Are Your Leaders Undermining People’s Wellbeing?

BY Michelle McQuaid

When we trust our leaders researchers have found workplaces report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout than workplaces who have low leadership trust. So, what can leaders do to earn our trust?

“Leaders play a crucial role in building trust within their workplaces as their behaviors set the tone for the culture and establish norms of behavior,” explained psychologist Danielle Jacobs, co-founder of The Wellbeing Lab. “The good news is that most leaders want to behave in ways that create trust within their teams. The challenge is that with limited energy, time, and resources, many leaders are unclear on what actions they should prioritize and how to frequently integrate these behaviors into the ways they are working.”

New research we recently gathered from more than 1,000 randomly selected Australian workers found that workers who reported lower levels of trust in their leaders were more likely to report higher frequencies of the following psychosocial hazards:

  • Lack of supervisor support to do their job well.
  • Poor workplace relationships with their peers.
  • Inadequate reward and recognition for their good work.
  • Poor physical work environment that felt unsafe.
  • Poor organizational justice with people being treated unfairly.

In contrast, the most trusted leaders did five things differently. They were:

  • Engaging and interesting to work with.

They looked for the strengths – the things people were good at and enjoyed doing at work – and found ways to help people draw on these neurological superpowers as they went about their jobs.

  • Encouraging and supportive of their team.

They made time to be available for their people and prioritized providing them with the support they needed to succeed in their roles. They also took an interest in them as people, and not just colleagues.

  • Able to have honest feedback conversations with people.

They tried to ensure little challenges didn’t become big issues by quickly providing clear and kind feedback when a team member was struggling.

  • Willing to express appreciation for people’s work.

They often thanked their people and provided specific feedback on how this had made a positive difference to their shared goals. Importantly, they didn’t only thank people for the outcomes they achieved, but for the effort, learning, and support they provided.

  • A positive influence for their team.

They were mindful of how their position of power impacted the emotional climate of the team. They neither forced positivity or inflicted fear on their team but maintained an authentic, transparent, and supportive environment in which people felt safe to learn and grow together.

 How did they fit all of this in, given the many demands leaders are juggling?

We find they look for ways to integrate this behavior into their existing:

  • Role Modelling – the ways they behave and where they focus their attention each day (e.g., how they talk to others, etc.).
  • Rituals – the informal practices their teams use to build and sustain social cohesion and support a sense of belonging (e.g., social catch ups, birthday celebrations, fond farewells, etc.)
  • Routines – the formal practices and processes their teams use to get their work done (e.g., team meetings, budget setting, etc.)
  • Rules – upholding the written expectations that guide people’s behavior (e.g., values, policies, etc.)

How are your leaders integrating trust-building behaviors into the ways they work with their team?

To learn more about the study visit:

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