employee well-being

Self-Care is a Management Skill
Self-Care is a Management Skill 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I didn’t get it.

When I heard people talking about self-care, it conjured up images of self-indulgent escapism. Self-care was going for a spa day or taking time for a guilty pleasure to forget about the challenges of life.

It didn’t feel like something relevant to me.

But I was wrong. Self-care is vital. In fact, it may be one of the most important skills we can learn if we want to thrive and be happy in our lives.

This seems to be the lesson that I have been repeatedly trying to learn since March 2020. It will be one of the permanent marks this pandemic will leave upon me.

When I don’t take care of myself, my ability to do all the things that are important to me diminish.

My work suffers. I don’t show up in the way I want as a parent or spouse. I lack energy for things I generally love to do. Joy becomes harder to find.

It’s not good.

I came face to face with these consequences last summer when I experienced burnout. A big part of how I got through it was self-care.

What is Self-Care?

While there’s a lot of different definitions you can find out there, I like to keep it simple. Self-care is the commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions you undertake to preserve and maintain your well-being.

When you are well, that means that you are happy, healthy and thriving in your life. It means that you can be your best and offer your best to others and to your endeavors. Well-being is what fuels our ability to live life up to our potential.

And when our well-being suffers, so too does our ability to show up in our lives in the ways we want and need to.

So, another way to think of self-care is as maintenance.

If we don’t perform regular, routine maintenance on our vehicle, it will slowly and predictably decline in performance until it finally breaks down. Self-care for us is the same.

Sure, we can get away without doing it for a while, but our performance in all areas of our life starts to decline until eventually, we break down.

This is what we are seeing all around us right now. Over the past 18 months, all of us have experienced some serious wear and tear on our well-being. And, unless you’ve been tending to self-care, you might feel like you are about to break down.

I know I did.

Self-care helped me get back up and running. But since then, I learned another important lesson about self-care. It isn’t a one-time event.

If you only change the oil in your car when it breaks down, you are in for a lot of future breakdowns and costly repairs.

It’s easy to get motivated to do self-care when you realize you’re burnt out or broken down. But, that’s a costly and painful time to tackle it.

The real work of self-care is the routine part. It’s committing to it on an ongoing basis to ensure you can be at your best in life and at work (and avoid the unnecessary breakdowns).

Why Self-Care is Vital for Managers

Managing effectively is hard work. Now more than ever.

As teams become more distributed, as pressure mounts to create more just and inclusive work experiences, as employee expectations of flexibility increase, the pressure on managers is mounting.

Take all this and multiply it by the fact that our collective well-being has been under constant threat for the past year and a half.

As a manager and leader, you need to be on top of your game right now. Your people need you at your best and unless you are invested in your self-care, you won’t have your best to offer.

They tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane because if you don’t care for yourself first, you can’t help anyone else.

Self-care is your oxygen mask. You need to put yours on right now because your team needs your help.

How to Practice Self-Care

Now to the tricky part. There is no one-size fits all approach to self-care. What works for one person may not be ideal for another.

What I recommend is to find a framework of well-being that resonates for you and then use that to help you think about what commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions to take to maintain your well-being.

A few good frameworks you can peek at are WELCOA, Gallup, and the Center for Spirituality and Healing. There are others, but these are three good ones.

For today, let’s use the model from the Center for Spirituality and Healing as an example.

This model of well-being includes six elements:

  • Health – Are you caring for your physical and mental health?
  • Relationships – Do you have healthy, supportive relationships?
  • Security – Do you feel safe and free from threat and fear? Do you have a healthy relationship with money?
  • Purpose – Do you find meaning in your work and life?
  • Community – Do you feel part of and contribute to a larger community?
  • Environment – Are you living and working in spaces that are positive and supportive? Do you have a good connection with nature?

This model might not feel quite right for you. That’s okay. You can find one that does.

But, hopefully you can see that by finding a model like this, it can help you start to ask the right questions that lead you to the self-care practices. Having a framework like this to reference will help you maintain and enhance your well-being.

Exactly what that looks like will look a bit different for all of us.

What Self-Care Looks Like for Me

Since there is no single best way to approach self-care, it feels like the most helpful thing to share are a few examples of how I practice self-care. Perhaps it will inspire ideas for you to find your own unique approach.

Below are some parts of my self-care practice. Many have evolved over the past year as I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of self-care.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. One of the realizations I had recently is that when I’m feeling off, drained, stressed, or afraid to the point that it is affecting how I show up in my life and work, it’s almost always during times when I’ve not been getting enough sleep. When I am rested, I am 1000% more resilient.
  • Do at least 1 hour of exercise daily. Almost as important as sleep for me is to move my body every day–walking, running, yard work, or OrangeTheory.
  • Practice daily meditation. I’ve been a meditation dabbler for years, but on the heels of my burnout last summer, I committed to a daily practice of meditation. It has been a game changer for me.
  • Make time with family and friends. If you want great relationships in your life, you have to make time for them. Time is the currency of relationships. If you feel like you don’t have time for this, it’s time to reevaluate priorities in your life.
  • Learn something new. I realized that I spend more time teaching than learning, so I decided over the pandemic to finally start taking lessons to learn how to play the harmonica. I’ve always loved blues music so this has been something I’ve talked about for a long time. It’s both humbling and rewarding.
  • Take time off. Admittedly, I’m not as consistent on this as I want to be. I’m behind on this one, so I’m planning to do more of it in the upcoming year.
  • Watch some TV. I love watching good TV and sports. Getting immersed in a great story or game gives my brain the opportunity to let go and take some downtime.

When I am doing these things, I feel like I am fully powered up and strong. I feel like I can be present in my relationships and life.

This isn’t my full list but hopefully you get the idea. Your list will look different. The point isn’t what’s on the list, the point is that you have one and that it helps you feel stronger, healthier, and more energized for life.

What you practice for self-care will evolve and change as you do. The key is to stay committed to it and continually check-in on what’s working and what needs to change.

You Need Self-Care

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that self-care is only for certain people who need it, it’s for everyone. We all need maintenance. And our well-being is too important to wait on others to care for it.

If you plan to succeed as a manager and leader in the upcoming months and years, you are going to need to be on top of your game. There’s no way to pull that off without a commitment to self-care.

Do it for you. Do it for your people. Do it now.

Related Reading:

 

Upcoming Course Information

My next online course, Managing in the Future of Work, starts September 13, 2021. Learn more by clicking here.

employee wellbeing discussion
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

There’s a lot of talk about employee well-being right now. 

Apparently, suffering through a global pandemic is enough to finally get us thinking about our well-being more seriously. The consequences of a lack of well-being have been laid bare over the last year.  

But employee well-being isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been lurking in the shadows, affecting work performance for as long as the notion of “work” has existed. 

Today, my goal is to caution you against dismissing the emphasis on employee well-being as only being related to the pandemic. Instead, we must recognize it as an opportunity to re-tool management to improve both productivity and engagement moving forward. 

What is Well-being? 

Twelve years ago, I was hired to lead the corporate human resources team for a regional bank. To their credit, they’d been investing in employee well-being programs for years before I arrived. They even had a full-time wellness coordinator on staff (uncommon then) who was on my team.

I’ll be honest that prior to taking that job, I’d never really understood wellness programs. The most I’d brushed up against wellness in past organizations was through periodic health fairs at the office that seemed out of place to me.

This was something different. They viewed wellness as an employee benefit, a way to help the employee get or stay healthy. And the employees seemed to embrace it. I was intrigued. 

Workplace wellness programs at the time included things like steps challenges, weight-loss competitions, and programs to help you quit smoking. They often incorporated an outsourced Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline, but it seemed few ever used it. 

Employee well-being was almost entirely focused on physical health. And physical health is an important issue. But as we’re coming to understand now, well-being is so much broader than that. 

Well-being at Its Core

Well-being at its most fundamental level is literal. It’s about “being well.” The work of well-being is taking intentional steps to feel better (or less unwell) in all areas of our lives.  

There are a lot of different definitions and models of well-being out there. I like the ones used by The Center for Spirituality and Healing and WELCOA personally, but what’s more important than a specific definition is that you recognize what well-being feels like and how it affects your life.

What helped me finally grasp the importance of well-being at work was to focus on my own experiences when I was either feeling really well or really unwell in my life and how that affected my ability to perform my job. 

The most obvious experience we’ve all shared of unwellness is being sick. When we are suffering from a cold, COVID, or any other illness, our ability to perform at our best in any area of our life is diminished. 

Well-being and Performance

When we are ill, our body rallies its energy to power our immune response, which directs it away from other things. I know that I can’t think or concentrate with any effectiveness when I’m sick. At best, it takes me twice or three times as long to get things done. 

When we are physically diminished for any reason, our work suffers. Hungover, tired, hungry, or any number of other issues can cause us not to be at our best. 

A lack of physical well-being is probably the easiest to see and notice, which I think is why most wellness programs have focused there in the past. But, being unwell can have many causes. 

As we’ve heard a lot recently, mental health is a significant contributor to well-being. This can manifest in a bunch of ways, from anxiety to depression. Mental health and mental illness are just as serious and often more harmful than issues with physical health. 

I’ve written about my own experiences with burnout and how it disrupted my ability to be at my best in any part of my life—let alone work. When we don’t care for our mental health, it can have dire impacts on work and every aspect of our life. 

Hopefully, you recognize your own experience in some of this and relate to the stark difference between how you show up in life and work when you are well versus unwell.  

Why Well-being Matters

Please don’t get the wrong idea; well-being isn’t just about avoiding pain or suffering. It’s about recognizing that we all have core human needs as human beings that need to be met for us to be happy, content, and able to be the best version of ourselves. 

Being “well” means your core needs are met in a way that allows you to make choices about how to invest your time, energy, and talent.

Being “well” means you’re operating as a whole person with your full potential at your disposal. 

“Well” is an aspiration. And, it’s one that I believe all humans share. When our well-being is in a good place, it feels great. 

Well-being has come to the forefront now because the past year has introduced multiple threats to our well-being that almost felt like a coordinated attack. 

Illness led the news, but our safety and financial security also came under attack simultaneously. Relationships were strained, and unhealthy habits revealed themselves as a temporary solution to our anxiety. 

Life piled on the well-being challenges one after the other as if it were a contest to see how much we could handle before we break. Some of us broke. Many are on the verge of breaking.

This is where far too many people find themselves today.  

As a manager or leader, this should be alarming to you. Because as we know from our own experiences when we aren’t well, we can’t do our best work. 

While this has always been true, the consequences of not supporting our employees’ well-being are starker and more catastrophic than ever before. 

If you want a high-performing team who will stay with you through good and bad times, supporting well-being needs to move to the top of your priority list and stay there. 

How to Support Employee Well-being

While I’m not going to offer you a comprehensive guide here for how to manage and lead for well-being, what I can do is share with you a few foundational steps you can take to get started in the right direction.

1. Give yourself permission to care. 

Well-meaning HR departments for years have told managers to maintain their distance from employees. We were advised not to get too close to people because you need to stay objective when managing people.  

And, while this advice is meant to ensure fairness and avoid favoritism, the unintended consequence is that managers have kept people at arms-length, believing that they really can’t engage with the employee in any way beyond what is “work-related.” 

As I outlined earlier, much of what affects our well-being and ability to perform our best at work happens in the part of our lives when we aren’t working. So, as a manager who wants to help people be at their best at work, you have to care about and be interested in your employees far beyond work.

This doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with each of your employees. But, you should give yourself permission to care about them and their lives outside of work.

When you start to care for your people beyond just their work output, you’ll start asking different questions and having different conversations. Showing your people that you care is a significant first step towards improving their well-being. 

Just knowing someone cares about you is incredibly powerful. You can give that gift to every person you manage.

2. Abandon the “work-life balance” myth. 

One thing that has traditionally got in the way of organizations meaningfully addressing employee well-being is the myth of work-life balance. 

The whole notion of balance assumes you have two separate things to put on opposite sides of a scale and adjust until the scale balances. The issue here: two separate things. 

Work isn’t something separate from life, it’s part of it. The concept of work-life balance only became a thing when employees started to realize how much work sucked for them and how much of a negative impact it was having on their lives. 

So, organizations started talking about “balancing” work and life as a solution to this issue. Rather than fix the root cause (work sucks and it’s killing us, sometimes literally), we created programs to help people think about the non-sucky parts of their life—that stuff that we don’t call “work.” 

Work is part of life. And life comes to work with people every day. There is no separation to balance. There is only a human being in the middle of it who has needs and aspirations. When we refuse the myth of work-life balance, we can finally start addressing the root issues holding people back.

3. Learn compassion.  

At the beginning of the year, I declared that the number one management imperative of 2021 was compassion. Compassion isn’t a concept commonly discussed in management or leadership training, but it may be the vital missing piece to truly embracing our role in supporting employee well-being. 

At the heart of compassion is an awareness of the suffering of others and a desire to help remove or address that suffering. It’s a simple idea with profoundly powerful implications when put into practice.  

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced compassion from others at some point in our lives. If you have, you remember that experience of someone recognizing that you were suffering or struggling and offering to help you get through it. 

For me, it was the compassion of my wife and another close friend last summer who both recognized I was struggling and offered me the support I needed to heal from my burnout. 

Compassion starts with permitting yourself to care (see #1 above) and seeing the employee beyond just what happens “at work” (see #2 above). From there, it’s going to be about cultivating skills for recognizing people’s needs and challenges with a commitment to address them.  

To dive deeper into the skill of compassion, I recommend reading this resource: How to Foster Compassion at Work Through Compassionate Leadership

Well-being is the Future of Work

This has been a chaotic and often painful chapter in the evolution of work. But we’re standing at the edge of a brand new chapter.

The silver lining in this pandemic is that it shattered the status quo of “how work should be done” to reveal something that’s always been true: 

It’s about the people. 

Embracing the work of well-being is ultimately a fundamental re-thinking of how we design and manage work. Employee well-being starts with designing based on what’s best for the humans who do the work—not the organization. 

Those who recognize and embrace this shift now will lead the way forward and show what’s truly possible. And I believe they will be in a position to thrive wildly in the future. 

 

 

Related Reading:

Wellness 2.0

Why Wellness Programs Matter

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me

employee wellness 2.0 - person running up stairs
Wellness 2.0
Wellness 2.0 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

About eight years ago, I joined an organization that was pretty serious about workplace wellness.

Since the wellness team rolled up to me as the HR leader, I got pretty serious about learning what it was all about quickly. Most of the focus, I learned, was on improving the physical health of our employee population.

This particular organization had been investing in wellness programs for years, long before most organizations started to take it seriously. They did some really cool stuff in the name of wellness. They viewed it as a benefit to employees.

At the time I joined this organization, healthcare costs in the U.S. were really beginning to skyrocket and the cost of providing employer-sponsored health insurance had become a concern.

This triggered the wellness industry to jump into action. Suddenly, workplace wellness programs were no longer a benefit, they were a vehicle to control and reduce health insurance costs. It made sense. The healthier you are, the less healthcare you consume–at least in theory.

We sold this clear new “business case” for wellness, HARD. Our execs got on board and we got to work.

But, the promised cost containment and cost savings never really materialized. And we weren’t alone. It wasn’t that wellness wasn’t making a positive difference, it just wasn’t reducing health insurance spend.

This promise of wellness has failed. The cost savings never materialized. Wellness had bet big and lost on a business case with far too many uncontrollable variables.

Sadly, this is putting some wellness programs and wellness professionals at risk of losing funding and influence.

Now is not the time to abandon wellness. Now is the time to double down.

Work is a relationship for employees. And, at the core of a healthy relationship is feeling a sense of belonging and being care for. No other function within the organization is better positioned to help employees feel this way than wellness.

The practice of corporate wellness has evolved over the past decade. Today, instead of only being about improving physical health, it’s about improving overall feelings of well-being. Wellness is wholly focused on caring for you as an individual person.

When wellness works, it can really strengthen the relationship by making you feel like the organization cares about you beyond simply what you can do for it. If your organization provides you with the tools to get out of debt or with the skills to be a better parent, it makes a real and positive impact.

But when it fails, the relationship gets damaged. My wife still talks about a day at work well over a decade ago that is a good example. A snowstorm was getting started in the city and many of her colleagues were leaving work early to make it home before the snow got bad.

As a single mom with a young son in daycare, she had to make it across town before the daycare closes. For those who may not contend with snow regularly, when a snowstorm of any magnitude rolls into the city, a 30-minute commute can become a 90-minute commute pretty quickly.  So, she asked her boss if she could leave early.

As an hourly employee, her boss not only didn’t want to let her leave early but proceeded to give her a lecture about how she needed to have a backup plan for situations like these. These words, to someone who didn’t have an easy answer for a “back up plan” were at best insensitive and at worst insulting and hurtful. As I said, my wife still feels hurt all these years later.

Learning to really care for an employee’s wellness is at the heart of creating a great work experience and a strong work relationship.  But, this requires that we evolve our understanding of wellness as a practice.

Recently, the Wellness Council of America debuted a new definition of Wellness that I find really inspiring. Here is the core of their definition:

What is Wellness?

Wellness is the active pursuit to understand and fulfill your individual human needs—which allows you to reach a state where you are flourishing and able to realize your full potential in all aspects of life. Every person has wellness aspirations.

Successful workplace wellness initiatives require supporting employees in fulfilling their needs in these seven areas:

  1. Health Beyond the absence of mental and physical illness, health is a feeling of strength and energy from your body and mind.
  2. Meaning Feeling part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing that your work matters. Having purpose in your life.
  3. Safety Knowing that you are safe from physical and psychological harm at work. Feeling secure enough to take calculated risks and show vulnerability. Free of concern about meeting basic life needs.
  4. ConnectionExperiencing positive, trusting relationships with others. Feeling a sense of belonging, acceptance and support.
  5. Achievement Feeling you have the support, resources and autonomy to achieve your goals. Succeeding at meeting your individual goals and work aspirations.
  6. Growth Feeling like you are progressing in your career. Learning and being challenged to use and expand on your strengths.
  7. Resiliency Viewing life with optimism. Feeling grateful and expressing appreciation. Feeling validated and encouraged.

You can find the full definition here.

As we wrestle with how to make our organizations and the work we do better for humans, I think it would be smart to put wellness at the center of those efforts. If we feel unwell, whether it’s from our physical health, stress from financial strain, or a lack of meaning in our life, we won’t and can’t perform at our best. The most engaging workplace in the world can’t compensate for a lack of well-being.

The heritage of management we inherited suggests that life exists outside of work and that, as employers, we need only concern ourselves with what happens “on the clock.” That may have worked in the early days of mindless factory work, but it’s no longer valid today. The wellness of our people is where it all starts.  The more “well” they are, the more performance potential they have to give.

Wellness isn’t going to fix your health insurance issues, but it may go a long way towards boosting performance. Give it another look.

This week, I have the privilege of presenting a keynote at the WELCOA Summit in San Diego. If you are going to be there, drop me a note. Let’s meet up. 

why wellness programs matter - employees doing yoga together
Why Wellness Programs Matter
Why Wellness Programs Matter 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I have a confession to make. I used to think that corporate wellness programs were ridiculous.

I’d hear about weight-loss contests and health fairs and, frankly, it felt like the typical busywork kind of stuff HR departments are known for.

Then, I went to work for an organization that invests heavily in wellness (and had been doing so for 15 years) and I found out I was wrong.

As I’ve studied wellness and the impact that well-executed wellness programs can have on an organization, I’ve changed my tune. I’ve become a wellness champion.

I believe in wellness programs within organizations and I think that every organization should be investing in them. It seems so obvious to me that there is a benefit to having a wellness program that it’s hard to understand why companies wouldn’t embrace them, particularly in today’s world of health care expenses that continue to spiral out of control.

The general argument against corporate wellness is that companies have no business mandating anything to do with employee health.

It’s argued that requiring employees to get in better shape or care for their general health and well-being is an intrusion of their privacy.

I’ve heard this sentiment coming from some pretty smart HR pros, and I find their objection to wellness to be short-sighted.

The fact is, we mandate things to employees every day. We tell them how to dress. We give them standards for their hygiene. We require them to attend training classes. We give expectations on how to execute their job. We tell when they can and can’t take personal phone calls. We tell them what they can and can’t say to who and when.

And we do all of this because specific employee behaviors have a direct financial impact on the organization.

But, when it comes to wellness, we get squeamish about setting the same kind of standards despite the fact that employer-paid health insurance benefits have become the second-largest expense line item for many companies behind salary.

And research tells us that 75% of healthcare expenses in America come from chronic health conditions that are largely preventable through behavior modification.

So, to extrapolate, it can be assumed also that approximately 75% of our health insurance expense at the organization level is being caused by the behaviors of our employees. And, if they change these behaviors, there could be a dramatic decrease in healthcare expenses for the employee and the organization.

This doesn’t even take into consideration that people are doing real damage to themselves and their families through their unhealthy choices.

With this much at stake, why wouldn’t a responsible organization get invested in wellness?

It almost feels like an imperative to create healthy organizations that proactively help employees make healthier decisions. In fact, if we are willing to dictate how employees dress when there’s so little at stake, why wouldn’t we offer help with what they eat or how much they exercise when there’s so much at stake?

 

Related Reading:

Wellness 2.0

Why Employee Well-Being is Vital to Work Performance

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me