Lead by Example: Cultivating Wellness in the Workplace

By Rachel Gutter

A workplace flourishes when its leaders prioritize the health and well-being of their most valuable asset: people. Organizations are powered by the teams behind them: the employees who keep the operation moving, growing and evolving. An investment in their health and well-being is an investment in the health of the business.

Many organizations are taking strides toward ensuring their teams are healthy, happy, mindful and motivated at work. But are these efforts making a difference? The number of companies offering employee wellness programming continues to expand, yet these initiatives, while well intended, often fall short of their desired outcomes, with research showing that fewer than one quarter of employees actively participate in their company’s wellness offerings.

Too often, lack of participation in workplace wellness programming starts at the top. A growing body of research underscores the importance of engagement and participation by leadership. Leaders are best positioned to champion these efforts, as they are able to link new initiatives to broader organizational goals, reach all levels of the organization and allocate sufficient resources to launch and sustain them.

Employees take notice of the commitment that their leaders make to their own health and well-being. I learned this as a first time manager. If I sent an email at 10:30 p.m., I implied that I expected a response by 10:35 p.m. If I took a vacation and sent emails for the duration, I unintentionally signaled to my staff that I expected they would do the same during their precious time off. I’ve found that being vocal about my commitment to my personal well-being gives permission to others in my organization to embrace their own. I often make a point of letting my colleagues know that I’m leaving work to take a yoga class or a walking meeting, and last month, I sent a company-wide email notifying the team that I was going off the grid for a week’s vacation. With all of these actions, my aspiration is to model the kind of restorative behaviors that are encouraged at IWBI.

Research affirms that when employees perceive that leadership is committed to promoting healthy environments, they stand to benefit significantly from a well-being perspective. These effects are furthered when engagement from leadership is combined with robust wellness offerings and programming, further reinforcing the importance of “walking the talk” when it comes to fostering a culture of health.

Workplace design and workplace culture go hand-in-hand. Recently, I connected with the chief mindfulness officer at a Fortune 500 company. He told me that he had received ample congratulations for his efforts to provide rooms for meditation and contemplation in all of the company’s corporate offices, but, he said, “That doesn’t mean anybody uses them.” A restoration room is likely to go unused if workplace culture discourages taking breaks throughout the day, even though we know they are beneficial to well-being. And even the most welcoming of spaces for social dining and mindful eating will be sparsely populated if employees believe that supervisors expect them to eat at their desks. One of my favorite adages comes from a book called Rework: culture is the product of consistent behavior. When employees of all levels – especially leaders – regularly make use of wellness amenities and spaces, they contribute toward a culture of health.

Given the many avenues available to you as a workplace wellness leader, sharing best practices and lessons learned with like-minded professionals is the fast-track to identifying high-impact solutions that match the vision and values of your organization. That’s why IWBI is hosting the inaugural Workplace Wellness Leadership Summit, held at the beautiful Garrison Institute on the banks of the Hudson River. Together we’ll share challenges and solutions for integrating employee well-being into your company’s core values and effectively building a culture of health.

I’m looking forward to hearing your own strategies for establishing wellness practices at your organization – and exchanging ideas on what we’ve found effective so that we can expand that impact across the industry to usher in real change for teams everywhere. We’re in the midst of a shift where we’re trading “hustle culture” for balance and whole-person wellness at work – because we know that produces better outcomes and better businesses.

Make sure you have a seat at the table with some of the foremost leaders of this important dialogue. Propel your organization forward and join us in advancing the movement for healthy workplaces. Register for the Workplace Wellness Leadership Summit today.

Rachel Gutter is President of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation with a mission to transform buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. Rachel also serves as the Co-Chair of the Garrison Institute’s Board of Directors.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

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