The Cascading Impact of the Way We Lead

March 01, 2023
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

The way we lead impacts the way people live.

This is one of the profound truths we’ve learned at Barry-Wehmiller.  We say it often because it is a sobering reminder of the awesome responsibility of leadership--and the implications of both good and bad leadership.

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article documenting a long-running study that underscores that responsibility: How a Parent’s Experience at Work Impacts Their Kids. It says:

It’s no secret that our jobs can have a major impact on our lives outside of work. Financially, mentally, and physically, our workplace experiences can offer a welcome boost — or take a significant toll. But what many employers don’t realize is that the effects of work aren’t limited to workers’ individual personal lives. To the contrary, how employees spend their time at work can have substantial spillover effects on their friends, partners, and perhaps most critically, their children.

According to the article, the study followed more than 370 low-wage, working-class families over more than ten years, from pregnancy through their first several years as parents.

One story the article details from participants in the study is of a father forced to use a monitor that tracked his every move. He felt that his company didn’t trust him, and that sent him home spent, dejected and frustrated to the point that, as a result, it affected his parenting. He said, “I just don’t have the energy for a needy baby.”

The article went on to say:

So, what does this mean for employers? From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it’s clear that if work impacts employees’ children, employers have a responsibility to ensure that the impact is as positive as possible. And from a business standpoint, it’s also in companies’ best financial interests to pay attention to the effects of work on their employees’ families. After all, when workers face challenges with their partners or kids, this stress inevitably spills over into the workplace, leading to lower productivity, more sick days and personal time off, and an unhappier, less motivated workforce.

If we simply care about the people whose lives we are privileged to lead, and they feel valued and fulfilled, it can have a tremendous effect on their lives with their family.

We have a responsibility to care because those lives are trusted to us. We have a responsibility to show them they matter.

As Dr. Isaac Prileltensky said in a recent episode of our podcast:

There is so much research that the more you matter at work, your overall happiness goes up. Your overall health and wellbeing go up. This is how crucial mattering at work is. Work takes up such an important part of your overall wellbeing that mattering as a consequence is also a huge part of wellbeing. Mattering at work leads to happiness at work. And happiness at work is highly correlated with overall happiness.

But when 88 percent of people do not feel they’re part of an organization that cares about them, we are clearly failing our people.

This is what I mean when I often say: Business can be the most powerful force for good if it only cared about the lives it touched. Corporate social responsibility should begin with the people whose lives you are trusted in your span of care.   

When we foster caring environments where team members have opportunities to become their best selves, they are happier and healthier because they feel valued and understood by their leaders and teammates.

When they feel fulfilled by the time they’re spending away from their homes and families, they are inspired and energized instead of stressed. And when they are with their loved ones, they share that joy and fulfillment instead of the stress and bitterness of feeling unappreciated and insignificant.

It is a universal truth -- every one of us, no matter what our job or where we live, simply wants to know that who we are and what we do matters. As leaders in business, we have the awesome responsibility to let people know that they do.

For so long, caring has been seen as something that has no place in business. If leaders in business truly counted the cost of the lives affected by their actions, they would realize that they severely miscalculated the ROI of caring.

This HBR study shows us that the world at large is paying for that way of thinking.


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