Mental health professionals have long known about the value of self-care. In the corporate world, however, self-care is only just beginning to gain awareness. Acknowledging and prioritizing self-care in the workplace is critical. We live in a world of rapid change, and having the resilience to adapt well in the face of adversity is a key driver of workplace and leadership success.
Bâton Global recently asked Nicole Beaman, vice president of Orchard Place Child Guidance Center, a Des Moines nonprofit providing mental health services to children, to share her knowledge and experience with self-care.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to become a mental health professional and a leader in that field?
When I was a student, I started off in the business field but figured out that wasn’t the right fit for me. Somewhere along the way, I read the social work Code of Ethics and it was almost an exact match with my personal values. I graduated from the University of Iowa with a Master’s in Social Work. Then, I spent 17 years as a community organizer for United Way. I’ve been at Orchard Place for the last five years where I’ve been focusing on children’s mental health.
As far as being a leader, that came naturally to me. I’m not afraid to put myself out there, take risks, and lead. Many people who go into social work want to do direct work with clients and not necessarily lead; I was the exact opposite. I really wanted to drive and lead people and an organization. With that in mind, my current role is a good fit.
2. What is self-care?
Self-care is managing our bodies and brains so that we can be our best at whatever we do. As humans, we need time to rejuvenate. We need to be able to turn off our minds and bodies and find what it is that recharges each of us. It’s important to explore what those things are that you do everyday to maintain your health. Some examples include exercise, diet, spending time with family, focused breathing, walking, talking with friends, and sleeping.
3. Why is self-care important in your field?
It’s obvious that self-care is important in the helping profession field. In the area of mental health, helping professionals are given so much information that they have to hold close. They must figure out a healthy way to release it in order to be successful in the field.
At Orchard Place, we recognize the importance of self-care. We often recommend our staff go to therapy themselves to help process what they hear in their daily efforts. We also do group consultations so our people have opportunities to process and problem solve areas they may be stuck on within teams. We encourage staff to schedule time to take breaks during business hours. We instill a culture of “we have your back,” and we encourage people to leave work at work.
The leaders at Orchard Place are very purposeful, intentional, and conscious to model self-care because as a leader, you set the tone for your staff. For example, I am extremely conscious not to send an email after hours – I set boundaries for me and my staff. I also tell my staff that if they cannot be at an event, we can find someone else who can. After all, part of self-care is also saying “no.”
4. Why is self-care important in the areas of strategy, leadership, and organizational behavior?
Leadership can be lonely at the top. It can be isolating. It often comes with high stress. Sometimes leaders don’t have the answers, but we don't always feel comfortable expressing that to our staff. I’ve already mentioned that employees can experience vicarious trauma, but so too can organizations.
The Sanctuary Model is an approach that can be used to help people and organizations recover from trauma or adversities by creating a trauma-informed community. This framework practices self-awareness and encourages open communication. In the Sanctuary Model, we ask three important questions:
1. How are you feeling?
2. What is your goal for the day?
3. Who can you ask for help?
If your emotions have been thrown off balance, the Sanctuary Model helps you set a goal and identify who you can call upon on to help.
For leaders, the idea is to talk openly about change. If a change might be coming, you should go to your team members and ask what they think about change. This way, you garner people’s input and help them feel heard and empowered. If you don’t, you won’t often gain their buy-in. People will feel unheard, detached, and not part of the community. You should also try to remember to check in with staff if something significant happened in their lives. We can’t just tell employees to leave all of their personal stuff at the door. As a leader, I believe in fostering those personal relationships. Things will happen that impact our workers’ ability to show up at work. We need open relationships so they tell you those things. Creating this culture in advance helps you proactively support them.
5. Why has the concept of self-care gained so much attention in recent years and what role has technology played?
I think people, business leaders included, are more willing to talk about self-care. There’s also more knowledge out there about the importance of self-care and the drain work can have on the physical self. As electronic devices have entered the workforce, people today feel like they always have to be working; they can never unplug. As a leader, you have to learn to set expectations and culture for your organization. For instance, let your team know that they don’t always have be checking their email and then model that behavior for your team. This isn’t easy, and it takes discipline. To our benefit, there are apps that can help with self-care. We can listen to music, look at pictures, and connect with family and friends. Technology is not wholly bad or wholly good – it’s somewhere in the middle.
6. What can employees do to practice self-care in the workplace?
Take time to develop a self-care/safety plan. This is a physical reminder of what you need to do when you are feeling overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “what is it that rejuvenates me?” Then, write it down. Talk about your plan with your supervisor and at team meetings. Most importantly, use your plan during the day. This creates accountability and culture.
7. What can leaders do to foster a culture of self-care throughout the organization?
Leaders should model it. They should show it, do it, and ask their staff about it. Set it as an expectation. Make it part of the culture to talk about self-care.