Skip to main content

Managing Your Well-Being as a Leader

Research shows that today’s leaders are suffering from poor well-being and mental health issues more so than ever before. Too often, they put the needs of the business or their team before their own needs. Much like airline pre-flight instructions to “put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others,” leaders need to take a similar approach by managing their own well-being first.

By doing so, you can become role models for your employees and build stronger team relationships that lead to better health and productivity outcomes. The following toolkit gives you the inspiration, advice, and real-world examples to guide you on your journey to better well-being.

Why Your Well-Being as Manager is a Priority

Start thinking about your well-being as a priority first with these key questions.

  • Have you adapted your work style to support your own well-being in work-life balance?
  • What habits or rituals do you have in place to support your well-being?
  • What steps are you taking to prevent yourself from feeling isolated?
  • Are you sharing your own struggles with your employees and asking them how they are doing during this difficult time?

The most important takeaway is prioritizing your own well-being first, because as a leader, it's your job to demonstrate what success looks like to your team members. This includes all facets of well-being and as a leader, you must recognize that your mental wellness is directly linked to the well-being of your team members. Does this mean that you have to be a perfect example of success? Absolutely not. But it's critical that you take steps in the right direction, and ideally, be transparent about your journey with your employees, so they're inspired to take action as well.

Manage Your Work-Life from Anywhere

Set workplace well-being goals

Setting goals helps us know where to focus, and when these goals are developed the right way, they can guide our day-to-day actions and behaviors so we can ultimately achieve our objectives. Remember, your well-being as a manager it critical for your own quality of life and linked to the well-being of your employees.

Here’s how to set goals specifically around your well-being in three steps to setting goals that will actually move the needle on your well-being.

  1. Identify the areas that you'd like to work on.
  2. Set big picture goals that will help you progress in the identified areas.
  3. Break down these long-term goals into specific actions you can incorporate into your routine on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Here are some examples:

  • Wanting to feel more energized during the day, set long-term goals to improve your sleep routine, physical activity, and diet.
  • Aim to go to bed one hour earlier each night and take a 30-minute walk on your lunch break at least three times a week.
  • Read or listen to one book a week
  • Attend at least one yoga class a week
  • Cook dinner at least three times a week
  • Go on a date or outing at least one time a week.
  • Experience one learning adventure a week such as visiting a museum.
  • Attend one monthly dinner club with friends.
Create boundaries with your team

Today's workforce is working remotely more regularly. While we're fortunate to have the technology to make this possible, being accessible by anyone at any time of the day can make it difficult to set work-life boundaries. For example, by making themselves available at all times of the day or on weekends. However, this is highly problematic because not only does it prevent you from optimizing your well-being, it also sends a message to your team members that they should follow your lead. And you and your team will be missing out on the many benefits of better work-life balance, which include greater life satisfaction, increased organizational commitment, and better mental and physical health.

Here are three steps you should take to create effective boundaries, and remember, by taking these steps, you'll also be improving the well-being of your team members:

  1. Establish your boundaries. Make sure the guidelines you set are specific, actionable and realistic. Example: Aim to be online no later than 6:00 p.m. You should commit to being offline for at least 30 minutes during the day to allow for breaks and then ask your employees to email you rather than messaging you directly to avoid constant interruptions.
  2. Communicate expectations to your employees. Then describe how you'd like things to be going forward. Example: Let your team know that you've invested in their well-being and that you intend to set the example and acknowledge that while it's okay for employees to have different work style preferences, you do expect them to set some boundaries for themselves and they also need to respect your boundaries.
  3. Live up to your commitments and be a role model. Exemplify what it's like to have lived a well-balanced life and don't be afraid to share your success with your team. Example: Let them know that the new way of working has allowed you to spend more time with friends and family or perhaps you finally found more time to exercise. Remember, you're human too, and not only is it okay for your employees to see you in this light, but it’s also actually highly beneficial for your team morale and cohesiveness.

While establishing boundaries may be difficult, it's an important first step toward improving your well-being, and your healthy attitude towards balancing your personal and professional life will surely rub off on your employees with far-reaching benefits for your team and your department.

Use your calendar to your advantage

It's normal for leaders to say that they live by their calendars, but too often, their schedule's focused exclusively on work, and when you're ambitious and passionate about what you do, it's easy to let your work spill over into evenings and weekends. The outcomes of this are detrimental not only for your own well-being, but also the well-being of those you're closest to and the well-being of your direct reports, because when you set the example of prioritizing work above all other activities, your team members will believe that the same is expected of them.

Leaders who have a high level of well-being are almost always using their calendars to block off time for their family, self-care, and social activities. Here are several ways to use your calendar to your advantage:

  1. Learn how to make the most of your workday and block off time accordingly. Example: someone who writes best in the morning will often block off this time to write saving meetings and administrative work for the afternoon. By taking a similar approach, you'll avoid spending an unnecessary amount of time on tasks that could be more efficiently accomplished at other times of the day, and this will give you more time in your schedule for other activities.
  2. Block off time for personal and social commitments, just as you would block off time for work. Example: a leader who noted that beyond her work meetings and tasks, she adds events and dinners with friends and family to her calendar as well as appointments, exercise classes, and even just time to read or meditate.
  3. Use your calendar to build in self-care habits throughout the day. Example: you might set an alarm to stand up and stretch every half hour or an alarm that reminds you to drink a glass of water or grab a healthy snack. Leverage technology to help keep you on track.

Create Daily Habits to Feel Reassured

Start the day with a routine

Let’s move from general ideas to boost your well-being to looking at specific habits you can incorporate into your schedule. The morning is critical because it sets the tone for your entire day. Creating a morning routine can help you feel more in control of your day, and it's also a great way to fit in activities that will improve your health, not to mention your mood, your ability to focus, and your energy levels.

  1. Decide how much time you can realistically set aside in the morning. Example: Perhaps you're already allowing 30 minutes for breakfast and coffee. Ask yourself if it would be possible to wake up a little earlier to incorporate one or two additional activities. Start small, and if things go well, you can always expand on your routine.
  2. Decide what activities would be the most impactful to add your routine. Think about the well-being goals you set for yourself mentioned above and how you could make progress towards those. Example: A leader uses the first 20 to 30 minutes of their day to focus on their mind and body. They meditate, stretch, listen to music, eat a healthy breakfast, go outside for some fresh air, and take a cold shower.
  3. Take steps to set yourself up for success. Nobody wants to have a million things to do in the morning, so try to take a few minutes each evening to prepare for the next day. Example: Set out workout clothes or mix some smoothie ingredients into a blender so they're ready to go. Keep your phone on airplane mode until after your routine is complete to avoid distractions or getting pulled into work.

No matter how much time you have in the morning, creating a more purposeful routine will help you feel refreshed, energized, and ready to take on the day. And by setting yourself up to be at your very best during the workday, you'll also be an inspiration to others, including your team members.

End the day with a routine

We've covered how to improve your morning routine, now, let's look at your evening routine, which is equally important.

Many leaders struggle with being able to disconnect at a reasonable hour. However, it's critical that you take time in the evenings to decompress. When you don't, it can trigger a constant stress response that may lead to sleep issues, headaches anxiety, high blood pressure, and even digestive issues. On a more basic level, by not stepping away from your work at night, you'll have less time for family and friends, and less time for your own hobbies and interests.

  1. Commit to stepping away from your work responsibilities at a reasonable hour. For most of the leaders, this is typically between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM. There are some tips and tricks to making sure you can disconnect even if it's just for a little while. Example: A leader sometimes suspends her email from syncing for a few hours. Other leaders shut down their work device entirely or put them in “do not disturb” mode. This doesn't mean you have to completely sign off each night but try to minimize responding to emails unless it's an emergency. This sets a bad example for your team members who may also be trying to make the most of their evenings.
  2. Incorporate habits into your post-workout routine. Example: Using your evenings to spend time with your family and friends, read, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, run errands, cook, go out to dinner, watch TV, or listen to music.

You'll want to save the more relaxing activities for later in the evening. So going back to the well-being goals referenced earlier, think about what activities would be the most meaningful for you, schedule them on your calendar if you need to, and above all, be present during the evenings just like you aim to be present during the workday.

Experiment with self-care rituals

Now that we've covered some habits you can add to your morning and evening routines, let's focus on self-care. Self-care rituals can be incorporated throughout your entire day, both at work and at home. However, many leaders neglect this, partly because there's a misconception about what self-care really is, but also because leaders see this as a luxury that they simply don't have time for.

Reframe how you think about self-care.

  • What self-care should include is any activity that improves your emotional or physical well-being. Think of it as an investment you're making in yourself and your team members, because the research on this is clear, that improving your well-being can boost your mood, energy levels, focus and even your ability to be empathetic. When you are stressed, your effectiveness as a leader is diminished from your decision-making abilities to your productivity and focus levels.

Taking micro breaks throughout the day every few hours to:

  • Sit at your desk and shut your eyes for a few minutes
  • Meditate or practice breathing exercises
  • Go for walks for fresh air, coffee or stop by a colleague’s office
  • Stretch
  • Watch a funny video
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Do a crossword puzzle
  • Read a chapter of a book you're enjoying.

Start by scheduling time for this on your calendar such as 10-to-15-minute breaks every two hours or a few minutes before or after work, then experiment with what works for you. As a leader, you set the example for your people. So let your employees know why you're focused on self-care. Be transparent about what's working for you and make it clear that you encourage them to do the same to lead by example. Not only will you improve your well-being, but you'll also have a healthier and better performing team.

Stay Connected to Prevent Isolation

Be intentional about reaching out

If you're like many leaders, you may be so busy that you forget to take time to connect with your team members, but especially in today's increasingly remote workplace, it's crucial that you build and maintain these relationships. Ask yourself these questions:

  • When was the last time you asked one of your employees how they're doing, and instead of just replying good, they shared something about themselves?
  • When was the last time you shared personal information with your team?

Relationships are becoming the leading contributor to workplace well-being, which is correlated with higher job satisfaction and engagement, as well as greater organizational and team commitment. One leader stated:

"When you think about the fact that we spend one third of our lives at work, it has to feel like a second home. Life is too short to spend 40 to 60 hours a week with people you don't have a good personal relationship with."

Here are three steps you can take to cultivate stronger relationships with your team:

  1. Make time to connect with your employees. If you have an office, you could establish an open-door policy and encourage team members to stop by anytime, or you could set up regular one-on-one check-ins to see how employees are feeling about work and how they're doing in their personal lives.
  2. Ask meaningful questions about employees' families, hobbies, and interests during these interactions. Do your best to remember their answers and follow up when it makes sense. For example, if your team member mentions that they're training for a 5k race, note the date and ask how it went.
  3. Extend the relationship building to the broader team. You could start off every team call with a quick round table where everyone shares a personal update. Another idea is to create a shared online space where employees can post about their interests and hobbies.

Be sure to lead by example and share information about your own life. You may be surprised to find out how much you have in common with your team members. If it feels overwhelming to remember everyone's stories, you can create a file for each employee where you can jot down notes about them.

Remember that you and your team members are spending a significant portion of your lives together and you're also working toward common goals. By investing time into these personal interactions, it can make a big impact, not only on your employee's well-being, but also on your own.

Use technology as a lifeline

While nothing replaces face-to-face socialization, technology can facilitate different types of interactions that can make leaders and their employees feel less isolated and more connected to one another. You need to ensure that you're using technology to engage your team, but not overusing it to the point where it drains people or distracts them from their work. When leaders do find what works best for everyone, they can use these tools to promote community, build the social fabric in their organization and improve well-being.

Here are three ways you can leverage technology to cultivate stronger connections with your team:

  1. Make an effort to see your employees face-to-face by using video conferencing tools and encouraging them to do the same with each other. Being able to make eye contact and observe someone's body language makes it much easier to connect and empathize with them.
  2. Create informal spaces and channels where employees can interact with one another. For example, Microsoft Teams is an instant messenger platform that can be used for work as well as socialization. You can create a channel specifically for non-work communication, where you and your team members can share hobbies and interests, your favorite music or TV shows, or the latest news. It's a great way for everyone to get to know one another on a more personal level.
  3. Hold virtual coffee chats, lunches, or other similar get-togethers. This can be accomplished by using video conferencing tools, just as you would for a meeting, but with no structure or agenda. These types of informal meetups can strengthen the bonds between employees who don't know each other well.

Experiment with what works for you and your employees, no matter what approach you take, you'll see that encouraging these interactions, not only boosts people's individual well-being and morale, but it also creates a more cohesive team. You're also likely to discover that your own well-being, happiness, and leadership abilities improve along the way.

Know both your limits and your team’s limits

How often do you check on your own well-being? If you're serious about making improvements, it's critical that you regularly assess your progress. Part of this includes asking yourself key questions that can help you make the right adjustments in a timely and therefore more effective way.

In the morning, it's important to reflect on how you're feeling and contemplate what you could be doing differently or how you can build on your momentum. Relevant questions include:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • Why do I feel that way?

If you're energized, is it because you've got enough sleep and exercise the previous day. If you're tired, is it because you've been working too much?

Identify what factors are either helping or hurting your well-being and adjust your actions accordingly, such as:

  • What am I looking forward to today?

Whether it's time with friends, a yoga class, or a stroll to the local coffee shop, every day should include moments of joy and happiness, as these are key for the overall well-being and effectiveness as a leader.

The end of each day is a great time to reflect on whether you took steps in the right direction and how you feel as a result. You might ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • Why do I feel that way?
  • What brought me joy today?
  • What did I do to improve my well-being?
  • Did I make time for people I care about?
  • Did I make time for myself?

As you go through this process of daily self-reflection, you'll likely identify behavioral changes you can make to immediately boost your well-being, but it may also be necessary to reflect on the bigger picture actions that could help you move the needle on this. For example, you might ask yourself:

  • What could I let go of right now that's getting in the way of my health and well-being?

Learning how to say no to things that no longer serve you is key to getting the time back in your schedule for the things that do matter. Also, you could ask yourself:

  • What am I doing right now that I don't enjoy, or I find burdensome?
  • Can I delegate it or forget it entirely?

For leaders, these are critical question to ask. We often get so accustomed to our own way of working that we forget to take a step back and identify whether we're making the best use of our time. As you master the skills required for this ongoing self-assessment and adjustment process, think about how you can use some of the same techniques for check-ins with your team.

Seek help from other managers

If you're like many leaders, you may struggle with isolation, stress, or anxiety, all of which can get in the way of your progress toward better well-being at work. Or you may find that you're lacking the motivation to make the changes you need. It's easy to feel like you should take on this burden by yourself, but you don't have to do it alone. In fact, one of the most critical steps a leader can take on their journey to workplace well-being is to find a peer support group.

Peer Support Groups

Think of your well-being in the same way, you'd approach an important work project. You'd surely ask for feedback on a project if doing so would boost its likelihood of success and your well-being can also benefit from an outside perspective. With a peer support group, you'll get different perspectives on common challenges, and you'll learn about best practice, tools, and resources. You'll also get accountability.

For example, one leader highlighted how the members of his support group help each other stay balanced and feel greater fulfillment. They do this by inspiring each other to bring more self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-reflection into their daily lives.

As you're looking to either join a peer support group or create one of your own, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Decide if there are any commonalities you're looking for. It can be beneficial to connect with leaders from the same industry or a function or geography.
  2. Look for a group that's run by an experienced small group facilitator. Ideally someone who's received formal training and has a wide breadth of experience in the business world.
  3. Commit to a regular meeting schedule. A support group needs to meet at least once a month, but it may also make sense to hold smaller pop-up meetings from time to time.
  4. Keep the size of the group fairly small Most experts agreed that a maximum of 10 people is ideal to ensure that everyone can contribute and be heard. With a peer support group not only can you accelerate your own progress, but you'll also be able to give back your wisdom and experience to others. And in return, your team and your peer's teams will benefit from having leaders who prioritize their well-being.

Be Vulnerable About Your Mental Health

Be vulnerable with your team

Vulnerability is a great strength. Opening up to your team encourages them to open up, which fosters greater trust and authenticity and creates more meaningful workplace relationships. In fact, trust is the most important ingredient for a high-functioning team, because when people can provide honest feedback, the whole team benefits. But how can being more vulnerable help your well-being? Bottling up your stress only makes it worse and it's harmful to your health and being the type of leader who holds things in sends the message to your team that they should take the same approach. If you open up, you might be surprised at how much your employees care about you and want to support you. For example, a leader describes a time when things were very rough for her:

I was going through a divorce and my father was also quite sick. Months into this, I finally pulled aside my team and let them know what was going on. The team was so sincere in their response that it genuinely helped me get through that difficult time. This experience made me realize that while it's important to maintain boundaries, we're all human and sometimes you just need to let people in.

Exhibiting vulnerability requires a high level of emotional intelligence and humility, which means you'll need to get comfortable with admitting to your mistakes and weaknesses. The good news is there's always a way to practice being more vulnerable. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Open up about who you are as a person. A good starting point is to talk about your life outside of work. Humanizing yourself gives people a chance to connect with you on a personal level.
  2. Be more honest about how you're feeling. Don't just say what you think people want to hear. If you are stressed or anxious about the latest work project, tell your team, and then take the opportunity to get their feelings on the situation, as well as their ideas for how to move forward.
  3. Ask for help. Whether you're struggling with work or dealing with a personal issue, asking for your employees for support doesn't just take some of the burden off your shoulders, it will also make them feel a deeper sense of purpose and meaning.

At the end of the day, we all need someone to lean on when things get tough. Don't be afraid of being vulnerable. You'll have to find the right balance between openness and professionalism, but with practice, you'll get there and you and your team and your business will benefit.

Relate to your team’s struggles

Now that we’ve covered how to be more vulnerable with your team members, it's essential that you create a safe space for them to open up as well. It's important that employees can be honest and feel like they're supported. Your role is critical in your team’s well-being. The reality is that if your employees are struggling with work-life balance or issues with burnout and stress, it's likely that you can provide guidance to help. Here's how to create awareness of the issues your workers are dealing with:

  • Set the example by being vulnerable with your staff. You can do this by sharing when you're struggling with something at work or in your personal life. Once you're moving in the right direction, create opportunities for open dialogue. For example, during one-on-one check-ins or team meetings.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. You'll likely find that some employees will be open about their personal life and well-being while others may prefer to focus on work-related topics, either way is okay. It's a good idea to ask more general questions and then let employees decide how much they want to share.
  • Show that you relate to how your team members are feeling and empathize with what they're going through. This is especially true when it comes to their health and well-being. So let your employees know that you've also dealt with challenges because you're human too.
  • When your staff shares that their work is negatively affecting their well-being, it's critical that you approach this a bit differently. It's great if your team feels comfortable sharing their work-related problems, but if you listen without acting, they'll quickly stop sharing and their engagement will plummet. Instead, encourage employees to provide input on solutions that will benefit everyone. They may agree that they need more time off or help with setting up work-life boundaries. They might also decide to create self-care goals that the whole team will work towards together. Listen to their ideas and then take timely action to support them.

No matter how you approach it, having these open information exchanges with your team will support everyone on their journey to better well-being at work. You'll also find that a culture of greater openness and transparency will boost employee morale and create a more positive working environment.

Perform regular check-ins

Holding regular check-ins with your team members is a critical way to see how they're doing, not just at work but also in their personal lives. When it comes to asking your workers about their health, there may be valid concerns you have about overstepping or prying. When you approach this in a thoughtful and deliberate way, checking in allows you to be proactive about any issues employees flag so you can help your staff make progress towards better well-being at work. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when checking in with your team:

  1. Check in on a regular basis. Many leaders do a brief check in with their team members each morning and also schedule longer one-on-one check-ins once a week or every two weeks. During these conversations, keep your questions fairly general, and let employees do the talking. For example, asking a simple question like, "How are you doing with your workload?" can reveal a lot about how your employees are feeling and what they might be dealing with.
  2. When it comes to workers' physical and mental health, it's important to avoid being too intrusive. Again, it's a good idea to start with a general question, and then allow employees to lead the conversation. For example, you might say, "I know things are stressful right now for a lot of people. How are you doing this these days, if you don't mind me asking?"
  3. Be careful not to overstep when employees reveal they are struggling. Of course, sometimes it will be your responsibility to fix the problem at hand but don't try to take charge of a personal problem they're dealing with. Instead, ask how you can support them, and suggest tools and resources that might help.
  4. Empathize by sharing your own struggles, especially if you don't already have close connections with your team members. Doing so will help humanize you as a leader, and it will make it more likely that your staff will open up to you. By regularly checking in and following up with them, you'll be well on your way to helping improve their well-being at work.

This content was adapted from the course Managing Your Well-Being as a Leader through LinkedIn Learning.