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Karen Liebenguth


Executive and Leadership Coach & Workplace Wellbeing & Conflict Resolution

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Employee wellbeing: do you foster a culture of self-care in the workplace?


Employee wellbeing should be a priority for all businesses, as neglecting self-care could cost your organisation more in the long-run.

The long standing ethos of market economics, ‘more, bigger, faster’ is based on a misguided assumption that our personal resources are infinite.

Indeed, our personal resources are far from infinite (as we all know), and if we fail to exercise self-care at work, it not only affects job performance and moral, but it also puts our health at risk.

The exhaustion funnel

Marie Asberg, professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, describes burnout as an ‘exhaustion funnel’ – we slip down as we give up things we don’t think are important.

Williams and Penman note in their best-selling book, Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, that “often, the very first things we give up are those that nourish us the most but seem ‘optional’, and the result is that we are increasingly left with only work or other stressors that often deplete our resources, and nothing to replenish or nourish us”.

Exhaustion is the result

Where the top of the exhaustion funnel represents a full and balanced life, with work, family, friends, hobbies, interests, the bottom of the exhaustion funnel represents a life that has been stripped down to merely doing those things we have to do to keep going about our day to day – work, cleaning, food, shopping etc.

It can be very easy to slip down the exhaustion funnel if we fail to exercise self-care.

Some employers have made huge headway in showing their people that they are valued but how many employers are proactively fostering a culture of self-care?

A growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal boosts productivity, performance and, of course, health.

Wouldn’t it be great if more employers in the UK make a conscious effort to move away from a work culture which celebrates overwork as a sign of commitment and ambition and move towards a work culture which values a balanced and supportive workplace which prioritises the health and wellbeing of its employees?

Top tips for organisations to share with staff to foster a culture of self-care

Self-care requires self-awareness, i.e. knowing what we need in every moment of the day, week, month and acting upon it as best we can.

1. Encourage staff to take regular lunch breaks away from their desk and ideally away from the office environment (a walk around the block or to the nearby park) – even if it’s only for 20 minutes (a 30-minute to one hour lunch break is ideal)

2. Encourage staff to accept that it will never all get done and that to-do lists are by nature endless. There will always be more work than time. 

3. Make it feel acceptable for staff to take a day’s leave if they are exhausted through work. Just a day’s break with some rest, good food and little time on the computer, television, mobile phone, can be hugely restorative. Foster a culture where staff feel this is feasible and that they will not need to constantly check work email and phone messages on their day off.

4. Encourage staff to take regular leave across the year – indeed that’s why we have annual leave – to rest, restore and recover. Holidays, regular working hours – these are just a few of the developments of a modern work place.

5. Create a healthy email policy – be mindful of the burden of e-mails on staff and implement ways to reduce it in order to increase productivity and efficiency. A report by the London-based Future Work Center, which conducts psychological research on workplace experiences, found that two of the most stressful habits were leaving emails on all day and checking emails early in the morning and late at night.

6. If you manage a team and or lead a company, walk the talk, be a role model of self-care to your team members. When they see you practicing self-care and work/life balance e.g. taking regular lunch breaks, working regular hours, keeping work correspondence within working hours etc., your team members will feel they can do the same. What’s more, you’ll be making a huge contribution to creating a well-functioning, happy and healthy team.

7. Share self-care tips with staff via your internal communications and invite employees to share what has worked for them. Here are just a few examples of employee top tips:

  • Create technology free times/days in the week or month
  • Make time for activities you enjoy
  • Drink lots of water and eat well
  • Cycle or walk to work – physical exercise brings balance to mind and body. It can help prepare for the day ahead or wind down from the day that’s been.
  • Have a buddy (friend/colleague) you trust at work with whom you can talk and share your feelings with.
  • Spend 10-20 minutes every down writing down a stream of consciousness, e.g. in the morning when you wake up or before you go to bed. Just write down what’s there on your mind – and don’t worry about how you write it down and what you say. It’s for nobody else to read. It can be a helpful way of getting worries, concerns, and recurrent thoughts out of your system.

No working life comes without stress, challenges, conflicts, pressures and setbacks or moments of complete exhaustion but consider this paradox: the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.

A growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal – including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, and longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent holidays – boosts productivity, performance and, of course, health. (Tony Schwartz in ‘Relax, you’ll be more productive’, New York Times, February 9, 2013).

Investing into 1:1 mindfulness training or bespoke mindfulness workshops for your staff can help employees and mangers alike to better self care, to better self manage which in turn brings about happier and healthier staff, and because companies and organisations are made up of people, a healthier, more successful business altogether.

Want to learn more? Read Managing the wellbeing needs of a multigenerational workforce.

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Karen Liebenguth

Executive and Leadership Coach & Workplace Wellbeing & Conflict Resolution

Read more from Karen Liebenguth