Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Employee self-care motivation

Employee self-care motivation:
How can employers promote and encourage employee self-care?

Overview Edit

Figure 1: Self-care Word Bubble, Self-care word association

On average, Australians spend approximately 1,693 hours a year at work, equating to 1/5 of all time in a year (Buckley, 2014). Due to this, employee self-care is imperative to overall well-being, as well as a healthy, well-balanced workplace. It is therefore in the employer's and employee's best interests to ensure self-care is promoted and encouraged to all staff, for the maintenance of self-efficacy within the workplace.

Motivation can be managed in many different ways and has a circular relationship with self-care, particularly within the workplace. Lack of self-care can directly affect motivation to perform within the workplace, and lack of motivation and satisfaction of needs can greatly diminish our self-care. According to previous research, the relationship between these practices and employee and organisational results is dependent on the quality of internal communication and the alignment of workplace practices with the organisational context. A healthy workplace is directly impacted by the health and well-being of its employees. (Grawitch, et al. 2006).

But how can employers encourage their staff to practice self-care, when it's [grammar?] not a part of the job description? and if it's not encouraged or practised, what will the impacts be? Small actions such as breaks, morning teas, social events and proper work-life balance are some simple ways self-care can be practised within the workplace. This chapter explores what self-care is, how employers can support and motivate their staff to practice it (both within the workplace environment and when working from home/pandemic context), the negative psychological impacts of lack of self-care (burnout), as well as how individuals can do "self-checks" on whether or not they are adequately using self-care at work, particularly for those who may be self-employed.

Focus questions:
  • What is self-care?
  • What is the relationship between a healthy workplace and self-care?
  • How does lack of self-care affect mental well-being outside of work?

Self-care Edit

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What is self-care? Edit

The World Health Organisation ([WHO], n.d.) has defined self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider” Self-care is similarly defined as comparable to being aware of and attending to one's basic physiological and emotional needs daily, including the moulding of one's daily routine, relationships, and environment as needed to support self-care. Self-care with a mindful component is referred to as mindful self-care. (Cook-Cottone, 2016) Self-care is the mind-body health of an individual and helps us manage our daily anxieties and stressors. It is the action of caring for yourself so that you can keep up with the daily pace of life. Particularly in positions that can be emotionally draining, or require long arduous hours (high-stress health professions, miners, night shift work.) Though the name might seem self-explanatory self-care is so often neglected within the workplace, and lack of self-care can very quickly lead to issues such as compassion fatigue, depression, and burnout. One article so cleverly referred to this as "The Tension Between a Culture of Productivity and the Need for Self-Care" (Guest, et al., 2011)

Self-care is a fairly individual experience, with everyone having their own personal concoction of what well-established self-care might look like. But in the context of the workplace, this can take the form of adequate breaks, recognition, mental support, adequate ergonomics and work health and safety. Different professions require these in different ways, but employers adequately catering to these needs is what promotes a healthy workplace.

What is motivation? Edit

Motivation is a multi-faceted aspect of our human drive that can at times be difficult to understand. Behavioural scientists defined motivated behaviours as being derived from our physiological, and psychological needs (Wright & Wiediger, 2007). Motivation is something that gives strength and energy to behaviours.

An alternative understanding of our motivations is as associated with our needs. The greek philosopher Alcmaeon of Croton (fl. 500 BC) proposed the idea of the "balance of opposites" regarding our health and disease, stating that “Health is the equality of rights of the functions, wet-dry, cold-hot, bitter-sweet and the rest; but single rule of either pair is deleterious.” (Freeman, 1948). Walter Cannon also believed that despite any autonomy we may believe we have, at our core we are motivated by our most basic needs. We are in an ongoing effort to maintain 'optimal levels' of our bodily functions, and therefore motivated to do so (e.g. when experiencing hunger we are motivated to eat, when tired we lack motivation for other takes so that we may sleep.) We are motivated to seek stimulation for our needs (Wright & Wiediger, 2007.)

This idea is expanded on in Maslow and Alderfer's work.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs Edit

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs refers to a 5-tier model of human needs, often depicted as a pyramid. To expand on Cannon's idea of needing to meet our physiological needs, he added that we also have deficiency needs (and in turn, self-care needs) in safety, love and belonging, and esteem (Maslow, 1943). Often, if these needs are not being met, there will be a deficit in motivation for various other tasks. The final stage, self-actualisation was described by Maslow as: 'the person’s desire for self-fulfilment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualised in what is his full potential. The way in which needs form is specific to the individual and varies from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions' (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383)

In reference to self-care and motivation, all needs in some form can be met, and supported by employers within the workplace. An article written by Indeed (Indeed, 2021) stated that love and belonging need can act as a motivator in the context of social activities and relationship-building. For example, a workplace throwing team-skill building social events for staff, or Christmas parties. The relationship between Maslow's hierarchy of needs and self-care within the workplace will be revisited later in the chapter.

Alderfer's ERG theory Edit

Alderfer's existence, relatedness and growth theory is yet another expansion of our basic needs and one of the most relevant theories in terms of motivation within the workplace.

The existence (material and physiological), Relatedness (social and external esteem), and Growth (internal esteem and self-actualisation) are the three categories that Alderfer's model divides Maslow's five human needs into. (Ball, n.d.) It's one of four content approaches that look at the underlying elements that lead to a person taking specific actions.(Ivancevich, Konopaske, & Matteson, 2008).

Alderfer noticed a phenomenon he called the frustration-regression process, in which people regress to lower wants when higher needs are blocked, or unattainable. When it comes to motivating staff, this is crucial.

When an employee's sense of autonomy or need for mastery is harmed, such as by the structure of the workplace, the employee may place a greater emphasis on the job's sense of stability or relatedness. In Maslow's theory, he originally stated that one level of needs must be accomplished before moving on to another. However, Alderfer believed that people will base their needs and motivators on the priority of what they believe to be most important in their life views.

This can be related to self-care by the way in which we value and prioritise our own needs, with our personal goals in mind. A good example of this would be the concept of the 'starving artist', the idea that in the pursuit of one's creative (yet risky) career goals, motivation for growth and relatedness needs may be further prioritised and satisfied before existence needs (e.g. foregoing a liveable income in pursuit of a passion).

For employers, Alderfer's theory suggests that its best to help their employees balance their motivations cross-level, noting that this special blend will change over time (Alderfer, 1969) and example of this would be ensuring adequate availability of appropriate skills and career progression,

How motivation theories can be utilised in the workplace to encourage self-care Edit

Table 1

Meeting self-care needs in the workplace through Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Physiological Needs In this hierarchy, the physiological demands allude to the most basic human needs. Employees must have access to essential services and opportunities while at work in order to feel that their physiological needs are being satisfied. This is done by providing access to restrooms, a source of drinking water, meal and snack breaks, and a pleasant working atmosphere. When it comes to the workplace, one of your physiological demands is a stable income to support yourself and pay for necessities like housing, food, and utilities.
Safety Safety is an important necessity that can influence your work satisfaction as a whole. It's reasonable to be concerned about your own and your loved ones' safety. One of your objectives, for example, might be to offer a safe living area for your family, so you work hard to meet that requirement. It's equally crucial to feel respected and prioritised at work when it comes to your physical safety.

There should be assurance that assets and personal possessions are safe and secure. Providing ergonomic office furniture that correctly supports staff and decreases the chance of injury, as well as safeguarding the facility to prevent potentially dangerous people from entering, can all contribute to a safe workplace. Another part of job safety is the sensation of being emotionally safe and supported. If staff are experiencing emotional distress due to workload, culture, or harassment it is the employer's obligation to ensure it is dealt with appropriately.

Love and Belonging If a staff member lacks a feeling of belonging within the workplace, they are less likely to be engaged at work or inspired to succeed.

It's not always simple for people to create and maintain relationships at work. Employee engagement is higher at companies that hold social activities and provide more possibilities for relationship-building outside of the office than at companies that do not prioritise these parts of a work-life balance. It is easier to feel inspired to work hard and achieve success when you feel like you belong and fit in at work and with your team.

Esteem The belief that you are contributing to a greater cause and that your efforts are appreciated is known as self-esteem. It's crucial for employers to ensure their staff feel like they are growing, progressing, and getting results at work, and that recognition is given. Employees are more likely to succeed when they feel motivated to do so, and that success will be met with gratification and respect from peers.

The self-esteem of an employee has a direct impact on their total involvement, as well as the quality of work. Even when an employee is struggling, providing regular praise and appreciation for the work they do can boost their self-esteem. Employee respect is diminished if feedback is only given once a year. This can be as simple as a thank you email, a bonus, or recognition for efforts in front of peers.

Self-Actualisation Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs concludes with actualisation, which translates to maximising one's potential at work. A person wants to believe that they are doing the best they can in their current job, which motivates them to continue on their career path and thrive. Employees that are self-actualised feel empowered and trusted, which promotes growth and engagement.

Giving employees opportunities to achieve is one of the keys to ensuring that this requirement is addressed. Supervisors should concentrate on their employees' skills and abilities, assisting them in finding methods to improve their careers without pressuring them into positions that are not a suitable fit for them.

Skinner's incentive theory Edit

According to Skinner's incentive theory (Skinner, 1953), many behaviours are not based on our 'needs' but rather on environmental stimuli that strive us to action. Incentive theory is likely the most common form of motivation within a workplace, to use a tangible reward system, like a bonus or commission, or psychologically such as a promotion or recognition. This form of positive reinforcement has been a proven source of motivation for the majority of workplaces. (Vi & Thuy, 2020).

In summary, research shows that external variables can influence human behaviour and may also influence internal motivation. The individual's inner nature, the contextual setting at the time, the time, the manner of communication, and the many sorts of stimuli all influence how it changes. 

This can be utilised in the workplace to encourage self-care by actively reinforcing good behaviour, leaving employees feeling valued, and therefore addressing tier three and four of their hierarchy needs. If you work within a positive and rewarding environment, the incentive to be a reflection of this environment will increase, as will the need to feel like a valuable member of the team will increase.

Self-care in practice Edit

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Workplace Health & Safety Edit

The Australian Work Health and Safety Act (2011) is "a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces", and essentially acts as a workplaces' legal obligation to provide staff with self-care opportunities, stating that all workplaces must legally provide: a safe work environment, adequate facilities, information, training, and supervision, as well as monitor the health of workers and the conditions of the workplace. In addition, to this, certain workplaces will have awards associated with their positions, which outline minimum wages and conditions (work hours etc) required for a person to be working within that position.

Research shows that as working hours increase output per hour decreases, and unhealthy levels of fatigue appear to underline this effect. It is beneficial for the business to implement reasonable work hours to encourage self-care (Collewet & Sauermann, 2017). In addition to providing a physically safe workplace from external dangers, it is also required to be safe for use. It is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all employees as well as the tools and equipment they require to execute their jobs. This is true for all employees, whether or not they have a disability. Between 2018-2019 114,435 serious injury workplace claims were made producing an average of 6 weeks of work lost per claim (Safe Work Australia, 2020). 8% of these claims were made due to psychological stress, a common negative consequence of lack of self-care within the workplace. Of the total amount for the year, 17% were health care and social assistance workers, one of the most common occupations to neglect self-care within the workplace (Gibb, et al. 2010).

How can individuals practice self-care? - The mindful self-care scale Edit

Self-care is about maintaining our needs, as well as our mental and physical well-being. In order to know how well you are doing, it's important to know how poorly you are looking after yourself.

The Mindful Self-Care Scale-SHORT is an assessment tool that measures the self-reported levels of self-care behaviour. The MSCS scores individuals on a 33-item scale, though the link has a total of 42, having included additional clinical and general questions (Cook-Cottone, 2016).

This scale was created to assist individuals to identify their strengths and weaknesses in mindful self-care behaviour as well as assess areas that need improvement. The MSCS addresses 6 main areas of self-care: physical care, supportive relationships, mindful awareness, self-compassion and purpose, mindful relaxation, and supportive structure[Provide more detail].

The MSCS is scored based on recalled information over a 7-day period. It is scored using a liker-scale system, from 1-5, with 1 being never, and 5 being regularly. it is also reverse-scored, with 1 being regularly, and 5 being never for negative behaviours. The total is then divided by the number of items within each section (e.g. for physical care, there are 8 items) providing a score of 1-5, allowing the participant to see how they average on their overall self-care.

This is a great way for individuals to get a starting point of where they may need to improve when feeling the consequences of poor self-care but unsure of why, or how to fix this.

Please note: The MSCS is not a clinical instrument and cannot diagnose the presence of mental health disorders.

How can employers promote & encourage self-care? Edit

The environment and culture in which a person works can have a heavy impact on their mental and physical well-being. When [missing something?] majority of time is spent meeting work requirements without break or time to re-cooperate, consequences can be disastrous. In order for employers to motivate staff to practice self-care, they must first create a culture that shows value in self-care, as well as adequate time and resources to practice self-care. It's [grammar?] important for employers to remind employees that not only are they encouraged to practice self-care, but they are expected to. Therefore, it is in everyone's [grammar?] best interests to ensure the workplace is a positive environment for all. Some ideas for this are as below:

Recognition and appreciation of staff - motivation has taught us that belonging and esteem are major parts of our needs. Not receiving appropriate praise or recognition for a task can cause negative feelings for staff, which will in turn create a negative workspace. This could be as simple as providing thanks when a task is complete, creating an "employee of the week/month" system, or appropriate recognition in front of peers (i.e. in a meeting)

Open communication - Communication is one of, if not the most vital point of a positive work environment. When providing a space for open dialogue, staff feel more welcome and comfortable, and it allows a workplace to work collaboratively with all its members. Open communication can be utilised to promote self-care by allowing employees to debrief any concerns they may have rather than harbouring negative feelings towards their work peers or environment.

Adequate breaks - One of the legal requirements for employers is the availability of reasonable breaks and work hours. Australia has set agreements for reasonable hours of work, and work breaks. This will depend on your award, employment type, and job requirements. This allows employees to disconnect from their work for a moment, in order to fulfil any needs as well as practice basic self-care (eating adequate meals, taking a moment to relax, doing activities to de-stress or socialise), it will also allow any office-based staff to reduce the amount of time spent sitting, the research found that the death risk is 15% higher for individuals who spend 8-11 hours sitting within a day (Hsu, 2011). It is important for employers to encourage staff to have small breaks from desk work, this is usually done by promoting 2 tea breaks (10-15 minutes) and 1 lunch break (30-60 minutes) throughout the day to break up long periods of sitting.

Professional support/mental-health support - Particularly for positions that may be mentally exhausting or deal with traumatic scenarios (First responders, Clinicians, Surgeons etc) the availability of adequate mental support is imperative to self-care. Many organisations such as beyond blue offer special programs specifically for police and emergency services personnel, due to the nature of the role. Not only can work be quite physically and mentally demanding, but it can also be emotionally demanding, no matter the role.

Employers can encourage this by offering: counselling benefits or apps, mental health days, rostered days off (RDO) or mental health seminars. This aspect of self-care will have a lasting effect on the overall productivity, leaving staff feeling more valued.

Create a clear distinction between work and personal hours - Some people have a difficult time not being readily available to coworkers and bosses when they are off work. Whether this is a holiday, sick day, or just a non-rostered day, it can be hard to switch off the 'work brain' and enjoy time for yourself. Creating a clear distinction between being available for work, and focusing on personal time is important to reduce work-related stress.

Promoting healthy lifestyles - A healthy lifestyle is one of the most important parts of self-care. This doesn't necessarily mean a salad for lunch and carrot sticks for snacks, but adequate meals and healthy sleep patterns. Though employers don't have much say in how long their employees sleep (and it may be a few steps too far for them to ask for this information!) it's important to be aware of their employee's attitudes and actions throughout the workweek and provide check-ins when possible.

Case Study - The overworked Julie

Julie works for Clark & co., a boutique financial advisory firm. Coming up to the end of the financial year, Julie has more tasks than she normally would and is struggling to maintain her workload. Julie's boss, Audrey notices that Julie is skipping lunch breaks at her desk, drinking more cups of coffee than normal, and appears to be tired, slow to respond and sluggish. Audrey decides to pull Julie aside privately and discuss these concerns with her. Julie voices her feelings of stress regarding the current workload, causing her to skip meals to catch up as well as causing insomnia issues due to the stress.

To assist her employee, Audrey should::

Encourage meal breaks and reduce Julie's workload
Tell Julie to get her life together
Allow Julie to reassess her priorities and deal with them how she sees fit
Tell other coworkers that Julie is struggling
Fire Julie

Self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic Edit

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an entirely new outlook on how employers should value staff's self-care, particularly in a working-from-home environment. In a study done by the Harvard Business Review, an astounding 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health (Greenwood & Anas, 2021). It was also found that during the pandemic in 2020, there were 1,095 work cover claims relating to COVID-19, with 19% of these claims being mental health related (safe work Australia, 2021).

But it hasn't all been negatives, with 44% of the Harvard Business Review respondents stating that they believe their company have created a priority for mental health advocacy (Greenwood & Anas, 2021.) Turner-Cohen (2021) reported that corporate leaders are even offering "COVID-19 support packages" with anything from pastries to wine, and even offers of additional "Pandemic" leave for covid-19 related needs (isolation, testing, quarantine etc).

Key Points
  • From 16 March 2020 - 24 January 2021, close to 11.5 million MBS-subsidised mental-health-related services were provided.
  • In the 4 weeks prior to 24 January 2021, Lifeline received an increase of 21.4% in calls in comparison to pre-pandemic rates (27th January 2019), with over 85,000 calls within a month.
  • In the same time period, Beyond Blue received an increase of 29.6% in calls in comparison to pre-pandemic rates, with over 22,000 calls within a month.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021.

Negative side-effects of lack of self-care Edit

If an employee does not generally practice self-care, it can show in the way in which they present themselves, or within their attitude. A person who is struggling with self-care may regularly experience some, or all of the following (Hasson, 2020):

  • Feeling tired, or sluggish.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, or easily agitated
  • Muscle tension
  • Reoccurring chronic illness
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Irregular meals/Unhealthy meals
  • Feeling trapped by obligations
  • Feeling of emptiness, disconnection or loneliness
  • Negative and/or self-sabotaging thoughts
  • Low self-esteem and confidence

These feelings will not only lead to poorer quality of work, but lack of self-care can lead to quite serious mental health distress such as burnout and depression. It is important for employers to be aware of the symptoms and signs of these features, and how to appropriately manage them.

What is burnout? Edit

Burnout is a work-related stress syndrome that occurs as a result of long-term job stress. Freudenberger, a psychoanalyst, coined the phrase in the early 1970s, and it was later characterised as having three qualitative dimensions: emotional weariness, cynicism, depersonalization, reduced professional efficacy, and personal accomplishment. Burnout may strike anyone in any job. Pines & Maslach (1978) defined burnout as "A syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion, involving the development of a negative self-concept, (e.g. poor feelings of personal achievement), negative job attitude (e.g. discouraged and depressed about work) and a loss of concern and feeling for people"

It is a severe form of stress reaction which can be difficult to reverse. Particularly for health and social service workers, there is a certain demand for intensity and intimacy within their work, which can be incredibly emotionally and physically draining.

Burnout is a problem that affects people all over the world. In Europe, for example, there is a 10% gap between European Union countries and non-European Union countries (17%). Burnout rates in European Union countries range from 4.3% in Finland to 20.6% in Slovenia, whereas rates in non-EU countries range from 13% in Albania to 25% in Turkey (De Hert, 2020). Burnout appeared to be positively connected to workload at the country level, according to this study.

Burnout is a product of the inability to perform adequate self-care. Given the above study's connection between workload and burnout, it is acceptable to assume that an overworked individual who is unable to find the time or create the mindset needed for self-care due to a lack of ability to prioritise these needs, can create a direct correlation between self-care and burnout.

Conclusion Edit

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See Also Edit

References Edit

[Use alphabetical order.]

Buckley, T. (2014, May 19). Hours worked per year – where does Australia rank? HR News & Analysis, Human Resource Management. HRD America.

Grawitch, M. J., Gottschalk, M., & Munz, D. C. (2006). The path to a healthy workplace: A critical review linking healthy workplace practices, employee well-being, and organizational improvements. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58(3), 129–147.

World Health Organisation (n.d.). What do we mean by self-care?

Guest, R.S., Baser, R., Li, Y. et al. (2011) Cancer Surgeons’ Distress and Well-being, I: The Tension Between a Culture of Productivity and the Need for Self-Care. Ann Surg Oncol 18, 1229–1235.

Brown, L. V. (2007). Psychology of Motivation. United States: Nova Science Publishers.

Freeman K. (1948). Ancilla to the Pre-socratic Philosophers: A complete Translation of the Fragments Diels Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Billman, George. (2020). Homeostasis: The Underappreciated and Far Too Often Ignored Central Organizing Principle of Physiology. Frontiers in Physiology. 11. 10.3389/fphys.2020.00200.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Ivancevich, J. M., Konopaske, R., Matteson, J., (2014). Organizational Behavior and Management. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Alderfer, C. P., (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance.Volume 4, Issue 2,1969,Pages 142-175, ISSN 0030-5073, (

Skinner, F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior (5th ed.). Macmillan.

Federal Register of Legislation, Work Health and Safety Act 2011 section 274 (2011).

Collewet, Marion; Sauermann, Jan (2017) : Working Hours and Productivity, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 10722, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn

Cook-Cottone, C. P. & Guyker, W. (2016, manuscript in preparation). The Mindful Self-Care Scale: Mindful self-care as a tool to promote physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being

Hsu, C. (2012, March 27). Sitting More Than 11 Hours a Day Raises Premature Death Risk By 40%. Medical Daily.

Greenwood, K., Anas, j., (2021). It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

Turner-Cohen, A. (2021, August 10). How bosses are helping staff survive lockdown. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Hasson, G. (2020). The Self-Care Handbook: Connect with Yourself and Boost Your Wellbeing. United Kingdom: Wiley.

Pines, Ayala & Maslach, Christina. (1978). Characteristics of Staff Burn-Out in Mental Health Settings. Hospital & community psychiatry. 29. 233-7. 10.1176/ps.29.4.233.

De Hert S. (2020). Burnout in Healthcare Workers: Prevalence, Impact and Preventative Strategies. Local and regional anesthesia, 13, 171–183.

Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2019). Self-care, stress, and well-being among practicing psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 50(5), 343-350.

Barnett, J. E., Baker, E. K., Elman, N. S., & Schoener, G. R. (2007). In pursuit of wellness: The self-care imperative. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(6), 603-612.

External Links Edit

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