Memes and parodies have made self-care synonymous with retail therapy, indulgent food, and spa days. In our culture today, any means of relaxing and decompressing is labelled self-care.
In reality, self-care takes a lot more than arbitrarily deciding to treat yourself. In reality, it is an entire series of healthy habits practised consciously and regularly to promote mental wellbeing.
In today’s workplace, self-care is one of the most underrated and overlooked factors in sustaining employee satisfaction and work performance. The widespread lack of it has led to disengagement, burnout, anxiety, and even depression.
In Singapore, a study by Mercer saw 85% of employees admitting that they felt at risk of burnout in 2022.
Exacerbated by the need to adapt to remote and hybrid work environments, these conditions have driven large swathes of workers to quit their jobs amid uncertainty.
Regardless of the role you play in your company, here’s what you can do to cultivate mental wellness.
1. Self-care for employees
1.1. Eat, sleep, and move well
Just like physical fitness, maintaining your mental wellness often involves a level of self-discipline and routine.
Physical activity such as strolling, jogging, or hiking is among our list of 60 suggested self-care activities, next to more relaxing ideas such as enjoying a movie, aromatherapy or going on a picnic.
High on the above list is quality sleep. With the pandemic disrupting the world’s approach to work, we have lost our sense of regular work routines. Getting enough sunshine and physical activity and maintaining clear lines between work and rest need to be intentional.
Sleep researcher and psychologist Dr Stijn Massar recommends keeping to a consistent sleep schedule even though we may be tempted to stay up late and sleep in. He also stresses prioritizing physical activity as part of your day, be it exercise or walking to get meals rather than ordering in; and consciously separating our work and rest areas at home.
See more useful tips in our interview with Dr Massar.
1.2. Detect symptoms of anxiety early
Insufficient rest is just one of the myriad negative effects of remote work. Watch how many groans and eye-rolls the mention of a “video call” elicits.
The exhaustion, worry, or burnout you feel with Zoom fatigue is a form of social anxiety, but it can be managed.
During calls, turn your camera on only when necessary, or adjust your settings to focus on others’ video feeds, rather than your own, to minimize concerns about your appearance. Alternatively, you can dress up like you would on a normal office day. We feel good when we look good after all.
Remember to take regular breaks too, and talk to your manager if you feel you are constantly getting talked over by others in conferences and that your ideas aren’t being heard.
TL;DR: be kinder to yourself.
Zoom fatigue is just one factor that can make you an unsuspecting victim of anxiety. If you are constantly procrastinating or overworking, or if you are quick to put yourself down or react to small issues emotionally, you may be experiencing anxiety from work.
Remind yourself there’s no shame in seeking out professional help before these vicious cycles keep you mired in anxiousness. Your mental wellness always comes first.
1.3. Build external resources
When thinking about support systems vis-a-vis mental health, our closest confidantes—from friends and family to line managers and mentors—come to mind. But what most of Asia does not consider is executive coaching.
Intellect’s executive coach, Robyn Cam, points out that having a personal mentor does not make executive coaching redundant. Unlike therapy, which deals with your past, executive coaching works on your future and can be engaged even when you are not particularly struggling with your career.
Learn how coaching helps you be proactive with both your mental wellbeing and career development in our full interview with Robyn.
Another oft-overlooked source of support is self-improvement books. Research reveals that reading problem-focused self-help books tends to be helpful for people with specific psychological problems. Their adoption may have been catalyzed by the pandemic but they are here to stay in the new normal.
Every book presents an opportunity to better yourself, but here are 10 notable titles that caught our eye. There’s something for everyone whether you’re in the market for a more fulfilling role or looking to overcome self-sabotage.
1.4. Prepare for difficult transitions
Most of us were initially excited about working from home, but we have come to realize its fair share of disadvantages two years in. These include being overly sedentary, not taking proper lunch breaks, and working extra hours.
If your company is shifting to remote work arrangements, in the long run, there’s no better time to start managing these unhelpful habits than now.
Returning to the office is not a breeze either. Now that the world is gearing up to resume regular programming, you may feel nervous about working in a formal setting.
But you’re not alone. Major changes naturally increase feelings of anxiety, but understanding their root cause helps you create a toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms. Going to the office early to settle in or scheduling a work lunch you can look forward to can help you frame the upcoming transition positively.
These tips go a long way in helping you adapt while prioritising mental wellness.
2. Self-care for managers
2.1. Put your own oxygen mask first
As a leader managing the needs of others, are you taking care of your own? Like flight safety briefings always advise, don your oxygen mask before helping others with theirs.
In the context of work, setting boundaries helps protect your time and energy. It also helps to focus on factors you can control in your position rather than worry about things you cannot change.
HR professionals, in particular, should consider developing their own self-care routine before they start to think about caring for tens or hundreds of staff.
Middle managers, who often find themselves sandwiched and deprived of face-to-face interactions to fulfil their duties, can also benefit from mindfully developing their own self-care plans.
2.2. Balance employee performance and wellbeing
Underperformance is an inevitable issue managers have to deal with.
While the pandemic has done no favours for our mental wellbeing, the latter has long been a silent epidemic that has gone woefully unaddressed in the workplace. When dealing with underperforming team members who have mental health conditions, how can managers draw the line?
Rather than attributing the issue to a team member’s personality and making him or her feel accused, HR leader Shang Trinidad recommends examining it through the lens of work performance, supplementing it with specific examples, and working together on an action plan.
When offering support and flexibility is not enough, setting performance improvement plans will be the next resort.
3. Self-care for leaders
3.1. Progress at a sustainable pace
One may look at actress, producer, and patisserie owner Jeanette Aw and wonder how she has time for herself at all while juggling so many huge commitments.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by Intellect CEO Theodoric Chew and Clinical Psychologist Linda Rinn, Jeanette shares that business owners need to progress at their own pace rather than concern themselves with how much better others seem to be doing.
Theodoric also emphasizes the importance of asking for help, sharing that many startup founders have been generous with guidance and advice when he reached out. As the leader of a company, taking social media comments with a pinch of salt will also help you go the distance.
Linda weighs in on how you can stay mindful while engaging with a digital audience in our webinar.
3.2. Rest up to go further
In leadership positions, the lines between work and life are more blurred than ever. With the weight of an entire organization on your shoulders, protecting your time can feel impossible.
However, when leaders neglect to nurture themselves, they can end up hindering their company’s growth. Even when you’re heading a business, be deliberate about making self-care plans with time for exercise and rest, and inculcate self-reflection practices to build your mental resilience.
See how these two entrepreneurs set examples of self-care within their respective organizations.
4. Self-care for organizations
The role a company plays in supporting employee mental health cannot be understated. But how can they begin charting a path towards a more positive working environment?
4.1. Create psychological safety
When employees are afraid to voice out their concerns because they fear backlash or belittlement, the organization suffers as a whole from decreased morale and productivity.
Psychological safety at work begins with sending the message that every employee is valued, upholding their trust, and creating an environment they can flourish in.
To that end, externally facilitated forums are a good avenue for staff to discuss challenges they face at work. This gives leaders data to back up proposals for change and the company a chance to review dated processes.
To build trust within departments, managers can embrace conflict positively by facilitating collaborative discourse. Thais Pietro, leadership and behavioural health coach at Intellect, shares ways to nurture psychological safety.
4.2. Lead mental health efforts by example
Cary Shek, VP of people & culture at Klook, stresses that it is critical to first understand what causes talents to leave a company. Using that data, companies can begin to personalise self-care across unique roles within the organisation.
For these to be effective, they have to be embodied by leaders. For example, when managers schedule meetings off-hours and expect replies on weekends, they appear to be incongruent with the company’s self-care initiatives.
Leading by example is the most effective way to propagate work culture through a company’s ranks. Read more about how folks at the top can build a culture of self-care authentically.
4.3. Promote the right people
Managerial promotions are tricky.
The number one mistake a company makes is promoting a really good performer without critical leadership skills like delegation. Managers who do not delegate well risk burnout on both their part and the team.
Companies can take a leaf out of Google’s book to start distinguishing between employees who excel at contributing and specializing, versus those who feel more strongly about leading and motivating a team.
It is also important that team members get looped into the hiring process for managerial candidates. By giving them a stake in decision-making, companies lower the risk of an exodus after a new leader has been appointed.
See more powerful tips on supporting and enabling your managers the right way.
4.4. Set employees up for success
Behavioural coaching is another way companies can consider raising employee engagement, something that has dwindled in supply over the last two years.
Disengagement occurs when employees do not feel connected to their work, or when they feel dismissed or undervalued. Behavioural coaching helps “unstuck” employees, including managers, by equipping them with tools and strategies and helping them find a purpose.
Find out more about what behavioural coaching is, and if it may be the missing key to your company’s success.
4.5. Rethink outdated policies
Finally, organizations should examine if their corporate policies, such as leave allotments and working hours, are keeping up with the realities of today’s world.
As stressors of life evolve with the pandemic causing, companies are increasingly exercising flexibility on off days and working hours. Benefits packages have also seen an overdue update with a greater emphasis on mental and physical wellness.
Here are what companies are doing to modernize their policies, along with the considerations that go into these changes.
Step by step
Regardless of your role in an organization, you remain the expert on your own needs.
Honouring them will take time and practice, but it’ll pay off when you notice changes within yourself or the organisation slowly but surely.