Self-care and Corporate Care How Are They Working?
“The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become.” Jim Rohn
For the past few weeks, I have witnessed several crises of self-care in individuals around me. Because these were crises deeply rooted in work I began to think about “What role does an organization play in supporting their people?” That led me to think about what role do we play, and need to play, with respect to our own self-care?
At the same time, my friend and colleague was writing about self-care which was helpful for me to expand my understanding and perspective. I also read three articles on what organizations did during Covid to better support their employees. I was also having conversations with individuals that would suggest there are some organizations not doing much to support their employees. Where does all of this lead? I’m not sure. I do know there will be more than one part to explore.
A few of you were kind enough to respond to my post on Gratitude and Capacity. Thank you. It was nice to find that it struck a chord.
Do your best and be well…
Self-care and Corporate Care – Part 1
What is self-care? I came across this explanation/definition in an article on the subject by Maureen Mackey. I like it. Self-care is “the thoughtful practice of protecting and improving our own physical health and mental health within a balanced lifestyle. In these stressful and uncertain times, it’s never been more critical. Self-care includes the intentional acts of eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, maintaining a strong social network, tending to our spiritual needs, looking after our financial security, and so much more. Think of it as the gentle art of loving yourself.” Wikipedia describes it as the “practice of activities that an individual initiates and performs on their own behalf in maintaining life, health, and well-being.”
I used to think of self-care and corporate care as an either-or proposition. I thought of them as either the organization I worked for was taking care of my needs, or I was. The truth is, in its best form, the ‘caring’ is a shared proposition based on the needs of the individual and the collective (organization).
For each of us the proposition starts with what we want – from our lives and for our lives. Behind that ‘want’ there is also a need. I have found that the ‘need’ may be deeply embedded in our psyche, formed from the time we were very young. We may not be aware of that need. Let me explain. All of us learn to develop certain emotional responses to situations/events from the time we are very young (baby, toddler). If, for instance, we have a highly emotional response (crying) to a situation and we receive comfort, we are likely to repeat that response until something different/better comes along. Keep in mind that these ‘emotional’ responses may be negative (think: emotional brain hijacks where we may go to a very dark place for some period and lose our ability to be objective and make good decisions). If we receive a lot of attention to ‘soothe’ us that feels good, we will choose that response because it fulfills the need. We are ‘getting’ something from our response. That ‘need’ can last a long time or a lifetime. It isn’t helpful, but we won’t care until we see it as not helpful and determine to make a change.
In organizations, the stated ‘want’ is to remain a viable company. The ‘need’ is to make money, be profitable. Depending on how evolved the organization is there is a continuum of how they view corporate ‘care.’ On one end are organizations that see the care of the employee as vital to their ability to meet the organizational ‘need.’ This includes helping the employee to ‘fit’ into their new job, to provide ‘clarity’ around the role, expectations, and how the job integrates with the other parts of the organization. They will also ‘support’ the employee by providing the necessary tools (including regular feedback), training, advocacy and benefits (wages, health and dental insurance, retirement accounts, etc.) to help the employee be more successful. To let the employee know that they are ‘valued’ for their unique contribution, and to help them connect to the ‘meaningful work’ they are doing. Robert Greenleaf (Servant Leader) talks about serving the ‘highest needs’ of the employee.
At the other end of the spectrum are organizations who behave as though employees were a ‘necessary evil’ to the organization’s existence. They provide what they ‘have to’ in the way of benefits, but it is not from a position of fostering the employee’s success. That ‘tone’ is often reflected throughout the organization in hundreds of conversations that are more about the employee’s compliance than their commitment.
Sometimes the corporate care we observe is divided based on the size of the company, and what the company can ‘afford.’ At least that is the assumption we make. My observation is that regardless of size an organization there is a built-in bias based on the continuum described. During the pandemic we heard stories of organizations stepping up to offer additional support for the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of their employees. We also recently witnessed 400,000 people leaving their jobs (the majority in the restaurant and entertainment business) because they felt over worked and under appreciated (we will come back to this group and others). It is also possible that some found the pandemic benefits (supplemental unemployment) were worth more than they were making. (It will be interesting to see in those states that have already ended the benefits, and when they expire September 6, whether some of our labor shortages begin to abate.
The behaviors necessary for an employee to feel supported and valued are not expensive. They do require intention on the part of leadership. That ‘intention’ is built on the understanding that the better ‘cared’ for my employees are, the more engaged they are likely to be which studies indicate lead to higher productivity and greater profitability.
There is more to explore in terms of corporate care, but let’s shift our focus to self-care.
I first became intrigued with how me/others took care of themselves while teaching a high school Sunday school class. We were talking about their schedules and how busy they were. I asked them what time they had to just ‘be.’ One student after another echoed that they didn’t have/take the time. That led to an understanding for me that most of these activities were orchestrated by their parents. I later came to understand that how busy their kids were was a badge of honor, a sign that my child was ‘special.’ I also had a chance to see/learn firsthand the burden some of the kids felt to live up to that ‘specialness.’ This was in 1982.
The other day my friend shared with me an ‘experiment’ he was part of a large insurance company in 1978. He and two other coaches were offered as a benefit to employees to help them cope/deal with some of the emotional issues that the employees were facing. Another individual at the company was tracking dollars spent/saved as a result of this ‘benefit.’ At the end of 11 months it was calculated that over $1.5 million dollars had been saved because of lost work hours. In the end, however, the CEO and his team decided to discontinue the coaching benefit because they were concerned that others would see the company as employing people that had mental health issues.
I share these two anecdotes from not quite 50 years ago to illustrate that the issue of how we care for ourselves has a very long history, likely predating 1978. I work with many companies that have a predominantly female workforce. Many women, by instinct and upbringing, are ‘care givers,’ caring for others. It is not uncommon for me to see this playing out everywhere from the workplace to home. It is also not uncommon for me to see that ‘giving’ care carrying with it the risk of depletion of energy more than restoring energy.
Next time I will add additional pieces to the picture but want to leave you with an opportunity for reflection. How you care for yourself is a choice. In that context, how are you choosing to care for yourself? Is there one area (physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or social) that is primary to your general wellbeing? For instance, if I am good spiritually, followed closely by physical, I find that the other areas tend to be better as well.
You have a little homework. I look forward to our next time together to explore this important topic.
Toward a better you…