Leading the Healthy Workplace: The RIGHT Way

Think of your last interaction with your supervisor.  Was it pleasant? Did you come away from the interaction feeling motivated, valued and inspired?  Or did you feel demeaned and disrespected?  A growing body of research evidence documents the pervasive effects that leaders have on the health and safety of their employees[1].  Although much of this research has focused on “leadership style” (e.g., transformational leadership[2]), there are also data that speak to the health effects of specific interactions with leaders.

Jennifer Wong and I conducted one such study[3].  We asked 65 long term care workers to wear ambulatory blood pressure monitors for one full day (from waking in the morning to retiring at night).  Every hour or so the blood pressure monitors recorded participants’ blood pressure and they were prompted to complete a brief questionnaire.  One of the questions on the survey asked them to rate their most recent interaction with their supervisor.  Not surprisingly (because elevated blood pressure is fundamental to the stress response), we found that employees who had a negative interaction with their supervisor also had higher blood pressure.  Perhaps more surprisingly, we found that individuals who have repeated negative interactions with their supervisor still had elevated blood pressure when they were at home, relaxing after work!

So how do leaders create more positive interactions in the workplace?  In a chapter on leadership we adapted APA’s healthy workplace model to suggest that leaders need to do the RIGHT things[4] – and to do them everyday.  The notion of setting small, specific goals for daily actions has been a central focus of our previous work on leadership development[5].  To create a healthy workplace, leaders should focus their interactions on:

Construct Sample Goals
Recognition Tell three people a day they are doing a good job
Involvement Ask people for their opinions/thoughts on important issues three times a day
Growth and Development Spend at least half an hour a day coaching
Health and Safety Talk about health and safety at least three times a day
Teamwork Have a team meeting or conduct a debriefing at least once each shift


Healthy workplaces don’t just happen.  They result from a sustained and focused effort – leaders play a critical role in creating the healthy and productive workplace.

[1] Kelloway, E.K. & Barling, J. (2010). Leadership development as an intervention in occupational health psychology.  Work & Stress, 24, 260-279.

[2] Kelloway, E.K., Turner, N., Barling, J. & Loughlin, C. (2012).  Transformational leadership and employee psychological well-being.  Work & Stress, 26,39-55.

[3] Wong, J.H.K. & Kelloway, E.K. (2016). What happens at work stays at work? Workplace supervisory social interactions and blood pressure outcomes.  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.21(2), 133-141.

[4] Kelloway, E.K., Penney, S. & Dimoff, J.K.  (2017). Leading the Psychologically Healthy Workplace: The RIGHT Way in E.K. Kelloway, K.Neilsen & J. Dimoff (Eds). . Leading to Occupational Health and Safety: Wiley

[5] Kelloway, E.K., & Barling, J. (2000).  What we’ve learned about developing transformational leaders.  The Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 21, 157-161.