As graduate students and young higher-education student affairs professionals, we often hear people espousing the importance of self-care. However, there appears to be a disconnect between what supervisors say and what they do when it comes to the self-care of their employees. Supervisors may claim they believe self-care is important and that the people who work for them should make time for self-care activities, but some may not always make an effort to integrate self-care in the workplace themselves. This leaves young professionals and graduate students with the responsibility of finding ways for self-care during their personal time while still trying to learn how to navigate life as a new student affairs professional. This inherently creates more stress for the young professional, effectively neutralizing any positive outcomes from the self-care practices they may actually achieve.
For “Careers in Student Affairs Month”, we created a survey for graduate students and young professionals within our field to help us understand some ways in which supervisors can improve self-care for these individuals. The following are ideas created based on these survey results in addition to our own experiences.
Get to know the people you supervise
There is never a “one-size” fits all approach to the work that we do in higher ed and the same can be said for self-care. What works for one young professional may not work for all the young professionals in your office. It is important to get to know the people you work with, not only to build strong interpersonal relationships but to also learn how you can support them. A big part of this could come through actively listening in your one-on-one meetings. Do you ask how they personally are doing? Do they appear stressed? Are they saying they’re overwhelmed? Validate these feelings, and try to brainstorm ways to help them navigate through that. We also recommend asking the people in your office what sort of activities help them recharge. Sometimes you may find common themes in activities and find ways to integrate those in the workplace to benefit everyone. Other times, you may find that everyone recharges a bit differently in the office and you may need to personalize your approach.
Promote time for self-care in the workplace
Once you have had the chance to understand what the professionals working for you need, you must create time for them to practice these activities. This will look different for every office environment, but it is important to remember that telling everyone that you are okay with them taking a short break when needed may not be enough. As a supervisor, you must actively encourage time for self-care. This is important because young professionals and graduate students tend to buy into the stigma that they must be the hardest working person in the office. This means that even if you tell them it’s okay to take a fifteen-minute break to get some fresh air, they may not take you up on this unless they see everyone else in the office participating. Consider taking these breaks yourself, or doing this as a team to walk to get coffee on campus, or just stretch your legs outside the office. In addition to allowing times for breaks, it is important to encourage that the breaks are actual time away to re-charge. You should discourage professionals from eating lunch at their desks whenever they can or to take part of their lunch break outside the office. You could also promote staff to grab coffee or lunch with another professional on campus to network, and to count that in their work hours for the week.
Promote relationship building
This is where you could get more creative. Relationship building is important to self-care because it makes people feel connected and supported. It also provides an avenue for promoting self-care outside of the office walls. It is easier to integrate your work and life than it is to create a “balance” between the two. Planning activities for your office outside of the workplace and work hours is just one way you could achieve this integration. You can also foster relationship building in the office through friendly competitions, team-building activities in staff meetings, and by celebrating birthdays and personal milestones, no matter how big or small.
Working in student affairs means affirmation is not an unusual topic to discuss when thinking about how to support and motivate students. However, the same could be said for your employees. If a supervisor is able to recognize the effort their staff has put in and personally thank them for the time and means they’ve invested, an employee is much more likely to feel accomplished. Supervisors might consider letting employees flex time when they worked late hours by allowing them to come in a few hours late, or by encouraging staff to take mental health days if they may be dealing with stressful personal issues. Implementing these practices among staff also models these behaviors for the students we work. By working well with your staff, you also show the students we work with how to be able to advocate for this in their own work environments.
A more formalized approach to integrating self-care into the workplace is through workshops and trainings. You should encourage professionals and graduate students in your office to attend trainings in holistic wellness, diversity and inclusion. You can also look for opportunties or workshops in time management, deep breathing, essential oils, healthy eating. Does your campus or office have free classes in yoga, cooking, kickboxing? Suggest to your staff that they take advantage of these resources by attending them. By exposing young professionals to the educational opportunities and methods to practice self-care, they will be better equipped to actually implement this in and out of the workplace.
Self-care is so important to young professionals and graduate students because it reduces burnout and increases productivity. By creating a work environment that encourages professionals to take care of themselves, you may likely see an increase in retaining these professionals within your office, as well as within the profession. These practices also help us better help the students we serve, as we can’t pour from empty cups. Working in a field that primarily serves others, we must maintain that we ourselves are human beings and should be giving ourselves time to re-charge, recuperate, and be ready to face all the challenges of our day to day lives.