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Global research

Walking our talk

Wisdom Works has conducted a first-ever study of leaders across the health and wellbeing industry. Renee Moorefield and Kate McIver outline the findings

This industry is the custodian for health and wellbeing globally shutterstock/Kzenon
Thriving should be a standard of success shutterstock/Ground Picture
Burnout, stress and exhaustion affects more women than men shutterstock/Evgeny Atamanen

Wellbeing is becoming a driver of brand performance, workforce engagement and social and environmental change — and is one of the central challenges and opportunities of leadership today. Within work settings, applying the science and practices of wellbeing is at the top of leadership agendas to enhance the employee experience and strengthen the collaboration, adaptability, and effectiveness of people, teams, networks and entire organisations.

This wellbeing leadership agenda is even more crucial for organisations in the health and wellbeing industry. Why? Because this industry is on the frontline of assisting with the mental, physical and social toll that individuals, organisations, and communities often experience due to the escalating changes and complexities in every corner of our world.

Leading in the Health & Wellbeing Industry 2023 is the first time a study has asked: As leaders of health and wellbeing industries, are we thriving personally? Are we advancing wellbeing through how we lead?

Key findings emerged from this study revealing considerable potential for health and wellbeing industry leaders to enhance wellbeing leadership for themselves and the people and organisations they serve. Role modelling — or authentically walking the wellbeing talk — is crucial, especially in an industry that the rest of the world looks to for health and wellbeing solutions and advice.

Leading in the Health & Wellbeing Industry 2023 reveals that leaders in this industry are collectively reporting that they are not as internally well-resourced as they could be to handle the complexities and challenges they face. With leaders as a linchpin for people’s experience at work, this study brings to light the need for integrating the science and practices of wellbeing into leader development as a strategy for improving leadership, work culture, and industry impact.

This study is not only a clarion call for health and wellbeing industry leaders to prioritise wellbeing for themselves and the people and organisations they serve; it is a voice for making thriving a standard of success across the industry. We believe the industry can increase its global impact by “putting on its own mask first.”

Higher leadership impact
Across the health and wellbeing industry, this study found the psychological wellbeing of leaders strongly correlated with the impact they reported. Leaders who scored high in their mental and emotional wellbeing also reported greater abilities to energise others, maximise the effectiveness and growth of others and cultivate a positive, collaborative work environment.

The research found that a leader’s psychological wellbeing explained 34 per cent of the leadership impact they reported. Meaning that as the leader’s individual wellbeing rose, so did their perceived capacity to positively impact those around them.

Potential for growth
While this study found higher leader wellbeing linked to higher leadership impact, leaders across the health and wellbeing industry generally reported room for improving their wellbeing leadership.

For this study, health and wellbeing industry leaders were categorised as high, average and low in their reported wellbeing leadership. Of the leaders who scored high wellbeing leadership, 38 per cent were from the Global Wellness Economy sector — more than the Healthcare and Human Potential & Development sectors.

Although wellbeing leadership for health and wellbeing industry leaders was reportedly not as robust as it could be, these leaders indicated a high degree of job autonomy in making decisions at work.

Additionally, 68 per cent of health and wellbeing industry leaders scored high in mindfulness. These findings suggest that, should these leaders choose to prioritise wellbeing, they have the self-awareness and ability to do so within their job scope — with likely positive ripple effects for people and tasks.

Middle managers need support
Across the health and wellbeing industry, first- and mid-level managers reported lower wellbeing leadership as compared with other leadership levels. While they represented 35 per cent of the study sample, these managers were only 28 per cent of those leaders reporting high wellbeing leadership. Comparatively, top management represented 39 per cent of the study sample, yet 41 per cent of leaders reporting high wellbeing leadership.

This suggests that while mid-level and first-line management generally perceived themselves as able to meet their stresses and demands in life and work, they were not thriving while doing so. As this pool of leaders are the future of the industry, this finding highlights a critical opportunity for retaining and developing top talent by empowering middle-and first-line management to prioritise wellbeing.

Levels of leader
When compared with middle- and first-line management, top management and non-managerial leaders across the health and wellbeing industry perceived greater job autonomy – the ability to make decisions within the scope of their responsibilities. Plus, they perceived their work culture as more organic and participative.

Across organisational and management research, higher job autonomy and a participative work culture are generally shown to be associated with higher wellbeing. Although top managers reported higher job autonomy and participative work culture, this study suggests that all sectors can enrich the work experience of middle- and first-line management by increasing their autonomy and meaningful participation and connection at work.

Women are more stressed
Leadership research has frequently shown burnout, stress and exhaustion affecting women more than men. This study of leaders across the health and wellbeing industry is no different. Leaders who identified as female represented 65 per cent of leaders in the study sample yet 71 per cent of leaders in the high stress category.

An inside-out job
In today’s organisations, effective leadership is an inside-out job. It’s a stance you take to actively steward work conditions where all people can be effective, grow and thrive. Findings from Leading in the Health & Wellbeing Industry 2023 reveal that leaders across the industry can increase their ability to face growing leadership complexities and demands by strengthening their inner wellbeing. Plus, these leaders can proactively reinforce thriving work cultures. Since this industry is the custodian for the health and wellbeing of people and societies globally, we believe a strategic focus on wellbeing-driven leadership is not optional for the industry’s business and social outcomes.

Integrating wellbeing into leadership impact isn’t a sprint, nor is it an event, programme or fad. It is a marathon requiring a dedicated commitment to real transformation — a transformation that can begin right where you are.

About the study:

About the study: Leading in the Health & Wellbeing Industry 2023, conducted by Wisdom Works, represents a survey of 841 leaders spanning 71 countries and impacting a reported 19 million people. Health and wellbeing industry leaders answered 133 questions to examine their experience of the organisation, everyday stressors and two areas psychological wellbeing and leadership impact that combine into ‘wellbeing leadership’. Psychological wellbeing includes 16 psychometrics that provide a window into a leader’s perceived internal resourcefulness to meet their life and work demands with a high quality of life, competence and growth. The three psychometrics of leadership impact shed light on the leaders’ reported ability to amplify thriving for people at work.

Source: Leading in the Health and Wellbeing Industry 2023
photo: Wisdom Works Group
About the author:

Renee Moorefield, PhD, MCC is CEO of Wisdom Works, a social enterprise working with global companies to bring the science and practices of human thriving to life in their work cultures, brands and leadership — and make thriving a new standard of success.

photo: Wisdom Works Group
About the author:

Kate McIver is the steward of programs and communication for Wisdom Works, where she guides the delivery of transformational leadership development in support of making thriving the new standard for leadership.

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2023 issue 1
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