In many workplaces across Australia, many of the conversations in the lunch room are about bushfires and related topics (like the impact of climate change and how we feel about government responses). While Australia manages this most recent manifestation of climate change, these issues are causing ever-increasing concern and stress across the globe.
Many Australian social workers, teachers, counsellors and psychologists will be supporting people who have been affected directly by the catastrophic fires. All over the world, people working in these professions play a pivotal role in supporting communities when disaster strikes.
But it’s not only those in the helping professions who offer support. Hairdressers, shop assistants, receptionists, wait staff and many others (including the caring stranger sitting next to you on the bus) may find themselves in conversations about loss or trauma.
Even if we don’t live in communities that have been directly affected by climate emergencies, we may still be experiencing the indirect effects. Many people are supporting adults or children experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety as a result of hearing people’s stories through social media, on TV or radio. We may be feeling this increased stress and anxiety ourselves.
The importance of self-care
Even the most experienced and skilled professionals can feel overwhelmed and heartbroken when hearing people’s stories of devastation and loss. When you work in a role that involves supporting other people—like social work, teaching, healthcare, childcare or counselling—self-care is fundamentally important. If left unchecked, stress and pressure can build up and ultimately contribute to a range of serious mental and physical health issues.
People working in ‘helping’ professions can have a tendency to focus on the needs of others to the detriment of their own wellbeing. While the ability to focus on others can be a great strength, sometimes it means that people don’t take time to ‘refill their own tank’. A depleted worker is one with less flexibility, less resilience, and less capacity to think through challenges. Stress often makes problems feel bigger and more overwhelming, and can undermine a person’s ability to be positive, hopeful and solution-focussed. This impacts on the person’s capacity to provide an effective service to others.
How can we support each other at work?
The term ‘self-care’ implies caring for oneself. While it is important to have a personal self-care plan and to take responsibility for our own self-care, often it is our colleagues who are the first to recognise the warning signs of stress or burn out. Additionally, colleagues understand the stressors involved in your workplace and can validate your experience. They are often the first to provide opportunities to de-brief or offer consolation and encouragement.
Usually individual self-care plans are only shared with supervisors. One way to help ensure that everyone feels supported is to create a self-care plan for the whole team or workplace. Team self-care plans can enhance our personal self-care plan by enabling members of our team to support us during times of stress.
How do we create a shared self-care plan?
A useful place to start when creating a self-care plan for your team or workplace is to invite people to reflect on the kinds of support they would find valuable during times of stress. This process can involve reflecting on how stress manifests for you. Here are a few questions you might ask:
- What do I want those in the team to understand about me? (Values, beliefs, culture, health, history, family, spirituality, significant life events)
- How will others know I am experiencing stress? By looking at my environment? By noticing and experiencing my behaviour?
- What do I give those around me permission to say to me?
- What do I give those around me permission to do?
- How will I share this information with others?
A few things to consider when developing a self-care plan with your team
Everyone in your team is different. It can be really valuable to acknowledge this right at the start of the planning process. You might notice how:
- Everyone responds to workplace stress in different ways.
- Everyone exhibits stress in different ways.
- Everyone needs different types of support from co-workers.
What are the benefits of creating a shared self-care plan?
Doing some self-care planning as a team can be a positive way to enhance your team culture. Additionally, when you give permission for another person to assist you, you are being proactive and preventative. By sharing your concerns and challenges, you also ‘normalise’ workplace stress by acknowledging that it is something everyone experiences at times. Improved support systems for teams can also lead to better communication, reduced sick leave, increased engagement and higher levels of job satisfaction.
It really is a win-win.
If your team is interested in a mini workshop on developing a team self-care plan, contact Innovative Resources.