by Jane Keep, MSc, MPhil. FCIPD, MIC CMgr FCMI, Associate at two Universities, Part-Time Manager in a Hospital and Freelancing Management Consultant in the Healthcare Industry, UK I met Serge Benhayon eight years ago: at that time I had worked in the National Health Service in the UK for 25 years. Something that constantly baffled me at work was how it was possible for the nurses, doctors, cleaners, managers, secretaries, porters, lecturers, teachers and other staff to offer their services to others while they were themselves out of sorts, and/or not taking care of themselves. These staff were passionate, caring, well trained, professional, and highly skilled, yet there was something missing; absence through sickness was high, as was turnover, and there were too often mistakes made at work. The statistics on workplace health and wellbeing had been showing:
- ‘Mental Health Conditions and back pain were reported by employers as the major factors giving rise to long-term absences.’ (CBI Absence and Workplace Survey 2010:7)
- ‘The UK’s economy lost 190 million working days to absence in 2010, which equated to a cost to the economy of £17 billion’ (Paton 2011, CBI Absence & Workplace Survey 2010:6)
- ‘Reducing the 10.3 million working days lost per year by a third could save the NHS £555 million annually’ (CIPD Annual Absence Survey 2010). This survey also revealed that more than three-quarters of NHS staff believed that the state of their health affects patient care.
I was the same: I was passionate, skilled, and willing, I worked very long hours, ambitious to achieve, and was constantly tired, living on chocolate, chips and tea to keep myself going. I wanted to support others at work, but I was by no means a role model as I often felt unwell with sore throats, colds, skin problems and asthma. When I first met Serge Benhayon, one of the things I discussed with him was about work and work environments, particularly large, busy workplaces like hospitals and universities where I worked. Serge responded by sharing a piece he was writing:
“The true delivery of service begins first by delivering that same service to self in every way, and to others by the same manner that are within the organisation, before any organisation can truly serve.”
This was a stop moment, a turning point where I got to feel the potential of another way of looking at work and working life, and more importantly, a kind of ‘cause and effect’ that had never been presented so clearly to me ever before. That unless I was taking care of myself, how could I take care of (‘serve’) another? And that unless a team, or even an organisation, were taking care of themselves, working together and nourishing themselves, how could they truly serve others? What was so profound about this moment was that I felt like what Serge Benhayon offered had lifted a thick fog from me: broken something that was holding me back from seeing the truth about the way we are, and think we have to be, at work. It was so obvious, yet I and the many Human Resource Managers and university academics I had worked with hadn’t found this level of simple truth. If we look after ourselves, then, and only then, are we able to truly look after others. But how can we do this? I realised that there was a study to be undertaken that started with my becoming more self-caring and self-supporting at work and keeping a journal of what I was learning. I also wanted to see whether the things I was realising were similar for others. I decided to self-fund a PhD study so I could write up my own self-study observations, coupled with the observations and awareness of others. The PhD study question was based on ‘If we took care of self at work, what difference does it make: and does it make a difference to the way we offer our services at work?’ (1) The result of this six year study was a resoundingly clear ‘Yes’. For me these last six years have been truly life changing. The way I prepare myself for work and the way I am at work has changed ten-fold. I now have loving daily practices about food, hydration, exercise and rest. I have also learnt to say ‘no’, and to understand more my own daily capacity for work so that I can stay steadier than I used to. The research participants also found the same. They too developed and confirmed loving, caring, daily practices that helped them to stay steady at work. All of us concurred that taking care of yourself does make a difference to the quality of work you do. Each of us also realised that we hadn’t up until this point given ourselves permission to take care of ourselves at work – and that this is fundamental for developing a steady foundation in the workplace. Part 2: Self-Care at Work Does Make a Difference (Part 2) – PhD References: (1) A copy of the PhD study [Developing self-care at work. Keep, J. A. (2013) Developing self-care at work. PhD, University of the West of England.] is available at: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/21799/