Skip to content

Getting Real About Self-Care and the Workplace

Black woman wearing a white button up and gray blazer is sitting comfortably at home while working on her laptop and checking her cell phone. A pot of coffee rests on a table next to her.

In honor of International Self-Care Day on July 24, I wanted to discuss one of the hard truths about self-care: There’s only so much self-care a person can do outside of what their job makes possible.

If someone’s job demands 80 hours a week, that will severely limit what they can do for themselves and how healthy they can actually be. Self-care is symbiotic — it depends not just on the individual, but on other circumstances in their life: their family, their workplace, their resources, and more.

What does this mean for companies? The health of your organization depends upon the health of your employees. Care is one of our core values at Unity precisely because we know that how care happens inside the workplace constrains what is possible for our employee’s self-care beyond the workplace. 

As a neurodivergent CEO, I wanted to create one of the companies of tomorrow, but I wanted to do it today. I wanted Unity Web Agency to show how possible it is to build profitable companies that center care in all we do — accessible websites that integrate the tools disabled folks already use, flexibility, humane policies, and generous benefits. Here’s some of what we’ve done to build a sustainable business for our team, our clients, and our finances. 

Humane Work Management

Our COO, Angela Liu, has helped us build policies around the idea of humane work management. At its core, humane work management means that we consciously attend to the capacity planning and resource allocation for all of our team members. Let’s break it down.

Capacity Planning & Resource Management

For both our full-time and part-time team members, we pay careful attention to their hours and tasks. At our busiest, we divide our client-facing team member’s time into 75% billable work and 25% non-billable work (e.g., emails, meetings, internal initiatives, and transition time). 

Why is this significant? Well, if we planned for 100% of their time to go towards billable hours, everyone would be working overtime. Transition time, email upkeep, meetings, and working on the business are as much a part of what makes our company possible as the billable client work.

Time Management

Workplace time management is different than the kind of time management we have to do in school, and rarely do teams receive mentorship on time management. As someone with autism and ADHD, I tend to be much more optimistic about how long it will take to complete a task. Angela helps me — and the team — make realistic estimates and plan efficiently for my workflow and for the company at large. 

Modeling Healthy Boundaries

Every year, our leadership team has an annual planning retreat where we do an exercise called The One Thing where we tell each person their greatest contribution to the team and the one thing they can do for the greater good of Unity. A few years ago, someone told me that I should take more personal time. Another said that when someone takes PTO they need to not work — that means not checking email and not checking in with the team. 

There’s an abundance of psychological research that shows how important stepping away from complex tasks is for improving our decision-making, creativity, and ability to solve problems. Beyond the business benefits, everyone deserves time off. Learning to take time off (for real!) and encouraging my team members to do the same has been crucial for building a care-centered culture. 

From False Urgency to Flexibility

In corporations, false urgency often happens due to poor planning at the c-suite level — decisions are made about when things should get done without an eye for how that might impact team members. We should be excited about our work, and we should care about doing a good job, but we don’t need to lose sleep over false urgency. 

At Unity, we build our schedules, our deadlines, and timelines to prevent team members from having multiple urgent deadlines. When they do have multiple deadlines in a short span, Angela works with them (see above!) to prioritize and manage their time accordingly. 

Ultimately, we aren’t ER nurses; we can do what we need to do — and do it well — without our team panicking and losing sleep. Between proper planning, coaching from Angela, and built-in flexibility, we try to help our team to do their best work without unnecessary stress.

Benefits

Equal Pay

Many people know us because of the Equal Pay Policy we implemented in 2020. We implemented this policy for few realizations:

  • Everyone is putting their full effort into this company
  • Everyone is equally important for the success of the company
  • It isn’t fair that some people make more just because of the nature of their role

Our equal pay policy has been amazing for transparency, eliminating competitiveness, and honoring everyone’s effort. One of the challenges is that some people are paid very well for their roles, relative to what they would be making elsewhere, while others could likely find a job offering to pay more. Yet, they choose to work here for the culture, benefits, lifestyle, and mission that we stand for. 

Asian woman working on her laptop and a tablet at a table in her home. Her young daughter is hugging her neck while they both smile.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels

Family Forward NC

One of our clients created a statewide initiative in North Carolina called Family Forward NC. Their mission is to help businesses and nonprofits in NC to create and implement research-based practices to make companies more family-friendly. Some of these practices include:

  • child care supports,
  • health and wellness benefits,
  • sustainable scheduling practices,
  • And allowing 100% of non-seasonal employees working at least 30 hours per week to be eligible for benefits. 
Family Forward NC Certified Employer Badge.

We are proud to be a Family Forward NC Certified Employer. One of the unique benefits we adopted thanks to Family Forward’s leadership is Sick and Safe Leave. This allows individuals to take paid time off if they’re caring for themselves or a family member. Beyond the usual sick leave, this also ensures team members can take time off if they’re a victim of stalking or domestic violence.

What we’ve learned so far is that family-friendly policies help everyone. Whether someone is single, partnered, or married, and whether they have no children, young children, or grown children, everyone benefits.

Healthcare Reimbursement

Healthcare is an essential part of self-care, which is why we offer generous tax-free healthcare reimbursement through Take Command. What does this look like?

We offer benefits to everyone as long as they work at least 20 hours a week. Additionally, healthcare reimbursement allows our company to reimburse qualified healthcare expenses for our team members who have acquired their own minimum essential health insurance. Just a few examples of what this reimbursement can cover include:

  • Policy premiums
  • Copays
  • Deductibles
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Glasses
  • Lab work 
  • And so much more!

Feedback

If you want to prioritize human sustainability and self-care in the workplace, there is, of course, a wealth of research to draw on. But there is nothing like asking your people what would benefit them most. Every company is unique in its locale (or lack thereof!), industry, and what kind of employees it attracts. We like to send out frequent surveys and ensure there are open channels for leadership to hear honest feedback about what our team wants and needs to feel and work their best. 

A white man wearing a headset working on his laptop while sitting comfortably on the floor in his home. His black cat is lounging at his feet.
Image by Freepik

The Health of Your Company Is The Health of Your Team

I have worked in places where I felt burned into the ground. These workplaces were rat races fueled by false urgency, which predictably led to burnout. I wanted to create a company that didn’t emulate toxic hustle culture, and I wanted to create a company that considered care one of its core values. We call this “lead with love.” Living out this value means that we step up to help others who are struggling, we know our limits and delegate accordingly, and we plan our projects with awareness about how it will impact everyone — our leadership, our team members, our clients, and our wider community. 

And let’s be honest — these benefits and policies should be the norm, and we hope they will be in the future. It’s time for companies to realize it isn’t just the individual’s responsibility to do self-care on their own time and contribute to the company otherwise. Self-care is a symbiotic relationship — the health of the organization relies on the health of the people within it, and the health of your people relies on the organization’s structure and policies. Your company, clients, and team will all benefit from policies rooted in care. 

So, on International Self-Care Day and beyond, let’s celebrate making self-care accessible and centering self-care in the workplace.


Featured image photo credit: Image by Drazen Zigic on Freepik