How to use self-care to improve productivity in the workplace

In a world where people are “always on”, self-care is often not a priority for busy executives and employees. It can be hard to pull your attention away from the screen for some much-needed R&R, but self-care is important for achieving greater productivity, workplace happiness, and personal and professional success.

It’s critical to assess your office environment and workforce to determine which little things are having a significant impact on your productivity. Planning and executing improvement strategies is something business owners and employees do every day – you can use this same approach to increase your focus on self-care and personal well-being. This will benefit you, your employees and your company as a whole.

What is self-care?

When you hear the term “self-care,” you might instantly think of spa days and meditation. While these are some common examples of self-care, practicing self-care is much more than that. Self-care is when someone does something to support their physical, mental, or emotional well-being. To take it a step further, workplace self-care involves taking specific actions to support your well-being so that you can be productive and engaged in your work.

For example, if you have a stressful day at work, you might want to curl up with a good book at night to distract yourself. If you’re sitting at your desk all day, self-care might involve taking a 30-minute walk in the middle of your workday. If you’re overwhelmed with too much work, self-care might even mean saying no to helping someone else with another project. Everyone has unique stressors and needs in the workplace, so what constitutes effective self-care for you may look different to your peers.

Why is self-care important for workplace productivity?

Self-care is used to improve physical, mental and emotional health – an essential combination to stay productive over the long term. Stress is a workplace hazard and costs companies more than $300 billion a year, according to When unmanaged, stress can have a huge impact on your well-being and productivity.

For example, stress can have physical effects on your body, such as high blood pressure, headaches, stomach pain, chest pain, and sleep disturbances. These health issues can be minor distractions or severe enough to cause employees to miss work, reducing productivity. Physical self-care techniques such as regular wellness checkups, exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques can help employees stay physically healthy and ready for work.

Workplace stressors can also cause emotional and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, burnout, disengagement and lack of focus – all of which often lead to reduced productivity in the workplace. Mental and emotional self-care techniques allow employees and business leaders to press a reset button and address these issues before they start to have a financial impact on their organization.

Self-care helps people stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, which allows them to perform at their best and maintain high productivity in the workplace.

How do I use self-care in the workplace?

Self-care is about taking care of your physical, emotional and mental well-being. If you want to improve your overall self-care in the workplace, you’ll need to address all three areas.

physical self-care

Evaluate what is happening in your workplace that can be physically changed to improve your well-being. For example, if you sit in an office all day, self-care might involve going for a run in the afternoon, working outside on Tuesdays, or buying things to improve your workspace (e.g., an ergonomic chair, a desk, some plants). If you’re on your feet all day at work, invest in that good pair of shoes you’ve been wanting, or ask your boss for the occasional break when you really need to rest.

The type of lighting in your workspace can also be significant to your overall well-being and should be considered part of self-care. Studies have proven that light has a noticeable impact on productivity, mood, energy and alertness in the office. Natural morning and evening light has been found to be the best enhancer, and even if access to daylight is not available, research has proven that working under “blue-enriched” lamps actually increases job performance, supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness, reducing daytime fatigue and drowsiness.

emotional self-care

You can be a business leader or an employee, but first and foremost you are a human being – and human beings have emotions. You can try to suppress your emotions at work, but they will probably show up one way or another. Regularly assess your emotional state and how your work is affecting it.

For example, how are your co-workers or employees affecting you? If a toxic co-worker keeps nagging you with complaints throughout the day, self-care might involve setting healthy boundaries with them or working remotely some days to carve out some space. Other emotional self-care activities can include activities such as journaling, meditation, and therapy.

Another thing to consider is how your workload is affecting you. Are you overwhelmed and reaching burnout? If your workload is getting too full, self-care might consist of saying no when a colleague asks you to take on another responsibility.

mental self care

In addition to assessing your physical and emotional well-being, assess the state of your mental health. Burning the candle at both ends is no longer a badge of honor. Check in with yourself how you are doing mentally and take a break from work when you need it.

A great example of mental health self-care is using mental health days when you need them (if the employee benefit is offered by your employer). You might also want to consider mental health self-care strategies, such as reading a book, listening to a podcast, or taking a short break from your workday.

Research by Healio indicates that people are more focused on self-care than ever before. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 80% of respondents said they intend to be more mindful of regular self-care, and 64% say they are focusing on supporting their mental health more than ever.

What are some self-care tips for business leaders?

Self-care is especially important for business leaders, as they set the tone for the rest of the company. Here are some key principles business owners and managers should keep in mind as they navigate self-care for themselves and their teams:

  1. Start with your own self-care. Leaders’ behaviors have a significant impact on those they lead, and it will be difficult for you to educate others about the need for self-care if you are not taking care of your own.
  2. Discuss this with your team. Treating high stress levels as an accepted business norm is detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve. The best approach is to discuss stress in your office openly and with a strategic attitude that includes team members developing solutions together.
  3. Increase autonomy. Jobs that include high demands and rigid schedules significantly contribute to employee stress, especially if the employee has little control over how he is expected to complete his projects and tasks. When possible, make adjustments that encourage more individual autonomy and a team-based approach.
  4. Reward best efforts. Endless work without reward certainly discourages self-care and can lead to employee burnout and health problems. Make sure leaders and their employees are on the same page in terms of professional development and the path to promotion. Support these efforts with a clear and consistent reward system.
  5. Increase social support. Defined as proactive communication, caring and understanding, social support is needed both inside and outside the workplace. Encourage employees to take time off to spend with friends and family and ensure that support mechanisms, such as mentors, are available in the workplace.

Promote traditional self-care techniques throughout your organization so you can build a happy, engaged, and productive workforce.

How do I evaluate the results of self-care?

There are a variety of methods to assess self-care outcomes, and one of them is the well-known SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). While typically applied to strategic business planning, a SWOT analysis can also be applied to your organization’s self-care efforts.

  • Forces: What positive outcomes resulted from new self-care efforts? Which strategies seem to be working best?
  • Weaknesses: What efforts seem to be ineffective? Are there specific employees who are still struggling?
  • Opportunities: Where can self-care initiatives be improved? Were employees asked about their contributions?
  • Threats: Is anything (or anyone) in the organizational culture a persistent threat to self-care efforts? Are these threats being addressed?

Caring for self-care in the workplace isn’t just good for your health and that of your team; it will also lead to better productivity and an increase in your organization’s bottom line. That’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Sue Montgomery contributed to the writing and research of this article.

How to use self-care to improve productivity in the workplace

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