How To Self-Advocate And Take Your Employer Up on Their Self-Care Offerings

Professional culture is like the weather of your workplace, it sets the tone for how you feel about your job. A recent Glassdoor survey found that nearly 80 percent of employees consider culture when targeting a potential employer, and nearly 60 percent put more weight on culture than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. Employee well-being, which includes work-life balance, is a core component of the corporate culture.

Increasingly, employers recognize that prioritizing well-being positions employees to engage in high-quality output and to stay with their companies longer. This informs many companies’ culture-shaping efforts. Many employees, though, report feeling too taxed, overworked, and stressed to take advantage of their company’s well-being/wellness offerings.

Your wellness matters, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what you need to know on advocating for self-care offerings at your employer.

A culture of self-care.

It takes dedicated leaders committed to building, promoting, and modeling healthy habits to commit to the long game that is employee wellness. If you find that’s not the case, and your employer’s aspirational wellness offerings don’t match the experience of working there, you’re not alone.

Health insurance company Aetna recently surveyed 5,000 employees and HR directors in the US and a handful of other countries to learn about corporate wellness. The company explains: “There’s nothing new about the issue of workplace stress. However, our report finds that both the relentless pace of business today, and the growth of technology, enabling an ‘always-on’ working culture, is making nearly half the global workforce feel stressed on a regular basis. Long hours, tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations all contribute to the pressure.”

A wellness plan that prioritizes physical and mental well-being helps employees manage stress, especially during the pandemic when employees’ lives are further complicated. Susan Peppercorn, career management coach and workshop facilitator, explains: “During these challenging times, it is more important than ever for employees to remain physically active. Numerous studies have shown there are psychological and emotional benefits of remaining active, which include reduced anxiety, lowered risk of depression and improved sleep. Physical activity can also lift your mood and help you manage stress, which is critical when dealing with the seemingly never-ending anxiety and constant sense of uncertainty that are the hallmarks of our COVID-19 society. Additionally, research indicates that employees who exercise more are more engaged at work.”

A culture of wellness.

Sick time is a basic wellness benefit. However, Aetna’s research reveals: “72% of businesses don’t think employees at their company take enough sick days.” The Aetna research further explains “96% of HR Directors agreed that their companies should encourage workers to take proper sick leave during illness. But nearly nine out of 10 (88%) stated that their company could do more to ensure that this happens.”

Does it feel like using sick leave is frowned upon in your workplace? Are you so busy that taking time for self-care complicates life rather than providing a healthy reprieve? Those workload issues are where you need your manager’s support and assistance; carrying that kind of workload leads to stress, illness, and burnout. All are reasons that wellness initiatives exist.

If you work for a company that encourages you to make your self-care a priority, take the initiative to do so. Peppercorn advises: “As a coach to professionals in various roles and industries, my first suggestion to employees who want to prioritize self-care is to stop feeling guilty.” Know what you need and deserve. Don’t apologize.

Commit to self-care.

Commit to a system, and use your wellness benefits. Peppercorn explains: “If you plan to take an exercise class at lunch that runs into a scheduled meeting, let the meeting organizer know that you’ll be a few minutes late. Block time for self-care on your calendar so that you are less tempted to ignore that time for yourself.”

Make your self-care as high of a priority as any other meeting on your calendar or item on your to-do list. “The benefit of working from home is that people don’t have to know what you are doing every minute of every day. As long as you are meeting your deadlines and are engaged, no one will care if you take a yoga class at lunchtime.” Peppercorn points out.

Adopt the language of self-advocacy.

Peppercorn explains: “I offer the following to an employee who wants to talk to their manager about prioritizing self-care: ‘I love working for this company and hope that my performance demonstrates my commitment. The pandemic has presented me with some unique personal challenges, and I am committed to staying engaged. I’ve found that exercise and meditation help me manage my stress. There is a class I am planning to take on Tuesday from noon-1:15, which means I will miss the first 15 minutes of our monthly staff meetings. I will make sure to have someone fill me in on what I missed. Do I have your agreement?’”

You are starting an important conversation about what self-care means in your professional culture. You’re using benefits you’ve been offering. Doing so has demonstratively positive results for you and your employer.

Remember your value.

You are a precious commodity. Keeping yourself healthy, sharp, and focused is an aim that you and your employer share. You may have to manage up to claim the benefits that you deserve, but doing so is a win-win. That’s why your company offered those benefits.  

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