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3 Ways Leadership is Undermining Your Wellness Efforts (and What to Do About It!)

By Brooke Findley, MS, RD, LDN | December 10, 2018 | Employee Well-Being

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You have the best intentions. You plan a fun and informative wellness activity. You promote it and even send reminders. But when the day arrives, only a small number of people show up. What went wrong? Was it the topic? Was it the location or time? While these are important factors to consider, there is another factor at play that is sometimes overlooked – your organization’s leadership.

Leadership is crucial to a wellness program’s success, but there are subtle (and some not so subtle) ways that leadership can undermine your progress. It’s likely not intentional, either. Leaders may not be aware their actions have any effect on your wellness program or its success. Let’s look at three ways leaders can impact a program’s success, and learn what to do about it.

No Visible Support

While leaders may support your wellness efforts in words, when visible support is lacking, employees see that wellness isn’t as important to leadership as they say it is. Picture this – leaders announce wellness programs at a company meeting but do not attend the event themselves. Or perhaps they encourage staff to participate but attend other meetings instead of participating with their employees. Actions speak louder than words, and employees quickly pick up on these cues from leaders.[1] When employees see that wellness isn’t a priority for leadership, they model this and let wellness take a back seat for themselves.   

To combat this, engage leaders in your plans to roll out new programs. Include leaders in your events by planning for them to make an appearance at the event, or saying a few words of support during the event. If you have a company-wide intranet site, newsletter or communication board, include photos of leaders taking part in wellness activities, and share their stories. When employees see leaders “walking the walk” they will do the same.

Unsupportive Wellness Culture

The culture set by leaders is vital to creating a workplace where staff can thrive, bring their best selves to work and contribute to the company’s success.[2] Leaders that understand this foster a supportive workplace where staff can do their best work. In some workplace cultures, it is the norm to work through lunch, stay late at the office and be available at all hours of the day. These are all behaviors leaders often set the example for, which employees then follow.

Even though leaders may be onboard with a wellness program for their employees, if the example they set shows taking time for wellness at work is not standard, or even frowned upon, the culture can be hard to change.

Improving workplace culture takes time, but there are tangible things leaders can do to move in the right direction. Leading by example, management can avoid scheduling meetings over lunch so staff can have a true break to step away from their desks. They can schedule walking meetings to get brains and bodies moving while tackling the day’s agenda.

While lunch meetings and after-hours work may still be necessary at times, leaders can go a long way in resetting the culture at work by setting an example and embracing wellness throughout the workday.

Conflicting Priorities

Wellness may be a priority for your organization, but your day-to-day business and core functions are likely (and necessarily!) top of mind for leaders. Because of this, a conflict in priorities may arise. Leaders may encourage staff to participate in wellness programs while at work, but when a deadline approaches or production demands increase, they may need to devote more of staff’s time and resources to meet the business needs – and wellness can suffer.

This is also true for those in public- or customer-facing roles and front-line workers because staff must be available during all business hours to either meet with customers or run the production line. In these cases, staff may feel they can never get away for even a break during the workday, let alone for a wellness-focused activity.

While business demands will always be a top priority, leaders can still support your wellness efforts with a little flexibility and planning. Scheduling times that staff can attend wellness events to ensure coverage for customer-facing roles or front-line workers is one way – by doing this staff can still participate in small groups and business will continue to operate during the event.

When extended hours or a deadline looms, leaders can encourage teams to take short activity breaks to boost their energy and morale. Leaders can provide healthy snacks or a healthy lunch for staff during special projects.

While leaders may not always realize they are undermining wellness efforts, there are tangible ways they can show their support for the well-being of their staff.

sources: [1], [2]