Are you really awake? Why conscious leaders are key to unlocking wellbeing
Positive wellbeing in the workplace does not come from discounted gym memberships and free fruit. It comes from a healthy working culture spearheaded by conscious leaders who instill good habits and value people’s need to switch off.
We're facing increasing complexity and stress in the modern world of work. Everywhere we’re seeing headlines about increasing mental ill health and with a supposed 61% of employees experiencing mental health issues due to work, it’s clear that we need to take action. If we keep working in the same way, our mental health will deteriorate further.
In contrast, at a time when our mental wellbeing is at greater risk than ever, we are seeing growing evidence that employees who feel well at work have a positive effect on organisational performance and profitability.
Our economic success depends on our wellbeing
Given the above, it’s apparent that employers must learn how to better support people’s wellbeing. The ultimate success of our economy depends on it, with the UK sitting at the bottom of the G7 when it comes to productivity.
If employers don’t believe that they have a societal responsibility to take better care of their people, there is an ever-increasing commercial reason for doing so.
We are being limited by a curative approach to wellbeing
There is a tremendous amount of work being done around the UK to tackle the issue, with mental health first aiders being trained up, and more honest conversations taking place around how people are really feeling. A definite shift in how we view mental ill health is taking place.
However, we must look beyond this curative approach and focus on mental fitness rather than mental illness in order to support everyone at work.
There is more to mental fitness than meets the eye
Staying mentally well requires us to pay attention to various aspects of wellbeing: physical, emotional, social, financial and digital.
Many people still don’t realise the role that exercise plays in good mental health. Emotional wellbeing has a big influence too, and it depends on getting enough rest, having the right mindset and self-awareness, and being resilient enough to bounce back from adversity.
Social wellbeing is important as we need to feel a sense of belonging and connection and to be appreciated for our efforts. We also need to feel safe enough to be ourselves and to be able to speak up about what we believe in.
If you want to fix wellbeing, you have to fix culture.
We don’t have a healthy relationship with tech
Financial wellbeing matters too as growing money worries cause people to be distracted at best and suffering with mental ill health at worst.
And now that we live in an always-on world with increased expectations to be available 24/7 from employers, clients, and peers, we’re having to think about the impact of digital too.
Many of us don’t have a healthy relationship with tech and it’s affecting our ability to switch off and re-energise, which is impacting our mental health.
A mentally fit workforce boosts productivity
When we’re mentally fit, we can achieve so much more. Mental fitness means feeling calm, clear, confident; and being able to make good decisions, focus, maintain good relationships and to stay positive despite facing challenges.
In contrast, when we are under mental strain, we feel stressed, doubt ourselves, and find it hard to make decisions and control our emotions. Our relationships can also become more difficult. It’s therefore easy to see how a mentally fit workforce is likely to boost productivity.
Many wellbeing interventions fix surface level problems
For organisations, it is often much easier to implement wellbeing interventions that fix issues that merely lie on the surface. Like wellbeing benefits, employee assistance programmes, discounted gym memberships, reiki and free fruit.
Yet for the most part, this is not what builds confidence, ensures people get enough rest and encourages social connection. Rather they are sticking plaster solutions to much deeper human needs and behaviours.
If you want to fix wellbeing, you have to fix culture. The two are intrinsically linked. ‘The way we do things around here’ has the biggest impact. No amount of wellbeing benefits or training on mental ill health boosts engagement and retention or reduces sick days, if an organisation doesn’t instil healthy habits and if people don’t demonstrate healthy behaviours.
Conscious leaders create a sense of togetherness, allowing people to be themselves, work in a way that suits them and speak up about what’s important – without fear of reprisal.
95% of thought happens ‘below the radar’
We need to become more conscious of how we behave in our organisations. Around 95% of our daily thoughts (and subsequent behaviours) happen unconsciously. So, for the most part, culture just happens as a consequence of our natural behaviour. It’s not intentional, unless we make it so.
It is only by noticing how we think and behave, and the extent to which our thoughts and behaviours are helpful, that we can hope to take control of our mental wellbeing. Only through noticing more, through becoming more self-aware and aware of others, can we make better choices that have a more positive impact.
We’ve been told for a long time that emotional intelligence is essential for great leadership but we’re now realising that it is central to mental wellbeing too. As leaders, we must make sure that our behaviour and the way that we think is not having a detrimental impact on mental health. If we are going to improve wellbeing, we need to become more conscious leaders.
Conscious leaders create healthy environments
Conscious leaders are ‘awake’ and understand the impact of their own behaviour. An overloaded, preoccupied and ‘always on’ leader creates a poor climate for others to operate in, which ultimately impacts mental health. This means that achieving balance as a leader is the starting point for a healthy culture.
Conscious leaders have the energy and awareness to manage their emotions and frame setbacks in a constructive way. They learn from mistakes and believe that people can grow and develop with the right amount of effort and support. They create a clear sense of vision and direction and, rather than measuring progress at a task level, they empower people to deliver outcomes.
Most importantly, conscious leaders create a sense of togetherness, allowing people to be themselves, work in a way that suits them and speak up about what’s important – without fear of reprisal. They also see the value in friendships and therefore create the space for people to connect.
Mentally fit leaders create mentally fit organisations
It is these leaders who will support the future mental fitness of our workforce. They won’t do it through offering benefits and teaching people how to recognise mental ill health. They’ll do it through working sensible hours, staying positive, giving clear direction, and by allowing people to be themselves.
They’ll also do it by recognising that people have personal lives that can sometimes impact work, and they’ll support people to get them back up and running when they need it.
They will be real leaders. The human kind who, rather than masquerading as superheroes for whom working long hours is a sign of success, will see leaving early to see the kids, switching off at weekends, taking lunch and taking time as signs of success.
How many conscious leaders do you have in your organisation?
Natasha Wallace is founder and chief coach of Conscious Works, an organizational wellbeing company that works with leaders and teams to create healthy, thriving and human workplaces where self awareness and an awareness of others leads to higher levels of performance and wellbeing.