Although there are still some leaders who stick to the antiquated notion that they should expect their people to perform high quality work regardless of the environment, more and more organizations are acknowledging the benefits of focusing on culture.
Nowadays, savvy leaders recognize that promoting emotional wellness isn’t a mere “touchy-feely” agenda item that they have to do begrudgingly in order to placate their employees. Instead, they recognize that there are many business benefits that come from putting an emphasis on employee well-being.
A review of the research suggests that employees with a sense of well-being tend to be more productive. Happier employees are more engaged with the work that they’re doing, and, for those in client-facing roles, that translates into better customer service. Research also shows that employees who experience more positive emotions make better leaders, are more successful at sales, more resilient, and better colleagues.
How Can Employers Help?
Although each individual is obviously responsible to determining how best to achieve a sense of well-being, there several things that employers can do to create an environment that is supportive of employees’ emotional health. See some suggestions below:
1. Keep workloads manageable
Although this one seems like a given, it’s one that employers often neglect in the quest to get more done with less. However, if employees have more work than they are able to comfortably handle, it can create a sense of pressure and contribute to workaholism. Overwork not only takes diminishes emotional health, it can also decrease work performance because people tend to be less productive when they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Therefore, as a boss it’s essential to check in with your employees to make sure their workloads are reasonable. And, to help them to manage their responsibilities coach them to ensure that they are prioritizing and delegating appropriately.
2. Emphasize the Importance of Taking Vacations
Another way employers can support organizational emotional health is by making sure their employees take time away from the office. And, while it would seem that employees would be clamoring to have some time off from work, a survey by Project Time Off found that over half of American employees didn’t use all of their vacation time. Although there were a number of reasons for leaving vacation time on the table (i.e. finances, concern about returning to a pile of work, feeling that others can’t do their job), a staggering 80% of employees reported that they would be more likely to take time off if they felt that their bosses supported it. Therefore, if you want your employees to manage their stress, encourage them to use their vacation time – and reinforce that message by making sure to take time off yourself.
3. Make sure employees have a chance to disconnect
Our laptops and smartphones provide us with convenience and flexibility, however, they also make us available around the clock. Research suggests that when employees are available 24-7, they are more prone to burnout in the workplace. Being unable to disconnect also tends to decrease their sense of autonomy (a major contributor to work stress), because they feel that they can never escape from their work responsibilities. Further, the effects often trickle over into personal lives by causing conflict in the home, because they’re not fully present with their families.
To combat this, consider setting organizational boundaries regarding after-hours emails. And again, watch the example you’re setting as a leader by refraining from sending emails in the evenings, unless they’re really necessary.
4. Make it easier for Employees to engage in self-care
Employers can also help to increase emotional wellness amongst their employees by encouraging them to take time for self-care. For example, one company that I consult to has Wellness Wednesdays, in which employees are encouraged to wear gym clothes to the office so that they can work out. Others have mindfulness programs, which encourage employees to learn how breathing, meditation, and an intentional approach to life can help them to manage stress. Others have ditched the office candy dish and replaced it with nutritious snacks to promote a healthy lifestyle.
When employees are able to care for their minds, bodies, and spirits, they come to work less stressed, and better able to perform up to their potentials.
5. Encourage employees to build meaningful relationships
Lately, we are learning more and more about the negative effects of loneliness in the workplace. Lonely employees are less productive, less engaged, and more likely to miss work. However, employers can help to combat this, by making it easier for employees to build relationships with one another.
To help employees to build connections, aim to create a culture that encourages friendships by promoting communication, collaboration, and psychological safety. Encourage people to get to know one another. Some ways to do this include featuring employees on the intranet, taking time for employee celebrations (like birthdays and work anniversaries), celebrating successes, and providing opportunities to get together outside of work (like lunches or volunteer activities).
Again, as a leader it’s important to set a good example, by taking a personal interest in your employees. Make sure to take time at the beginning of meetings to allow people to chat with one another. You might also consider bringing in a professional to conduct formal team building. I’ve facilitated a lot of team building sessions, and a common piece of feedback that I hear is that employees really enjoy the opportunity to get to know their colleagues on a deeper level. Not only does it help them to build relationships, it also helps them to better understand one another’s work styles – and that’s key for effective functioning.
6. Show an Interest in Your Employees’ Development
When I ask employees about their favorite bosses, they commonly tell me that they experienced the most growth working for leaders who took an interest in their career success. Therefore, to be a supportive leader, make sure to ask your employees about their career aspirations and what motivates them.
Then, with that information in mind, strive to give them opportunities that can help them to accomplish those goals. When employees know that their employers care about them and are committed to helping them to be successful, it can be incredibly motivating, create a greater sense of loyalty to the company, and increase their level of engagement on the job.
Focusing on boosting your employees’ emotional wellness is a win-win proposition. Your staff will be happier and more engaged, and your organization will have a competitive advantage.
Need some help creating a more positive culture? Learn more about our corporate psychology services.
Most professionals intellectually understand the importance of building relationships at work. Leaders in the business world certainly do. Psychiatrist Srini Pillay, who studies the neuroscience of effective leadership, published an article which explained the importance of skillful communication for effective and inspiring leadership. On one hand, this reads as common sense; on another, it makes you realize how often leaders sacrifice relationship-building for other priorities at work.
At least that has been the case in my experience.
As someone who has coached hundreds of senior executives about management skills and beyond, I’ve found that too many regard relationship-building as fluff, a skill not necessarily related to measurable “success.”
Sure, most people understand the theoretical importance of nurturing professional relationships as they would friendships. But I’ve also seen a lot of professionals dismiss doing this as superfluous, luxurious—a time commitment that doesn’t lead to results. (Little do they possibly know, research has shown that there is an inextricable link between the quality and depth of one’s relationships with coworkers, and overall attitude toward one’s work.)
Additionally, most folks understand the importance of networking as an interpersonal skill, and try to be friendly on the job. But true connection is something different—and its positive effects in the workplace have a correspondingly deep impact, just as they would anywhere else. So how do you know if the relationships you’re pursuing at work are “real”?
The first and most important step is checking in with your motivations, requires a “gut check” by asking some difficult questions.
If you think you could benefit from improving your relationships at work, do your gut-check by considering these four questions.
1. How do I truly feel about my coworkers?
Do you view your coworkers as an annoyance? Does your monthly office happy hour feel like a social activity or a chore? Is getting lunch with colleagues a welcome break, or a distraction that gets in the way of the “real” work?
Different people feel differently about the value of building relationships with coworkers. While some people view it as an opportunity to broaden their network of friends, others see it as a wet blanket. Those in the latter camp may think work should be exclusively about getting stuff done, and that relationships should be reserved for personal time. If you find yourself resonating with this, you’ll need to shift your perspective in order to build the sorts of relationships that will enable you to inspire and engage others.
Remember: you are not working with robots. While we obviously can’t spend the whole day socializing, recognize that connections put us in a better mood, and better moods are linked to better work outcomes.
2. What are my expectations when interacting with others?
All of us have individual histories, and they impact the expectations we carry with us in all facets of life, including the ways we think about interpersonal connection.
How do you expect others to treat you? Do you see the world as a “dog eat dog” place, where you have to be guarded to get ahead? Do you tend to be wary of others? Or is your most frequent state of being open? Trusting? Curious?
If you are someone who expects poor treatment from others, you are likely going to have your defenses up as you navigate the world. This sense of distance can interfere with your ability to build connections, and will be palpable to others.
By opening yourself up to others, you’ll likely be rewarded with higher quality relationships. Plus, as Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research has shown (with a few caveats), generous individuals end up ahead in the business world.
3. Do I see others at work as objects?
For some, the answer to this question might be a bit disconcerting, but I encourage you to be as truthful as you can be, knowing that these questions are just for your growth.
So do you see coworkers as a means to an end? Hurdles to deal with as you go ahead on your own path? Or do you see them as a living, breathing human beings with hopes, challenges, and dreams? Are they equal to you, worthy of respect and consideration?
Note that you may not find yourself willing to admit you regard others as objects. But this attitude can be more subtle than it sounds. If you are treating those around you as a mere part of the background, they will pick up on this. In contrast, the simple act of recognizing your shared humanity with others can make you more compassionate and present, and will deepen the quality of your interactions.
4. What are my values about relationships? Am I embodying them at work?
When most people reflect on their deepest held values, they believe in the importance of kindness, treating others with respect, and contributing to their well-being. Consider your values about how you should treat others.
Then pay attention to see whether you are fully living up to these values. When you try to bulldoze through others so that you can get your way, are you treating them with respect? If you dismiss someone else’s concerns as silly, are you exhibiting empathy? Simply paying attention can give you the heightened awareness necessary to modify your behavior.
While reflecting on these questions might result in some hard truths about yourself that you would rather not face, the fact is, they can be very empowering. Armed with the knowledge about why you may be struggling to connect with those around you, you can make important changes that will deepen your relationships and support your professional success.
Your leadership style can also affect your relationships. Take my Leadership Style Quiz to find out how.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being on In the Workplace on Sirius XM’s Wharton Business Radio. While I was on the show, I talked with the hosts, Peter Cappelli and Dan O’Meara, about a range of leadership topics – everything from narcissists in the workplace to my experiences coaching executives.
During the interview, I was asked the one area in which I felt leaders tended to fall short. Based on my experience, I suggested that it’s soft skills – aspects like emotional intelligence, placing an adequate focus on culture, and coaching employees. This led to an exploration of how many leaders either don’t recognize the importance of coaching, or lack the skills to coach their employees effectively.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have adequate time during the interview to get into any of those areas in any depth. However, I thought it warranted more discussion – hence, this blog post.
Could you stand to improve your coaching skills?
Take a moment to think about how you approach coaching. Could do a better job of helping others to get ready to advance into leadership roles? Are you purposeful about coaching others who have no aspirations to move up, so that they can improve in their current roles?
If you recognize that you have some room for improvement, don’t worry. In my experience, most leaders could benefit from being more intentional about their coaching efforts. But, if you want to get better at developing people, start by asking yourself these five questions.
1. Do I truly believe that people can develop?
While the “right” answer to this question might seem obvious, I still encourage you to do a gut check to see how you really feel.
It’s pretty common for me to hear leaders share beliefs such as “You either have it or you don’t” or “I can’t teach you to be a leader.” These beliefs are characteristic of what psychologist, Carol Dweck, calls a “fixed” mindset. Essentially, leaders with this mindset believe that qualities are innate, and therefore, can’t be developed. By contrast, leaders who feel that skills can, in fact be developed, have a “growth” mindset. As a result, they believe that with the right coaching and strategies, people can improve.
Research has found that managers who have a growth mindset are more likely to invest time and effort into coaching their direct reports than those who have a fixed mindset. This makes sense. After all, if you believe that your efforts will have some sort of impact, you’ll be more likely to engage in those behaviors.
If you have a fixed mindset, all is not lost – growth mindsets can be developed. That aforementioned study found that fixed-mindset managers who were taught about the importance of having a growth mindset exhibited a greater willingness to coach an underperforming employee. They also provided better quality feedback compared to a control group of fixed mindset managers.
Bottom line? Believe that your employees can develop, and put more effort into coaching them. As a result of your efforts, you’ll likely see them improving, and this will further reinforce your behaviors.
2. Am I talking about development throughout the year, or am I only doing it during performance reviews?
When coaching leaders, I commonly ask about how they provide feedback to their team members. In response, I often hear something along the lines of, “I give feedback. We always talk about how they’re doing during performance reviews.” For a leader with this perspective, having those annual conversations means they’re developing their people appropriately.
Others may be more sheepish in their response to this question. They know that providing feedback is something that they should do. However, during their one-on-one meetings, when given the choice between checking up on their peoples’ assignments or conducting developmental conversations, discussions about day-to-day tasks always win out.
If you want to get better at developing people, you have to actually do it. After all, imagine an athlete being told, “These are the things you need to work on,” and then not receiving any additional coaching for a whole year. Would you expect her to make significant gains? Similarly, as a leader, the performance review may set the stage for you to go more in-depth in your development conversations. However, the real improvement occurs as you are providing positive feedback and constructive criticism throughout the year.
Therefore, if you’re serious about helping your team members to grow, make the commitment to provide ongoing coaching. You can do this by carving out time during your one-on-one meetings to talk about their development. You can also do it by aiming to provide feedback as soon as possible – whether it’s congratulating them for a job well-done or suggest tweaks for how they can continue to improve.
3. Do all of my direct reports have development goals?
Are you confident that if I were to ask each of your direct reports about what they’re working on developmentally, they would be able to tell me? If the answer to this question is “I’m not sure” then that’s a good indication that you should likely be doing more in the way of coaching.
To grow, it’s essential to know what it is that you’re working on, and how you’re going about doing it. Therefore, make sure to talk with your people about their aspirations, and then collaboratively set goals with them. In addition, work with them to create development plans, so that they have a clearly outlined strategy for how to move forward. This will help to ensure that their development stays top-of-mind for both of you.
4. Am I intentional about giving people opportunities that will stretch them?
As a manager, it feels great to be able to delegate tasks that you know people can do in their sleep. When you do that, you know you won’t get any unwelcome surprises or sub-par work. But, although it’s obviously beneficial to assign responsibilities that people can easily do, if those are the only projects that you’re giving them, then it’s likely that you’re not doing the best job of developing them.
If you want to get better at developing people, make sure that some of the projects you give them are challenging ones that will require them to learn new skills. Consider their development goals, then give them targeted assignments that will encourage them to grow in those areas.
Will doing this require more oversight, effort, and feedback from you as their manager? Yes. Will it also allow you to develop your coaching skills? Absolutely.
5. Am I open to feedback?
As a leader, part of your job is to set an example for the sorts of attitudes you want your team members to exhibit. Therefore, if you want your people to see coaching as a normal part of professional growth, you’ll need to demonstrate that behavior yourself by showing that you’re open to feedback.
You can do this by asking them for feedback during your one-on-one sessions. (A popular way to do this is by taking time at the end of your meetings to ask them about which behaviors they would like for you to stop, start, and continue). You can also make yourself vulnerable by sharing your own development goals with them. Finally, when receiving criticism, you’ll need to make sure to manage your emotions, listen thoughtfully, and guard against defensiveness.
These sorts of actions model that everyone has areas for growth. They also show that receiving information about ways in which you can develop is positive. If you want to create a feedback-rich environment, it’s got to start from the top.
Bill Bradley said, ”Leadership is unlocking other people’s potential to become better.” If you want to be the sort of leader who helps others to fulfill their potential, put more of a focus on developing people. You’ll be rewarded with more engaged employees and a higher performing team.
Need some more tips on becoming a more effective leader? Read my book, The Consummate Leader, or take my Management Essentials Online Course.