Health and wellness have become a larger focus in recent years, both inside and outside the workplace. For every major health problem Americans grapple with -- obesity, alcoholism, depression -- there's a correlating impact on the office: higher insurance premiums, lost productivity, increased absenteeism.

While the wellness industry brings in more than $446 billion in revenue annually, it doesn't seem to be doing enough to change people's behavior. MD Insider co-founder David Norris blames leaders, above all, for the lagging return on wellness initiatives: "Unfortunately, too few CEOs make the connection between sound business decisions and making health decisions. As a business leader, your health is one of your company's most important assets. If you don't take it seriously, your employees won't, either."

Busy CEOs who are juggling work, family, and social obligations may neglect their health in the spirit of self-sacrifice, thinking that sleep and exercise are less important than keeping things running. Neglecting their health, however, ensures that their behaviors will be replicated by the people around them -- the very people all their hard work is purportedly for.

Put On Your Own Mask First

The truth is that an organization's leaders not only influence how the company is run, but also how their employees view success itself. People take their cues from those with authority or working in roles they aspire to. If the bosses are always scraping by on four hours of sleep or hurriedly eating cheeseburgers at their desks, their employees assume that's the pace expected of them if they're to succeed.

But if the pressure to be a role model doesn't push leaders to invest in their health, perhaps their peers' views of them will. Leaders pride themselves on their abilities to manage it all, but their willingness to sacrifice their own health may signal that they don't have it under control.

"Leadership is fundamentally about being able to set a vision and persist over the long run as you lead yourself and others to take on big challenges and work toward the finish line," says Danielle Harlan, Ph.D., the founder of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. "However, in my experience, this is the one aspect of personal excellence that leaders are most likely to struggle with -- and this is true across industries, types of organizations, and roles. As the work piles up, self-care often takes a back seat."

Sacrificing health and wellness at the altar of productivity means you didn't stick with a vision and carry it through to its best possible outcome. Getting back on track can show your team that it's OK to fail, admit it, and dust yourself off to try again. And when it comes to health, it can underscore the investment you have not just in yourself, but in them as well.

5 Unexpected Ways to Boost Your Health

While competitions oriented around "The Biggest Loser" have taken some companies by storm, there are more subtle ways to improve your health -- and the health of those around you.

1. Keep your work area clean.

The invisible elements of our environments can make us sick, from dust mites to bacteria. Investing in carpet maintenance, air duct cleaning, and regular refrigerator cleanouts can ensure people stay healthy. Stephen Lewis, an ISSA Green Cleaning Professional and the technical director at milliCare, a carpet and floor care company, says, "Every time a worker calls in sick, you lose momentum because your team is no longer at full strength. The whole organization suffers, and that suffering results in losses in morale, momentum, and profitability."

2. Reward good sleep habits.

Aetna decided to underscore the importance of sleep by rewarding employees for indulging in more of it. CEO Mark Bertolini said that "half-asleep" employees can't make the astute judgment calls -- or drive the same profits -- as their more alert co-workers. To get more of the latter, the organization implemented a program: If employees can prove they slept seven hours a night or more for 20 consecutive nights, they can earn $25 per night of sleep, with a $500 annual cap. The company implemented tracking methods such as Fitbits, showing employees the CEO was serious about his commitment.

3. Schedule entire days away from day-to-day operations.

Getting time away from the nitty-gritty details of everyday life within a company pays dividends: It enables leaders to step back and regain their focus on the big picture, and it allows team members at every level to recharge and bring their best selves to work when they return. Schedule quarterly days for the entire team to go off the grid, whether it's for a daylong strategy brainstorm or a canyon hike. Empower leaders to enforce personal days off for every person they supervise, asking their direct reports to schedule a day off if they haven't had one in 90 days or so. What you lose in one-day productivity will be made up -- and then some.

4. Provide lots of ways to get physical, but don't enforce them.

One leader I know invested in exercise equipment, creating a workout room for his staff. He tried instituting "free weights" times and yoga hours by scheduling them on the company wide calendar, but he found people resisted the activities because they felt forced. Instead, he and a couple of other managers put together a variety of activities to keep people active -- the workout room, weekly yoga hours, morning bike-to-work groups, a bowling team -- but made all the activities optional so people could join the ones they liked. Participation skyrocketed.

5. Take your mental health seriously by seeing a therapist or coach. 

Researchers found that 49 percent of entrepreneurs directly struggle with at least one mental illness and that 23 percent of entrepreneurs have a close family member that struggles with their mental This brings the total number to a whopping 72 percent of entrepreneurs that are affected by mental health challenges. Even if you are not diagnosed with any mental health condition, speaking with a therapist or an executive coach can be incredibly beneficial.  

We know our health is important; we get only one mind and one body, after all. But leaders who view giving up their health as the ultimate sacrifice on their quest for success fail to realize their actions aren't sustainable -- and shouldn't be replicated.

Great leaders don't have to choose health or success: They can and should have both.

Published on: Aug 21, 2018
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of