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.
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: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/21799/