Leading by example in 2021

05 March 2021

A new year often brings with it the chance to reflect on the year gone by and think about the future. Looking back, there’s no denying that 2020 was a year like no other. Chances are the way you work and manage your teams now looks very different to the way it did a year ago. There might be some aspects of your new ways of working you’d like to continue, and others you’re keen to leave behind.

As a manager, your employees look to you to set the standards that others will follow. The New Year is a great time to adopt a fresh approach and cultivate healthy habits that will support you and your team throughout 2021 and beyond. Here are five ways you can lead by example and support your teams during these uncertain times.

1. Prioritise your own wellbeing

In order to support your team to the best of your ability, it’s important to take care of your own health and wellbeing first. This includes getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, limiting your alcohol intake and getting plenty of good-quality sleep.

When your team observes you practising good working habits – like taking regular breaks and managing your stress levels – it sets the precedent for them to do the same. On the other hand, if you regularly work through lunch, stay late and take on too much, your team members might feel under pressure to do the same. So lead by example by looking after yourself first, which will enable others to follow suit.

Tip: Schedule regular breaks in your diary and make them non-negotiable.

2. Switch off

Technology has played a huge role in enabling people all over the world to continue connecting and working throughout the pandemic. And for some, being able to work flexibly around other responsibilities – such as childcare – has been of real benefit. But it can also encourage an ‘always-on’ culture and blur the lines between your work and home life. You might feel under pressure to work longer hours, keep checking your emails or respond to others straight away.

Although it’s good for your team to know they can rely on you, it’s also important to set clear boundaries between your work and home life. This can be particularly difficult if you’re working from home, so it might help to physically put your work equipment away out of sight, to reduce the temptation of logging on. Whether you’re at home or back in the workplace, set a reminder in your diary to clock off on time – and most importantly stick to it.

If you do have some employees who need to work flexible hours, support them to do this where you can. But make sure that the rest of your team don’t feel like they need to work at the same time.

Not only is it important to physically switch off from work, but mentally too. You might find it helpful to go for a walk after work, read a good book or connect with your loved ones. Immerse yourself in something you enjoy to help you unwind.

Be flexible, and remember that setting clear boundaries between your work and home life will help both you, and your employees, to strike a healthy work-life balance.

Tip: Start this year as you mean to go on by finishing work at the time you say you will.

3. Talk about mental health

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the mental health of both employees and managers in lots of different ways. You and your team may be working from home for the first time, feeling anxious about returning to the workplace, worried about your health, trying to navigate new safety procedures or experiencing financial difficulties. As a manager, you can play a key role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Encourage your team to talk about mental health in the workplace.

Starting an open and honest conversation (PDF 1MB) about mental health is the first step and can have benefits for both managers and employees. It can help your team to feel comfortable opening up, feel understood and able to be themselves at work. It can also help you to be an authentic leader, spot the signs of poor mental health, provide early support when it’s needed, reduce sickness absence and increase productivity among your team.

Make sure your employees know they can talk to you in confidence about any personal or professional challenges if they need to.

Tip: If your team don’t feel comfortable talking to you, make sure they’re aware of the internal and external mental health support services available to them.

4. Organise regular check-ins

You might be back in the workplace and practising safe social distancing or continuing to work from home. Either way, it’s likely that you and your team will need to stay apart for a while longer. But having fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face can make it difficult for teams to feel connected and for you to understand how your employees are really doing.

As a manager, it’s important to maintain strong relationships within your team no matter where they may be working right now. In one global study, employees who hadn’t been asked how they were feeling at work were 38% more likely to have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic.4 Schedule regular catch-ups with each individual and take the time to find out how they’re really doing – both at work and home. Remember this can change daily, so continue to check in on everyone’s wellbeing regularly.

Make sure your team knows you’re checking in on their wellbeing, and not ‘checking up’ on them, which can cause added stress and pressure. Try to understand and empathise with each individual’s own circumstances, monitor their workload and make and adjustments when needed to support them.

Tip: Good communication can help employees to feel valued, connected and reassured during this time. Make sure to keep them updated on any changes to your organisations working practices and the safety procedures in place.

5. Look after your physical health

Looking after your physical health plays an important part in taking care of your overall wellbeing. Regular exercise can improve sleep, reduce stress, increase energy levels and support good mental health – all of which impact how you and your team perform at work.

Lots of people resolve to get active in the New Year, so make sure to encourage this now and make a conscious effort to keep it going throughout the rest of year. Support your team to keep moving by suggesting ways they can keep active during work hours. This could be blocking out time for a team stretching session, going for a walk at lunch, or ensuring there’s enough time to get up and move in between meetings.

Now is also a good time to review your team’s workstation setup to help stop aches and pains from developing as the months go on. Ask your team to complete a workstation assessment, make sure they have the equipment they need to work effectively and ensure everyone understands how to set up their workstation correctly.

Tip: If you don’t need to meet virtually or face-to-face, why not catch up with your team members with ‘walk and talk calls’ instead?


  • People Managers Guide to Mental Health. Chartered Institute of Personnel Development & Mind, published September 2018.

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