I have been interested in the link between leadership, culture and health for a number of years now. Having worked in both the health and leadership fields for some time I have often hunted for research looking at the link between leadership and wellness.
In my soon to be published book I discuss the example of North Korea vs South Korea. Here are two countries with so much in common physically and environmentally, but now with highly divergent leadership styles and political systems for fifty odd years. A simple health point of comparison is mortality. That the average lifespan of a person in South Korea is a wonderful 81 years while for their South Korean cousins its a dismal 68years! Its a very basic comparison, but certainly begs a few questions.
So what does this have to do with work and running a business? Well, the first point is that the link between employee wellness and productivity has been studied and documented well enough to know that a wellness is linked to productivity. In Positive Proof, an analysis of the cost effectiveness of worksite wellness, Larry S Chapman reviewed 42 high quality studies to confirm that a well structured wellness program can provide a return on investment for a business of up to 500%.
The second point is that we know health and in particular chronic 'lifestyle' related conditions like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer are on the rise. The recent A Problem Worth Solving report from Arthritis Victoria Arthritis, identified that Arthritis alone currently affects approximately 26.7% of the Australian population. The majority of the people are of working age and its costing the country over $55 billion directly and indirectly.
The really interesting point though is that there is an increasing body of research linking leadership and culture to employee health...and therefore business productivity. An article published in the Science Daily blog in July 2013 titled 'Transformational Leadership Has Positive Effects On Employee Well-Being' identified a recent piece of research from Germany published in the july Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine by Christine Jacobs of University of Cologne and colleagues. For the study workers at six German information and communication technology companies
were surveyed regarding their employer's leadership style and psychological well-being.
For the study 'transformational' leadership score was defined to include
leading by example, making employees feel they are contributing to a
common goal, providing intellectual stimulation, and giving positive
feedback for good performance. Jacobs and coauthors concluded that "Such training
programs can be seen as another essential component of workplace health
promotion and prevention efforts and therefore should receive wide
The leadership culture of a business and its associated systems of governance and decision making may affect productivity in more ways than we currently realise. More research is certainly needed but this is a very relevent topic both as a way to improve productivity and also reduce the cost of employee illness and associated issues. With chronic conditions on the rise and he cost of health predicted to exceed the GDP of the nation at current trends in the next few decades this will have increasing relevance.