Cultivating human-centric leadership to improve employee wellbeing

A shifting landscape challenges the separation of personal and professional life, highlighting managers’ role in fostering employee wellbeing.
By: | September 25, 2023

Workplace culture is experiencing a profound transformation, underscoring the critical importance of leaders who can connect with their employees on a more personal level, according to Professor Katharina Näswall, Director of the Masters in Organisational Psychology at the University of Canterbury (UC) and Co-Lead of the university’s Workplace Analytics Research group.

Traditionally, employees were expected to leave their emotional lives at home, but a growing awareness of the importance of integrating personal and professional aspects is driving change. At the forefront of this change are managers, who play a pivotal role in this transformation. However, Näswall argued that many managers lack the necessary training and resources to effectively support employee wellbeing.

She explained, “To a large extent human resources processes remain policy and procedure focused, rather than incorporating emotional wellbeing. I’d argue that managers’ skills in this area should be a formal part of their job description, and one they’re evaluated on.”

Furthermore, she pointed out that the term “soft skills”, commonly used to describe interpersonal abilities, can inadvertently undervalue these crucial qualities. She elaborated, “We still call them ‘soft skills’. But actually, it can be harder, or at least more challenging, to ask how someone is doing, and then really listen and respond well.”

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Ongoing research by the Workplace Analyatic Research group highlights how investment in enhancing managers’ skills in this domain is yielding tangible benefits. When employees feel valued, it invariably leads to heightened productivity and a stronger commitment to the organisation, said Näswall.

She added that New Zealand’s organisational culture can draw valuable lessons from holistic wellbeing models like Te Whare Tapa Whā, which incorporate social and spiritual dimensions alongside the more conventional physical and mental aspects, fostering inclusivity and providing support for diverse workforces.