Just how far-reaching is the “wake” you create as a leader?
As a leader of people, it’s important from time to time to hear from others about the impact you have on them. This is why 360 leadership assessments are useful. The report you get back can tell you where you are on track and doing great as a leader and where you need to tighten up and develop more skill. Understanding the perceptions of others and your impact on them very much matters in your own development, both as a leader and a human being. Your 360 may reveal that you have unhappy people working for you. This is what we call your leadership “wake.”
One element of the wake you create that you may not have considered is the impact that happiness or unhappiness at work can have on employees’ families.
A recent HBR article exploring how parents’ experience at work impacts their kids concluded that… “Parents who experienced more autonomy on the job and who had more-supportive supervisors and coworkers were in turn warmer and more engaged when interacting with their infants.” The researchers followed the families for some years and found that kids of happy workers did better in school and had fewer behavioral issues. In fact, the study showed that the parents’ happiness or unhappiness experiences at work had a measurable impact on their children’s development.
The Cost of Unhappiness at Work
If a product defect was affecting your profitability and share price, you wouldn’t just stand by and eat those costs; you’d do something about it. Well, unhappy people at work are costing you real money.
The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is lost because of workplace stress. We also know that 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job, and 60% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress.
Consider the recent data on employee disengagement. Studies by Gallup have found that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents and 60% more errors and defects. In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth and 65% lower share price over time.
Happiness researcher Annie McKee notes that the costs of stress and unhappiness go well beyond the financial. “What we know now is that stress kills health, well-being and happiness at work,” she explains. “And when we are unhappy at work, we often become disengaged, cynical, and toxic to others.”
It’s time to take action.
Where to Start
If you’re not sure where to start, consider hitting the reset button and examining how you may be causing stress for your team. Resetting means interrupting some of the unproductive ways you interact with the people who look to you for leadership. Resetting may mean paying attention to the impact you have on your team members.
Recently, I had a coaching conversation with a team leader who’d been frustrated and impatient with her team. She told me she had charged them with solving a particular issue four months earlier. But when she sat in on a meeting last week, it seemed like they hadn’t made much progress at all. Fed up, she got up and walked out. Daniel Goleman calls this low emotional self-regulation, but that’s a bit technical. Put simply, she lost her cool. And she left a lot of unhappy people in her wake.
She’s probably not too connected to the ripple of fear that started from that blow-up. But the trust and safety that were damaged could take months and years to rebuild. Productivity will drop as people talk and talk about what happened, trying to process it all. Clearly, there are better ways she could have handled the situation.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t get frustrated or mad. You are human — it happens. But what you do with that anger is what matters most. Can you calm yourself and think of several ways to say what you need to say without trashing people and what they’ve created?
Here are the three things you can do right away:
- If you catch yourself engaging with your team in an unproductive way, stop and reset as quickly as possible. Ask yourself what you might say or do that is more respectful.
- Focus on improving team relationships. This might involve taking steps to build trust and respect, or clearing up confusion about roles and responsibilities so that every member of your team knows what they are expected to do and by when. It will require you to have the hard conversations without creating collateral damage. You’ll also need to be open to feedback and act on what you’ve heard.
- Stop thinking that your perspective is the only right one. All perspectives and points of view are valid. Cultivate a culture of curiosity and appreciation for differences.
Start with the one thing you can control: your own behavior. And keep in mind that small changes can have the biggest ripple — for generations.
Previously published on Forbes