The Healthy Workplace Model: Evidence-Based Tools for Resilience

Posted by Joel Bennett on

Evidence-Based Tools for Teams, Leaders, and a Resilient Climate

There are many ideas regarding "A Healthy Workplace" and I have contributed articles on this topic before. Many people ask 'How can we boil these ideas down into simple practical steps?' I am suspicious about any formula that guarantees success. Guidelines can be helpful IF they occur in the context of fellowship: an experiential learning event, workshop, or training. A practical model of a healthy workplace requires human interaction. Simply put, employee day-to-day communication provides the keystone of a healthy work environment. And we learn best about communication by...well...communicating or...even better, PRACTICING communication in a fun, relaxed, and safe environment with colleagues.




Please join me in Minneapolis for the The Healthy Workplace Model workshop. You will learn experiential activities (tools) that we have tested in clinical trials and shown to be effective in reducing stress, fostering compassion, and building healthy social norms at work. Each activity can be viewed as points in the general guidelines I mentioned above. Practicing these in a supportive environment will make all the difference.

In fact, that is the first of our guidelines, followed by others.  1) Get solid agreement on ground rules for confidential and supportive interaction.The best way to kill a healthy workplace is through negativity, indirect communication, gossip, rumors, and unresolved conflict. Employees need to feel that their work environment is psychologically safe.

The remaining guidelines fall into two categories: Healthy Teams (following our Team Awareness model) and Healthy Leaders (following Heart-Centered Leadership and our LeadWell LiveWell model). The Healthy Workplace Model workshop drills down into each of these by giving participants tools, handouts, PowerPoint slide decks, and facilitator notes on how to present each of these seven tools...and more.

Healthy Teams

NWI Healthy Workplace Model

2)  Collaborate on creating a totem for prevention principles. Employees enjoy talking about preventing problems together as a team. A fun discussion where staff creates images and memory devices that represent their team creates camaraderie and a sense of unity.

3) Foster discussion of the personal meaning of resilience. Most working adults have gone through some difficulty or adversity in their life and have become stronger as a result. We call this Raw Coping Power. This very strength may be what makes them a great co-worker. Making this "resilience <> best coworker" connection is an eye-opener that also strengthens wellness.

4) Openly discuss behaviors that staff personally tolerates or has difficulty tolerating.Adult learners have attitudes that drive their acceptance of any workplace benefit (including wellness). By carefully listening to each other's attitudes the whole team can raise its sights and actually develop gratitude for opportunities to improve their well-being.

5) Really Listening.  After conducting workshops for 20 years, I remain amazed by how much employees enjoy the opportunity to set aside concerns about life and work and just give each other the gift of really listening. Give employees the opportunity to pair up and discuss issues, concerns, opinions, and ideas and practice eye-contact, relaxed body language, and accurate paraphrasing. This is a wellness activity by itself!

Healthy Leadership

6) Educate/Facilitate on "The Ripple Effect." The concept of ripple effect is discussed in-depth in our book "Heart-Centered Leadership" with exercises in our LeadWell LiveWell program. Essentially, managers and leaders at all levels need to make a commitment to (1) knowing their impact on others, (2) enhancing that impact for the greater good, and (3) choosing at least one of four pathways to enhance that positive impact for greater well-being:
  • WALK THE TALK: Choose to invest in your own wellness. That's right. Supervisors, managers, and leaders at all levels need to participate in the wellness program themselves. Openly. With fervor and gusto if possible!
  • SUPPORT THE WALK: Choose to support the wellness program. Whether they participate or not, leaders need to show active and ongoing interest in the program and do what they can to support it. (At all costs, managers should never 'pooh pooh' the program.)
  • BE THE SUPPORT: Practice heart-centered leadership. Work on any one of the seven virtues described in heart-centered leadership: commitment to personal growth, open-mindedness, integrity, authenticity, humility, detachment/poise, and self-care.
  • CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT: Implement enlightened work practices. There are a variety of things you can do to reduce stress ranging from flex-time, paced work, job rotation, job crafting, participative management, etc. But do something.

7) Leverage Stress for Greater Health. The more experienced and successful managers I have met seem to harbor a special secret: they all (1) recognize that stress actually is not only inevitable but part of the job, (2) find ways to leverage stress in ways that end up motivating workers to work smarter and harder, and (3) even--at times--create stress as a way to enhance overall morale. To understand this last part, you only need to review human motivation: Performance = Motivation X Ability. Managers can do a lot to increase ability and increase motivation and many times this has to do with laying down new challenges of work performance that are stressful.


But, according to our research, they also can do one of five things to enhance positive stress:

Strength of Character: They adopt virtue-based qualities and a set of ethics that guides their associates to remain strong in the face of stressors. Such virtues include integrity, trust, wisdom, and cooperativeness. They communicate stress as an opportunity for growth.

Self-Awareness: They show an active willingness to self-reflect, stay mindful of their impact on others, and regulate their behavior. They do so by supporting the use of evaluation processes to surface and address issues.

Socialized Power Motivation: They cultivate an altruistic motive to positive interpersonal influence, one where they show as much or more concern for the greater good as for their own personal achievement. This motive can over-ride any ego desire to dominate, control, or micro-manage.

Requisite Self-Reliance: They feel secure enough to either use their own stress management skills or to rely on others to help them deal with the often intense and complex work demands that come with leading people. They are interdependent, rather stoically or ruggedly independent.

Diverse Professional Supports: Healthy managers have good levels of social support, with access to diverse social networks that enhance their quality of work-life. By having diverse supports, not relying only on one group, these managers buffer the negative effects of stress on health. As a result, they frame adverse events, crises, or stressors as factors that can be “taken on” by the workplace community. The seven practicable "guidelines" that are reviewed here are just one possible set. Even if you can only do one of these you are well on your way to creating a healthy workplace. I hope that you can join me and OWLS at the upcoming workshop in Minneapolis and make a difference.


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