The past 19 months have provided an abrupt recognition to many people about the importance of personal self-care. It’s been a wake-up call for individuals to make decisions that support their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health needs. And while many organizations have adopted new policies and practices to support this, the whole topic of “organizational self-care” is an opportunity to strategically plan how leaders can support their current and prospective team members to provide an environment where they can thrive.
Why you should consider organizational self-care
The importance of self-care should be clear by now. With attrition rates rising (The Great Resignation), increasingly aggressive behavior in public places (like airplanes, stores and schools) and a general unease in the workplace (as reported by a variety of leaders with whom I’ve spoken), we have to approach work differently in the future. Worker shortages and high unemployment are evidence of a great reset on the number of people available and interested in the types of jobs that are open. Where’s the proof of that? We’re having difficulty in finding a salesperson in a store, a server in a restaurant and a delivery date for a desired item. Employers are dealing with increased time-to-hire, too.
But the focus on organizational self-care is more than a competitive advantage. It’s necessary for the well-being of our most important resource: our team members.
In manufacturing environments, plant managers don’t wait until equipment breaks down to repair it. They know there’s a loss for every minute the machinery isn’t functioning. It will show up in reduced productivity, increased costs and poor customer service. Instead, they have a predictive and preventive maintenance schedule to follow. They proactively plan downtime to replace worn parts, lubricate moving parts, test functionality, make repairs and do whatever is necessary to maximize output.
Humans are much more valuable and sensitive to environmental factors than machines, so it’s important to have a strategy to care for the team as well. How do you do that? Here are four key elements.
Rather than thinking of rest as something that happens outside of work when employees are sleeping, how can you build periods of rest into work? This should be a time to relax, gather strength and refresh oneself. It might look like a specific time during the week where team members can disconnect from email, texts, chats and other demands to do something that supports rejuvenation.
That might mean going to a restaurant to sit and eat lunch instead of grabbing food in the workplace. It might mean going to an off-site training session that provides a different environment. It might mean sitting in an office or a conference room with the door closed reading a professional journal or writing in a personal journal. Resting will be different for everyone, but it should be scheduled, protected and accepted across the organization. It’s a necessary part of growth. Just like sleep deprivation is harmful to our health, failure to rest in the context of work is harmful to our productivity.
There’s a tremendous amount of conversation about work from home these days. I’m convinced that outside of face-to-face service businesses and hands-on manufacturing industries, any organization that doesn’t provide an opportunity for hybrid work schedules will risk lower engagement and higher attrition. And while we’ve proven over the past 19 months that we can build relationships remotely, those relationships are stronger when we can include in-person experiences.
I attended a two-day board meeting in person recently and made stronger, more trusting connections because of it. We could have side-bar conversations, read body language, naturally insert questions and comments into the discussion and observe the full spectrum of the environment. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a number of new clients during the pandemic, all virtually (we’ve never met in person). And when I finally saw them face-to-face (even mask-to-mask) in the past several months, it was like a magical moment of cementing our relationship.
The objective is to create opportunities for relationships to develop, face-to-face where possible. You can bring the team together around discussion topics, problem-solving and having fun. This is all part of team building. And of greater importance these days is creating space to discuss workplace and environmental issues such as hybrid work, priorities, culture, diversity, inclusion and more. Providing a framework and introducing the topic as a group lays the groundwork for small group discussion, leader-team member discussion and new ideas. This can all lead to stronger engagement.
There’s a familiar saying: “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” And your teams won’t know how much you care unless you tell them AND show them. Recognize their accomplishments. Celebrate their milestones. Encourage their growth. Develop their skill sets. Know who prefers this privately versus publicly. Observe what excites them. Allow different team members to lead projects that they’re passionate about. Let them try new skills.
Many years ago, my team was preparing for a series of employee communications meetings. As the senior HR leader, I could have presented the material, but I instead asked several of my team members to do it. Their presentation skills and ability to handle some of the tough questions were outstanding, and I was able to recognize, celebrate, encourage and develop them.
As we approach the end of year performance evaluations and identify priorities for the coming year, we can all create a long wish list of things to accomplish. But the reality is that we won’t have enough time and other urgent projects will crop up during the year. So, what’s really important? Identify the projects and assignments that will create the most value, remove more roadblocks, address the greatest risks and build a stronger team. This starts at the top of the organization as the C-suite focuses on the company’s vision, mission and the strategic plan. Some trade-offs must be analyzed.
Finally, remember that organizational self-care requires constant attention to team member needs, internal and external environmental triggers and ideas on how work gets done. Leaders must model this behavior for others. It’s an investment in our most important resource, our people.