Self-Care Begins with Advocacy


Over the past few weeks, I have seen a series of articles claiming that self-care isn’t what we should be focusing on when it comes to ensuring worker well-being. The articles, which come from all different professions—including nursing, social work, international aid and business—claim that businesses are using self-care as an excuse to get out of treating employees with the respect and resources they deserve.

The argument goes like this: rather than giving employees appropriate workloads, time off, sufficient pay, or access to care, it is easier for businesses and organizations to proclaim that workers need to practice better self-care. This takes the responsibility for their employees’ emotional, mental and physical health away from the organization and gives it solely to the individual.

Why invest in expensive staff facilities, assistance programs or additional team members, if you can just host a 60-minute seminar telling your employees that they need to start taking better care of themselves (on their own time, of course)?

The truth is, these articles are right.

Self-care is not a magic bullet.

You can practice all of the self-care in the world, but if your employer doesn’t take your quality of life in the workplace seriously, you won’t last long. Even the best self-care ninjas can’t handle working extreme hours in an emotionally stressful work environment, for not enough pay, for more than a few months.

So what do we do about it?

It all starts with advocacy. We would love to think that organizational leaders, CEOs, and HR departments will realize the error of their ways and start making the work environment better for everyone, but this is rarely the case.

For one thing, these individuals likely work under very different conditions than the average employee who deals directly with clients and patients. They may have some idea of the struggles employees face, but they probably don’t see how it is impacting the organization as a whole or the clients.

Even those who were in your position before being promoted to “management” may either forget the everyday realities of the job or think “I survived it, so can you”.

Accept that changes may not happen spontaneously and start working for them. Here’s how:

Recognize Your Own Worth

There is a saying I hear often: “Social workers are great at advocating for everyone but themselves”. This sentiment is true for almost all helping professionals. We are steadfast in seeking out the best possible services for our clients and patients. We are their voice and their cheerleaders. But, we don’t do the same for ourselves.

We think that talking about our own needs when our clients are so much worse off is selfish. But, it’s not.

Recognizing that you are worthy of the conditions that will help you thrive is an act of self-respect. It is saying that you are worthy of the same values you strive for with your clients. It is setting an example and practicing what you preach. If you are not able to advocate for yourself, how can you ask your clients to?

Do Your Research

If you’re going to push for change in your organization, start with a plan. Understand what the issue is and how it impacts the overall workforce, organization, and patients. Managers are thinking about the bottom line or KPI’s and standards that they are expected to meet, so show them that taking better care of their employees will help meet these targets.

Write down the problem as you see it. Then, do some digging to see what the research says. For instance, here are four ways medical provider burnout impacts patients.

You can also take an informal survey of your coworkers to see how the work environment has impacted them.

Gather all of your data in one place and make it easily readable and digestible.

Find a Solution

Going to a manager and telling them there is a problem that they need to solve it is probably not going to get you what you’re looking for.

Instead, think about what would be helpful for you and your coworkers and come up with a proposed solution.

Do your research on how much it will cost, how long it will take and what the benefits will be.

It is much easier for a manager to say “OK, go for it” than to have to come up with an entirely new program or benefit on their own.

Build a Coalition

Chances are if you feel your working conditions are unmanageable, others feel the same way. Find those that are having similar struggles and build a coalition.

There is safety in numbers. The more people on your team, the more confidence you will have that your solution will be appreciated and utilized by all.

Be Willing to Compromise

Many organizations want to provide quality resources for their staff, but they are restricted by money. Even if you think you have a magic solution that will instantly improve the quality of life for you and your coworkers, it may not be financially feasible.

Be willing to work with managers to make improvements even if they’re not your ideal solution. Small, incremental improvements can add up over time. 

Use Resources that are Available

When I talk to managers about staff well-being, one frustration I hear all the time is that they implemented a new program, but employees just aren’t using it. If an employer makes a resource available, try to use it. If there are barriers to you or others accessing or taking advantage of that resource, speak up! If those resources could be better used elsewhere, everyone will benefit.

Managers will be far less receptive to investing in a new employee well-being program if they feel like existing ones aren’t being used.

How have you advocated for yourself in the workplace?

About Jessica

Jessica Jacobs is a Licensed Social Worker based in Indianapolis, IN. She is passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of those in the helping professions through better self-care and more sustainable and supportive organizational environments. Jessica has worked in international and domestic disaster response, community mental health, nonprofit management and political advocacy. She can be reached at

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