With the rapid transitions that COVID-19 forced upon all of us, and the evolving needs of today’s workforce, there’s been a great deal of discussion around maintaining the health and wellness of employees. As leaders, we have a responsibility for maintaining workforce wellbeing. In such an unprecedented time, it’s crucially important to look out for the mental health of your employees—but I feel that there’s another vital part of employee wellbeing: cardiovascular health.
We don’t often consider the “heart health” of employees who might be working from home, on a computer, sitting through virtual meetings with their colleagues. Yet, there’s a reason that the word “heart” is a metaphor for “central,” because everything in the human body relies upon heart health to function properly.
According to the CDC, Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men, women, and most people of color. It is sobering and critical; one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease, but February is American Heart Month, so let’s shine the spotlight on one way to care for the heart.
Is there anything that you, as an organizational leader, can do to help? Certainly! Many indicators of heart disease and other cardiovascular maladies revolve around stress. The American Heart Association says more research is needed into stress effects on the heart, but the links among stress, blood pressure, and heart rate are well established.
When you support your people as a leader, you support their health at all levels. Minimizing stress and providing a healthy work environment aren’t just the right things to do morally. According to a great many studies, decades of research, and common sense, engaging with your employees actually improves key business metrics such as job satisfaction, employee retention, customer satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, teamwork, accuracy, and—of course—profitability in the long term. There are five definite steps you can take as a leader to ensure heart health for you and your employees.
Here is the HEART Model of heart health:
Everyone wants to be heard. So, as a leader, one of your responsibilities is to listen to what your employees say about their work environment. Much has been said about the differences between active and passive listening. Be aware that people can tell when you’re really listening – even if they’re on the other side of a laptop screen. Hearing them is a critical first step.
Engaging with what your employees say is vital to your effectiveness as a leader. Your personal relationships with employees are especially critical when many of them are forced to work from home. It’s important to be engaged, both on the clock and off. Perhaps something will remind you of a conversation you had with someone at work, which you can bring up at your next meeting. That’s just one way an effective leader can establish and nurture relationships.
Ask questions. Have reciprocal conversations with your employees. Ask frank questions whenever the opportunity presents itself: How are they feeling? How is working from home? Are you taking time for yourself? What about your family? How have things changed since our last meeting? You are not wasting their time, or your own; you are building relationships that will pay off long-term.
Reinforcing and reaffirming actions to benefit mental and physical wellbeing probably isn’t in your job description, but it should be. If an employee mentions that they need a quick break to grab a snack or go on a brief walk… tell them that’s alright! Offering a friendly affirmation tells your people that you care about more about them than just their productivity. You care about their health, and long-term, that will prove to be more profitable.
This final piece may be the most difficult. Hearing what your people have to say, engaging with them, asking questions, and reinforcing healthy behaviors… these are all important, but only if you, as a leader, take the time to make these behaviors a habit. Your schedule is jammed, but this is essential long-term upkeep. Take a moment to send a positive message to that manager or employee you just talked with. At the end of a meeting—or even before it starts—ask how participants are holding up. Reinforce anything you hear that encourages their own wellbeing.
After all, their wellbeing is your wellbeing in the long run.
At the heart of all this is people’s behavior. At ALULA, we put behavioral science to work daily, and we love to share our experience.
Here’s a key to how it works: using behavioral science we help leaders look at what precedes and initiates behavior, and what follows said behavior that encourages (or discourages) that behavior in the future. As leaders, we can influence positive change by asking what we can do to get productive behaviors started: remove barriers, add enablers, and reinforce great work so it happens again and again—automatically. Even better, it helps people want to engage in those key behaviors, instead of just feeling like they have to. Example: in the above HEART model, hearing, asking, and engaging, and taking time are all antecedents (those things that precede and initiate behavior) that tell your employees: My leader cares about me. They feel encouraged and reinforced, which keeps up the morale and engagement. This builds a positive feedback loop. Think of your behaviors as the heartbeat your people need to work healthy and happy.
Just as the heart is vital to the human body, you, as a leader, are the heart of operations that drives your employees, teams, and the organization as a whole. So, wear your HEART on your sleeve! Your organization will thank you, and so will everyone’s heart.
This blog was authored by Bridget Russell, Ed.D. Bridget helps organizations achieve key business results using her expertise in Applied Behavioral Science. She has consulted with and coached leaders in a variety of industries, including oil and gas, higher education, consumer packaged goods, banking, and pharmaceuticals. Bridget is also the Director of People Systems at ALULA. In addition to her human resource responsibilities, she leads the organization’s efforts to provide a healthy, safe, engaging work environment.