Self care is about caring for each other, right?
March 5, 2021 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Are there good enlightened articles online expanding on the perspective that there needs to be acknowledgment that burnout, overwork, stress in our pandemic times isn’t just solved with a bubble baths, vacation days, and self-care time? My team just got lectured by our boss that we need to take ownership of our well-being, and it was so tone-deaf my ears are still clanging. (More inside)

We’re exhausted. It’s been well-established that knowledge workers’ work doesn’t end at the end of the day. Taking vacation time doesn’t magically reassign work to others (especially in an environment of perpetual under-staffing, overwork, lack of back up coverage, and pushing people into bootstrapping structural inefficiencies). We got lectured to use our vacation time, to make sure that we don’t check email while on vacation, and that we should take control of our self-care. We are office workers who are all working from home, but the majority of people on the team are women with families (including young kids) and are juggling high workloads in a competitive work environment. I would like to share articles with my boss (make, white) that illustrates why this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” just doesn’t work, and instead it’s better to acknowledge those structural issues and creates a space for the team to feel like they can trust our manager to understand what’s our reality.

Note: this mefi post on the Feminist Survival Project is good but when you go to their site, that info is buried. It would be ideal if there’s mainstream media articles that make the point. Anon given workplace sensitivities.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine is behind the #WomenLaborCOVID hashtag on Twitter. Plenty of articles there discussing extra burdens on (mostly female) caretakers.
posted by humbug at 2:11 PM on March 5, 2021

Apologies for the self-link, but I've written about this before.
"... the best of the few evidence-based burnout-prevention guidelines I can find come from the field of medicine where there’s a very straight, very measurable line between physician burnout and patient care outcomes. Nothing there will surprise you, I suspect; “EHR stress” (Electronic Health Records) has a parallel in our lives with tooling support, and the rest of it – sane scheduling, wellness surveys, agency over meaningful work-life balance and so on – seems universal. And it’s very clear from the research that recognizing the problem in yourself and in your colleagues is only one, late step. Getting support to make changes to the culture and systems in which you find yourself embedded is, for the individual, the next part of the process.

The American Medical Association has a “Five steps to creating a wellness culture” document, likewise rooted in gathered evidence, and it’s worth noting that the key takeaways are that burnout is a structural problem and mitigating it requires structural solutions. “Assess and intervene” is the last part of the process, not the first. “Self-assess and then do whatever” is not on the list at all, because that advice is terrible and the default setting of people burning out is self-isolation and never, ever asking people for the help they need. "
posted by mhoye at 2:37 PM on March 5, 2021 [16 favorites]

I've used the self-care wheel many times to illustrate the difference between a bubble bath and self-care.

This is anecdotal, not academic, but illustrates exactly the kind of "schedule your self care when it fits into our work schedule" attitude you're talking about here. The author also wrote a followup where she gave specific examples of institutional supports for self care. It is written from the POV of social workers, but it's really easily applied to any workplace.
posted by assenav at 2:37 PM on March 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

It's not something you can send your boss, but Sarah Jaffe's Work Won't Love You Back is highly recommended for all knowledge workers who find themselves routinely answering emails at 10 p.m. on the weekend.

With apologies for the pessimism, in my experience bosses who talk about the importance of self-care (for their employees, anyway) are being disingenuous. Whether they know it or not, they aren't serious about doing what it would take to create a better work-life balance, because it would cut into their bottom line in one way or another. Hence employees fight like hell to take 2 days off... by cramming those 2 days of work into the days that bookend their so-called vacation.
posted by Beardman at 2:58 PM on March 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I reference this article a lot because community mutual aid has literally been lifesaving in my neighborhood in Covid times.
posted by centrifugal at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

One way you can “show, not tell” your boss is to really and truly take your vaca days, withOUT cramming beforehand, withOUT checking in during, and withOUT scrambling to make up for it afterward. Let things pile up and let management deal with the fallout. This will require you to say no, and fall behind, and piss people off, and probably look bad; you really have to commit to a new way of setting boundaries.
posted by kapers at 4:02 PM on March 5, 2021 [22 favorites]

I've been trying to force everyone I know to read Anne Helen Petersen's book "Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation", which is about exactly this topic.
posted by EllaEm at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

And here is a shorter article by Petersen, talking about the origins of the term and how it has turned into the monster you describe.

"Back in 2017, Aisha Harris deftly traced the origins of the term, which, until 2016, had largely been used to a) communicate ways that people in psychologically taxing professions could care for themselves and b) a strategy for resilience among activists and other change-makers, acknowledging, as Harris puts it, that “one cannot adequately take on the problems of others without taking care of oneself”. Cultivating resilience became a way of cultivating and sustaining power, and leadership, and the energy to advocate for continued change — for social justice, for equal rights, for the long road ahead."
posted by EllaEm at 4:41 PM on March 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I was going to reference the article that centrifugal did above. I want to echo the points made in that article that people inherently already know how to care for themselves. Often, their systems or lack of resources make it difficult if not impossible. I've thought a lot about that article over the years and use the term self-care much less often. I replace it with the question, "what do I need and what do you need" when asking others. It helps cut to the chase. It would be so progressive and bad ass and helpful if supervisors started asking their employees what they need.
posted by rglass at 5:41 PM on March 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

I replace it with the question, "what do I need and what do you need" when asking others. It helps cut to the chase.

I like that way of identifying and sharing non-negotiables.
posted by carmicha at 10:41 PM on March 5, 2021

I don't know your boss, so I don't know what articles would have the most influence on his thinking about self-care. But I was struck by this sentence: We are office workers who are all working from home, but the majority of people on the team are women with families (including young kids) and are juggling high workloads in a competitive work environment.

Women with families (including young kids): this makes me think about the traditional roles and responsibilities that women take on, in addition to working full time. Is this something your boss is aware of, like REALLY aware? How could you make him aware?

Juggling high workloads in a competitive work environment: This section really jumped out at me. Why high workloads? Do you need more staffing? Could your boss be made aware of that? And how, exactly, is your work competitive? Is it part of the work culture, or self-imposed? What would happen if (crazy thought) you stopped being competitive? Would you lose your job? Would someone lose their life? Or would it take just a little longer to get some things finished? Just some questions to ponder.
posted by BeBoth at 8:34 AM on March 8, 2021

This article about surge capacity was really helpful to me on this topic: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful
posted by faethverity at 12:22 PM on March 10, 2021

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