Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creating Healthy Workplaces: When Good Intentions Go Awry

Many successful and high-functioning organizations are committed to developing healthy workplaces and demonstrate the positive outcomes these initiatives have on employees and the organization. At the same time, there are organizations that strive to create a healthy workplace and fall short. Many of these organizations are led by very enthusiastic and effective leaders, but they seem to have missed something along the way.

How do these well-meaning leaders inadvertently create unhealthy workplaces? Why do some self-acclaimed “healthy” workplaces go astray? There are several pitfalls that can occur when trying to create and sustain psychologically healthy workplaces.

Pitfalls in Developing Healthy Workplaces

Allowing enthusiasm to go awry

One key aspect of transformational leadership is “inspirational motivation” (Bass, 1990; Bass & Riggio, 2006), which involves motivating people by displaying enthusiasm, “providing meaning and challenge to their followers’ work,” arousing individual and team spirit and “envision[ing] attractive future states” (Bass et al., 2003, p. 208). That is, enthusiasm is key to effective transformational leadership. Moreover, when we are passionate about our work, this enthusiasm can be contagious. However, ironically, we sometimes compromise employees’ autonomy and health while on the journey to a healthy workplace. In our enthusiasm to do our jobs, there is always the tendency to push too much, ignoring the perspectives of others. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the situation from the viewpoint of employees and colleagues, in order to put our actions and motivations into perspective. Enthusiasm isn’t bad… we just need to use it wisely to help engage and motivate others to create a healthy work environment, without overwhelming them.

Having a “we are already healthy” attitude

Organizational leaders who believe they have attained the status of a healthy workplace and stop thinking about it really don’t have a healthy workplace at all. We need to view workplace health in the same manner that we view personal health: We can’t stop exercising and start eating junk food once we’ve attained “health.” Like personal health, organizational health is an on-going process. Not only do leaders who take on this attitude risk being complacent, but they have missed a central tenet in the healthy workplace literature – a healthy workplace is as much an attitude and process as it is an outcome.

Forcing healthy practices on employees

Many leaders focus their healthy workplace initiatives around encouraging and maintaining health and fitness goals. This focus is important within the larger psychologically healthy workplace, but what about when “encouraging” becomes “enforcing”? At one organization, employees confided that their health-conscious boss would police employees’ lunches and throw out any junk food brought to work. How healthy is a workplace that has such a dictator-like (albeit well-meaning) boss?

Read the rest of this article by Arla Day, PhD, on the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program website.

1 comment:

Jerry Ackerman said...

Thank you for sharing this article.
Great point on how can you say that you have a healthy workplace? What is an effective leader and how “encouraging” becomes “enforcing”? This post is very helpful for us to realize that as a leader, you only not need to make yourself effective but also your followers, not by enforcing but encouraging them.