Self-care at work makes sense, why is it not common practice?

Self-care at work makes sense, why is it not common practice?

Self-care at work makes sense, why is it not common practice?

It is mostly likely that everyone on some level understands that developing well-being matters. Whatever work you do, arguably without self-care, the quality of work we do could suffer.

For instance, Harter, Schmidt and Keyes (2003)[i] found significant relationships between well-being scores on an employee survey, and business unit level outcomes such as:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • Employee turnover
  • Sickness-absence levels

Isn’t that telling us that when worker well-being is high, business outcomes also increase?

Furthermore, "Research has also shown that people with higher levels of activity (e.g. exercise, creative activities or social activities) appear to cope more effectively with the strain of work and recover better from work-induced fatigue." (Robertson and Cooper 2011:75)[ii]

Equally so where self-care is practiced at work, there is also a potential for role modelling. For example, "In contrast, when counsellors are committed to self awareness and the pursuit of their wellness they can serve as role models for clients and their joy can have a contagious effect." (Miller 2001:384 in Venart, Vassos and Pitcher-Heft 2007:50)[iii]

Clearly, the way we are within ourselves affects the quality of our work ... so why is consistent self-care at work not the 'norm' in our workplaces?

Early questions to consider here are around what gets in the way of self-care at work, and why is it not simply a natural way of working? It is a ‘no brainer’ yet it is a constant question/issue on people’s tongues - For example "I know I need to take care of myself at work, but something gets in the way", "Self-care at work is so difficult", and so on.

Isn't this something we can all relate to?

It is almost as though personal legitimacy to self-care at work is missing, yet no one at work has ever said, "Do not take care of yourself at work"!

Baker (2003:13)[iv] raises important questions here such as:

  • Why is it so hard to attend to our own needs for nurturance, balance, and renewal?
  • Do external stresses beyond our control get in the way?
  • Has self-care become another ‘should’?

It is often the case that it is one thing to know that self-care is important but it is another to implement it, and although we may be well informed about the mechanics and the "how to's" of self-care, it arguably remains a challenge for many.

This article shares findings from a Phd study (Keep 2013)[v] of some commonly cited themes (which include ideals, beliefs, perceptions) that can get in the way of consistent self-care at work, some of which may be familiar to you.

How many of us when asked to ‘list the most important people in your life’ put your own name anywhere on that list? Is it possible that if we do not habitually put ourselves first, then it is ‘out of mind out of sight’ – like a blind spot.

Yet, when we fly on a plane, we are always told in the safety briefing before take off to ‘put on your oxygen mask first before tending to others’.

This possibly links to a reason why self-care at work isn’t consistently practiced – that of putting others first. It may be that putting others first is deeply ingrained in our upbringing, or in raising a family where the needs of others often come first. Yet what if caring for ourselves arguably offered those we care for a deeper level of care. What if we each gave ourselves permission to take a deeper care of ourselves?

Looking around at workplace absentee rates and statistics showing happiness (or lack thereof) at work, perhaps it is time for us to admit that our lack of self-care is actually not working for us, or for our workplaces.

Organisations often measure success by the quantity of services offered, or the number of clients seen, or the pressures to serve others within certain time frames.
This can mean that factoring in self-care at work is not recognised as ‘success’, nor does there seem to be time to self-care, so, it is commonly overlooked.

Is there not an opportunity here to encourage all organisations/workplaces to have goals, or standards specifically about ‘self-care at work’ as part of being successful at work? The statistics are showing very clearly that this also boosts the company’s bottom line.

In addition, what if self-care of the worker actually forms part of true customer service? – after all, isn’t it true that caring for another can only be offered if in the first instance we are taking care of ourselves?

Many people are aware that they have warning signs or indicators in their body (e.g. a headache or tired eyes or a neck ache) yet some of us do not admit how we feel particularly to bosses or colleagues, because of the intense working environment and the expectation that we would just ‘get on with it’, or that we would be seen to be weak if we admitted how tired or strained for instance that we feel.

What if we were honest with ourselves and others about how we feel?

That in itself could support our own self-care, and our care for others in our teams or our colleagues. From the statistics shared in this article, it is pretty clear that the tiredness and the stress, and lack of wellbeing is not just confined to one or two people – but is spread across workplaces everywhere.

Bringing honesty to our workplaces about what is actually going on may also mean that we are more considerate about the way we work together.

There are times in the intensity of work that when a colleague takes care e.g by taking a momentary break, by going to the toilet, or stopping to eat a bite of lunch, other colleagues may feel this as being selfish – and that they are ‘left holding the baby’ so to speak.

What is often not considered here is that a small break can revitalise and that, that colleague would likely come back to work moments later feeling refreshed and more able to offer their services or support where needed.

It can be that we pay little attention to taking care of self when we have aches, pains, or feel tired saying "it’s normal to feel tired – everybody else does", or "I’m ‘x’ years old, and it’s inevitable that my body will be slowing down or will have aches and pains". But, by paying attention to aches and pains and taking care of ourselves at work, they may actually dwindle or dissipate.

It makes sense, does it not, that living and working in a stressed out, tired body, and under pressure, without admitting or dealing with it at all, is going to produce aches and pains or tight spots or general dis-ease in the body. Is that not worth considering?

It is important to note here that there will be wear and tear on the body and to seek medical support is actually part of a self-care approach at work, and at the same time, it is possible to feel well and vital at work too, whatever your age.

What if self-care set up a way of working and a way of being with ourselves that helped the way we feel in our body?

What can be concluded so far here about self-care at work?

Is it possible that whilst self-care at work is a ‘no brainer’, that the above ideals, beliefs or behaviours for instance get in the way of self-care at work being normal practice, and the ‘norm’ at work?

What if we considered that:[iv]

"Self-care is a responsible practice – for all human beings and indisputably for those employed in the service and care of others."

Isn't it time to make self-care at work a focus?


  • [i]

    Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Keyes, C.L.M. (2003) Well-being in the Workplace and its Relationship to Business Outcomes: A Review of the Gallup Studies. In Keys, C.L.M. and Haidt, J. eds. Flourishing, Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived. Washington D.C., USA: American Psychological Society

  • [ii]

    Robertson and Cooper (2011) Well-being: Productivity and Happiness at Work. Palgrave Macmillan

  • [iii]

    Miller (2001) in Venart, Vassos and Pitcher-Heft 2007:50

  • [iv]

    Baker, E. K. (2003) Caring For Ourselves: A Therapist’s Guide to Personal and Professional Well-being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

  • [v]

    Keep, J. (2013) Developing Self-care at work. Phd Study

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AbsenteeismAppreciationCareerCultureLeadershipProductivityHealthy living