Of all my soapboxes, the one I jump onto most frequently is the self-care box. I am a huge self-care advocate, believing that in a culture where people’s attentions are spread so thin, we are quick to lose focus on ourselves and to get lost in the shuffle of to-do’s and deliverables and other people’s needs.
Now, self-care can mean any number of things, based on who you ask. I’m not referring to things like spa days or day-long Netflix binges. I’m talking about the practice of listening to yourself and considering your own needs as much as you do for other people.
I like to think about it like treating yourself as you would your own child. Sometimes you need to create space to feel safe and nurtured, and sometimes you need to make yourself eat your vegetables and clean your room. It’s about listening and deciphering what you need, what is in your best interest, and making that as much a priority as the needs of other people in your life.
We talk about self-care a lot as it relates to our personal lives, but good self-care is also hugely beneficial at work. We know that employees who feel engaged and “taken care of” at work tend to be healthier and more productive – and many companies invest in employee engagement initiatives and programs to try and cultivate that engagement (which is great and hugely important!).
But there are also ways you can cultivate that feeling of being “taken care of” for yourself.
What does self-care at work look like?
Self-care at work begins with recognizing that in order to do your best work, you need to be at your best. So, how can you set yourself for success? Whether you work on-site with thousands of colleagues, or remotely from your living room, here are some simple ways to shift your focus and practice better self-care on the job.
Managing your work-life balance.
With so many companies operating globally, with teams scattered across time zones and technology allowing us to be “plugged in” at all times, it can be difficult to shut it down at 5:00p.m. every day. But unplugging from work is critical – and actually encourages you to be more focused and productive when you plug back in. Practice scheduling your day in order of priorities, and then truly stepping away when you’re done, so you can be fully present in the rest of your life, which is what you’re working for to begin with, right?
Advocating for your career growth.
I have been very fortunate to have had some incredibly proactive and supportive managers who took a personal interest in helping me shape and direct my career. But you can’t always rely on your boss to take the initiative to point you in that direction. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s important to learn how to articulate what it is you want, so they can help you figure out how to get there.
Pro-tip: Find a mentor. Reach out to someone in your company or your field who you look up to, and ask if they would help mentor and coach you professionally. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, or to help you navigate tricky situations, will help you feel more empowered when it’s time to advocate for what you need.
Asking for help.
It’s easier said than done, because no one likes to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. But asking for help when you need it is the easiest way to avoid overwhelm, and to learn and grow in your field. Whether you’re trying to figure out a new software program you’ve never used before, or you need someone to support you with your workload (see below for more on that), reaching out and asking for help before it becomes a problem will not only help you address that issue in the moment, but it will show you’re self-aware and in-tune with your abilities.
On the flip side, you don’t want to be scared to make any decisions. If you’re someone who needs help building your confidence at work, self-care may look like getting outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try new things and make mistakes. As long as you’re honest about setting expectations, push yourself to try something you’ve never done. You may find that you’re more capable than you give yourself credit for.
Being honest about your capacity.
We’ve all gone through periods where our workload becomes so big that we aren’t able to do any of our tasks well – there’s simply no time! It just need to get done. And while I’d love to offer a solution for avoiding these situations altogether, that’s unrealistic. Instead, what you can do is be honest about your workload, and the quality of work you’re able to deliver. Make sure your boss knows that this may not be your best work, but that if it truly does “just need to get done,” you can do that. Trying to be a superhero when you are running on fumes won’t do you any favors.
Pro-tip: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! When work is overwhelming, check in regularly with your boss or your team to align about which tasks are the most critical. That way, if you truly can’t do it all, you at least know where to focus your energy.
Taking a sick day or mental health day when you need it.
Whether you wake up with a fever or realize that the stress and anxiety of work is truly interfering with your health, do not feel ashamed to take time to recover. You wouldn’t send your kid to school with the flu, and it’s not just because they’re contagious. Sometimes you simply need to rest.
Remember, practicing self-care is not selfish. You want to show up at work every day as your best self, so you’re able to be effective at what you do. Practicing self-care at work helps you stay engaged and avoid burnout. And sure, not every person at every job is in a position to set their own boundaries – but, shouldn’t they be?