As a leader, it’s not hard for you to recognize the impact you have on your team members when they are at work. But if you’re like the hundreds of leaders I work with every year, you are vastly underestimating the impact you’re having on the rest of your employees’ lives.
One of my clients recently shared with me advice he got when he was promoted to leadership. He told me he finds it sobering to this day (more than a decade later): “You’ll now be a frequent topic of conversation at your employees’ family dinner.”
You have influence over your team members’ physical and emotional well-being, and your impact extends well beyond your workers—to their families and the larger community.
If you’re a boss, this can feel like a heavy burden to bear.
However, looked at from another perspective, if you maintain awareness of this influence, and wield it wisely, you can have a massive impact — through your employees, to their families, and their communities.
In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly how you have so much influence and then we’ll discuss practical strategies for harnessing this influence to make a positive impact.
For a more in-depth look at how to boost your ability to contribute in a positive way beyond the bounds of your organization, read my book Everyone Wants to Work Here: Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team, and Be the Leader in Your Market.
The Extensive Impact of Leaders
Let’s take a look at the evidence of leaders’ impact:
Impact on Individuals
According to Gallup, the top causes of burnout at work are:
- unfair treatment,
- unmanageable workload,
- lack of role clarity,
- lack of communication and support from a manager, and
- unreasonable time pressure.
It’s easy to see that all of these factors relate to the employee’s relationship with leadership, and the culture at work.
Unfortunately, a worker who is burning out will display the following traits:
- lack of energy, physically and emotionally
- cynicism toward their job
- increasing apathy due to consistent lack of progress
So looking at these facts together, it’s clear that leaders have the power to harm an individual employee’s well-being and hinder their productivity at work.
But how rampant is burnout? According to Gallup, 76% of employees experience symptoms of burnout at least some of the time!
Impact on Families
Research shows that employees’ happiness or unhappiness at work can impact their families, and vice versa. One study out of Virginia Tech measured the stress level of after-hours work emails, not only on the employees who received these messages, but also on the families of those employees.
The study surveyed employees and their significant others in 17 diverse industries. An analysis of 637 survey respondents revealed that when a boss expects an employee to be available to work after hours, it creates stress and anxiety for the employee.
Even if the employee never actually receives an after-hours email, knowing they might do so creates “anticipatory stress” that prevents the worker from disengaging from work while at home.
The researchers found that on the days that participants expected their employers to contact them after hours, they felt worse and had more conflicts with their partners. Their partners reported higher levels of anxiety and lower relationship satisfaction.
Impact on Communities
If leaders can negatively impact employees and their families, it flows logically that they are also impacting the larger community and world. Our communities are made up of employees.
If these employees work for leaders who promote a culture of urgency — a culture in which workers are encouraged (or not discouraged) to burn the candle at both ends for the sake of increased “productivity” – then it follows that these employees have less time to devote to volunteering in their communities.
Unhappy and stressed workers do not have the reserves to serve on the local school board or coach their child’s soccer team. They do not have the bandwidth to do “extras,” like mentoring others in the community, or working at a food bank to feed the homeless.
How Leaders Can Support Workers & Teams
The good news is that leaders have more power than they think to positively influence individuals, families, communities, and the world. By implementing the right strategies, they can design a culture where everyone wants to work. Let’s take a look at exactly how to do this.
Empower Employees to Make Their Own Decisions
Empowered employees feel energized by the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing important things at work. They are not micromanaged. Instead, they have true control over their workflow. They clearly know their role and responsibilities and feel confident to make decisions within these parameters.
More importantly, empowered employees are not afraid to make mistakes.
When employees feel that they truly have control over their workdays, they know they can accept or reject meeting invitations, and aren’t putting in “seat time” at the office just to satisfy you. Instead, as a leader, you work with your employees to outline the significant results that you expect them to achieve in a given timeframe, and then you evaluate their progress against these metrics.
Protect Proactive Time
In a culture of urgency, leaders expect team members to provide immediate responses to incoming messages from them, other coworkers, or customers. But in most cases, this expectation of answering communications in near real-time undermines the ability of knowledge workers to apply themselves in a meaningful way.
If you want your team members to work proactively rather than reactively, you’ll need to clearly outline a communication policy designed to protect their ability to manage their attention and focus on their most important tasks throughout their work days.
You’ll need to encourage your team members to set boundaries with other people and with technology, so that they can focus on unleashing their genius in service of achieving their most significant results.
Support Work-Life Balance
Supporting work-life balance is easier said than done. But it’s certainly possible, and I have outlined specific ways to do so in several of my books, including my latest.
One of the most important ways for leaders to dismantle a culture of urgency is to model the behavior they want to see.
It undermines your culture when you pay lip service to work-life balance and then email your employees after hours, even if you tell them you don’t expect them to respond right away to your message.
And it’s not helpful to say you want everyone to get appropriate rest to recharge, but then you don’t take your vacation days. Or, if you do, you stay in contact with the office during that time.
As a leader, it’s critical to practice what you preach when it comes to work-life balance.
Leaders, You Can Fix This
When I help leaders realize the extent of their influence, they are often surprised—and sometimes dismayed or overwhelmed. But the good news is that because of this influence, leaders have an incredible opportunity to wield a one-of-a-kind win-win proposition.
By supporting team members to unleash their unique genius as you dismantle a culture of urgency, you not only improve the well-being of individuals, families, and communities, but you also increase overall productivity, along with your company’s bottom line.
An important point to remember is that if you help employees have more days that end with, “That was such a good day, I got so much done!” then you’ll not only be helping your employees, you’ll be contributing to the success of the organization.
What’s good for the employees is also what’s good for the company.
Learn much more about how you can improve your work culture (and dismantle a toxic one) in my book Everyone Wants to Work Her