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‘Teach people to care’: NIOSH webinar examines leadership strategies during challenging times

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Washington — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, employers should take a fresh approach to leadership.

That was the message from Bob Chapman, chair and CEO of the St. Louis-based capital equipment firm Barry-Wehmiller and a guest speaker during an Aug. 27 NIOSH Total Worker Health Series webinar on the need for worker-centered leadership, flexibility and caring for employees during challenging times.

“We don’t need supervisors, managers and bosses,” Chapman said. “We need leaders, coaches and mentors. You have to teach people to care. The most powerful tool in any aspect of life is empathetic listening. It shows you care.

“That’s what changed my life – when I stopped seeing people as a function for my success. Management is manipulation of others for your success; leadership is the stewardship of lives entrusted to you.”

L. Casey Chosewood, director of NIOSH’s Office of Total Worker Health and moderator of the webinar, described the current public health crisis as “perhaps … the most challenging times our nation, our workers and our organizations have faced in a very long time. The basic necessities of trust, compassion, a sense of stability and a sense of hope are going to be essential to get workers through.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, added that a worker-centered approach can have a positive effect at home.

“Your work comes home with you in a lot of ways,” Pfeffer said. “If you’re treated badly at work, that’s going to affect your home life. Similarly, the issues from your home – you just don’t forget about them the minute you walk into the office.”

Pfeffer recognized that having support from company leadership can help minimize worker stress stemming from personal matters. “(It can mean) you are going through a difficult situation and you’re not going through it alone,” he said. “Social support cuts stress.”

Added Chapman: “Chronic illnesses are impacted by stress, and one of the biggest creators of stress is work.”

 

While attending church one Sunday, Chapman said he realized the potential impact business leaders can have on employees.

“(A religious leader) has us for one hour a week, and we have people in our care for 40 hours a week,” he said. “Businesses can be 40 times more powerful to influence peoples’ purpose in life if we simply focused on the people we have the privilege of leading.”

Chosewood mentioned that flexible work environments, more communication, and paying attention to pay and benefits will “be critical for those companies that succeed” during the pandemic.

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