This was not advice. This was instruction. “Take care” was right there on page 5, just after the table of contents and mission statement.
Now...this was a manual for practitioners of Thai Yoga Massage. After years in the corporate world and at media companies, I cannot say this is a common instruction in every employee manual.
In fact, studies show that 211 million vacation days go unused with a whopping 52% of employees with unused vacation time in the United States! That's a lot of work and no play.
Employee self-care is becoming increasingly more recognized in companies though—and for good reason. Both employers and employees don’t just benefit from practicing self-care; they need it to be successful. Companies need their workplaces to support health to lower employee attrition while increasing employee productivity, employee engagement, and business success.
Stress is inevitable. And self-care is the necessary counterpart.
In just about any job, the roller coaster of stressors is hardly avoidable. That does not mean, however, that it should be “the norm.”
Yes, stress can actually be beneficial. Your body and brain—luckily—are made to weather stressors. When adrenaline kicks in, your brain and sensory organs go into hyper-productive mode. You think faster, react more quickly, make lightning-speed decisions and often draw on deeply learned skills without even pausing to think. In business, this can mean vital decisions in crunch time, meeting deadlines, or making a necessary quick call.
BUT, there is a difference between this productive stress and chronic stress.
Chronic work stress has the opposite effect in the long run. While short-term stress might spike momentary productivity, when stressors draw out over long periods of time, your body will neglect any systems it doesn’t deem necessary for in-the-moment survival. That means sleep cycle, hormones, sexual drive, digestion and metabolism get slighted in favor of things like vision and blood flow to muscles.
The Cost of Workplace Stress
In short, workplace stress over time leads to less healthy employees and employers.
And decreased health—both mental and physical—means decreased productivity, over-scheduling, fatigue on the job, more sick days, poor judgement, moodiness that affects teamwork and the big B…”Burnout.”
Where work stress leads to cardiac and digestive issues, weight gain, burnout, lack of focus, moodiness or depression, and decreased performance; self-care builds brain and body fitness that will translate right into the workplace.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is defined as: “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.” If employers want healthy, environmentally safe, energetic and clean workplaces—they need to encourage, model, and practice self care. And if employers want the same for their employees (why wouldn’t they?), they need to be supportive of employees taking time to care for themselves too.Self-care is not burning out until you need a retreat. It is not breaking down and taking a spa day, going off grid because you can’t stand another email notification, or spending thousands on self-indulgence to make you feel better.
Self-care is a daily practice of, as the WHO put it, “establishing and maintaining” your health.
For employees and employers what self-care might look like in practice includes incorporating healthy options into the office space and creating a culture that values whole-body wellness.
Providing a simple workout place or a gym membership can be a big perk and worthwhile investment in your employees. Here are other ideas.
Related reading: "Self-Care Is Foundational to a Healthy and Happy Life."
Here are some examples of things employers can provide:
- Having ample water available at work
- Giving breaks in meetings
- Hosting activity incentives (like bike-to-work days or company activities)
- Providing healthy food options
- Partnerships with wellness businesses like yoga studios, gyms, or health centers
As a result, companies could see:
- Lower turnover rate
- Less employee burnout
- Fewer healthcare costs or lower insurance rates
- Improved focus and productivity
- Better teamwork and client relations...and more.
Employers might scoff at a Thai Yoga Massage manual telling professionals to “take time” for self care. It may seem beyond the realm of professionalism to tell employees to drink water, get rest and get their bodies moving.
In the big picture, allowing an hour break for fresh air or one day off occasionally for a fun activity can save weeks of sick leave—or worse, an angry and burnt-out employee dropping the ball, an overwhelmed manager making the wrong call, or an employer that just can’t handle the stress of business any more.
Self-care is not, after all, just for people in holistic medicine. It is not just for spa days. It is not just a trend at startup tech companies in Silicon Valley. Self-care is a lifestyle, and it is the antidote to chronic workplace stress.
For more on workplace health, success strategies in business, and entrepreneurship, check out our HeartLead resources.