Why Positive Management Training Should be Part of your Company Wellness Program

Most organizations understand the value in promoting employee health and wellness.  Investments are made in wellness centers, gym memberships and weight loss programs.  Turns out there is another key to employee health—good management. A recent Washington Post article, “Is your boss making you sick,” outlines scientific evidence that working for a boss with poor management skills is bad for your health.  The article quotes Jonathan D. Quick from Harvard Medical School; “The evidence is clear that the leadership qualities of ‘bad’ bosses over time exert a heavy toll on employees’ health.”  The article outlines the potential detrimental health impact of working for a bad boss (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety, sleep disturbance, increased use of alcohol and tobacco).  Importantly, Quick notes “The evidence is also clear that despite the rationalizations some leaders may use to defend their stress-inducing, unsupportive style, such behavior by leaders does not contribute to improved individual performance or organizational productivity.”

With so much on the line, it is surprising how few companies really invest in helping leaders learn positive, impactful management strategies. A training class or two is all the average manager gets.  Training alone doesn’t lead to proficiency in anything least of which the complex task of managing people.  It is also surprising how many organizations allow poor managers to continue to manage despite all the evidence that it hurts the business and it hurts the employees.  Why is this so? One reason is that bad bosses often get good results—at least in the short term, and the negative side effects aren’t immediately evident.   Another reason is the myth that being tough, demanding and using fear-based strategies means being effective. 

The scientific evidence clearly disproves this myth.  Sustained exemplary performance comes from discretionary effort and discretionary effort can only be achieved through the use of positive reinforcement. It may be the case that those involved in organizational safety will lead the way on adopting and requiring more positive management strategies.  Many organizations have invested in positive safety leadership training and coaching as the effects of poor safety leadership has become more evident.  These organizations know that the underreporting, lack of engagement and minimal compliance that comes from negative management strategies will not get them to the next level in safety.  Reducing injuries requires engagement and going beyond minimal compliance, and that requires positive management. Of course, these organizations have also come to learn that safety is not the only benefactor of positive management strategies.

Good management is just good business. Below are some leadership strategies that will help improve the health of employees and lead to positive business results:

  • Develop relationships with direct reports. Good relationships make people feel cared for and enable the use of positive reinforcement which leads to discretionary effort.
  • Be specific about what employees need to do to achieve business results. Vague requests and directions are stressful.
  • Provide more frequent and helpful feedback on performance. Evidence of improvement or movement in the right direction helps reduce the sense of being overwhelmed.  Immediate corrective feedback helps employees get back on track quickly.
  • Focus on the positive. Talking to employees when they do the right things more than when they make mistakes or miss the mark will energize them to work harder.
  • Do more asking and less telling. Asking increases employees’ sense of control, is more reinforcing, and helps leaders learn more about their direct reports.
  • Use shaping to help employees improve. Looking for and positively reinforcing gradual improvements in performance is more effective and less stressful than setting stretch goals.
  • Assume your job is to create an environment that promotes success. When employees know your goal is to help them be successful they will work harder for you and be happier doing it.

  Do your company and your employees a favor and get serious about better management.  Be relentless about developing positive management strategies, about ensuring employees are well cared for, and in return you will have a safer, more productive, and a healthier workplace.

Posted by Judy Agnew, Ph.D.

As senior vice president of safety solutions, Judy spends her time helping clients create sustainable safety cultures. She also helps clients with strategy execution beyond safety, and general management and leadership improvement across cultural and generational differences.