Is self-care part of your paid employment, and should it be? When I invited readers to respond to this online poll question, the results were 61% yes, 21% no, 18% it depends.
Offline, a nursing supervisor in mid-career says, “Of course, self- care is part of the job. Taking regular breaks is essential, especially on long shifts.”
Another worker nearing retirement isn’t so sure. “When I was young, there was no such thing as self-care,” he says. “We were taught to work hard, not take care of ourselves.”
Certainly, interest in self-care has grown over the years. But is the rising interest part of a generational shift as millennials (born from the early 1980s to the mid-90s) focus more on self-care than their boomer parents? Is it a reaction to an increasingly fast-paced world with increasing technological demands? Or just one more symptom of a me-centred, consumer-driven society?
While some versions of self-care might well be self-indulgence, I’ve come to understand that healthy self- care is also vital for healthy living. Here are five reasons why self-care belongs at work.
1) Healthy self-care promotes wellness.
In a 2016 research report, the Global Wellness Institute reported:
The world’s 3.2 billion workers are increasingly unwell: they are growing old; they suffer more chronic disease; they are stressed, unhappy, and sometimes unsafe at work; and they face significant economic insecurity. The economic burden of unwell workers — in both medical expenses and lost productivity — is enormous, possibly reaching 10-15 percent of global economic output... On top of this economic burden, there is unquantifiable human suffering and an unsustainable burden on healthcare systems around the world.
The report goes on to say that both governments and companies have a vital role in the safety and well-being of workers, and that individuals can also promote wellness through healthy self-care.
2) Healthy self-care contributes to the health and well-being of all workers, not just the privileged few who can afford it.
Self-care at work can be as simple and inexpensive as taking a lunch break instead of powering through it, bringing your lunch instead of eating fast food, making sure you have fruit or other healthy snacks, and staying well hydrated. If you have an office job, adjust your desk chair so your back is well supported, take the occasional break to stand or do some simple stretches. If you work outdoors, wear well-fitting shoes and make sure you have whatever protective gear you need.
3) Healthy self-care is less about indulging in consumer goods and more about healthy practices.
Examples include setting priorities, decluttering your workspace, build- ing in time to catch your breath between appointments, having a friendly conversation with a co-worker.
... healthy self-care and healthy community care ... releases the gifts of others and contributes to the overall health of our organization.
When Jesus’ disciples returned from a busy time of teaching, they scarcely had time to eat. So Jesus urged them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). When Jesus and his disciples travelled through Samaria, Jesus sat down by a well to rest and asked for a drink of water while his disciples went to find food. He often took time away from the crowds to be alone or to pray. Although Jesus never used the words “self-care,” the simple practices of eating, drinking water, and taking breaks were part of his work too.
4) Healthy self-care contributes to healthy community.
When Moses served as the sole judge for his people, his father-in-law saw that Moses was wearing himself out and would soon wear out his people as they faced long wait times to come before him. So on his father- in-law’s advice, Moses chose other leaders to help him. Not only did
this act of self-care help Moses avoid burnout, but others were able to use their gifts, wait times were reduced, and the community as a whole re- ceived the benefit.
So too in our work today, asking for help when we need it, delegating, and working together as a team can be both healthy self-care and healthy community care that releases the gifts of others and contributes to the overall health of our organization.
5) Healthy self-care is good stewardship.
In Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, author Parker Palmer points out:
“Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for our- selves but for the many others whose lives we touch.
Whatever work we’ve been given, whatever time, energy, or talent, part of our work is to steward these things. Not to misuse or abuse them, to exhaust them or ourselves, but to use them well in service to others and as an offering to God. Our work is a gift, and healthy self-care is one way to steward that gift well.”