Leadership and wellbeing

Leaders forge the culture of organisations and their role in creating the environment in which their people thrive is increasingly important.

It should go without saying, employee wellbeing is essential for the success of architectural practice. Yet I currently find myself questioning whether enough practices are investing the time and energy to ensure they’re creating an environment in which their employees might thrive. A practice in which employees are engaged, productive and share the vision and goals of the practice. It’s a cultural issue and it’s leaders who forge the culture through their behaviours, actions and the way in which they lead.

I assert, the single most important role of a leader is to prioritise employee wellbeing.

Wellbeing in the workplace

Wellbeing encompasses an employee’s physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s not just happiness or job satisfaction. Wellbeing means that employees feel valued, have a sense of purpose and are supported in all their needs. It requires that everyone has a cherished life both at the office and outside, their stress in minimised. They have opportunities to learn and develop professionally. And they feel a connection to others in an inclusive practice culture. When practices get this right, they’ll find their teams are more energised, motivated and work better as a team, no-one is left behind, and everyone grows together.

The role of leaders in practice wellbeing

It stands repeating. Wellbeing is a cultural issue, and the culture is defined by the leaders.

The question leaders must therefore ask themselves is: How are they showing up in support of their team?

Practice wellbeing requires leaders to be empathetic, focussed on on their people, leading compassionately and ethically. Modelling the behaviour they expect of their team. Which might include being transparent, acknowledging their mistakes, and asking for and responding to feedback. It’s important they show that their team’s wellbeing matters by expressing gratitude and concern for them. It also requires consistency in matching what they say with what they do. As well as showing a long term commitment to wellbeing initiatives, not just one-off days or initiatives soon forgotten and/or abandoned.

The best leaders support others in being their best selves and in doing their best work. This can only be done in a safe space where wellbeing is respected and nurtured.

Creating a culture of wellbeing

Wellness must be identified as your priority and acted upon. (Note: you can only have one priority.) Cultivate an environment where this priority is not only implemented but is threaded through all that the practice does. Incorporated into the practice vision, mission and values. Enrolling all team members in the process as active participants. Continuing from there…

Ask questions…

What’s your baseline? How are you currently tracking? It’s worthwhile understanding where things are at before making change. Consider auditing your current policies, practices and spaces. Do they currently support wellbeing? What is and isn’t working and what could be better? If the answers identify small changes, things that might easily be modified, act on those insights. If they’re bigger changes break them down into manageable steps.

Establish resources for the staff: Employee Assistance Packages, wellbeing leave, and a resource library that might include links to organisational assistance externally. Ensure team member’s life outside of the office is valued equally with life inside it – it’s all life. Program time and activities promoting connection and community within the practice regularly. Most importantly, give attention to creating an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe to communicate their needs, and embody practice wellness in all decisions and communications.

Everyone can be wellbeing leaders

Give the team members agency and ownership of ensuring wellbeing is prioritised. Success is more assured when it’s teams leading the creation of safe spaces for wellbeing to thrive. It creates opportunities in leadership development, and a reliance on hierarchical leadership may not be as agile or mindful of issues at all levels. Empowering practice members to advance wellbeing whilst building leadership skills.

A word of caution. It’s essential, when giving others agency over aspects of the practice, that clear guidelines and boundaries are established. Everyone must be clear on what’s OK, what’s not, and are able to maintain the practice values and objectives. Developing such an approach can not only improve wellbeing but positively affect the practice’s leadership and leadership development. Allowing everyone’s voice to be heard in delivering better wellbeing and a better connected team.

Implementing wellbeing initiatives and practices

There’s a long post on this section alone. It’s important that implementation is done with care and is a good fit for the practice and its team. There’s many wellbeing initiatives that can be adopted by practices. One of the best places to start is ensuring an inclusive psychologically safe space is being provided for all in the practice. This is crucial in ensuring the team will be readily engaged in further work to advance wellbeing.

Practice initiatives might include:

  • paid wellbeing leave;
  • reimbursements for wellbeing expenses or providing an Employee Assistance Program;
  • providing private spaces for relaxation or reflection;
  • regularly scheduled check-in on team member’s wellbeing and how they’re finding things more generally in the practice;
  • mentoring programs, workshops on resilience and mindfulness;
  • space and time for for meditation; and
  • flexible work hours including remote work.

They’re all worthwhile things to try. Start with the ones that best fit the practice.

The existing leaders should practise modelling the behaviour desired. Doing so in public and out loud. Constantly demonstrating their commitment to wellbeing in the practice. Engaging their team for suggested improvements, new ideas, and being responsive to needs that might arise out of change.

Overcoming challenges

Time and money are regularly flagged as impediments to making changes required around wellbeing. Often this reflects a lack of buy-in of leadership, with them perhaps citing “it’s better than when they started” (it’s usually still not good enough). Sometimes it’s a lack of urgency or acknowledgement of need – despite the recognition that it’s too late once wellbeing failures manifest.

Change might need to happen in small manageable steps. Leverage free resources and tools already available (Australian architects can start with the localised Mental Wellbeing Toolkit.) Start small pilot initiatives with a part of the team, and use them to demonstrate the value. Keep the conversation going, communicating the importance of wellbeing efforts, for individuals, the team and the long-term performance of the practice. Change requires persistence and adaptable solutions.

Remember, we often overestimate what we can do in a week, but underestimate what can be achieved in a year. Positive change will happen in time. Be realistic in your goals and focus on setting the practice up for success.


Leadership is the single most effective force in cultivating organisational wellbeing. Requiring leaders who are actively seeking to understand needs and leading with compassion.

By adopting policies, culture and behaviours to support human potential, leaders will set up their practice to flourish. It’s up to leaders to establish the strategies, lead by example, and to positively impact practice wellbeing. And these leaders may not be at the top.

Image by fg+sg fotografia de arquitectura

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach, helping the professional culture of the architecture profession. I believe the best way to do this is support leadership development.

I’ve worked in architecture for almost 30 years, and ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I help practices work on their leadership team and strategies. Supporting practices to become more open, fluid, and adaptable. Realising the collective energy, passion, and capabilities of their people.

Interested in hearing I can help? Let’s chat about the leadership development of you or your team.
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