UK workers are over-stressed and overworked; stress-related illness is the leading cause of absence for UK employees. Employers are responsible by law to assess the risk of stress-related ill-health arising from work activities and take measures to control that risk. One way to manage that risk is by creating an environment employees can take care of themselves to individually thrive. Self-care, just like its wording, is about caring for yourself, self-care lies with self. However there is a bigger picture around inhibiting self-care that organisations need to be aware of and also need to take responsibility for.
According to the psychology dictionary self-care is described as ‘our daily activities in looking after ourselves. The process of looking after one’s self. Avoiding all threats and issues that may make a person face irritable and uncomfortable circumstances.’ Self-care is also an act that ensures we are not putting our self in harm; this could be what some would consider as standard, not putting ourselves in danger by taking risks. Or it could be something that needs a bit more understanding of ‘self’, being in an environment that could hinder our self-care process; not drinking water, taking breaks, working above the hours of what is recommended, being inactive, traveling for longer than is advisable, eating unhealthy food or having an unhealthy relationship with food.
Employees spend, on average, 8 hours at work every day, with the average commute being up to one hour each way, totaling two hours a day. That is 10 hours at least that an employee is dedicating to there organisation. That essentially is 8 hours a day that employees need to be performing, focused, making rational decisions, communicate effectively and, most of all – achieve. Plus, another 2 hours a day that an employee is focusing on commuting. That is 10 hours employees are not putting themselves at the top of the agenda, so often, self-care takes the lowest of priorities in the working day. Self-care prevents us from becoming unwell; physically, mentally, and emotionally, it prevents burnout. It also keeps us at the ‘top of our game; it allows us to be our best. Exactly what we need from our employees can be aided by self-care. Yet, organisations do not create an environment where self-care is promoted and expected or see the advantages of doing so. I give much praise to some that have caught on to this and made it a priority.
Organisations need to create environments that are safe for employees to engage in self-care, cultures that promote and give permission for self-care. Caring for basic human needs is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Workplace cultures that reward busyness and overworking, not taking breaks, are proactively working against employee self-care. It is not enough to say ’employees can do X Y Z towards their self-care at work.’ Attitudes need to change towards self-care in the workplace and towards those that need to practice higher levels of self-care than others. With almost half (46 percent) of British workers admitting they routinely stayed at work longer than they need to because everyone else does. CEOs, Directors and managers need to lead by example; working healthy work patterns, leaving work on time, eating lunch, taking a lunch break away from their desk, putting boundaries around their own self-care priorities. Implementing the following practical workplace initiatives that can aid self-care is a starting place for all organisations –
Communication outside work hours
Switching off work communication outside of working hours; putting in an email filter that prevents emails from being sent between certain hours. Generally, it is the sending of email that creates the workload for the next person. If employees were not sending emails outside working hours, there wouldn’t be any need for anyone to check and send more emails. These email practices are creating a ‘work in the evening’ cultural issue. Social communication is excellent when used in the right way, but having downtime initiated by the workplace is essential. Although these initiatives may feel dictatorial, it is primarily caring for your employee. It is naïve to think that the current set up of freely using emails and social communication isn’t already putting unspoken demands on employees.
Only a third of UK workers say they take a proper lunch break, with many citing workload, stress levels and workplace culture as barriers. Studies show that taking a lunch break allows your mind to rest, recharge and refocus, which can directly improve your productivity for the rest of the day. Taking time out during the day – even if you choose to have multiple short breaks – this gives your brain a chance to recuperate. Lunch breaks are not just advisable; they are the requirement by law. UK workers are entitled to one break at work per day if they work more than six hours in a day. The details depend on the particular workplace and contract, but the average lunch break for UK workers lasts 40 minutes. Despite the benefits, studies show that workers only take 24 minutes of the 40 minutes. About a fifth of workers were unaware of their legal right to a lunch break. If employees are not taking a lunch break, managers must discuss this and continue to be clear on the expectation of taking a lunch break.
Putting a 30 min alarm on in the working environment to ensure people get up and move around every 30 mins to combat sedentary working also providing breaks away from screens. In current studies, half of the workers had access to a gym close to their office. Still, only 8% regularly take advantage of it, and 58% are based close to parks, but only 19% take advantage of that proximity. Many employees get discounts at gyms. They may also have exercise classes that are supplied by the workplace. Still, if you are not creating an environment where employees feel they can do this during the working day, this opportunity will be missed.
Rewarding unhealthy behaviours
Consider how many hours of staff are working when looking at promotions & rewarding achievements. Do not reward staff that are achieving by working double their hours when it is not a contractable requirement. Measure staff performance on productivity and quality rather than quantity where possible. Reward employees for healthy working initiatives that work towards self-care and limiting stress on themselves and others.
Implement flexible working and ensure that it is available to all staff and also isn’t seen as a negative when employees work different hours to suit their needs. There is a myth that flexible working is not beneficial to the workplace. Still, when UK employees were asked what would make them more productive, 28 percent said flexible hours, and 27 said percent a four-day week.
The home working environment can allow employees to dictate the environment they need for self-care. It will also give them back their commute time, giving them extra time to practice self-care, be with family, and have a better work-life balance. Yet again there can be a fear around employees not doing their job if they are working from home, however a quarter of employees surveyed felt working from home would improve their performance. Employee’s performance should be monitored to ensure that it is valuable for that specific employee to home working.
Line managers should consult with each individual employee around self-care and what reasonable changes can be made to make the environment more inclusive of individuals need for self-care and what support they need around this area.
The impact of these small changes would ensure happier and healthier employees. Those that can take responsibility can give their best in the workplace and are productive in achieving success. We need to stop talking about the benefits of self-care and start acting on creating a culture that understands it, promotes it and rewards it.
Author: Hannah Smith; The eric
Articles that gave support to the text above.