People tend to talk about self-care in apologetic terms, making excuses for why they took vacation or went for a walk on their break, or any of the more expensive and ostentatious behaviours people call ‘self-care’, but why? It seems obvious that self-care is important. Everyone needs a break, and our mental and emotional health need looking after just like our physical health does, so it shouldn’t feel controversial to take steps to protect ourselves from burnout or stress or just not feeling our best. And yet excuse-making persists, suggesting that there’s something about how we conceptualize self-care that feels indulgent or guilty to us.
The workplace plays a key role in self-care culture and promoting mental health. After all, we spend a significant part of our lives at work, and work undoubtedly contributes to our stress levels. HR professionals often feel this stress acutely, balancing their own mental health with the needs of their employees. Conversations and being proactive can help, but first, you’ll need to understand why self-care is so important and how it could be affecting your workplace.
If people feel guilty about something, it follows that they’re less likely to do that thing, admit to doing it, or request the support they need for it. This means for self-care that people tend to handle it separately from their professional lives, referring to acts of self-care as ‘self-indulgence’ or ‘guilty pleasures’—but this attitude about self-care is harmful. Self-care is important for good mental health, and given how widespread mental health issues are, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important for us to change the conversation around self-care and normalize it.
A lack of self-care means people live with mental health issues instead of seeking treatment or lifestyle changes that would address them. Imagine if we treated physical health issues the same way, and people felt ashamed to ask for a bandage after a papercut, or like they had to lie about seeing a doctor about a persistent cough. Just because poor mental health tends to leave fewer visible signs is no reason to treat it differently than any other health issues. When people live with untreated mental health issues, those issues hurt their ability to participate fully in their lives.
The consequences of unaddressed mental health issues are felt not just by the person, but by everyone around them. In the workplace, poor mental health can lead to decreased performance, poor attendance, and higher turnover. Mental health has always been an important but overlooked part of workplace wellness, but the recent public health crisis has made it unignorable. Download our Mental Health in the Workplace Conversation Guide for best practices to identify and address mental health issues in the workplace, and make self-care what it should be—an essential and ordinary part of our lives.
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