4 Keys to a Healthy Workplace

Colette Carlson

Healthy Workplace

It’s a New Year, and we all know what that means: a friend will announce that she’s promising to cut all carbs from her diet or she will begin a training program with a trainer at the health club. I understand. At the start of a new year, it’s challenging to avoid the “exercise or no more Fettucine Alfredo ever
conversations.”

Let’s hold off a bit on the self-judgment stuff, and take a look at Endurance, Strength, Balance,
and Flexibility from the perspective of creating a healthier workplace where individuals can actually
thrive.

While I’m not a personal trainer or Italian chef, as a human behavior speaker I know healthier workplaces lead to healthier people.

Endurance 
An article by Jena McGregor recently appeared in Forbes magazine. There is a new corporate culture at Shopify that is changing the way corporate life is conducted, by intentionally
reducing time-wasting, mind-numbing meetings, especially those where more than two staff members were involved.

With that in mind, I would like to kick off the conversation with the concept of Endurance.

At the same time the Forbes article came out, the British newspaper, the Guardian picked up on the same theme and expanded it by interviewing Shopify’s vice-president of product and the chief operating officer who said: “Uninterrupted time is the most precious resource of a craftsperson, and we are giving our people a ‘no judgment zone’ to subtract, reject meetings, and focus on what is most valuable.”

Shopify is recognizing what most of us have always known:  most meetings are massive time wasters. I hate to be blunt, but it’s true. By automatically deleting standing meetings and requiring that people add them back only if they’re needed, workers are compelled to radically rethink and reevaluate how their time is being spent. Such rescheduling is powerful and uplifting in allowing professional discretion.

To put it from an athletic perspective, think of running in a long race and having the race director tell you to stop running every half-mile so she can take your picture. It helps no one when every 30 minutes or so, some group or another wants to schedule a Zoom call.

Endurance is a self-care measure. If you are allowed to run your race at your own pace, you will have a better chance of success. If you are told to run everyone’s race, your cup will quickly empty and you will burn out. Rather than endure another meeting, where can you rally your team to choose methods that better support effective communication and collaboration?

Strength 
Where do we need to become emotionally stronger? Employees often know what they need to become stronger but they often have to be helped to overcome fear. How will they know when they will be allowed to speak up? How can they better address conflicts with others or in turn, receive and even accept feedback without falling to pieces? It comes down to effective relationships.

Traditionally, workplaces are one-sided affairs where employees know their places and bosses rain down criticism. We’ve all been there. However, that model has stopped working. In fact, when the pandemic lifted, hundreds of thousands of employees walked off such jobs in droves.

The dynamic shifted and teams only thrive in a psychologically safe environment. To make for stronger, more assertive, and more receptive employees, employers and managers must practice self-awareness, deliver clear expectations, encourage diverse opinions, model transparency, and remain available.

How can an employee grow stronger if they’re not certain of what you emotionally expect of them? Help your teams and colleagues understand, “It’s OK for you to speak up, in fact, I will back you up if you express an opinion, state what you need, or express yourself to a co-worker.”

A safe environment can only occur if the walls of ego are broken and vulnerability emerges. And vulnerability takes strength. At the same time, employees need to appreciate that acceptance of feedback and a willingness to improve are also traits of strength.

Ultimately, good trainers must be more than strength coaches, but mentors and guides, allowing that the “student” can eventually become a trainer themselves. Can you imagine a workplace where the majority of individuals displayed emotional courage and regulation? Where can you lean in to showcase these behaviors?

Balance 
Every movement or exercise can only function when balance is emphasized, whether Tai Chi practice or hitting a baseball. In a workplace sense, balance is about creating better workplace and professional boundaries, freeing up time for personal life, scheduling meetings at better times, or re-balancing the remote-to-in-person dynamics. The pandemic showed that many employees could work effectively from home, however, it also showed the unmistakable interdependence of co-workers.

Workplace balance requires mutual empowerment, an acknowledgment that the sum really is greater than the individual parts and that the best teams are the most balanced teams. To arrive at balance requires that each employee insist on balance and to take back balance. And there’s no balance without boundaries, so where do you need to create one?

Flexibility 
Have you heard of Skynova? Hint: it is not a new protein or weight loss supplement. Skynova is a detailed study of workplace flexibility conducted in 2022 of more than 1,000 workers.

At its core, Joe Mercurio, the project manager for Skynova found: “There is a direct correlation between a flexible work schedule and a healthy, manageable daily routine. Employees with flexible schedules are able to wake up at a more reasonable hour, and they end up working fewer hours overall. This just goes to show that work quality is superior to work quantity.”

Is it essential that everyone must work the same hours, or for everyone to effectively work within their own hours? Is it essential for employees to work eight hours straight (did we ever?) or can breaks be taken for personal time, appointments, or (gasp) a workout?

Flexible thinking, along with Endurance, Strength, and Balance, is key to a healthy work environment. How can we eliminate our rigid thinking to create more patience, understanding, and joy? How can we be more open to uncertainty or change?

When the workplace is flexible, it is open to new ideas. When the workplace is shut down to possibilities, creativity, innovation, and even fun are stifled.

I can’t tell you to never again eat Fettucine, yet I am certain that if you have endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility in your job, your spirit will be filled with a lot less stress.

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