We all know that person — the caregiver in the company, the person who is always making sure everyone else is doing OK, offering to help out in any way they can. Every workforce has one or maybe even a few caregivers. Where would we all be without them? In recent months, when the roles of so many organizations’ caregivers have been so critical, we’ve likely seen it firsthand.
The pandemic has truly tested people’s mental well-being. Strenuous situations and uncertainty have pushed so many of us to the brink. And that’s above and beyond those employees who were already experiencing challenges in their mental health journeys. The bottom line is that some people have hit a breaking point, often our internal, informal company caregivers, and self-care for them in particular has taken a backseat.
Who cares about self-care? We all should.
Self-care — it sounds so simple, like common sense even. But it isn’t that easy, especially for the caregivers. What makes it so hard? Why are we struggling so much with taking care of ourselves, especially those who others look to for support?
Kelly McGonical, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, explains it this way: “One of the things that you come across all the time is the idea that ‘I can’t invest in things that are good for me, because it’s taking away from my ability to be a good parent or do what I need to do at work.’”
And there begins the cycle of lack of care for the caregiver — at home and at work.
Caregivers within an organization likely spend a good chunk of their time tending to the needs of others — often in ways their coworkers, managers, and leaders never see. Lifting them and supporting them. It can be as small an act as asking a manager how they’re doing or something as big as stepping in to get work across the finish line when a coworker is struggling. Companies depend on these individuals, as much as they do on formal support options to keep everyone moving forward.
So what happens when they’re stretched too thin, as we’ve seen in recent months? Their self-care goes by the wayside and they risk reaching a breaking point. No one can run an emotional marathon at a sprint pace forever. When the caregivers within an organization don’t take care of themselves, they’re far less able to take care of others. That’s when the entire innate system of an organization’s well-being begins to crack. Every employee needs self-care to keep an entire workforce moving forward.
Instill self-care in the workplace — for everyone
As I mentioned above, the thing about caregivers is they tend not to prioritize their own self-care. To support these valuable people, leaders need to provide an always-available avenue for self-care and mental well-being for every employee. Everyone needs to know it’s available and feel the support of a culture that promotes self-care as a priority.
This doesn’t mean just making sure your employees take time for themselves every once in a while. It’s more than that. It’s about ensuring balance and making sure your caregivers are being cared for as well. So, what does that look like in the workplace? Unfortunately, the term “self-care” has become synonymous with at-home, material self-nurturing — making time for a face mask or bubble bath. What self-care really means is nurturing one’s well-being at work and at home. It means helping employees nourish their emotional, physical, and mental well-being throughout the employee journey, every day. After all, everyone has mental health all the time. We’re all simply in different places on the spectrum. And everyone’s mental well-being needs looking after.
The challenge is that the average well-being program fails to enable employees to nurture their own needs. To support your organization’s caregivers, you need to provide the resources and tools to help employees at all levels understand how to prioritize self-care. This needs to be an important tool in your organization’s mental well-being tool box. It’s the only way to take care of your caregivers and maximize the performance of your well-being strategy.
Further, it’s not just those of use who truly believe in changing workplace mental well-being who are saying this. It’s a global and an economic challenge. ”Businesses should treat well-being as a tangible skill, a critical business input and a measurable outcome,” said a recent article from the World Economic Forum. “By talking about nurturing your well-being openly and backing it with significant action, leaders can eliminate a work culture that implies work should come before personal needs — and empower employees to invest in themselves so that they can be at their best for others.”
Self-care isn’t a trend, just as mental well-being isn’t. Our mental wellness is part of who we are, and we all have mental health all the time. Employees, especially caregivers, need to have always-available access to tools that help guide them along their well-being journey. Of course, you can’t get everyone to see the light. Some caregivers will always deprioritize self-care in some way or another. But by putting self-care and mental well-being at the forefront of an employee’s day, you make it a little harder from them to downplay its importance.