The importance of self-care now (and always) for NFP workers
31 August 2020 at 5:37 pm
Pandemic or not, our people must come first, because when they are at their best so are our organisations, writes Craig Comrie.
There’s a well-known maxim in the charity sector that looking after yourself first is key to being effective in supporting others. The Victorian Youth Work Code of Ethics defines self-care as the “looking after the self as a means to assure longevity of career and continued high quality service provision to young people”. Self-care is an essential part of being an effective practitioner. Reminiscent of the “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” instructions we are so familiar with from flying.
Given the demand on services and the passion and drive so many charity workers are guided by, this can be difficult to remember, let alone practice, and the pandemic has made things even harder. With our homes now the sites of service provision.
When I moved to Melbourne five years ago I decided where to live based on a desire to maximise everything it had to offer. Location, Location, Location! What my 50 square metre apartment lacks in space it made up for with its proximity to my friends, the short but beautiful walk through gardens to work, the diversity of people in the area and the plethora of cool coffee spots.
I didn’t realise that one day a good proportion of that square meterage would become a satellite office, now dominated by the markers of the workplace, a desk almost the same size as my couch, a computer always only steps away and a seemingly constant Zoom meeting room.
And when I signed my lease I definitely didn’t tell my landlord I would be running a restaurant- come-wine bar for one. Upside, you don’t need a booking; downside, the service is terrible.
My many colleagues with kids also didn’t foresee that their homes would become round-the-clock childcare centres or classrooms.
But I am particularly conscious of those frontline charity workers whose homes are now public spaces, not private spaces of reflection. They are now counselling rooms and mental health centres for the vulnerable people they support.
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Lockdown has made the private public as we invite colleagues and services users to Zoom into homes. Our living spaces have never felt smaller. Once places of comfort and relaxation, our homes are now all of our environments in one, every minute of the day.
In the context of a lockdown, curfews and the allowable one hour of exercise here in Victoria, self-care has become a chore in itself. The usual rituals are no longer accessible, the catharsis of seeing mates and family are non-existent and taking annual leave is not quite the same. One of my team members as much as he loves his partner and kid, laments the lack of a commute as he no longer has time to read or zone out for just a moment.
Of course we are finding ways of creating the space for self-care amidst the pandemic. A colleague of mine has transformed his study nook into a static velodrome where he rides the peaks of the world, others are doing kid-free shifts to pop out to the local coffee shop for a quick moment of peace, and a friend has become an avid cross-stitcher. For me, thank goodness for internet shopping and the football season! But it is not quite the same as being free to really do the things that matter to recharge the batteries.
Without self-care, our sector risks exacerbating the workforce challenges we already face – burnout and turnover amongst others – and as the pandemic persists we must admit that service delivery quality is also likely to suffer. Because in the end, quality provision comes from energised and mindful practitioners.
So while our spaces are more confined and demand on services increases, what can we do about it?
Lucky for me, my employer, Teach For Australia, has put people first as we respond to the challenges of the pandemic. Along with the changes we have had to make to our program delivery we changed organisational policy to increase flexibility, respect people’s spaces and allow parents to put their children first. We increased our leave provision for those affected by COVID-19 and we introduced a wellbeing day to encourage people to switch off and revive.
I know many other employers have introduced similar approaches to highlight the importance of self-care and family time. These responses have been appropriate and timely to the immediate context. But as employers and leaders in the charity sector, this should be a reminder to all of us of the criticality not only of self-care but of ongoing employee support.
Pandemic or not, our people must come first, because when they are at their best so are our organisations. The people our missions aim to benefit will be the ultimate benefactors.
On writing this piece I am so cognisant of the thousands of Australians without safe secure and stable housing and recognise the compounding affect the pandemic is having on their lives.