On any given week, most Americans spend nearly half of their waking hours working, toiling away more hours than almost any other population in the industrialized world. Technology has also made our work inescapable, ubiquitously shadowing us at any almost any time of day. Our time is often so jam-packed and relentlessly plugged in, that it can be challenging to find a moment's peace.

As a leader, it's vital to understand that you are more likely to lead well -- and to treat people in a healthful way -- when you live well, which is to say, when you have physical vitality along with interpersonal skills and an ethical compass. You also have the opportunity to model for others how to do a better job at self-care when you build wellness into your own schedule.

Self-care is also healthy for your bottom-line. A supportive and caring boss contributes to associate health and buffers against the typical stressors of the workday. Likewise, a company culture that is supportive of physical, emotional and social well-being builds an integrated model of overall health that affects the bottom line. Studies show that even in market downturns, caring, health-promoting employers sustain the same level of performance as in periods of growth. This and other research points to the importance of balancing supportive management with health promotion and self-care.

The evidence of strong relationships between leadership support and employee health becomes even more compelling when you recognize that the research demonstrates how principles of heart-centered leadership, such as authenticity, mutual respect and health promotion work in tandem and relate to better financial performance. The bottom line is that wellness promotion doesn't just benefit the employee. An organization filled with healthy and fulfilled staff that deals with stress in a helpful manner is a productive workplace that retains its employees.

1. Communicate often.

Perhaps the single most useful approach for dealing with stress is promoting a work environment where high stress is not taken for granted, but is discussed with an open and problem-solving attitude. Failure to communicate with employees about stress just makes the problem worse. Examples of ideas that some of our clients have implemented are:

  • Set up a wellness committee whose suggestions are seriously reviewed and acted upon.
  • Instigate group discussions to ascertain employee perceptions of stress.
  • Provide opportunities for management/employee interaction to clarify roles and responsibilities.

2. Decrease demand and encourage independence.

A job with a heavy workload, a fast pace, or strict timelines is considered to be a major contributor to job stress. This combined with very little decision-making ability, autonomy or control can be cause for increased health problems such as cardiovascular disease, exhaustion, and depression. Wherever possible, allow your employees some decision-making latitude on the job. Encourage team-based decision-making and modify workflow to be more efficient.

3. Offer support and recognition.

When workers feel an imbalance between the level of effort required to do the job and job rewards (i.e. promotion, money, self-esteem), they are at greater risk of the consequences of ill health. Be sure employees are aware of their professional development path. Keep them up-to-date on their performance and achievements and implement a clear and consistent reward system. The best approach is balancing rewards with effort.

4. Boost social support.

Social support can be defined as proactive communication, care and understanding. Workers with low levels of support from family, friends, colleagues and mentors are particularly at risk for productivity loss and health problems. Start a mentorship program that will allow employees to work with leadership on their managerial skills and initiate team-based activities that encourage camaraderie.

Bear in mind that when employees are at peak health levels, they are also at peak levels of productivity. By combining supportive leadership and wellness together, it is possible to nudge employees to be well, not just in terms of their physical health but also their interpersonal and social well-being.