?

There is no question that leaders and managers play a crucial role in our organisations – and it could be argued that when it comes to workplace wellbeing, there isn’t a more important topic where this is the case.

How many times do we see leaders and managers working extended hours, rushing from one meeting to the next or skipping meals with little regard to the impact it is having on their physical and mental wellbeing? Our employees are watching this behaviour, observing what “good” management looks like and replicating it in order to be seen as performing, being committed and loyal and dare we say, as a means of progressing their careers.

What in fact is happening is the workforce from the very top is failing to balance what we all need to maintain excellent levels of productivity and performance.

As leaders and managers we need to take some time to reflect on what is happening in our worlds. How is our physical, social and mental wellbeing? What unhealthy stress do we have in our lives? What are the things we can control and remove? What are the things we can’t control and as such are our coping mechanisms helping or hindering?

Let us take control of our lives as leaders and managers, to bring balance to ourselves, but also to our people as well.

Do I have the capability and confidence to lead well?

There is no question that employee wellbeing is a complex area. As individuals we are very complex and our worlds are all influenced and affected in many different ways: by our genetics, our upbringing, our education, our present circumstances and environments, our beliefs, our family and personal commitments… the list is endless. How resilient we are in our worlds is different for each person. It is no surprise then, that sometimes managers and leaders are not clear or confident enough to support and guide people through this maze.

Here are some tips on the things we can do:

  • Having an interest in the whole person and getting to know the person that exists outside work is a great place to start in understanding the different aspects of their world and how it influences their wellbeing and their performance.
  • Being able to recognise early warning signs or the symptoms of ill health allows a leader or manager to be proactive in their support. Intercepting an issue in the early stages may result in lower sickness levels or indeed helping employees get the support they need before the issue escalates.
  • Whilst some work has been done to tackle the stigma of mental health, there is still a long way to go. In 2016, over 5,000 people from within our working population committed suicide; three quarters of which were men (Office of National Statistics). If we can encourage open discussion and debate – without prejudice or judgement – perhaps we, as leaders and managers, will be part of the solution in helping people see other alternatives.
  • Most of the time it comes down to having a chat! Developing professional relationships with team members to build an environment of trust, honesty and openness is all it takes to start to share – what’s the old saying; “a problem shared…”
  • Don’t make it a big event! Using the normal methods of catching up with your staff will ensure that the conversations about wellbeing aren’t blown out of proportion and just form part of your day-to-day duties in understanding your people and supporting them effectively. Why not start your catch-up meetings with a simple “what’s going on in your world at the moment?”. It may not happen immediately, but as trust, empathy and interest is recognised, people – in their own time – will start to share!

Alex Elmywood is the Commercial Director of Organisational Improvement at the The Growth Company. She will be speaking on ‘How organisations be truly happy, healthy and productive when their leaders are not?’ at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November, where you can meet the Growth Company team at stand E3.  To register or find out more, please click here.