How to create a culture of self-care in the workplace and why it’s important

July 24 is International Self-Care Day, an opportunity to focus on the importance of healthy lifestyles and the impact self-care has on all aspects of life, including work. The Global Self-Care Federation describes self-care as “the practice of individuals looking after their own health based on the knowledge and information available to them.” Although employers are increasingly prioritizing self-care and wellness, it’s unclear whether they truly understand how far-reaching the concept goes – at both the employee and organizational level.

Why understanding the concept of self-care is important for employers

Although the concept of self-care may seem like merely a buzzword or workplace trend, understanding and paying attention to it is crucial. When employees don’t take care of themselves (with the necessary systems supporting them), as the below statistics illustrate, the impact on themselves, directly, and the workplace, indirectly, is profound:  

  • In 2020/2021, one in four Canadian adults screened positive for depression, anxiety, or PTSD
  • A study by Morneau Shepell found that employees who are navigating challenging mental health circumstances are unproductive for about a third of their workday, which costs employers approximately 8 workdays per month
  • In 2019 (pre-pandemic), Deloitte found that half a million Canadians were unable to work every week due to mental health challenges, that these challenges account for up to 40% of short-term disability claims and 30% of long-term disability claims, and that lost productivity costs upward of $6 billion in indirect costs per year; this undoubtedly increased during the pandemic  
  • Long work hours were a contributing factor in 745,000 stroke and heart disease deaths in 2016 (a 29% increase from 2000)

What does self-care consist of?

While some may think of meditation, yoga, and bubble baths when the concept of self-care comes up, it goes far beyond these things. The seven pillars of self-care include:  

  • Health literacy – an understanding of and education about health, which is not equitable across cultures, races, and socio-economic classes  
  • Self awareness – an understanding of one’s own needs for care (when, what, how) which differs significantly from person to person
  • Physical activity – although adults should do at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity per week, only 16% of Canadian adults are actually achieving this
  • Healthy eating – those who eat an unhealthy diet are up to 66% less productive than those who eat healthfully
  • Risk avoidance – spanning a broad array of factors, this includes the possibility of serious illness (as outlined above), in addition to injury prevention
  • Good hygiene – regular hand washing can prevent up to 30% of communicable illness (well beyond the risk of COVID-19)
  • Optimal use of products and services – in the workplace, this may refer to benefits such as paramedical, counselling, EAPs and other wellness-oriented initiatives

How to create a culture of self-care in the workplace

There are many ways that employers can create a collective culture of care in the workplace – one in which employees are encouraged to care for themselves, as well as others. This starts with an understanding that self-care is a fundamental premise of wellbeing and a significant contributor to strong performance and productivity, which directly impacts your services, products, and/or mission.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, it’s critical to normalize the importance of this and the factors that get in the way, such as mental health challenges (which we all experience from time to time), working long hours, and personal/family circumstances. Self-care isn’t a one-time thing or event. It’s an ongoing and essential priority. With that in mind and with a focus on being a people-first workplace, employers can:

  • Make self-care and collective care a regular topic of discussion. How can you/managers support them, and how can they support one another to create a community of care for each other and the people/end users you serve? Engage employees in talking about and sharing what they do, as well as what they need.
  • Review your benefits/perks packages to ensure they include a diverse range of wellness-focused and preventative practices (e.g., EAPs, range of paramedical, etc.). Consider putting in place a health and wellness spending account for maximum flexibility.
  • While you may not have the in-house or benefits resources to directly support employees, if they’re open to it, help them find external resources.
  • Make sure your health and safety practices are compliant and hold your people accountable to them.
  • Maintain a reasonable level of cleaning and hygiene protocol that was put in place for COVID-19.
  • In an ever-increasing remote world (which can support self-care, when managed intentionally), it’s also important to unplug – be that for breaks, the evening, or vacation.
  • Facilitate and/or encourage outdoor walking meetings, or even just for fresh air. If you’re in a remote or hybrid workplace, it’s usually possible for attendees to walk or be outside in their own areas with the use of earphones, etc.
  • Use podcasts or other audio tools for training and professional development. Encourage employees to listen while out for a walk and then come together to discuss later or the next day.
  • Take breaks for lunch! Some small onsite organizations even eat together. Bring back the lunchroom!
  • Stop booking back-to-back meetings. Build in breaks and consider making meetings 45 or 50 minutes, instead of a full hour. Always start and end on time – you expect employees to respect your/others’ time by being there on time… so too should you respect theirs, by ending on time.
  • Have a quick wellness check-in at the start or end of every meeting. Keep it brief, such as one word or phrase. Follow up, as necessary, after the meeting with anything of concern.
  • With a duty to inquire, managers and leaders need to watch for and address signs. This might involve changes in demeanour, lowered productivity, increased coffee or smoke breaks, or other changes in behaviour noticed even at a workplace social event.

Finally, leaders need to walk the talk. Full stop. When employers say they do these things, but in reality, they expect employees to be available at all hours of the day, don’t allow any flexibility, and have unreasonable performance expectations, it quickly erodes trust and fast-tracks disengagement.

Jouta’s HR Consultants can help you create practices that support a culture of self-care.