In the business world, and in other parts of life, we use metrics to set our priorities. Traditionally, in a capitalistic culture, we are taught to use metrics only to measure financial gain. However, as we expand into a more conscientious phase of doing business, the finance-only focus is changing — creating space to consider a different way of identifying our priorities.
As we do so, we’d be wise to consider using self-care as a decision-making tool. It might not create many tangible payoffs in the short run, but insisting on an ethic of self-care — for yourself as a leader and for your staff — will build the invaluable equity of true loyalty. This self-care reputation, both internally and in the public eye, will distinguish your company as compassionate and people-driven. As values-forward businesses like Patagonia and TOMS shoes continue to grow, we can see the immense financial and moral payoffs in choosing self-care. Here are three reasons to factor it in to your next big choice as a leader.
1. What’s good for me is good for everyone*.
This header sounds incredibly selfish, if not outright destructive when considered within the scope of making business decisions. After all, wasn’t it the greedy motives of the past generation that left us with oceans full of plastic and ever-increasing income disparity? The important distinction here is in evaluating the true meaning of the word “good” and how that applies to our overall quality of life.
For example, imagine the board of a toy company pressuring their CEO to increase profit margins by decreasing labor and production costs. Sure, making these cutbacks may earn the CEO accolades from the board and potential financial gain in the short term, but it’s unlikely that cutting these corners will increase the CEO’s quality of life — or that of her employees and stakeholders.
The long-term negative effects of such undercutting, such as a higher employee turnover rate and decreased customer loyalty, will only lead to further problems for the CEO and her management staff. Yes, it means this CEO will need to stand up to board pressure, possibly risking her position, but if she is successful in standing up for her self-care, she will help everyone below her on the management chain.
*I used this line in a previous Conscious Company article about how disappointing others can actually help your career. I use it again here because it’s still a vitally important mantra for tuning into your own value system in the midst of societal pressure. Weathering this kind of judgement can feel almost unbearable for so many of us, yet it’s exactly the work we need to do if we hope to create a different way of being in the world. For this reason, I thought it was worth repeating.
2. Self-care shows you the door (and opens new ones).
You may ask yourself: What if I choose to measure decisions based on self-care, but I can’t get my company to follow suit? What if I am that CEO who takes a risk and then gets the boot? What if my clients choose to work with someone else? These concerns are valid. With living expenses only rising, a steady income is more important than ever. And yet, when does a cultural lack of self-care mean that it’s time to let go of our current security and risk finding another opportunity?
One of my clients, Sheila, a psychologist working with LGTBQ youth in California, was strained by lack of self-care in the outreach center where she saw clients. When she accepted the job, she started working with 10 youth a day in half-hour blocks. She was personally overburdened by seeing back-to-back clients, and she knew 30 minutes was not enough time to carefully address the trauma of their situations. Yet she loved her job, so she continued to struggle to make her schedule work. However, when her management informed her that her caseload would increase to 14 clients a day, she knew she had reached her limit.
Looking around her, Sheila saw that few of her co-workers wanted to talk about self-care. Perhaps she could get the organization to decrease her caseload, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to change the overall self-care culture of her work, so she left. She wasn’t sure exactly what she would do, only that she was no longer willing to sacrifice her self-care for her work. After a few weeks, Sheila was inspired to step into private practice specializing in the psychological needs of people of color. She teamed up with a colleague, and they’re excitedly beginning the process of opening their clinic.
The bottom line is: Making career decisions based on self-care doesn’t ensure job security, but I still see it as a win-win situation. If you use your influence to ask for more self-care and you’re accepted, then you’ve just paved the way to a greater self-care environment for you and for those who work with you. If you ask and are rejected, then you can see that your work situation isn’t a place where you can truly thrive. You deserve to find another company or organization where you can practice self-care as a viable path to success — or to start one yourself!
3. We owe it to each other.
Prioritizing self-care is especially important for those of us in leadership positions. As the people in power, we hold a tremendous amount of privilege and can more easily influence situations. If we aren’t giving ourselves self-care at the top, how do we think others in the company will fare? Thus, we practice self-care not just for ourselves but to create a work culture where others have the space to set boundaries, care for themselves, and find their own ways to thrive. In reordering self-care as a top decision-making tool, we not only improve our own quality of life, but we also take part in recreating a business culture that measures up to our human values.
We can begin to create a self-care culture by valuing our own time, energy, and humanity above profits, promotions, and power. As we value ourselves more, it will become easier to set real boundaries around unrealistic expectations, which will decrease our stress levels. Without the constant influence of stress and fear of making mistakes (both signatures of a toxic workplace), we are more able to listen to and collaborate with the people around us. We leave room for inspiration and the creativity that can only come from playful experimentation. We learn together, and we grow together. Connected, we help others from a spirit of true service rather than obligations.
The bottom line
Within our current political climate, I often feel nervous for the future of our world. Understanding how high the societal stakes are right now, I no longer see making decisions based on self-care as a luxury, but rather as a responsibility we all must embrace. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, this means taking time off to rest (hello, weekends!), paying my support staff well, and asking for perspective, especially from women of color who are generous enough to offer it, to help me see the blind spots in my business culture. Your business self-care might look different than mine, but it’s incredibly important to your overall success. The question is: Will you invest in it?