Self-Care at Work Does Make a Difference

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 well-being 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.

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

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/

Related Reading:
Self-Care at Work Does Make a Difference (Part 2) – PhD

179 thoughts on “Self-Care at Work Does Make a Difference

  1. I agree that the passion is there in most professionals but the foundation of being able to work, often in challenging environments is not something we grow up with. Instead we have the opposite where self-care is seen as selfish, indulgent or something pampering that can’t be done at work. We then fall sick ourselves and are far from the role models we could be. Once I started to look after myself and understand that I couldn’t offer great care if I wasn’t caring for me, I realised how natural and common sense this was.

  2. Your closing sentence is huge, to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves at work, to claim that for us and in doing so we lay a foundation for a greater quality in how we are and we bring that to all around us. There is so much talked about organisational change but without the fundamental building block of self-care there is no anchor and not basis to it.

  3. I work as a nurse and have done for 25 years. When I attended university, there was nothing in our training on self-care. Everything was about the patient, the person we were caring for. I remember at one stage I would hold on and not go to the toilet because I didn’t think I had the time. The result of this was that I became quite constipated for a number of years and actually lost the urge to go to the toilet. What is it about a nurse that would make her ignore her own urge to go to the toilet because she thinks she is too busy and then to induce to her own body constipation, which was ongoing for some time? Self-care is nothing that is complex or complicated but it is something where we do not disregard our own body and place someone else’s needs above our own.

  4. What an important front-footed move to self-fund a PhD looking at the difference self-care made in your life on a daily basis and then considering if that model was replicable. It all starts with the honesty from the body that something is amiss and knowing we can be the change we want to see in our lives.

  5. I love that the result of your PhD is that permission to self-care, given by ourselves is crucial. This is something all employers need to encourage.

  6. I like this quote by Serge Benhayon, how he brings everything back to the person, and then out to the group or organisation, and then to the people that that organisation, or group of people serve. so it all starts with the love and the care that we can give to ourselves first. Beautiful.

  7. It is indeed so simple: how is anybody able to provide true service to a client, patient, another human being, if they don’t take care of themselves first? The world seemingly seems to be oblivious to the fact, or are thinking that they are taking care of them selves while they are not.

  8. Care of self is very much a prerequisite towards the caring of another, for trying to care for another from a disharmonious body, is the equivalent of attempting to fill a water container from an empty well.

  9. The usual method of implementing change in organisations is top down. Introducing self care into an organisation however needs to be be down up otherwise it will have no foundation and only will be a mental construct. It will all start with each and every individual to develop taking care for oneself that then will change everything from the inside out.

  10. It is extraordinary how common sense is not common, and yet the simplicity of self-care and the immense change in our daily experience of life is living proof that if we are willing to look beyond the norm of how we are living, we can see there is another way of living that just makes sense.

  11. This is great Jane, thank you. It’s such a vital topic as the statistics reflect, self care at work would not just transform what we can bring to our profession but also become a foundation for life in general. It’s beautiful the way we bring our care to people at work, to patients, or clients etc, but we don’t seem to know how to hold ourselves with the same value and care. We are brought up to serve and care for others in a sacrificial way, to not think of ourselves, but self care is truly essential.

  12. What a very real and hugely needed topic to choose for your PhD, Jane. These days it makes so much sense to me that the quality of care we bring to ourselves as carers is of the utmost importance, as how can we care for another deeply if we do not care for ourselves? This for me was not always the case, as when I was in a caring role I put myself last and as a result my body suffered, and I am sure so did the level of care that I was bringing to others. Now I can see so clearly that definitely didn’t make sense.

  13. “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,” Serge Benhayon. It cannot be better said.

  14. I’ve been developing self-care for a few years now and only recently stepped into the healthcare industry. I can’t see any true care being delivered without the foundation of self-care.

    1. Spot on Leigh. The healthcare industry as I’ve experienced it in nearly 40 years does not put the equal care of all at the core of its way of working – e.g. the 1 million ++ staff who work in the NHS don’t have the care of them and their bodies seen as equal to the care they provide for all others.

      1. Yet I can see how this has come to be because we simply don’t educate or have an understanding of the value of this way of living. It doesn’t (on the surface) make anyone any money!!! The self-care industry at the moment is about plasters and band aids but the more we have this conversation the more purpose we can bring to our self-care and the intention will support a more lasting and true outcome.

  15. If ‘three-quarters of NHS staff believed that the state of their health affects patient care’ then your PHD questioning the value of self-care and if it makes a difference to the service a health care worker provides was right on point Jane and definitely well worth researching and doing a PHD on. Well done.

  16. It makes financial sense for companies to support their workforce to Self-Care, which makes me question why so many companies make profit and turnover their top priority. Through self-care our quality is increased, and therefore the quality of work increases which then means the quality of the company is lifted too. It would be fantastic if more companies realised this and made their own workforce a priority because everything else would automatically be taken care of.

    1. I agree Sally – it’s a hidden productivity and quality tool – if self-care and the health and well-being for all was foundational, naturally relationships, quality, productivity would flourish.

  17. “Self-Care at Work Does Make a Difference”. It does make a huge difference, and the more we understand what true self-care is the more we will be able to bring it to our daily life. It is simple steps that bring enormous change to our daily well-being and support us to live a more and more vital and joyful life.

  18. Self-care is hugely undervalued and underrated.. when I was growing up it was cool to be in massive amounts of disregard and not care.. it showed how laid back you were, because looking after one’s self was considered a bit pathetic, and a bit like you were listening to your Mum too much. But everyone knows how amazing it feels to really deeply nurture one’s self, so why do we often wait until we’re ill to do this? Our bodies love being cared for and looked after, and once we start doing this, we feel more solid and settled within ourselves, and from there, a foundation from where we can support others. I used to think self-care was selfish and narcissistic, but in fact, we could say that to not take care of ourselves is selfish, because if we’re not taking care of ourselves, then we cannot support anyone else with any kind of quality or integrity.

    1. “I used to think self-care was selfish and narcissistic, but in fact, we could say that to not take care of ourselves is selfish, because if we’re not taking care of ourselves, then we cannot support anyone else with any kind of quality or integrity.” So perfectly exposed Bryony. We basically get indoctrinated with the understanding that self-care is selfish and that we need to put everyone before us, especially we women, but as you unravel here so clearly, it is simply the other way round.

  19. One of the things that I hear a lot is that “I don’t have time”. This is one of the myths about self care for its not about adding extra things onto a very full day, although I have to say that finding time to go for a walk I have found to be essential. But that comes naturally once we begin to look at the quality in how we are with ourselves during our whole day. Self care is the quality in which we live our day, the quality in which we hold ourselves in and it makes complete sense that if we hold ourselves in a quality of gentleness, love, and care then this is how we are with others. Its a win win for any workplace, but especially in healthcare where everyone needs to see first hand that we can love and care for ourselves and the effect that this can have on our wellbeing.

  20. Beautifully said Jane. Something I have always wondered is whether, when a person embarks on a Phd study such as this, they know the outcome before they start. This is not to say the person influences the outcome – but that it is possible that we all know the answer anyway. It’s great to have research that confirms the fact, but that is what it does – confirms. We know don’t we – it’s common sense – that our own wellbeing is key to the quality of our life and hence our work? Perhaps one day we will understand our innate ability to sense so well that we can simply trust what it tells us.

  21. The beauty of self-care is that we can explore and experience the quality we will then bring to everybody else. If we treat ourselves with the utmost care this will be in our movements, in the way we speak, in the way we are and thus all will benefit from this deep care quite naturally without us having to put effort into what we do other than being loving and observant with ourselves.

  22. Taking care of self is the prerequisite and foundation of any service to others – without service to self first, our words and actions are empty and don’t deliver what is possible.

  23. How awesome that the research is now there, in the world, that shows that yes, self-care makes a difference in how we work and what we can bring to our work. Steadiness is absolutely crucial to doing a job well, yet we so often don’t value it in our lives, relationships and work, preferring the drama and emotions instead. I know from my own experiences that starting to live in a way where I look after myself on every level and don’t make compromises is what helps me stay steady, focused and clear.

  24. It’s a wonderful study on the effects of self care across all areas of life. Those statistics about the time needed off work simply because people are not taking care of themselves is alarming. And that was in 2012, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much worse it has gotten over the last 5 years. And I say worse, because even though there is more awareness around self care these days, there are even more opportunities to distract ourselves with all we need ‘to do’. We are in a very very ingrained pattern of ‘care for others first’, and it will take some time to break that cycle across the board. But for every one person that does take on the challenge, every single person that comes into contact with that person gets the opportunity to choose the same by virtue of reflection.

  25. Simply how we are with ourselves, our body, impacts on every area of life and all others. We do not consider the ripples of our choices and how these flow out..

  26. Thank you Jane, for presenting what is, on reflection, something that is so simple and obvious but due to our current work culture is revolutionary. This should be the core value of every Human Recources department. How can we deliver true service to any other if we ourselves do not hold the same regard? There is no connection to truth if we offer a level of service and care that we ourselves are not familiar with, by way of lived experience. It is empty, loveless and driven by our various emotional needs and agendas. Yet on the other hand, if we live with the highest regard and care for ourselves first, and then within our team, the quality of service and care we offer would be true, genuine and heartfelt which is in fact the quality of service we all deserve.

  27. To me there is a basic contradiction between being a healthcare worker and being exhausted. Health care workers know how not to be exhausted and they know the numerous consequences of exhaustion. Yet, many of them are. When I read about research on health care workers’ exhaustion and burnout I never see that simple question being asked, rather a further layer of management gets added to the existing process in order to improve outcomes. But why is there an issue in the first place?

  28. Jane self funding a PhD is no small feat and on such an important topic such as self-care. This is something that is very needed across every industry. This will be the go to piece of work on self care for some time.

  29. I love this quote from Serge, Jane, ‘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.’ It is about having a loving, caring relationship with self first, otherwise we do not have this quality within us to share.

    1. It’s very a very beautiful quote. It exposes what care and caring means too. It is much more than what we do it is in the way that we do what we do.

  30. This is a great read Jane and so needed today. I can remember a past visit to hospital where one member of staff was looking after me, but it actually did not feel good. I realised she had no idea of what care was, did not give it to herself, and so naturally was unable to share with another what she did not have.

  31. So important! And it can be really easy to shy away from self care when you feel others around you not appreciating the importance of it. But more often than not, if you really stick to what you feel is right for you, others start to take notice and inevitably make changes themselves, regardless of how big or small. The power self care has on everyone and everything is more than we know.

  32. It’s such common sense when read and felt. We can not give what we don’t have. If self care is not our living way, true care can not be given.

  33. Something so simple Jane ‘Developing self-care at work’. Why has this not been published and acted on before? How come it has taken Universal Medicine to bring these simple truths. Live in a way that is unloving and you will never be able to access truth.

  34. Fascinating Jane. Your blog makes me wonder why employers don’t ask for a resume detailing our self care as it’s obvious that this is a huge factor in our ability to serve in the workplace.

  35. Great blog Jane and I agree with everything you have shared, if it wasn’t for me being introduced to self-care and the simple principles that Serge Benhayon offers everyone, I would have burnt out from my job years ago.

  36. What struck me about this article that seeming all the HR professionals don’t saw the obvious fact that the way they were living had an enormous effect on the service they delivered. The statement “if you don’t care about yourself, you cannot take care of others” is perhaps known, but not lived. It had become a marketing statement, with no actual content, while it should be THE statement HR is living themselves, so than can not only deliver true service but also be a point of reflection to people, employees.

  37. I feel self care will be a massive topic for a long time to come and will unfortunately be overlooked and undervalued for a long time to until people realise how important the quality of work is and hence the quality of the person doing the work is on the the final product or service. Not just on how well the product or service is but more so on what quality of energy is behind it.

  38. How absolutely fabulous that you are putting the value of self-care on the map Jane, through your PhD study and how you are choosing to live yourself… And, that a responsibility is being awakened with this – for if we do not have a loving relationship with ourselves, just what quality do we bring to those we interact with and serve in our workplaces?
    Self-care, by its very nature, cannot remain a concern of the individual only – its scope asks us to look at our impact upon all.

    1. So true Victoria – well said. True responsibility is lived as such, when it is felt and understood that is not just about the individual taking care of themselves, but more so that it is in fact about caring for us all, as the quality in which we live has a great effect on us all. This is where we will begin to understand what Brotherhood is about.

  39. What you’ve shared Jane makes such absolute common sense, yet it’s so clear that we haven’t been living with this level of care for ourselves. Eating well, sleeping with supportive routines, working to a sensible capacity… all these things make common sense, yet our collective resistance to such self-care asks us to look deeper, doesn’t it… For if it all makes such ‘sense’, just what is driving us NOT to live with such regard for ourselves?

  40. You may have written this more than four years ago Jane but I don’t think too much has changed as far as self care in the work place is concerned. This was clearly demonstrated to me a few months ago when I spent an hour waiting for someone at a hospital appointment. I was shocked to see how tired looking and overweight the majority of the staff was. It definitely is time to bring self care into every work place; simple ways of looking after yourself that have the potential to change many lives.

    1. It seems to me quite cruel that we educate people to care for others, yet we exclude them from this same quality of care. It also doesn’t make sense because it’s like constantly using a car and never servicing it, it’s eventually going to break down, the human body is the same.

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