In our culture measurement work, we seek to improve a variety of culture centred factors in the workplace and in sporting environments. One of the phrases that comes up often in this realm is the idea of "self care" being an important component of workplace performance. This is something we strongly agree with at Boost Innovation, however, we see problems with the broad use of this term when understanding and application does not align with positive performance and culture outcomes.
If you log into most platforms, you will see posts of people drinking, relaxing by the pool, with friends, hiking, etc that all have associations with self care. The problem with this is that the lines between "Self Care", "Treating Yourself", and "Self Harm" are razor thin in reality and we should be careful about what aspect we are trending toward and make sure awareness of all three stays high for wellness and performance reasons.
As stated above, self care is something that is necessary and should be integrated into workplace and sport environments regularly. When we asked employees and athletes alike if their organization could support self care more effectively, 77% said yes.
The problem with this is that only 1 in 3 responded by saying that they felt they had a "strong sense" of what self care actually means.
And this is ultimately the crux of the problem. Self care is important. But knowing what self care actually is has a high degree of influence on whether or not it's effective or not. The WHO defines self-care as:
“the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”
The Line Between Self Care, "Treating Yourself", and Self Harm
Self harm is defined by the National Alliance on Mental Alliance as:
"Self-harm or self-injury means hurting yourself on purpose...any time someone deliberately hurts themself is classified as self-harm."
You might now be thinking, why does this matter? Well, consider the following examples:
A student athlete who stays home from school regularly to lay in bed and sleep.
An employee who leaves work and consumes alcohol until they feel relaxed or fall asleep.
Someone who eats junk food and watches movies all weekend.
These things many sometimes be classified as "self care", but on a continuum between self care and self harm, these things would actually trend more toward the self harm side. If they occur rarely, they may not trend toward either but instead sit more in the centre under the "Treat Yourself" level.
This is where awareness and intention become important because self care should involve key things (promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability), but when it doesn't do those things it is something different. At worst, too much of this misguided self care could actually be trending toward intentionally causing harm to oneself.
Workplaces and sport teams should promote self care actively by asking appropriate, empathy-based, questions that gain understanding about a self care routine. For example, "Can you share with me how this contributes to your health?". Having regular discussions and connections about people's self care can allow for authentic conversation on the topic and create a culture of wellness.
Treating yourself isn't a bad thing in moderation, but it is not self care and the distinction between things that contribute to overall health and are just things we enjoy in the moment should be clear.
When actions that fall under treating yourself are occurring too often, they trend toward self harm and this is important to address and refer to appropriate resources when necessary.
Have the conversation about the difference and be clear that the organization supports and encourages self care, where health and wellness are the goal.
Build authentic and empathetic connections in your organization so that there is more clarity on whether someone is practice self care, treating themselves, or tending toward harming themselves.
Don't assume anything falls in any particular area on the continuum. Connect, ask questions, use professionals.
This article is written to promote awareness and spark conversation, and is not intended to reflect any type of "expert" opinion or provide medical advice. If you have concerns about anyones mental wellness (including your own) you should contact a professional or reach out to Crisis Text Line at 741741.
The content of this article is informed based on the data from Boost Innovation's GRW Project and FLW Project work. More information can be found here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org