Homewood Health: Health-Promoting Leadership Strategies

Transformational Leadership Professional Development

June 8, 2020 - 2:15am

This article can be found in the Articles section of your Homewood Health account, which is available to all VIU employees.

Despite the fact there is a strong correlation between productivity and health promoting strategies, not all workplaces are implementing them. In 2011, Homewood Health and the Graham Lowe Group undertook a market survey of private sector organizations across Canada employing between 200 and 10,000 employees to find out what organizational health practices were currently being employed.

The survey found that 72% of companies tracked health data like illness-related absenteeism and far fewer (46%) measure employee health risk. Even less (9%) use a workplace health survey to measure workplace factors that lead to illness.

“Leadership should mine all possible HR data to identify key trends and opportunities for improvement,” says Dr. Banwell. “Undertaking a workplace health survey or health risk assessment to determine leading indicator measurements and define a health score card, is a way to stay on top of health needs and provide the support required.

“Using this information, leadership could look at what health programs and policies would be most beneficial for their organization. This includes such things as code of conduct development, conflict resolution, and family-friendly policies such as flexible work time,” he says.

The survey did find that 76% of organizations surveyed offered flexible work schedules. “I applaud these organizations as it shows the first signs of some preventative thinking. Supporting an accord between work and other parts of life is one of the keys to promoting employee health.”

Health promotion or employee wellness programs that provide life skills development (e.g. parenting education), lifestyle change (e.g. nutrition), health clinics (e.g. diabetes), and psychological skills development (e.g. resilience training), should be part of the overall strategy. Here the survey found 40% of employers provide life skills development and 45% provide lifestyle change initiatives.

The role of individual workplace leaders

Canadian researcher Dr. Julian Barling of Queens University recently completed a comprehensive review of workplace performance literature and identified ten key organizational elements of a psychologically healthy workplace, and the impact that work design factors have on the health and well-being of employees and their work performance.

At the top of the list is transformational leadership which Dr. Barling defines as “a leader who can elevate employees through his or her ability to demonstrate humility, values, and concern for others. This management style offers motivation, stimulation, and individual consideration to employees and the results are strongly associated with well-being and work productivity.”

Another Canadian researcher, Dr. Jean-Pierre Brun of Laval University, looked specifically at employee recognition and found that people who reported they got recognition in their workplace showed four times fewer signs of high level emotional distress. “Furthermore, authentic recognition, much more than salary, creativity, and innovation, is what allows corporations to remain at the forefront of an increasingly competitive economy,” he says.

Dr. Banwell agrees that individual managers can make an enormous difference. “The manager who listens well, gives credit where credit is due, tolerates a necessary range of diversity on the team, rewards team effort, supports everyone’s confidence during challenging times, and shows interest in the welfare, learning, and advancement of employees is far more likely to create a higher level of health, as well as productivity.”

“On the other hand,” he says, “there is a kind of boss behaviour that doesn’t work well for a lot of employees, usually centered on a failure to build a respectful workplace or a boss who acts on the belief that you get paid to do your job well. Not surprisingly, a 2007 survey of Canadian employees who chose to terminate their employment found that the majority of them said they did so primarily because of their boss. We all know that it takes pretty sizeable golden handcuffs for employees to tolerate poor managers. But the number is too large to rationalize as a personality conflict or poor job fit.”

A 2001 study by Dr. Linda Duxbury at Carleton University and Chris Higgins of the University of Western Ontario supports this. It found that employees with ‘supportive supervisors’ report significantly higher satisfaction, trust of managers, commitment to the organization, and less role overload, job stress, depression, poor health, work-life balance issues, fatigue, absenteeism, and intention to leave the organization.

“Good managers are key, but like safety supporting behaviour, health producing management practices need the push and pull of leadership,” explains Dr. Banwell. “Health promoting leadership provides the direction, expectations, and resources to help managers create a healthy workplace.”

Tags: Teaching and Learning