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More and more organizations are paying attention to the health and happiness of their employees. Vitality and wellness programs aim to make employees aware of the importance of their mental and physical fitness. Sleep pods, massage chairs, fitness subscriptions, and healthy smoothies contribute to this and help employees to perform optimally at work. This is a great development; because the success of an organization starts with its people. However, one considerable factor in an employee’s well-being is often overlooked; the manager.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that the role of the leader in employee well-being is more significant than previously thought. In fact, a manager can make or break a well-being program.

A manager has a lot of influence on how people work (together). When employees are pressured by a manager to meet targets and maintain high productivity that employee may feel guilty and stressed when they go for a walk or join a yoga class organized by the organization. Moreover, it appears that having a ‘strict boss’ leads to more stress-related heart problems among employees (Nyberg, 2009). Therefore, well-being programs simply have no chance of success in certain work cultures.

So what does work? Research from the University of Michigan shows that employees value a ‘happy workplace’ most. A work environment in which people are seen as the centre of the organization, characterized by friendliness, trust, respect, and inspiration. A happy workplace leads to increased loyalty and involvement, better performance, and more creativity. The most fruitful way in which leaders can increase their employees’ well-being is by creating a positive, people-oriented culture in their team. Small daily actions that show support and empathy, such as offering help or asking how someone is doing, contribute to this. This increases mutual trust, strengthens the personal bond, and ensures a pleasant working atmosphere.

Creating a positive and people-oriented culture does not mean leaders should only be ‘nice’ or ‘gentle’; direct communication and aiming for results can be done in an understanding way. The most important conclusion that researchers draw is that positive social relationships and interactions determine the well-being of employees and the success of organizations. A true well-being culture is created when employees can also benefit from a well-being program.


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