Walking the walk: How leaders can create a healthier work environment

Montreal - 2021 | 10 | 27

Hailey Hechtman, a recent guest on the People Potential with Amanda podcast, has been both a team member and team leader in countless workplace environments. She has worked at a distress line call centre, within non-profit organizations, in crisis interventions management, fundraising, and leadership development. She holds a certificate in non-profit public and organizational management from Simon Fraser University. She is currently the Executive Director at Causeway Work Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. Throughout her experiences in the mental health milieu and in leadership development, Hailey has become keenly aware of the influence leaders can have on the mental wellness of their teams and their organization. Here are just a few of her tips and observations on how leaders can lay the foundation for a healthier work environment.

Set personal boundaries

Setting personal boundaries when working within large organizations is not always easy. Not everyone on your team will define boundaries in the same way.  

 “Leaders can begin the boundary-making process by asking themselves where the bulk of their energy goes on any given day. Are they prioritizing the right things?” Hailey explains: “As a leader, you should ask yourself if you are focusing your priorities in a way that is intentional and present or are you rushing through things very quickly and sending your energy in a million different directions at once?” 

Hailey suggests giving yourself the time and space to deep dive into issues that require focus and save time for ‘big picture’ thinking. Blocking off time for this type of work shows that you value time spent working through problems. 

 “Self-care is another big part of setting personal boundaries. Being able to ensure that you are prioritizing your own personal needs and letting people know when you need space,” says Hailey. 

 But what does this look like in the day-to-day? Avoid sending emails to a team member picking up a child from school or at an appointment. Book a lunch out of the office instead of eating at your desk. Take time to do a sport or another activity and make sure that coworkers know that this time is off-limits. “When you have employees that feel like you care about them, their time, and their well-being, the organization as a whole wins,” says Hailey. “This has been proven again and again in research.” 

Model healthy behavior 

 It is important for individuals in leadership roles to model behaviors for their teams. Hailey noted that “walking the talk” is essential to creating real change in the workplace. 

 The following is an example of a situation in which modeling may apply: A manager might like to set aside time in the evening, once all the management work is done, to send out emails to team members as a head start on action items for the following day. To the manager, it is clear that action is not immediately required. However, a late evening email sends a tells the team that they should be thinking about work after business hours.  

 Hailey has also seen many leaders take on too much work, burning the midnight oil at the office, and not asking for enough support. “This sends a message that you are not really taking care of your own needs, if they see you looking frazzled because you have too much on your plate, your team will follow your model for the same type of behavior.” 

 A better model would be to acknowledge your individual work style and needs, ask for help, and then set aside time to talk to each team member to see what their optimal work style is.  

See people as individuals 

Learning how to properly support your team and seeing each team member as individual with potential is a big part of creating a healthy and happy workplace.  

 “Throughout my career, I have seen a lot of people underestimated,” shares Hailey. “Leaders can sometimes make assumptions about what their team members are capable of. There is great value in taking the time to get to know each person’s unique talents, abilities, and strengths.”  

Leaders can start by understanding their own strengths before they can truly elevate and motivate their team members. The Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE) developed by the Michigan Ross School for Business’ Center for Positive Organizations created a ‘getting-to-know-ourselves’ exercise which includes these four steps: 

 

  1. Ask 10 to 20 people you know (friends, family members, colleagues, supervisors, etc.) to share three anecdotes in which you were at your best.
  2. Analyze their answers, noting every recurrent theme and pattern. 
  3. Write a self-portrait based on this analysis. 
  4. Make changes at work to capitalize on your strengths 

 

Online tools like those the SuccessFinder Behavioral test and SuccessFinder Culture Fit, can help leaders assess and predict if employees will be happy in their roles and uncover hidden potential. Hailey suggests pairing these assessment tools with a simple ‘getting to know you’ attitude from leadership. 

 “The first and most important step is to ask your employees about themselves,” explains Hailey. “Get to know the person, get to know their interests. Find out what they’re excited about.” These conversations could lead you down a lot of interesting paths that maybe you wouldn’t have traveled on if you hadn’t asked those questions. 

Mirror others’ positive traits 

 Building confidence in individual team members can also make or break a workplace atmosphere. “[Your employee] could have experienced a lot of assumptions throughout their life relating to what they’re capable of” explains Hailey. “There is a tendency to internalize those statements and take them to heart.” 

 Negative self-talk can manifest subconsciously or consciously and can find its way into the language employees use to talk about themselves and affect what they think they can accomplish. Leaders can identify and help team members work through those patterns. “We can help people see their strengths, talents, and gifts,” says Hailey. “Show them what they can bring to the community or to the project they are working on.”

Acknowledging need is half the battle 
 
Every little step counts when creating a safe, productive and healthy workplace, and acknowledging a need is a big first step. As outlined in Hailey’s tips, much of the work begins with understanding what kind of leaders we are and what kind of environment we want to create for our teams. When it’s time to better understand our employees, Hailey suggests using SuccessFinder’s Profile Insights tool to facilitate the process. “It’s a customizable solution that uses behavioral analysis to help businesses develop their workforce.” 

Written by
Amanda Fleising

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