Why do managers and leaders need wellbeing skills?

Why do managers and leaders need wellbeing skills?

Every day, people are promoted into management roles, many of which never intended to actually become managers. They agree to their new responsibilities to stay employed, make more money, or to forge a pathway for their next career move.

As we move into 2020, with increasing conversations being had on the topic of mental health and wellbeing, corporate boards, insurers and governments are now expecting leaders to support the wellbeing of their workforce. In turn, leaders are now expecting managers to support the wellbeing of their team members. So the term ‘wellness’ or ‘wellbeing’ has started being tagged onto the roles of various departments and roles, from the traditional HR, Health and Safety to school guidance co-ordinators, spa managers and scout patrol leaders.

This phenomenon has intrigued me, as 25 years ago, when I started in the health and wellness industry and founded one of Australia’s first integrated health and wellness concepts, wellness was relegated to the ‘luxury’ space whereas, we all  need and deserve the skills of wellness so that we can perform at our best in our lives and workplaces.

Health, safety and wellness

However, the skills and knowledge required for understanding the principles of wellness and, most importantly, how to integrate them into people’s lives and the systems and social structures of organisations, have not previously been integrated into the core curriculum of our education system.

Without the fundamental skills of the principles of wellness, including: resilience, purpose, values, mindfulness, sleep, nutrition and movement, as well as communication, emotional intelligence and other key skills for effective team and business management, it is difficult for these individuals to really thrive in their wellbeing roles.

Most managers and leaders are already working to support the well-being of their team members. Many, however, comment that although they care about and want to support the health and wellness of their employees, and want to play a positive role in supporting a more wellness-oriented culture in the workplace, they aren’t quite sure how to really achieve this.

More than four in five people worldwide are interested in improving their own wellness, and workplace wellness is a significant part of the overall wellness picture. Workplace stress costs the Australian economy $15 billion per annum and sickness and absenteeism costs organisations an estimated $3,230 per employee each year, and this statistic was prior to Covid.

Changing work and life styles

As a people leader, you may witness team members attempting to make positive changes to their lives throughout the year, like quitting smoking, exercising more, eating better, losing weight, managing stress, maintaining closer relationships and managing consumption of alcohol and other abusive substances.

Unfortunately, most lifestyle attempts do not result in long-term behavioural change. Most of us have tried to make the same behaviour change many times without success. How many smokers do you know that have tried to quit multiple times? Your inactive team members will most likely have exercise outfits and equipment at home gathering dust. Most people laugh off their failed health resolutions but the mental and physical health consequences are serious. Failure adds to our stress and undermines our sense of empowerment. As a result, many managers and leaders are hesitant to promote wellness because they are wary of setting people up to fail.

The current approach to promoting wellness emphasises initial motivation, with some information on health and wellbeing, being primarily movement and mental health focused. A typical program has a personal health survey, counselling, a website or newsletter filled with health information and some presentations from health and wellness providers. Some have health fairs and even prizes and although they have a ‘feel good’ component to them and provide some inspiration, this approach fits with a culture preoccupied with self-determination. These initiatives rarely address the underlying conditions that lead people towards the unhealthy practices in the first place. The physical, social and systemic environments that work against wellness goals are usually not factored into the overall picture.

Quality management measurement

Most workplace wellness programs would not pass quality management evaluations for sustainable results. It is rare that the employees are able to maintain the lifestyle changes that they identified they wanted to change prior to starting the program. Such a poor result leads to uninspiring participation rates or a lack of commitment of resources. Most wellness activities are done on menial budgets, typically far smaller than other human resource investments.

A study of senior and middle managers in 24 companies found that most adults will change a health behaviour if they are supported to do so by people they spend time with, and that changes are far more likely when supportive policies are in place.

The keys for cultivating wellbeing

The key to success is to establish strong values and culture as a foundation for healthy lifestyle practices and for successful lifestyle enhancement. Cultures of vitality are not just for innovative start-ups and cutting-edge organisations but can be achieved in any organisation when managers and leaders reframe the way they think and act about health and wellness.

As a leader or manager, you have the power to leverage your influence and increase the likelihood that your team members will successfully achieve their wellness lifestyle goals, which strengthens the performance of your team collectively.

Leading and managing wellness is not about telling others how to think or behave. To the contrary, it is about supporting the members in your workplace so that they can actively implement healthier lifestyle choices.

Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  World Health Organisation.

In addition to having a robust wellness strategy in place and a designated wellness leader driving initiatives within the organisation, here’s 8 ways that you can create a workplace environment that supports your people in their quest for wellbeing:

  1. Cultivate self-awareness. The cultivation of self-awareness is arguably the most beneficial thing you can do to enhance your management style—and your life. Individuals who are self-aware can honestly evaluate their own actions and beliefs and their impact on others. Know yourself—not just your strengths and weaknesses, but also your thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
  2. Share the wellness vision – share why wellness is important and how people can get personally involved and what the organisation is doing to make it easier for people to achieve wellness.
  3. Be a positive role model yourself by supporting wellbeing – you don’t need to embody a perfectly healthy lifestyle in each and every area to be a wellness role model for others. Everybody can find strengths in their lifestyle that can support the wellness of others. It may be positive practices in any of the principles of wellness, like being purposeful or having clear personal values and aligning them with the organisation’s mission, resilience or mindfulness to deal effectively with challenging situations that occur in the workplace.
  4. Cultivate a wellness culture – by establishing goals that support behaviours that will become the new ‘way that we do things around here’. Remove barriers to success through sustainable workplace policies and practices.
  5. Empower yourself or a team member who is interested in effectively and authentically leading wellness within your workplace by providing a professional development pathway such as the nationally recognised  Wellness Leadership Program.
  6. It’s never too late – start today by having a conversation around wellness with your team. By share with them that you care and that you are looking at ways to support them is a great starting point.
  7. Commit and monitor progress – what gets measured gets the most input of energy. Having measurable targets and ongoing attention demonstrates to the team that the wellness efforts are being taken seriously. Keeping track of and offering constructive feedback makes it possible to fine-tune your wellness efforts.
  8. Celebrate success – being mindful and selecting meaningful and appropriate ways to honour the efforts made by your team shows that you authentically value their wellbeing.

Contact Angela and the ASWA Team to discuss wellbeing options for your career, business or organisation?

Angela Derks, ND is the Founder and CEO of the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA) - the award winning accredited leader of wellness training and consulting services for organisations. Her life’s work is helping people achieve optimal health, wellbeing and business success through skills-based learning and healthy leadership strategies. She is the lead developer of the nationally recognised 10299NAT Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification, delivering relevant skills to effectively integrate evidence-based wellness and management practices into organisations. The ASWA Wellness Solutions Team delivers an integrative approach for individuals, organisations and communities.