Stress takes many forms, including stress in our personal relationships, our finances, and yes, our work lives. Encouraging self-care has always been challenging, but with many companies switching to remote work and essential workers under stress from working on site, maintaining good physical and mental health is more important than ever.
According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.” But with gyms across the country being closed, group recreational activities being restricted, and takeout food being the default for many families, how can employers continue to promote physical and mental health maintenance as part of their company culture?
Here are a few strategies:
1. Don’t Just “Encourage” Self-Care
Managers and HR professionals often encourage employees to take frequent breaks, but as workloads increase, self-care practice decreases. In stressful times, self-care needs to be reinforced rather than shelved. It’s critical to employee health and productivity. A shift from just encouraging self-care to instructing employees on how to practice self-care can make a huge difference.
2. Make Self-Care a Priority for Company Culture
Employees might choose to keep on working rather than stopping for breaks if self-care practice isn’t reinforced by your company culture. Eventually, taking regular breaks becomes the norm and employees will find that stepping away from work helps improve creativity and restore energy. Ask employees to schedule time for self-care or consider making a Zoom line available for people who are better motivated by (virtual) group activities. Nothing works better than a little push from colleagues, except…
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3. Ask Managers to Lead by Example
Change in any company starts from the top. Managers could schedule 55-minute meetings instead of an hour, leaving time for a quick break in between meetings. If a conference call or webinar ends early, organizers can encourage employees to use the extra time to stand up and stretch, go outside, or take a water break. If managers reinforce the importance of self-care in word and in action, employees will follow (feeling guilt-free).
4. Make Sure Remote Workers Know That Breaks Are Necessary
Remote work can seem great at first, but it often leads to a sense of pressure to be online and constantly available during work hours. With tools like Teams and Slack, employees can feel like they’re “under surveillance,” or they might feel guilty if they miss a ping while they’re looking after children or even going to the restroom. Make it clear to people doing remote work that they should take short breaks throughout the day. Give them instructions for setting away messages on internal communications channels and talk to them about scheduling breaks in their work calendars.
5. Change Your Wellness Benefits Policies
If your company provides wellness benefits, such as reimbursement for gym memberships, consider reexamining your list of benefits to make them fit current company culture and work styles. For example, start reimbursing employees for home gym equipment, online yoga sessions, Fitbits or other exercise wearables, and fitness apps. Don’t let funds for wellness (or your employees) just sit there.
6. Be Mindful of Individual Differences
Remember that self-care means different things to different people. For some, self-care means speeding up their heart rate, but for others it could mean turning down their mind. Try not to overemphasize specific types of self-care just because they align with culturally accepted health goals. For example, don’t praise an employee for their hard work by adding, “it must be all those hours you’re putting in on the treadmill.” Taking a nap can be just as effective at increasing productivity. How to practice self-care should be up to each employee.
BONUS: Keep it Going Even When Things Normalize (or Continue to Change)
Continue to focus on employee self-care even after things normalize – and especially if they continue to change. The New York Times reported, “One of the challenges of 2021 will be to continue making self-care a priority once the pandemic has passed.” Keep self-care a central part of your company’s culture to keep productivity high and employees happy.