Wellness Strategies for Senior Managers Essay Sample

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The concept of wellbeing is vital in understanding how managers working in senior positions can fulfil their professional and personal goals. As outlined by Beddington et al (2008, p 1057), the term wellbeing can be defined as a state “in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community”. The CIPD defines wellbeing at work as: “creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential” (CIPD, 2007, p 4).

In this report, the positions encapsulated by the title ‘Senior Manager’ refer to people working as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), General or Executive Manager/Director, Chief Financial Officer, managers responsible for a Region/Operations/Project, as well as managers responsible for key corporate services including Human Resources, OHS & Environment and Business Development.

This report will examine the types of wellbeing strategies that have the greatest relevance to senior managers, their significance to work performance and implications for human resource management.

What is Wellbeing?

There are many factors that create an individual’s sense of wellbeing. What springs to mind immediately are the many actions and activities that a person can deliberately decide to do; the activities we choose for ourselves. Interestingly, these activities that we have the capacity to change, account for only around 40% of what creates our sense of wellbeing (Linley, 2008, p 100). While around 10% is determined by external events, our environment and circumstances, the remaining 50% is also determined by factors largely outside our control. This includes the genes we inherit (some people are naturally happier than others), and a person’s temperament and personality. This is illustrated in Figure 1.1 on the next page (Wellbeing Wizard, 2009).

Figure 1.1
Source: Wellbeing Program (2009). Retrieved from the Wellbeing Wizard Web site: http://www.wellbeingwizard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=562&Itemid=229

According to Linley (2008, p 100), each person has the ability to change their sense of wellbeing, and cause a shift from their genetically determined “happiness set-point”. Based on this theory, it means that unless a person takes steps to improve their sense of well being, they will tend to gravitate back to (or remain at) their genetic wellbeing level. For different people can vary greatly from pretty happy to pretty unhappy. Building on this research, Dr. Ronald Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, says “It’s not mostly events, but our responses to events, that determines your level of well-being” (Godman, 2013).

Critically for senior managers, this self awareness to acknowledge the scope, impact and consequences of events, and how they respond to these and other workplace pressures, is a key determinant of their wellbeing. In the words of Scott (2012, p 21) “The key lies in learning how to transform harmful reactions into healthy responses”.

Emergence of Wellness Strategies

Workplace wellbeing programs and initiatives for senior managers are a relatively new approach in human resources management for employers around the world. In the nineteenth century during the growth of industrialization, little regard was made for employee safety and health. Rapid advances in technology and production processes occurred in the late 1800s through to the early 1900s when the rates of workplace accidents rose sharply (Aldrich, 2001). At this time the world’s first workers’ compensation laws were enacted in Europe and Oceania, closely followed by the United States. These laws quickly led to a decline in accidents, primarily due to the increases in compensation costs from injured workers (Guyton, 1999, p 107). After World War II, labor unions played an increasingly important role in work safety and in the 1970s many countries implemented Occupational Health & Safety legislation. Several high profile industrial disasters in the 1980s and 1990s led to stronger government regulation (Stone, 2008, p 524), and companies began adopting a preventative approach to implement positive safety cultures in the 2000s (Kramar et al, 2012, p 120).

It has been a natural progression for companies taking a preventative approach to employee health and safety to implement wellness programs over the past decade. The rate of companies adopting wellness programs has increased significantly in the past five years (Kaspin, Gorman & Miller, 2013, p 14). Leading the world is the United States where over 75% of medium to large companies have wellbeing programs in place, while the rates are just over a third for similar-sized companies in Australia, and nearly 50% for Asia (Hall, Hunt & Ratcliffe, 2012, p 6), as illustrated in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2
Source: Hall, B., Hunt, R., & Ratcliffe, D., (2012). Working well: What’s next for wellness? Highlights and implications of the 5th Global Wellness Survey. Retrieved from http://www.buckconsultants.com/portals/0/events/2012/web/wa-working-well-what-next-wellness-2012-1212.pdf

It is senior managers who inspire, lead and implement these programs for employees, but equally, they have access to these same initiatives.

Types of Wellbeing Strategies

The definition of what constitutes a wellbeing/wellness program varies greatly from employer to employer, but the following categories of activities are typically considered to be part of wellbeing/wellness programs: • risk identification tools: health risk assessments and biometric screenings, such as blood-pressure and cholesterol levels; • behavior modification programs: health/life coaching, tobacco cessation, weight management, nutrition and diet, exercise and gym programs, relaxation and meditation techniques, and workplace competitions/contests; • training: stress management, time management, delegation and communication • educational programs: health expos and seminars, and online health resources; and • changes to the work environment: altering buildings and grounds to encourage walking, provision of facilities for bicycle commuting, and availability of healthier foods in workplaces (Tu & Mayrell, 2010). There are differences for senior managers that reflect the responsibilities, pressures and demands of high-level management positions. For this report, a review of recent research highlighted these most commonly applied wellbeing strategies: • The practice of awareness – eg. “right here, right now, in this moment, what is happening?” • Identify core values, purpose and goals – guides easier decision-making and prioritising • Executive coaching and mentoring

• Developing skills in stress management and time management • Making healthy choices (regular physical exercise, strengthen relationships, healthy eating, relaxation/meditation techniques, leisure time and “switching off”) (Healey, 2008, p 8; Kehoe, 2004, p 67 & 76; Ashfield, 2009, p 179; Stone, 2008, p 545)

It is no surprise that leadership from the CEO and senior managers has a significant bearing on the implementation, and, more importantly, changing behaviours change for the long-term (Simplyhealth, 2012, p 3). In the report from UK-based Simplyhealth (2012, p 5), “All leaders should demonstrate the behaviours they are advocating; you can’t expect employees to take part in initiatives and change behaviours if the people above them aren’t doing so”.

Significance of Wellbeing Strategies for Senior Managers

As the leaders of people, senior managers understand that human capital drives every aspect of an organisation’s operations (Chenoweth, 2011, p 1). Furthermore, research by Chenoweth (2011, p 3) shows that the health of employees directly influences work behaviour, attendance and on-the-job performance. The result is that healthier staff create a more productive workforce.

Research on Australian companies commissioned by Medibank Private (2008, p 3) found that healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees. In the UK, a 2008 review of the health of Britain’s working-age population came to the same conclusion with Dame Carole Black, Britain’s first ever National Director for Health and Work, saying:

Good health improves an individual’s quality of life, and a focus on their wellbeing can also add value to organisations by promoting better health and increasing motivation and engagement of employees, in turn helping to drive increases in productivity and profitability. (Black, 2008, p 51)

These same two key wellness objectives were identified in a recent report (Global Corporate Challenge, 2013, p 2) which surveyed 378 organisations across all continents and a broad range of industries. As illustrated in Figure 1.3, this report highlights that intervention programs to increase physical activity have the number one focus, with stress management the second ranked initiative, and health-risk assessments coming in third.

For senior managers, the selection of wellbeing approaches to achieve greater harmony between work and lifestyle has a different basis that is centred on an individual manager’s self-awareness, self-motivation and preferences for what action they want to take.

Figure 1.3 Current status of wellness initiatives (2013) i

n ranked order Source: 2013 Global Workplace Health and Wellness

Report (2013).

Retrieved from Global Corporate Challenge website https://www.gettheworldmoving.com/blog/global-health-and-wellness-2013-report Stress Impacts on the Senior Manager

Like all employees, senior managers face stress and experience pressures and problems as they go through life. Some degree of stress is normal and actually quite beneficial as it generates energy, alertness and motivation (Ashfield, 2009, p 170). However when there is too little stress, or too much stress, this has an impact on a person’s performance and health (Ivancevich, Konopaske & Matteson, 2011, p 247).

One way to illustrate this is the Inverted-U model (also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law), that was created by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). The model is illustrated in Figure 1.4, showing the relationship between pressure (or stress) and performance.

Figure 1.4 Relationship between pressure (or stress) and performance
Source: www.mindtools.com/stress/

The body reacts to stress with a “fight or flight” (or acute stress) response (Cannon, 1929) where a series of biomedical changes prepare the body to fight or escape. When work demands and pressures become excessive they repeatedly trigger this response over a prolonged period, which can lead to significant physical and psychological health problems (Hurst, 2008, p 8).

Adding context to the heightened potential for these impacts to occur for senior managers, Debra Nelson, president of the NelsonQuick group, notes that executives have three areas of stress that can exceed other people’s. These are: • the pace of work life

• the pain of downsizing
• social isolation (Kneale, 2009)
Several studies have found that over 60% of senior managers who felt stressed have reported they suffer from health problems such as headaches, continual tiredness and anger, and two-thirds had difficulties in their personal relationships (Nankervis, Compton & Baird, 2008, p 459). It goes without saying that these impacts can have a “massive impact on the performance and prospects of modern organizations” (Quick, Cooper, Gavin & Quick, 2008, p 2).

Ultimately, it is how each individual manager handles stress that will “determine whether they can happily live with it or whether it will destroy both health and career” (Stone, 2008, p 537).

As Sapolsky (1994, p 13) observes, every person responds different to similar stressors. On balance, it would be fair to say “most CEOs have a greater capacity to deal with stress than the rest of us” (Kneale, 2009), while McKenna says that “some are just simply better equipped for it, and that’s one reason they are CEOs” (Kneale, 2009).

Implementing Wellbeing Strategies at the Senior Manager Level

As no two senior managers are the same, neither can the range and mix of wellbeing strategies be identical for different executives. Likewise, the particular strategies will vary over time and according to current situations. In the words of Seaward, “a stress management program is a very individual undertaking … Nor is one coping strategy applicable in every stressful situation” (Seaward, 2008, p 528).

It is recognised that there are a huge range of wellbeing strategies available to senior managers. From the research reviewed, the five of the most common and effective strategies being implemented:

1. Awareness. Wellbeing starts with awareness. Where a senior manager can recognise they are under stress, a useful approach to bring focus to the present moment is to ask the question “Right here, right now, in this moment, what is happening?” (Kehoe, 2004, p 67).

This strategy to practice “being present” or “being in the moment” helps develop clearer thinking (Harris, 2007, p 268), as well as “the ability to deal constructively with reality, the capacity to adapt to change … and the ability to direct one’s emotional energy in creative and constructive outlets” (Quick, Gavin, Cooper & Quick, 2000, p 37). Developing an awareness of one’s body and breathing will also help identify areas of tension.

2. Identify Values. Once managers identify their core values, goals, and “work out what matters” (Healey, 2008, p 14), it becomes easier to make decisions and take action (de Bono, 2005, p 7; Harris, 2007, p 268). As stated by Stone (2008, p 545) a “delay in decision making is a sure way to increase stress”.

3. Executive coaching and mentoring. A professional executive coach can help leaders to “grow and improve performance, reduce or eliminate their blind spots and be open to constructive feedback” (Williams, 2012, August 13). Through trusted discussion, a coach aims to enhance the effectiveness and success of a senior manager (Guptan, 2011, p 147), and will “equip the leader with greater resilience and strength to cope with ongoing changes and challenges” (IPAA, 2012). Likewise a respected mentor who has previously walked in the shoes of high-level management can offer valuable insights and perspective.

4. Skills to manage stress and time. For many senior managers, creating structure and freeing up time is the first step to gain a sense of control over the workload and competing demands. People who effectively manage their time have learned to focus most of their time and energy on what is most important to them. It is common that stress management approaches combine both the control of stress factors and the individual symptoms being displayed (Nankervis, 2008, p 464).

5. Making healthy choices. Simple changes such as scheduling regular physical exercise, strengthening relationships, eating healthily, finding a relaxation/meditation technique that calms the mind, maintaining a balance of leisure and “switch off” time all contribute measurably to improving wellbeing.

Implications for Human Resource Management (HRM)

There are several key implications for HRM as companies consider further investments in wellbeing strategies for senior managers who are demanding work-life balance solutions at an unprecedented rate (Bird, 2006, p 1).

Raising the health and wellbeing levels of senior managers contributes to higher productivity, which can help drive greater efficiency, growth and turnover/profit thereby increasing the importance of job analysis and management structures (Ongori & Agolla, 2008, 123). While turnover is likely to reduce, a company’s competitive advantage for talent would also tend to increase (Bird, 2006, p 21) and expectations to continually enhance and expand wellbeing programs would rise.

The importance of putting intervention strategies in place for executives to better manage stress are likely to increase as this is a top health risk (Buck Consultants, 2009, p 4). Efforts to slow the trend of stress related worker’s compensation claims (which doubled between 1996 and 2011) would also be a focus (Medibank Private, 2008).

Lastly, measuring the return on investment (ROI) of wellbeing strategies will increase in importance, as companies seek to evaluate which actions are most effective and offer the best value (Atkinson, 2012, p22).

Conclusion

Wellbeing strategies are proving highly effective to support senior managers in achieving a work-life balance and coping with the demands of their jobs.

Individual managers benefit from a customised program of wellbeing strategies that match their personal drive and lifestyle. These programs are contributing to increased productivity, business success and through “walk-the-talk” leadership they encourage company employees to take control of their own wellbeing and value healthy life choices.

Rising levels of stress in the workplace mean business leaders need to embrace preventative measures to maintain the growth in organisations’ productivity and wellbeing. With solid returns on investment from implementing wellbeing strategies, the challenge is keep up these programs as business environments change.

While most importantly, a senior manager needs to have an awareness of their own stress responses and make a conscious decision to enact change for a greater wellbeing outcome to be reached.

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