In a world where people are "always on," self-care often isn't a priority for busy executives and employees. It can be difficult to turn your attention away from your screen for some much-needed R&R, but self-care is important for achieving greater productivity, workplace happiness, and personal and professional success.
It's critical to assess your office environment and workforce to determine which small things are having a significant impact on your productivity. Planning and executing strategies for improvement is something business owners and employees do every day – you can use that same approach to increase your focus on self-care and personal wellness. It will benefit you, your employees and your company as a whole.
What is self-care?
When you hear the term "self-care," you may instantly think of spa days and meditation. While those are a couple common examples of self-care, practicing self-care is so much more than that. Self-care is when someone does something to support their physical, mental or emotional well-being. To take it one step further, self-care in the workplace involves taking specific actions to support your well-being so that you can be productive and engaged at your job.
For example, if you have a stressful day at work, you may want to curl up with a good book at night to take your mind off things. If you sit at your desk all day, self-care might involve a 30-minute walk outside in the middle of the workday. If you're loaded with too much work, self-care can even mean saying no to helping someone else with another project. Everyone has unique workplace stressors and needs, so what constitutes effective self-care for you may look different for your colleagues.
Why is self-care important for productivity in the workplace?
Self-care is used to improve physical, mental and emotional health – a combination that is essential for staying productive over a long period of time. Stress is a hazard of the workplace and costs businesses more than $300 billion a year, according to Stress.org. When left unmanaged, stress can have a major impact on your well-being and productivity.
For example, stress can have physical effects on your body, such as high blood pressure, headaches, upset stomach, chest pain and sleep disruption. These health issues can be minor distractions or be severe enough to cause employees to miss work altogether, reducing productivity. Physical self-care techniques, such as regular wellness screenings, exercise, healthy eating, proper sleep and relaxation techniques, can help employees stay physically healthy and ready to work.
Workplace stressors can also cause emotional and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, burnout, disengagement and lack of focus – all of which often lead to reduced productivity in the workplace. Mental and emotional self-care techniques allow employees and business leaders to press a reset button and address these issues before they start to have a financial impact on your organization.
How do I use self-care in the workplace?
Self-care consists of taking care of your physical, emotional and mental well-being. If you're looking to improve your overall self-care in the workplace, you will need to address all three areas.
Assess what's going on in your workplace that can be physically changed to improve your well-being. For example, if you sit in an office all day, self-care might involve taking an afternoon run, working outside on Tuesdays or buying things to improve your workspace (e.g., an ergonomic chair, a standing desk, some plants). If you're on your feet all day at work, invest in that good pair of shoes you wanted or ask your boss for an occasional break when you really need to rest.
The type of lighting in your workspace can also be significant to your overall well-being and should be considered part of self-care. Studies have proven that light has a noticeable impact on office productivity, mood, energy and alertness. Natural light from both the morning and evening has been found to be the best booster, and even if access to daylight isn't available, research has proven that working under "blue-enriched" light bulbs actually increases work performance by supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness while reducing fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
You may be a business leader or an employee, but you are a human first and foremost – and humans have emotions. You can try to suppress your emotions at work, but they will likely come out eventually, one way or another. Regularly assess your emotional state and how it is being impacted by work.
For example, how are your co-workers or employees affecting you? If a toxic co-worker keeps bothering you with complaints throughout the day, self-care could involve setting healthy boundaries with them or working remotely some days to get some space. Other emotional self-care activities can include activities like journaling, meditation and therapy.
Another thing to consider is how your workload is impacting you. Are you overworked and reaching burnout? If your workload is getting too full, self-care might consist of saying no when a colleague asks you to take on another responsibility.
In addition to assessing your physical and emotional well-being, assess the state of your mental health. Burning the candle at both ends is no longer a badge of honor. Check in with yourself about how you're doing mentally, and take a break from work when you need it.
A great example of mental health self-care is using mental health days when you need them (if that employee benefit is offered by your employer). You may also consider mental health self-care strategies like reading a book, listening to a podcast or taking a brief break in the workday.
What are some self-care tips for business leaders?
Self-care is especially important for business leaders, as they set the tone for the rest of the company. Here are a few key principles that business owners and managers should keep in mind as they navigate self-care for themselves and their teams:
- Start with your own self-care. The behaviors of leaders have a significant impact on those they lead, and it will be difficult for you to instruct others about the need for self-care if you're not attending to your own.
- Discuss it with your team. Treating high levels of stress as an accepted norm of business is detrimental to what you're trying to achieve. The better approach is to discuss the stress in your office openly and with a strategic attitude that includes team members developing solutions together.
- Increase autonomy. Jobs that include high demands and strict timelines contribute significantly to employee stress, especially if the employee has little control over how they're expected to complete their projects and tasks. When possible, make adjustments that encourage both more individual autonomy and a team-based approach.
- Reward best efforts. Endless work without reward certainly discourages self-care and can lead to employee burnout and ill health. Ensure leaders and their employees are on the same page in terms of professional development and the path to promotion. Support such efforts with a clear and consistent reward system.
- Increase social support. Defined as proactive communication, care and understanding, social support is necessary both in and out of the workplace. Encourage employees to take time off to spend with friends and family, and ensure support mechanisms, such as mentors, are available within the work environment.
Promote traditional self-care techniques across your organization so that you can build a happy, engaged and productive workforce.
How do I evaluate the results of self-care?
There are a variety of methods to evaluate self-care results, and one is the familiar SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Though typically applied to strategic business planning, a SWOT analysis can also apply to your organization's self-care efforts.
- Strengths: Which positive outcomes have resulted from new self-care efforts? Which strategies seem to be working best?
- Weaknesses: Which efforts seem to be ineffective? Are there specific employees who are still struggling?
- Opportunities: Where can self-care initiatives be enhanced? Have employees been asked for their input?
- Threats: Is anything (or anyone) in the organizational culture a persistent threat to self-care efforts? Are such threats being addressed?
Attending to self-care in the office environment isn't just good for your own health and that of your team; it will also lead to better productivity and a boost to your organization's bottom line. That's a win-win for everyone involved.
Sue Montgomery contributed to the writing and research in this article.