Anyone who’s worked a full-time job will be accustomed to occasionally feeling drained or stressed. Neither necessarily has to be brought on by anything in particular, but the effects of this can be damaging to both happiness and productivity. At the Women in Strategy Summit in New York this March, Sara Getz, content strategist at Facebook, presented on the importance of self-care in the work environment and the ways in which all employees can benefit.
Sara began by discussing the narrative around self-care that currently exists online. The trend seems to be focused on lists of things that people can do to rid their lives of stress and hardship, minor improvements that can act as a panacea. Search Instagram for self-care and you’ll see, as Sara puts it, ‘beautiful candles in beautiful candle holders, with small brass spoons to put your tea into your teapot.’ This side of self-care makes for a nice picture, but it all too often misses the point of what self-care actually tries to achieve. If people feel too busy to take care of themselves properly, having a bath and lighting a candle can feel like self-care ticked off for the day.
Self-care is more than small indulgences or treats; it’s a vital act of self-preservation. Audre Lorde described it as ‘an act of political warfare’ in 1988, and self-care is about finding ways to keep yourself emotionally and physically well in a draining world, a notion that particularly applies to women and people of color (for whom the pressures and stresses can be greater). ‘This is a historical part of self-care that can sometimes get a little bit lost in our current discussion,’ Sara argued.
‘My definition of self-care, the way I think of it, is that it’s the practice of creating space in your day to do things that nurture and sustain you. And then if we start to bring that professional angle into it - because, what does this have to do with our careers? - it’s really so that you can care not just for yourself in your day-to-day life, but also think about caring for your career.’ Sara then went on to reveal that at Facebook, self-care manifests itself firstly as finding work that you’re either good at or have a passion for as a priority. Secondly, finding work that brings meaning not just personally but for the teams that you might be working with. And thirdly finding ways to add value.
A lack of attention to self-care can make employees more self-critical. The rumination and procrastination that comes from this can make employees feel like they’re stagnating, which leads to burnout. This cycle is damaging for companies on two levels - the employees they maintain are prone to stress and burnout, and the ones they lose contribute to a high employee turnover. Behind only financial worries - which are intrinsically tied into work - working life is the second-biggest cause of stress in the US.
One way of dealing with this burnout is to first notice and make a log of the things you start doing when you’re stressed. Be it sacrificing things you enjoy, losing sleep, or becoming forgetful, identifying your own signals is the first step to protecting yourself against burnout. Once you’ve acknowledged these, you can more easily flag your own behavior and take it easy when the time comes.
Then, start small. Just dropping one unnecessary commitment from your calendar - an unproductive meeting, for example - means that you can use that time more effectively. It can be awkward withdrawing yourself from meetings but, if they don’t benefit you and you add little to them, it’s worth cutting them out. Also, think weekly rather than daily. Too many self-care guides will tell you to micromanage your time and revolutionize yourself within a day but, as Sara points out, this is both unrealistic and stressful in its own way.
In summary, self-care can be vital for employees that are prone to feeling burnout. The steps to alleviating this are simple - identify your burnout triggers and warning signs, start small, build on existing good habits you might have, and remember that self-care is a practice rather than a quick fix. From employee retention to productivity and happiness, the benefits of promoting self-care can be beneficial to all companies.