When coaching leaders and managers, I frequently meet professionals who aren’t thriving, either personally or professionally. One senior executive of a Fortune 500 company—let’s call her Janet—confided in me that she had gotten so burned out from overwork that she now feels disengaged from both her role and her company.
This undesirable and distressing state didn’t happen to Janet overnight, but developed gradually over time in response to her lack of self-care. While some industries like technology are trying harder to create a workforce culture of well-being for their employees, many senior leaders don’t prioritize this for themselves, much less their team members.
But because leadership sets the cultural tone for the rest of the organization, it’s incumbent on leaders and managers to help create a workplace environment that facilitates well-being—and the best way to do this is to model healthy behaviors. Here are some key best practices that executives can personally adopt—and then encourage on their teams—to create better work-life balance and well-being throughout their organization:
Discourage overconnectivity. An easy way to foster burnout in yourself and others is to stay connected to the office all the time, if not literally than virtually. The tone that you set as a manager—whether you send and reply to emails or text your team well past traditional working hours or at the crack of dawn—tells others what you expect from them.
Establish some boundaries in your own work life through a personal commitment to put away your smartphone and truly log off of email at the end of each workday. Once you’ve signed off, don’t compulsively check it. The disconnected downtime is critical for helping your eyes, hands, and mind recharge and be ready to go again for the next day’s digitally connected flurry.
Promote a less fear-based culture. Stress, fear, and anxiety are a dangerous trio of innovation quashers. If these emotional states become chronic, they can also lead to physical and mental health problems, and they certainly play a large role in disengagement. When employees feel scared to share their business-related viewpoints and ideas, the organization loses out, as well as the individuals and teams.
To prevent this, avoid leading through fear at all costs. Encourage people to tell the truth about their observations on what needs improvement rather than creating a culture of “yes” men and women who tell you only what you want to hear. Extend your truth-seeking mentality to trust-building, relying on your team to decide what’s right without micromanaging. Keep an ongoing dialogue going about priorities—and ensure one of those priorities is self-care for yourself and your team. One practice that can help keep fear at bay is to improve your emotional resilience, which is your ability to bounce back from disappointment, failure, and situations that you lack control over. Trying the ideas below to take care of yourself can help boost your resilience.
As a manager, when you make changes in your own life to promote greater wellness, it can create a trickle-down effect to influence workforce culture and values.
Be intentional in engaging with your team. As a leader or manager, it’s imperative to be thoughtful and intentional about providing clarity around your key goals and objectives. You can cause your staff unnecessary stress by changing priorities without being mindful of how your decisions will impact others, or if your directives result in people having to engage in useless activities or make change for the sake of change. Before determining assignments, ask yourself: do these goals and activities really create value? Do they support something bigger that has the potential for a significant positive impact? Will this work further development and help grow your team?
As part of this process, take the time to listen to your direct reports and invest in getting to know what matters to them. This should involve exploring their “true north” with them so that you can understand their key strengths, values, and passions both personally and professionally. The more that you can help align your employees’ work experience with what’s meaningful to them, the greater the chance that they will feel more purpose, energy, and focus—all of which can yield higher performance levels.
Rest and refresh. As Janet’s story above shows, continuously working without proper breaks and time to recharge will eventually lead to burnout and disengagement. It’s the simple things that make the biggest difference, both for yourself as a manager and for your team. Encourage your team to get enough sleep, eat healthy balanced food rather than skipping meals, and carve out time even on busy workdays for exercise, mindfulness, and reflection.
When you suffer from lack of sleep, it can lead to errors, failure to manage emotions, and other health problems, and it’s the same for your employees. So practice good sleep habits like turning off screens at least an hour before bed to avoid the visual stimulation that can keep you up. It’s no secret that physical activity strengthens your immune system and helps with stress management; after working out, studies have shown people also remember better and learn faster. Research has also shown that just 25 minutes a day of practicing breathing techniques like meditation triggers significant improvements in learning, memory, and stress reduction. So find time daily to pause and clear your mind to gain a healthier, clearer perspective.
As a manager, when you make changes in your own life to promote greater wellness, it can create a trickle-down effect to influence workforce culture and values. Our responsibilities as leaders require exceptional energy and endurance, plus the capacity to stay focused and intentional. Your health and well-being are closely connected to other leadership traits, and your decisions around self-care will impact the quality of your interactions with teams, colleagues, and all who depend on you. Take steps today to begin shifting your actions toward a healthier equilibrium so that your teams feel equally empowered.
Rebecca Shambaugh is a contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.