Welcome back to our four-part series on Executive Wellness Leadership. In Part 1, we explored the ways in which the health of top-level executives can improve a company’s bottom line. Now, I invite you to join me in discovering opportunities for leadership to both inspire and elevate a culture of wellness in their organization.

Let’s start by examining this idea at its most basic level: if we want employees to embrace walking breaks during their lunch hour or actively participate in Wellness Lunch and Learns, their managers (and their managers’ managers) need to be on board.

Without the role modelling, permission and approval of management, employees will never feel comfortable prioritizing their health during working hours.

But, as it turns out, managers simply giving verbal permission is not enough to make a difference in office culture. We’ve all been in organizations where the face-time game is strong: even though employees are technically allowed to end their days at 5 p.m., they wouldn’t dare head home before their manager leaves. It just wouldn’t look right. So, if a company’s manager makes crazy-overtime hours a daily routine, chances are, his or her employees will too.

Now, imagine a work culture where managers make it a priority to shut down at 5 p.m. every day in order to have dinner with their family or attend a little league game. All of a sudden, the employees in that organization are going to feel far more comfortable leaving at the official end of office hours. And this example isn’t limited to work-life balance.

Think about exercise: when corporate leaders are seen getting up every one to two hours to walk a lap around the building, employees will have “visual permission” to do the same. Even more so, since employees seek the approval of leadership, if work-life balance and physical fitness is perceived as being valuable to company leadership, they will quickly become qualities that employees strive to achieve, if for no other reason than to earn the approval and recognition of their manager and senior leadership.

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Taking Healthy Offices to a New Level

While physical well-being is crucial in creating a healthy work culture, true wellness is more than just eating properly and moving more.

In a recent study by the American Nurses Association (ANA), a healthy work environment was defined as being “characterized by a high level of trust between management and employees; by employees who treat each other in a respectful manner; by an organizational culture that supports skilled communication and collaboration; and by a climate in which employees feel emotionally and physically safe.”[1]

If we break that statement down, one of the most crucial elements of establishing a healthy office culture is TRUST.

So, how can executives truly build trust?

Aside from clear communication, one important way to cultivate trust is to…

Live AUTHENTICALLY, especially when it comes to both PERSONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL wellness.

Practically speaking, if managers and senior leadership want healthier employees (and who doesn’t, as healthy employees tend to be more engaged, more productive and vital influencers of company culture), they must authentically WALK the WALK as WELLNESS CHAMPIONS themselves!

For leadership that is new to establishing healthy work habits and cultures of wellness, here are some easy steps you can take right now to start doing just that[2]:

  • Prioritize self-care. By taking a personal breather, a true leader can show the value of downtime to every employee he or she supervises. This doesn’t just mean that managers and senior leaders should leave the office at a reasonable hour. It also means creating real boundaries between work and home life: no or minimal weekend emails (sending or checking); using up all vacation days; and even scheduling time off for personal wellness or “mental health days” to refresh and regroup. If leadership is always on call, employees will feel duty-bound to the same.
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  • Move more. Make movement a part of the organization’s culture in a way that necessitates employee buy-in. Make the shift from sit-down meetings with unproductive discussions and copious amounts of coffee and unhealthy snacks to active, walking meetings with individual employees or your entire team. Research has shown that walking meetings help employees become more relaxed with their managers, expressive with their feelings, and creative and innovative in their thinking. A win-win for all!
  • Create opportunity. For many employees, healthier living is an innate desire and goal, but they aren’t sure where to start or how to make the time for personal self-care. Leadership can play a pivotal role in facilitating opportunities for their employees to focus on their health and well-being by offering employee-centric wellness programs and events during work hours, and creating incentives (i.e. healthy team lunches, gift cards or added dollars to health care spending accounts for personal self-care services) to inspire and mobilize wide-spread participation and engagement in organizational wellness programs.
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  • Banish temptation. What is the number one free beverage offered at most companies? Coffee, along with artificial creamer and lots of sweetener — both of the natural and the chemical variety. What if, instead of serving up pots of addictive caffeine, executives shifted office snacks to fresh fruits and veggies or a Friday Smoothie Station organized by assigned teams? Imagine the message—and the opportunity to make better choices — that would send to employees.
  • Be a joiner. When top level executives and managers/supervisors attend wellness Lunch and Learns or campaign events, employees are more inspired and motivated to show up as well. Once again, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of leading by example. Seeing a manager snacking on a crisp carrot stick at a Lunch and Learn, employees just might bypass the vending machine as well.

Bottom line, these healthier choices will make a lasting impact on both personal and organizational well-being and help move the needle in cultivating an overall culture of health and well-being.

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Now that we’ve touched briefly on the importance of introducing wellness opportunities in the workplace and how senior leadership can “lead by example” as senior level wellness champions, we’ll devote our next installment to examining the importance of executive-led Wellness Champion Programs. 

Interested in Executive Wellness Leadership training or Executive Wellness Coaching for yourself or your organization? Connect with us to schedule a Discovery Consult.

About the Author:

Lisa Kelly, President, Workplace Wellness Centre of Excellence (a division of KWC Inc.), has been cultivating healthy changes within workplaces and with personal clients for over 20 years. Through her “Workplace Wellness Leadership Certification Series” and Executive Wellness Leadership Programs, Lisa’s mission is to create an innovative and collaborative landscape for global workplace wellness that fosters employee-driven, results-oriented wellness solutions that benefit employers, employees, and communities at large.

Executive Wellness Leadership Series:

[Part 1] Executive Wellness is Good For Business

[Part 3] Amplify Employee Wellness & Engagement with Executive-led “Wellness Champion Programs”

Part 4] Steps to Becoming an Executive Wellness Champion


[1] American Nurses Association, “A Healthy Work Environment: It Begins with You.” http://ojin.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Vol152010/No1Jan2010/A-Healthy-Work-Environment-and-You.html

[2] Kohll, Alan, “The Role Managers Play in shaping Employee Well-Being,” forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2017/10/03/the-role-managers-play-in-shaping-employee-well-being/#31d5e1379ed1