The idea that you’re nothing without your health is more widely understood than ever following the events of the past year. It has always shaped how we approach things at HeadUp. Organizations that invest in wellbeing and provide it to their employees are organizations that understand this.
When I see CEOs who place value on helping their employees show up in their best physical and mental shape, I see strong leadership. Because they understand that this puts each employee on the path to a long, healthy, happy life – which is so much more than just good business. It’s the most important legacy a business can leave its people.
If you’re a CEO, it’s worth contemplating whether or not health is something that’s valued inside your organization. If you look around, you may see shades of it in your business. Maybe, back when everyone showed up each day, you were offering healthy food in the kitchen, or discounts on gym memberships. Perhaps you have been running resilience training, or perhaps you’ve even offered biometric screening or HRA’s in the past.
All of these have their place, but I’d argue that the first place you should look for inspiration is in the mirror.
Creating a true culture of health isn’t a task that can be delegated or paid lip service to. It requires you to lead by example, to quite literally walk the talk. It isn’t just about being seen to be doing the right things, either.
On a personal level, being a CEO requires sustained peak performance, both mentally and physically. You’ve traditionally had to travel constantly which puts extra demands on your physical health; even now, when your wings are clipped due to Covid, you’re still functioning across multiple time zones.
You’re constantly on the run; throughout your career you’ve often had to entertain, usually with the help of fatty, sugary foods and generous amounts of alcohol. Finding the time to burn off all of these calories gets a little harder each year as the demand on your time grows from people, emails, virtual and actual meetings and targets to hit.
You’ve had to compromise on sleep in order to get things done and you’re often just running on fumes and coffee. It’s not unusual to see friendships slip because of the demands on your time and your need to juggle family and work. Leading a company is hard enough when you’re healthy but trying to do it when you’re fatigued and dragging extra baggage around makes it much harder than it needs to be.
Healthy employer, healthy employee
CEOs who prioritize their physical and mental health perform at their highest level; they run better companies. They’re also most likely to take better care of their employees because they understand firsthand the connection between things like exercising each day and remaining sharp, energetic and on form. These CEOs are leaders who set an example and send the message: ‘this company cares about your health, and we expect you to care about it, too’.
A fundamental hallmark of good health is accepting personal responsibility. The healthcare system, government and your HR department can help create a conducive environment, but people have to make the effort themselves. This acceptance of personal responsibility amongst employees is a significant predictor of better personal resilience, lower absenteeism, high engagement and improved productivity.
Making health a priority means weaving it permanently into your schedule and making those around you aware of it. It actually takes discipline to ensure that your calendar doesn’t become overrun by late nights and early starts which means that time for exercise gets bumped off your list week after week, and year after year.
You may have climbed the corporate ladder when you were young and full of youthful exuberance, powered by the adrenalin of the daily cut and thrust of business, but as you get older and new demands emerge, you may be reaching a point where you no longer have the reserve fuel tank of energy you once did.
This is often a warning bell that things have to change. A CEO who lacks energy is a big problem for an organization. So is a highly stressed one. Your decision-making suffers and so does your ability to concentrate and pay attention. I’ve worked for nearly 20 years across the world with every kind of organization in every kind of industry and I know this is true – show me a CEO who isn’t exercising, eating well and getting enough rest, and I’ll show you an organization that’s bound to follow suit.
The powerful message that you’re sending out doesn’t just flow down the chain of command, it radiates in all directions.
To your board, your customers, your investors and your stakeholders. Your fitness is a proof point that you’re able to withstand the pressures of the role and continue to prioritize what’s most important – even when the going gets tough.
The value you place on health is the value your managers will place on it, and it follows that any improvement you make will be multiplied across your organization. It’s worth contemplating what this might mean for you this year. Based on HeadUp Lab’s data, of every 100 employees you lead:
- 26.3 will have high blood pressure
- 10 will have pre-diabetes and type II diabetes
- 66 will be overweight or obese
- 5 will smoke
- 36 will be dealing with depression or anxiety
- 10 aren’t getting enough sleep
Keep in mind that these are averages, so there will be valuable employees who are in most of the categories listed above. These are the people who really need you to lead them in the right direction. Read like this, wellbeing isn’t a passing management fad or something that involves ticking a few boxes for HR. It isn’t a cost either; it’s an investment in your human capital, and like any capital investment, it has an ROI that you can expect to see at some point.
Different companies have different reasons for using HeadUp, but as a CHRO from a major financial institution said to me earlier this year,
“We need our people to be healthy, so they show up to take care of our customers. Healthy staff who are able to focus on their work, means happier customers”.
And a CEO of an energy company,
“We treat health the same way we treat safety. Being sedentary and not getting enough sleep is downright dangerous, so we’re making sure we take care of our people.”
Creating a culture of health is a public declaration of your commitment to your organization’s future. Great leaders don’t just say ‘people are our greatest asset’, they actually take care of that asset, starting with themselves, and they demand that those around them make similar commitments.
After all, when you say, ‘let’s meet outside and discuss this over a walk”, who’s going to disagree? Most likely no one. As a CEO, you cast a commanding shadow that can shape your entire organization.