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

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 eat 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.

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


  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:

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

  1. If we understood the truth of self-love and self-care and made them part of our lives the world would be a very different place.

  2. I’ve worked in retail, hospitality and now in care. The amount of times I have worked with people in these industries that ‘hate people’ or begrudge or are generally disinterested in people or hate their job because they have to deal with other people, has been innumerable. But it’s not that people hate people because how they view others is how they view and treat themselves. I know this because I was that anti social customer hater once. Once I started to care for and love myself I found I had a natural love and care for others.

    1. “But it’s not that people hate people because how they view others is how they view and treat themselves.” And when we understand this we know we have the power of change in our own two hands.

      1. It also helps not take things personal because if someone is acting in an unloving, not nice or horrible way knowing this is how they treat themselves as well brings in understanding. Reacting only keeps that behaviour going.

  3. We do not currently have a model of the way to live that is naturally caring for ourselves. In fact, I would say from my own experience that it is the opposite. WE do not consider that self-care is a 24/7 thing and just how much this can support our wellbeing. There are also a lot of societal ‘rewards’ for self-abuse. As nurses you are seen as dedicated if you don’t stop for a drink of water or go to the toilet.

    1. And disregard is the norm – and we talk about it, even boast about how we are e.g. how much we ate or drank and how bad we felt. Yet all the while this body we are in has to pick up the pieces.

  4. When life becomes uncomfortable because we are tired, exhausted etc. we tend to go on autopilot because the work has to be done. But do we ever question ourselves how this feels in our body and what it does to the quality of what we produce or the service we provide? Everything is energy thus everything matters, so to the quality we hold ourselves in during the day, wherever we are, at home or at work, comes with us in whatever we do or in how we behave. That is a responsibility we all have to return to, to know that we all matter, but too, if we do not like to be aware of this, contribute to all the issues and atrocities in our lives, in society and in the world.

    1. Autopilot feels awful, theres no joy in life when just going through the motions. Often in autopilot I either rush around like a headless chicken or move slower than I would if present in the moment. Our work ethic doesn’t stay within us but it is on show to everyone we live and work with for them to take on board as well or reject/react and turn away from.

      1. And in many ways, businesses do run on the autopilot of the people that are working there. “Please do not ask me to be creative and plan my own way, no, instead I like to just do my job according to the procedures that are laid down as it gives me a safe feeling and I am not challenged to be more.” Autopilot.

      2. Yes! I have seen that at work! People just want to do their job then go home. No consideration of how to make things better or be creative or review the systems we work by only staying busy or doing as little as possible until home time. That was/is totally me when on autopilot.

  5. Of course taking care for ourselves, self-care, makes a difference to our work output and to the services we provide. Same as not taking care for oneself does has an effect on how we are at work and to the service we provide. It is actually so simple. But the fact that we today need a PhD study to prove this fact shows to me the actual state of our societies and how far we have taken distance from that what we all innately know in our pursuit to live from our head compared to from our bodies instead.

  6. Amazing, so simple and yet so logical. How sad that we now need to study to believe it makes a difference but now we know this and people have been so clear about its benefits, surely it is one that applies to all of us, in all walks of life and professions?!

    1. Yes Lucy, we are all equally responsible and only can make the choice for ourselves to make self-care as a standard in life we then take with us everywhere we go.

    2. Yes – self-care is in truth one of the basic foundations in life, and something our body knows. So it does seem weird that we are reminding, reawakening, and encouraging ourselves to look at self-care when it is deeply innate in us all.

  7. I really love what you have uncovered here, the cause and effect of choices to self-care starts first with self, and then expands through the organisation. There is much to be pondered here.

  8. I love the invitation offered in this study to consider how we work, how we are for ourselves and how it impacts our work and the resounding results offered … which make absolute sense, and completely turn around the whole way we manage and measure performance at work, so rather than have a KPI (key performance indicator) which suggests we need to improve our customer care for example we introduce one which asks what we need to do on a daily basis to support us at work? Studies like this allow us to revolutionise how we are at work and how we work together as colleague and with our clients.

  9. Great article Jane, and so important that these insights are now back-up by a PhD, because that is the way it works in this world today. Academic credential seemingly offer truth, while not every academic study is based on truth. In this case I know it is, because it is also my own lived experience. I fully see and appreciate the hard work you have put in this PhD, playing by the rules of the academic world. Very very well done.

  10. Fascinating work that deserves to be adopted by organisations worldwide as a standard for supporting their workforce.

  11. What a fabulous, simple experiment. I loved the straight forward questions and the honesty of the answers. The consistency of the replies that self-care supports ourselves and our work suggests that this is something we know we need to put into practice.

  12. For me self care has become a way of life, and I can always refine and add more details to my self care routine which is actually very enjoyable! The results of self care on vitality and ability to perform at work, and in life in general are pretty profound.

  13. I love the concept of “the orange light is flickering” as it is a great marker of our current level of energy. I lived with this flickering light on orange for such a big part of my live and it was definitely an exhausting way to live – actually it was only existing; there was not much living going on. Coming to understand that if I increase my level of self-care I naturally increase my vitality is one of the most life-changing realisations I have been presented with. And the fact that everyone else around me benefits is a massive bonus.

    1. Agreed Ingrid, I loved this concept and can feel the combination of the physical and the visual will remind me when I try to push through. It is worth taking that step back and doing an audit on ourselves – as you found, have we been living between the orange and red light more than the green and orange?

  14. I can so relate to working under par as I work in the healthcare profession as a Carer, and it makes an enjoyable job very difficult. We all know how difficult it is to be smiley and helpful when all you want to do is go to bed and rest – it seems like the longest shift on the planet in those moments.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

    1. I agree Mary. In working with others I ask nowadays ‘where does quality come from?’ and ‘where does productivity come from?’ – we can think we are offering quality and being productive, but if we are running on over drive, and empty, and filling up with stimulants and delivering services are they truly productive? are they true quality? I pretty sure if we put ourselves in equal balance with those we serve/the work we do there would be far less sickness absence, far less accidents and errors, and far less complication, and far less conflict/emotional out bursts.

  17. “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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

    1. I agree Bryony and 10 years on Im still collecting more responses – 4,000 people so far that confirm the same, we all know how to support ourselves, and we all know we feel best when we do, and the quality of our work suffers when we don’t take care of ourselves, so yes the same question – why is it we don’t take care of ourselves at work or in life to the best we can?

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. We need to be careful that self care is not delivered solely so we can function better at work. Yes, self care at work is a vital topic and one people everywhere will be interested in, but we need to return to feeling the inherent value of each human life, and of life in general, and let that be the intention behind self care.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

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