Self-care is defined by the World Health Organisation as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent diseases, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.” However, in Asia, given the high prevalence of stress and burnout, definitions of self-care consequently revolve around pampering and self-love.

Recognising that employees spend a huge part of their day at work, how can employers start a conversation around empowering self-care among employees?

In conjunction with International Self-care Day, Felicia Chan, HR Head – Sanofi Consumer Healthcare – South East Asia & China, has kindly provided some answers to this question as well as shared some best practice processes to promote self-care among employees.

  1. What is self-care, and why is it important?

Self-care is all about empowering self to enhance each individual’s well-being, prevent disease, and restore physical and mental health to live a healthier, fuller life. Even minor ailments could have a major impact on our lives – imagine going through your daily tasks when suffering from an allergy or being on a holiday when you’re under immense stress. Allergies, stress, pains, cough and cold, may seem like minor occurrences but often stop us from fully enjoying our important moments.

To highlight the importance of self-care, the 24th of July (24/7) each year is International Self-Care Day. The date was purposefully chosen to symbolise that the benefits of self-care are experienced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that self-care is a life-long habit and regimen that does not just relate to a single day.

  1. Self-care sounds like a personal concept, what does this have to do with employers?

It’s true that self-care starts at an individual level, but your environment plays a big role in making it easy or difficult to practice self-care.

A significant portion of our waking hours is spent at work. How you feel mentally and physically has a huge impact at your workplace and vice versa. It’s a simple concept – if you work in an environment that gives you a platform to feel good both physically and mentally, you will automatically deliver better.

As employers, our purpose is to support and provide such an environment. If we create an environment that respects and makes it easy for our employees to feel healthy and care for their well-being, it’s easier for them to be engaged, happy and productive.  This is all the more critical for us as a healthcare company since our purpose is to “serve healthier, fuller lives” and it has to start from us making a conscious effort in self-care for our mental & physical wellness.

  1. What are some of the things that employers can do to foster a culture of self-care?

I strongly believe that helping employees feel connected to the company’s purpose and supporting them to keep a work-life balance is important to creating an environment for success.

There are several ways to foster this environment, such as running awareness activities to equip employees with knowledge of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of self-care and other health-related matters. For example, at Sanofi, we recently conducted an educational session for employees on how to take care of their digestive health – but with a twist – an interactive session using gamification.

In addition, our employees want to live a life of purpose, and they need to know that their employers are also invested in being an organisation of purpose. That’s why, it is important to undertake initiatives that take employees outside their day-to-day rigour and be in touch with the communities around them – whether it’s to get closer to the consumers we serve and the healthcare professionals we work with, or to contribute time and energy to make a difference in the lives of some of the underprivileged populations in the markets where we operate.

Throughout Asia, we have initiated various volunteering programs where our employees spend dedicated hours elevating communities who could benefit from their support.

  1. Would you do things any differently to engage the millennial generation in self-care?

Yes, I would engage the millennial generation differently. In fact, this group are such a crucial audience that Sanofi has specifically looked at the ‘Net Generation’ – a cohort of young people born between 1982 and 1991, and the largest workforce and consumer base across the world – as part of a recent research report.

In our ‘Be Your Best 2019 – Empowering the Net Generation to Make the Most of Self-Care report’ we outline that for the Net Generation, wellness is not a fad – it is a way of life. They associate self-care with keeping fit, feeling good and managing stress. They also strive for a better work-life balance, take care of their mental health and monitor their bodies to detect problems early. With wellness being such an important concept for this generation, we see it influencing trends in everything from food and drink to fashion.

What does that mean to us as an employer? How can we enhance their journey in self-care? By empowering them to feel trusted and respected to discover their true potential. Towards this goal, employers can take various steps such as encouraging an outcome-oriented flexi-work arrangement, creating platforms for employees to experiment with and test ideas to learn and unlearn, ignite a culture of two-way dialogue and feedback, and consciously building a diverse and inclusive culture.

  1. Do you have any advice for HR colleagues who are trying to implement self-care policies or activities in their organisations?

It is crucial that employers truly imbibe the idea that self-care is not a luxury, it is part of the job. In the digital age that we live in, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to demarcate lives, which leads to faster burn-out and other health issues.

Respecting your employees’ need to self-care and helping them in that journey will take you a long way in earning their trust, building engagement and gaining positive long-term results.