Blog: Self-Care and Balance

Definition of self-care – noun:

‘The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health’.

‘The process of establishing behaviours to ensure holistic well-being of oneself, to promote health, and to actively manage illness when it occurs’.

In all aspects of life, but particularly in a candidate-driven business world, where people have more career options than ever before, a healthy life balance is paramount. Many (but apparently not all) businesses strive to create and support the right balance for their people, one where they feel they can perform to the best of their ability every day, in true balance with their wellbeing.

Those organisations that prioritise balance will feel additional benefits in enhancing their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and developing a culture of care. Their efforts will be repaid through a positive impact on employee retention and engagement. Their people are likely to stay longer, be more engaged in their work and loyal to the organisation and display greater levels of discretionary effort.

It can be tempting to buy into the media suggestions that balance is all about flexible employee benefits, a ‘funky’ open plan work environment with lots of colour, or free coffee/fruit/biscuits… Unless you’re prepared to suspend your own beliefs and ask them, you won’t know, and therefore can’t be sure you’re providing it.

The concept of ‘self-care’ is interesting in itself; here at ML&C HQ we often get into discussions, with our clients and just as often with each other, about questions such as:

  • What is it?

  • Are there right and wrong ways to ‘do it’?

  • Whose responsibility/accountability is it? Where is the dividing line between the individual’s and the manager’s/organisation’s responsibility?

  • Should there be penalties for those who don’t practise it or make it a priority, and become sick or out of balance? Would that be fair, or even legal?

The word ‘self’ is a clue, suggesting that the obligation to undertake self-care rests primarily with each of us for ourselves. That said, this can be very difficult without the necessary:

  • Knowledge of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’

  • Conducive environment both in and outside the workplace, within which self-care is not only deemed acceptable, it is expected and actively encouraged

  • Genuine management support and accountability that make self-care a priority for all

Whilst we can all agree self-care is vitally important for all people all of the time (and not just after someone has suffered a setback in their health or wellbeing), where opinions diverge is when we ask the question, ‘what is self-care?’ Is it the same for everyone? If so, can it be defined, written into a policy, monitored, and measured centrally/corporately? And therefore sanctioned where it is found to be lacking?

In a different, but in some ways similar situation I had the misfortune to break down recently and had to call the AA for roadside assistance. The mechanic was able to get the car going again quite quickly by applying the automotive equivalent of a sticking plaster (it was actually more akin to a can of WD40!) As we revved the car to avoid it stalling again, the mechanic said, ‘you must drive to a garage and get the fault repaired properly, I’ve only provided a temporary fix and if you break down again with the same problem, we won’t be able to rescue you again’.

What would happen if this were a workplace policy? You’re only eligible for sick leave once, if the problem recurs because you didn’t prioritise your self-care and ensure you recovered fully, you lose your sick leave entitlement. Chances are this would not go down very well in employee circles – even though it might encourage people to recuperate fully.

Back to the question of defining self-care and establishing whether there can be a common denominator for everyone, there are undoubtedly some accepted ‘truths’ about some elements of leading a healthy life: getting enough exercise and sleep, good nutrition and disease prevention would probably feature on most people’s lists. Opinions diverge as soon as we ask: How do you reconcile fast food/cake/fish and chips/alcohol with the accepted truth that good nutrition contributes to self-care? How do we deal with those who use tobacco, alcohol or other substances to enhance their sense of wellbeing? What about those who choose to dance the night away in a club in the name of self-care, rather than prioritising a quality night’s sleep?

As human beings living in the free world, it is not in an employer’s gift to decree what each person’s self-care should look like. We cannot ignore the ‘self’ in ‘self-care’; each of us has to be deemed responsible for defining self-care for ourselves. And yet there are many things that a responsible employer can and must do to encourage, support and even promote the individual’s self-care.

Anecdotally there may be things we can learn from our European neighbours. Something offered by many organisations, including my previous employer, Bosch in Germany, is pre-retirement support. Depending on length of service, colleagues can reduce their worktime to 4 or even 3 days a week from their late-50s without their pension pot being affected and begin ‘learning’ to have a fruitful and fulfilling retirement.

At ML&C we advocate creating an environment where self-care comes first and is on the learning agenda for everyone, no matter what. It is vital to encourage everyone to draw up and implement a self-care map, which as the name suggests, is personal to them. The organisation can help by offering its employees the tools to do this, and the support and encouragement to live it authentically.

Here’s a Micromastery we’ve created to help you draw up your own self-care map. We hope you find it useful.

We’ve been busy collecting our research, editing our notes and collating the most important insights into our latest white paper, entitled ‘The Outstanding End-to-End Employee Experience’. We’ve made this available for you to download free of charge. The White Paper is packed with information and tips for providing experiences that are memorable, energising and engaging for your people, whether it’s through your structured offering or by ensuring that their wellbeing remains top of the agenda at all times, irrespective of individual circumstances.

In addition to the white paper, we’re really keen to share what we’ve been learning with those truly strategic professionals who are involved in engaging and retaining colleagues, we’ve put together an audit specifically aimed at helping you measure how your organisation is currently doing. It helps you to look at all the way markers along the End-to-End Employee route, from the starting blocks to the checkered flag.

So, if you’d like the opportunity to fill out a confidential audit and/or read up on creating an Outstanding End-to-End Employee Experience, click here. You’ll find both documents there – click on either or both.