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

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

As a busy professional working in the Health care system in the United Kingdom I witnessed firsthand, and became acutely aware of, the sobering statistics of work-related health problems, absences and stress. The doctors, nurses, health professionals and staff who work hard caring for the population were not truly taking care of themselves.

See Self Care at Work Does Make a Difference: (Part 1)

I discussed this during a session with Serge Benhayon and he shared with me some words that he had been 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.”

Through this simple truth of ‘cause and effect’ presented so clearly, I realised that I, and the many Human Resource Managers and university academics I had worked with, hadn’t practised this. I wanted to know what would happen if we did?

I determined that there was a PhD study to be undertaken here.

The PhD study question was ‘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)

In a nutshell, for three years I kept a diary and notes of many of my own realisations, experiments, my choices in the way I was at work, and the way I prepared myself for work.

I also held a number of workshops and undertook interviews at the beginning, middle and end of the study with a cohort of 60+ participants (from HR, management, leadership, psychology, coaching, facilitators, physiotherapists and nurses): in addition I used further research (about developing self care/resilience for managers and leaders) I had undertaken with a group of 35 multi-professional NHS Managers in England.

A synopsis of this six-year study is as follows:

Phase 1 – exploring what is going on at work, and the way we are working:

Question 1: What is going on at work?… how do we feel at the end of a working day or working week?

The resounding responses were that we all felt tired at the end of our days and working weeks: we felt stressed, stretched, exhausted and we used ‘substances’ such as chocolate, sweet foods, coffee, tea, etc. to keep us going.

Question 2: How does it feel to offer a service/treatment, or to work when ‘the orange light is flickering? (the orange light being the light that flickers in your car when you need a service, maintenance or petrol)

We resoundingly agreed that it feels awful to be working while feeling under par, tired, exhausted, hungry and frustrated; and that it does have an impact on the quality of our work.

Participants’ quotes: “I go on auto-pilot”: “It does detract from my ability because the focus isn’t there where it might otherwise have been”: “uncomfortable, beyond uncomfortable because I am not fully present”: “it’s the listening, the concentration, I just can’t”: “my practice slips when I slip”.

Question 3: Where in our bodies do we feel the tension or strain when we are working ‘under par’?

These differed for everyone from feeling disengaged, tearful, loss of perspective, poor attention span, eating more, edgy or fidgeting, aches and pains, etc.

Phase 2 – What we then did as part of the study, using the physical indicators people had felt in their own bodies, was observation and journal/diary entries over a period of time, recording the things that didn’t support us at work (e.g. having late nights, or overeating the night before), and the things that did support us (e.g. drinking more water, stopping to each lunch, leaving work by 6 pm etc).

Over a period of a couple of years I collected and analysed a large amount of data about what did, and what didn’t, support people while at work.

To summarise the data, the kinds of things that supported people most at work were:

  • walking regularly (during, before or after their day),
  • enabling extra time throughout their day so the days weren’t ‘backed up’,
  • being honest and talking to another if they felt out of sorts,
  • dietary and hydration choices (of which there were many, including stopping caffeine)
  • learning to say ‘no’,
  • being honest with themselves and others about their daily capacity,
  • keeping a tidy desk,
  • being ‘lighthearted’ and playful during their day,
  • ensuring enough rest and sleep.

Phase 3 – Does this make a difference to the quality of services we offer at work?

We then focused on the following questions, and I collected and analysed data on this –

  • “What difference did it make for you to make choices that supported you at work?”
  • “Did this make a difference to your services, or the way your day went?”

Resoundingly, once again we found it does indeed make a difference to the services you provide. The participants said things like:

  • “…it makes 100% difference to my performance when I take care of myself. I know that for me, eating, exercising and relaxing helps to maintain a better momentum with my own performance.”
  • “…an enormous difference: I couldn’t possibly facilitate groups on stress management if it was a case of do as I say and not as I do.”
  • “…it demonstrates the power of role-modelling to the community they (that person) relate to; taking care of one’s own daily health and well-being adds an important tool in the educating role that fosters quality in healthcare.”
  • “…the difference in your energy levels and outlook is amazing when you take care of yourself.”
  • “I feel less physically tired at the end of the day, I am more present with clients and my ability to listen is heightened.”

Why then is this study important?

It is important for all employers and all those who work (no matter what work you do) – taking care of self does make a difference at work, and to the quality of services offered. This study is also important because what Serge Benhayon presents are simple truths that stand the test of time (and the test of a six year long PhD study).

In asking “does taking care of self actually make a difference to the services you offer?”, we (the research participants for the PhD) have come back resoundingly to say ‘yes; taking care of self does make a difference to ourselves, and in the way we offer our services’.

Most of us who engaged in this study hadn’t ever given ourselves permission to take care of self at work prior to the study. What was so profound about this study is how powerful the enactment of personal choice is when undertaking to make small changes in our lives – and realising, for ourselves, that they do make sense and they do make a difference.

(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:

173 thoughts on “Self Care at Work Does Make a Difference: (Part 2) – PhD

  1. Amazing article and studies Jane. It really highlights the importance of self-care. Most work places I have experienced do not talk about how to take better care of ourselves, instead I have experienced office politics, filled with gossip and complaints amongst staff. By introducing self-care and self-love I am sure office politics, dramas and issues would be greatly reduced and or eliminated. When we start caring and looking after ourselves we naturally reflect the same quality towards others. I can see that self-care not only is able to support our higher quality of work but also our relationships and our work environment as well.

  2. What a great piece of work Jane Keep – thank you. I work in Learning and Development in Health and Social Care and regularly have this discussion about the importance of self-care. Most agree that this is a common sense approach to life and that the ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitude has no integrity and hence no real power. It is in how we live our days that demonstrates the power of self-care and it is abundantly clear to me of the importance of it, and the responsibility we all have to look after ourselves. What’s more, the pay-offs are well worth it. Living with greater vitality and aliveness is a wonderful way to be.

  3. Stopping caffeine is an excellent self care choice, as it forces us to recognise when we feel tired or need a ‘pick up’ to support us. I now know the first thing to do when I feel tired is to go back to feeling my body, and stay very present with me, to feel the awfulness of being tired, and just accept how we feel. I notice the more gentle I am with me, the sooner the tiredness can shift.

  4. Fantastic Jane, I love how you’ve engaged with so many and the results speak of something we all do but often don’t do … as you say do we give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves at work, a pertinent question and one from experience I can say for myself and others no. Your study highlights how key this self care is, and how even small changes make a huge difference. Awesome to have this study in the world for all of us, showing how possible it is to change, if we actually dare to allow ourselves.

  5. What a profoundly enriching and awakening experience for all involved Jane. This comment particularly stands out: “…taking care of one’s own daily health and well-being adds an important tool in the educating role that fosters quality in healthcare.”
    We are all, in truth, educators and teachers, by virtue of what our own lives reflect to those around us. To truly consider whether we reflect true ‘health’ to others, and what this means for us in the context of the way we live our own lives, is life-changing, if the implications are acknowledged in full.

  6. Gosh I find this study so inspiring Jane. The results are indisputable and undoubtedly have a huge influence on how we think of productivity and work. It is after all not just about function but about the being being totally cared for and nourished inside by others and themselves that makes a massive difference

  7. This is an eye opening insight to a global problem. Working in a way that is caring is seen as the impossible dream, but it isn’t, and it is a way of living that supports everyone, the employee, the business owners and the clients.

  8. This article, and if needed, all the deepening material underneath, is something that should be basic knowledge for every HR professional. So they can live it and share it to employees not only as knowledge but as a shining example.

  9. Such a powerful blog you have shared here Jane, the subject of self-care is foundational for anyone to be able to be of true service in their workplace plus an added bonus of how choosing self-care then supports other areas of your life as well such as relationships, community, family etc.

  10. This is the type of study that is needed more in our world. Showing that simple actions that we choose can bring outcomes where we feel less stressed and more supported.

  11. Amazing Jane. Self care does make a difference and yet nobody seems to value it – what a strange state of affairs we have. Managers seem more interested in the ability to produce what is needed by a deadline than the energetic quality a task is performed in or the way that the work impacts the employees body. It seems we have things the wrong way around when it comes to true productivity.

  12. It’s ironic how we are designed to work and most of us do not enjoy it as we should from the point of showing that in the body with the vitality to maintain ourselves, a quality, throughout the whole day. Simple questions and the responsibility to monitor ourselves especially through a diary can make such difference and true lasting change.

  13. Great questions, Jane. “What is going on at work?… how do we feel at the end of a working day or working week?” – this just made me stop. We have just come out of a bank holiday week (5 days off work) and I am already longing for the weekend when I think I can allow myself enough sleep – and I haven’t even gone to work yet. What is going on? Could it be that the way I just spent the last 5 days was not really supportive for me? Thank you, Jane. This has offered me to take a stop and be very honest with myself.

  14. What you mention in phase 2 that people found supported them and made a difference to their lives, are basic simple things that are easy to bring to their lives, like going for a walk, keeping their desk tidy, drinking more water, making time to eat lunch, and at the same time letting go of things that do not support them. These small changes to the way we live have a big impact on us and those we work with as Jane has shown in this fantastic study.

    1. I agree Lorraine – it only need start with small steps, small moments of self care in our daily lives, as it takes on a rhythm of its own once we develop consistency with self-care.

  15. Learning to say no is huge. Something that i have observed is that in learning to say no I am learning to not be nice. Its sounds mean in a sense but its not for when I am being nice and I not sharing what is true for me, I am actually over riding this and aiming to appease and not let another down, regardless of the effect on myself.

  16. Imagine all the money that could be spent on uppers such as sugar drinks, coffee, caffeine drinks, and other stimulants such as sugary foods, that would be saved if one takes simple care of themselves and hence those around them. Such a HUGE savings benefit here when just viewed on a purely financial basis let alone the benefits to productivity and employee morale.

    1. I agree Joshua. Ive often wondered what the cost/quantity of coffee/tea/cakes etc is in each workplace – and if we implemented a self-care study whether that would change.

  17. What an amazing quote “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.” I absolutely get this and now live this to a great degree in my own life and business. Inspiring on all levels and areas of life very clearly indicates that life is one and not separate parts.

  18. Powerful stuff Jane! This is exactly what any business should have to take on before starting up. Imagine if this was part of the setting up of a business. If from the get-go people are asked to take care of themselves, the difference on our planet would be enormous. The difference you’ve helped facilitate in your workplace alone would be having the biggest impact! This is huge! You’re PHD should be EVERYWHERE!

    1. HI Elodie – I wonder how it would be if all our healthcare professionals deepened their self-care – as the quality of services would deepen, but the ripple effects would be far greater than that as those working in healthcare would naturally inspire their patients and clients, carers and relatives.

  19. It makes so much sense that when we care for ourselves, we will offer a better service. What I feel we, as a humanity have forgotten is the importance of providing a service. If we again embraced that each of us is here to offer our uniqueness, in service to humanity, caring for ourselves would be natural, as we would know that to provide the service that is needed we would want to present ourselves in full, which we can only do if we honour, love and care for our body.

  20. A ground breaking study Jane that will serve for a long time in many industries. Healthcare is already under a lot of strain and this is only going to increase. As a nurse in her 50’s with 20 plus year left to work in healthcare self care in the least is essential for my own wellbeing. Interestingly its not just about work, its how I am in the whole of my life. It all makes a difference.

  21. Jane this is a terrific piece of work, there is so much we can do through the way that we live which makes a difference not only to the quality of our work, but the quality of ourselves and how we feel about ourselves. Simple small choices make a huge difference.

  22. I found these responses fascinating – that we all know exactly how to look after ourselves, what supports us, and what doesn’t, and the consequences of those choices to support ourselves or not. What stops us from taking care of ourselves and what thoughts, activities and relationships are we prioritising over our health and wellbeing? Is it simply that we’ve not considered before, how amazing it feels to look after ourselves, and the ripple effect of that, or that we’re stuck in old patterns of not looking after ourselves – and how would it feel, and what collective difference could we make to our world and how we live, if we as a society started to pay more attention to this lack of self-care epidemic?

  23. We are challenging the status quo of drive and achieve that is the climate in most workplaces. People champion driving themselves into the ground – so great to be bursting that bubble.

  24. “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” – thank you for sharing this quote, Jane. This makes absolute sense. We can only offer what we already have.

  25. This is a ground breaking study as it shows how we cannot work efficiently in any place of work if we are not looking after ourselves first. And yet how many people press on when they are tired and exhausted by using artificial stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolate and biscuits etc to ‘get by’ during their day.

  26. Your blog Jane has made me wonder how many of the people I come into contact with in my own workplace spend most the week with the orange light flickering (or just plain on). It would be very interesting to observe this over the next few weeks in my day to day life and the people around me, and of course myself.

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