As a leader of leaders, the core principles of wellbeing support remain the same; however, your span of influence is exponentially greater, and you can’t rely on personal connections and your individual interactions to promote workplace wellness and mental health. Your focus shifts to building an organisation and culture that promotes wellbeing. The two key mechanisms you have for fostering this culture are role modelling and systems. How can you demonstrate a commitment to wellbeing, alongside fostering effective systems to support workplace wellness on a broad level? As starting points, we recommend:
Attend to the basics. Many of the most significant threats to wellbeing reflect problems with key organisational functions and processes. Effectively managing things like performance expectations, organisational change, and bullying will provide a firm foundation for workplace wellness and mental health.
Signal the importance of wellbeing. Invest time in talking about, monitoring, and coaching around wellbeing. Ask your leaders about stress and wellbeing in their teams, and proactively coach them in workplace wellness. Your team leaders should expect to be asked about wellbeing in their teams and be supported and coached to identify and address any issues.
Build systems to monitor and address wellbeing. Think about how you might build wellbeing into organisational practices, for instance including a wellbeing check-in as a standard part of stand-ups/staff meetings. Perhaps think about how you might include wellbeing as a KPI for your team leaders. Include EAP newsletters as part of organisational communications. As a more senior leader, you should also be more aware of the organisational obligations and regulations, such as stress as a workplace hazard. If you and your team leaders are getting this right, team members should be seen to be employing wellbeing practices and workplace wellness as part of BAU.
Provide your leaders with access to internal and external advice. In addition to getting help from you, make sure your leaders know who, when, and how they might seek advice from other sources. Make sure they know who their HR business partner is and, if there is a manager’s EAP advice line, how they might access it. Team leaders should be ready, willing and able to access the most appropriate advice.
Model investing in your own wellbeing. As a senior leader, your actions have a disproportionate impact on the behaviour of others. Being seen to invest in your own wellbeing – like “leaving loudly” or making time for exercise – gives others permission to do so as well. If you have had struggles or used EAP, appropriately sharing this story might be worth considering if you feel able to do so. Team leaders should be able to describe some of the ways you model investing in your own wellbeing.
Gently yet robustly address unhelpful attitudes. Inevitably, people will offer misinformed or stigmatising beliefs about others who are struggling. This might include contempt, language implying “weakness”, assumptions maligning their intentions, or remarks loaded with judgement. Do not allow these to go unaddressed. It can be useful to have an ethos or philosophy in a nutshell that you offer in these moments, such as, “Life and work will put all of us under pressure at times, and no-one is immune from struggle. It’s my hope and expectation that we will all work with this team member so they might flourish.” Team leaders should not perpetuate these unhelpful attitudes and should address them in their teams as they arise.
In sum, leaders of leaders should model the key principles of workplace wellness themselves, and build organisational systems and processes that reflect wellbeing as a priority, empowering their team leaders with the will and skill to address wellbeing within their own teams.