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True leadership means ensuring your team is healthy and happy

July 11, 2017
Borderless Leadership

It doesn’t matter how emotionally invested people are in the companies they work for – if they feel burnt out, productivity goes down the drain.

I recently had a few conversations with coaching clients who sought solutions for keeping employees engaged, feeling great and enthused. This seems to be especially critical at crunch times, when hours get longer, people burn out and they rely too heavily on caffeine and sugar. So I decided to drill down into the topic of how personal wellbeing initiatives lead to happier, healthier and therefore more productive teams.

Employer-sponsored wellness programs have become more popular in recent years, but today’s employees deserve more than gym memberships. Great executives take on a holistic approach to wellness that includes everything from mental health support to stress management to wearable devices that track health and fitness.

“Holistic wellness programs can help to drive recruiting and retention efforts, as well as productivity and employee engagement,” notes HR blogger Liz Taurasi. “It’s about helping people reset and come into work happier and healthier, which is better for the individual and creates a really great company culture for employers.”

But what does corporate wellness look like in terms of day-to-day leadership for executives? And how can leaders model good behaviors and make it easier for their team to follow suit?

The Playing Field Analogy

Today’s CEOs aren’t merely mysterious figureheads who stay barricaded behind closed office doors. They now stand front and center, directly coaching their team by motivating, supporting and keeping them productive and on track to achieve the strategic mission.

While researching this column, I came across SnackNation, a healthy snack delivery service for offices and homes that seems to live its brand mission. I reached out to the company to find out more about the importance of leadership investing in health and wellbeing.

“Imagine you’re Jim Harbaugh coaching the Michigan Football team,” SnackNation CEO Sean Kelly told me. As an executive coach, the analogy really hit home. “You get a group of kids that come to you with varied experiences from a diverse set of backgrounds, and it’s your job to mold them. Your goal is to build strong players, a strong team and well-rounded individuals that are capable of handling the rigors of college sports, college academics and adult life.”

Of course, he’s right. In the same way that football is just one part of the influence that Harbaugh needs to have on his players, corporate leaders need to stop thinking about work tasks as their sole purviews.

“Our teams at work might not be world-class athletes,” Kelly continued, “but they are adults who live autonomously. You want them to perform at peak productivity.”

While we can clearly see the importance of good eating for an athlete’s endurance, for instance, how does healthy snacking impact employees in the office? Nearly everything we eat is converted into glucose, which gives us the energy our brains need to stay focused. But eating and drinking junk food – the typical fare in too many workplaces – results in blood sugar spikes and crashes, which is really bad for sustainable brain function and productivity.

“Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet,” wrote Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. “In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat.”

According to Kelly, this is where leadership can help turn the tide, by making healthy snacks as accessible as junk food. “On your ‘campus,’ within your walls, there isn’t much you can control directly, but by offering your team healthy options, you can shift the scales.”

More Than Food

Executive leadership must remember to include mental health support in any effective corporate wellness program. In fact, millennials report depression in higher numbers than any previous generation, with one in five reporting they deal with depression, according to data from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates.

Depression is a common reason why people call out of work, increasing absenteeism. But for those who are depressed and show up to work, output is abysmal.

In addition to making sure employees feel comfortable accessing professional mental healthcare, many offices are starting to offer regular guided meditation sessions and yoga lessons.

Kinema Fitness President Joshua Love sees the trend of corporate leaders paying closer attention to employee wellbeing as a big step in the right direction. But it’s not the kind of thing that can be addressed with a quick fix.

“Corporate wellness cannot be treated as a Band-Aid, and you definitely won’t be able to find it in a fitness app,” Love wrote in a Forbes column. “Engagement, motivation, support and strategy are the keys to a successful program. If employees are not involved in the solution, it’s difficult to succeed.”

Working Toward Health And Happiness

Team wellness has been shown to improve a business’ bottom line. Employees who lead healthier lifestyles will present fewer instances of absenteeism, higher morale and increased productivity. On the flip side, a recent UK study found that stress and lack of physical activity caused the average company to lose 23.5 days worth of productivity from each employee annually.

Companies may need to “reboot” to incorporate the kind of systemic change in culture that wellness programs demand. Leadership must first start by embracing the idea that happiness and healthiness affect the workplace.

“Make healthier alternatives a part of your culture,” is how SnackNation’s Kelly puts it. “It makes dollars and sense for you to prioritize the health of your team.”

By Victor Snyder

Source: Forbes

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