companies’ lip service about “self-care” isn’t what employees need

Since the start of the pandemic, employers have been increasingly jumping on the self-care bandwagon – reminding employees to make time for self-care, sending out tips on incorporating yoga or mindfulness into their days, and even sometimes carving out work time for self-care practices as a group.

But it’s hard to see that support for self-care as genuine, given that the same employers often expect people to work too many hours without real breaks, discourage them from taking real time off, and ignore the stressors in their employees’ lives, from lack of child care to not earning a living wage. At Slate today, I wrote about how employers are getting “self-care” wrong. You can read it here.

{ 307 comments… read them below }

    1. honeygrim*

      My supervisor could be the poster child for toxic positivity. It is so stressful to try to talk to them about any issues at work.

      1. Leela*

        i had a supervisor like this and she had it so badly, like cutting me off in the middle of my sentences in meetings, to pull me aside later because she thought I was going to take the conversation in a negative direction. She was never right about what she thought I was going to say, and I was really upset about how bad it was making me look (constantly having a boss interject to cut you off in front of your coworkers) but when I brought that up I was just *being negative*

      2. Meep*

        My Toxic Coworker (TM) is such a brat about it. She loves to talk about how hard she is working and how we have to keep the eye on the ball. She goes on and on about how she was up at 4 AM and working until 9 PM – when in actually she spends all day flirting with men on her phone and the only work she actually does it to delegate her actual work to some unsuspecting employee.

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          Those who have time to talk about how much work they are doing usually are the ones who are not doing the work. “thou doth protest too much”. I always find this to be a red flag with any co-worker.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            And this attitude is why I hide my ridiculous workload and quietly suffer. I’m not passing the buck onto other people – I’m taking it on myself and destroying my work/life balance so that I don’t accidently trip someone’s red flag detector.

            1. Usagi*

              Me too. One of the few times I brought up how I was overtasked by my manager and suddenly my whole (toxic, terrible) team felt like I was just a whiner. Like… no, I’m actually being given too much work.

              1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

                Yeah, I hope the commenter above understand the kind of harm that her perception is likely causing to her colleagues. People like that seldom figure out how toxic they make their teams because they shape their world to ensure that everything’s easy for them at someone else’s expense.

                Like don’t be surprised when these people break down, burn out, rage quit or lose their crap on you.

    2. Thursdaysgeek*

      See, and this is why we have to remember that other people can be a lot different from us, in ways we can’t imagine.

      This isn’t work related, but one of the first times I was spiraling down, I had a friend who insisted that I get out and do things, would encourage me, all those things that you call ‘toxic positivity’. I wanted to pull my shell around me, and she wouldn’t let me ignore her. But for me, she was right. That was what I needed to get through. Pulling back was what I wanted to do, and was what was exactly wrong for me. What is toxic for you is vital for me.

      We usually can’t see what works for other people, only for ourselves. And it’s hard to realize that what I need might not be what you need, or that my coping mechanisms are not universal. For both those who think that a smile will make things all better, and those who are dragged down by the added complication of positive thinking.

      I want to push back a bit on the phrase ‘toxic positivity’ because it makes it sound like it’s toxic for everyone around the person, and it is not. It’s only a problem for some. Unfortunately, both the happy, happy people and the leave me alone people generally only see their own views, which are hard on people around them. It can even be toxic. (So I don’t push back, after all.)

      1. ThatGirl*

        What you’re talking about is not toxic positivity. What you describe is a friend gently nudging you out of depression and encouraging you. If she had said “all you need to do is think happy thoughts and do yoga!!” when what you really needed was therapy or antidepressants or something else altogether, THAT would have been toxic positivity. Ignoring that bad things are happening or maintaining that you can fix them with happy thoughts and sunshine, that’s toxic positivity.

        1. Thursdaysgeek*

          It wasn’t gentle. I could have ignored gentle. I tried hard to ignore her, but she was ‘all you have to do is come out for lunch with me; come on, be happy.’ She would not quit. And finally I lost the strength to resist, gave in, and started getting better.

          So, what I’m trying to say, is that some of that self-care from companies – it can help some people, sometimes. It’s sometimes pushed by the people for whom it can help. SOME people, SOME times. A lot of it is still self-serving companies paying lip service. But it’s not always useless for everyone.

          1. ThatGirl*

            It still seems different to me – your friend couldn’t fix whatever the underlying problem was; companies DO have the power to make changes so that people are not overloaded, overworked, underappreciated. Sure, maybe a suggestion to do more yoga or take more walks helps someone, somewhere. But it’s still toxic if it’s ignoring the underlying problems and/or refusing to address them.

            1. Thursdaysgeek*

              I agree with that. I was only trying to point out that what is toxic for some can be therapeutic for some as well. But I don’t disagree that many (perhaps most) companies are trying to get something for nothing, get benefits without any change on their end.

              1. Kal*

                I think a key difference in what makes something toxic is the insistence that something is a magic cure. Yoga helps a lot of people for a variety of things, but while it can be a part of managing something like depression, just doing yoga won’t cure depression, and it could actively harm people with other conditions. Going out for a short walk in the sun can help with things as well, but its not a magic cure. Trying to adjust your mindset and focus more on the good things in your life can also help, but it again isn’t a magical cure.

                You going out to lunch with your friend that time seems to have helped you, but your friend doesn’t seem to have insisted that you going out to lunch once meant you were cured now and no longer needed any help and needed to stop being negative. They seem to have recognised it as just one small step in the right direction and likely kept helping you in the ways they could, since they clearly cared about you deeply.

                Treating things as a magical cure is a pretty key attitude that makes for toxic positivity. No one is saying that things like getting out with friends or yoga is itself toxic, but treating them like magical cures where “just do yoga” is said as though it will fix everything in your life – that is when it becomes toxic positivity.

                So tl:dr; the toxicity isn’t about the action(s) being suggested, its the mindset that it is a magic fix that will work for anyone who actually tries it. And that mindset is indeed toxic for everyone around it.

          2. rural academic*

            I think what seems different to me about your situation is that this was a friend — someone who presumably knew you well and could use that intimacy to urge you out of your shell. I think a lot of what people describe as “toxic positivity” is coming more from casual acquaintances, coworkers, faceless workplace initiatives. Messages like that aren’t coming from intimacy and compassionate knowledge of an individual, and tend to be pasting a one-size-fits-all approach onto a variety of individual problems.

            1. Bamcheeks*

              Yes, I think toxic positivity is that it’s like harassment or objectification : it can ~literally~ be the same activities or words, but the difference is firstly whether it’s welcome and secondly whether it cares that it’s welcome. A friend who tells you to come out and have a drink again and again is demonstrating that they care for you: even when it’s actually *not* right for you, it can be a demonstration of care. And sometimes, it can feel like the friend is more invested in their own idea of what you need than in what you actually need, and it’s infuriating because they won’t hear when you say that you *cannot* come out and they need to stop asking because they are making things worse.

              I think an individual manager can make a difference on that personal level by caring about you as a person, but I’m unconvinced a company can. A company demonstrates care for its people by attending to the material bottom line: decent pay, decent hours, enough resources for you to do your job (and only *your* job) decently in the time available, time off, clear goals and feedback, etc. If you’ve got all that in place, then yoga classes and shopping vouchers are lovely! If you haven’t, they’re just rubbish.

          3. MBK*

            The difference, to me, is that your friend wasn’t trying to use that kind of help to paper over hurt and stress that she was actually causing you. It’s very different from your employer saying “we expect you to work 60 hours a week but here’s a Starbucks gift card and a 30 minute yoga class in the break room so YAY self care.”

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Back in my Usenet days (yikes) I was on an infertility board, and there was one poster I could say was a prime example of toxic positivity. Your husband’s sperm sample revealed only one viable sperm? “One is all it takes! You’re gonna get pregnant this month, I know it!” No. Let people accept and deal with the bad news and figure out where to go from there, rather than insisting they pretend the news is actually good.

      2. Threeve*

        I don’t know, just because you’ve developed an immunity to iocane powder doesn’t mean it isn’t poison. And it’s hard for me to see daily unsolicited emails about sunshine and gratitude as anything but toxic positivity.

        1. Thursdaysgeek*

          Right. For you it is toxic. And the people sending it should realize that their view is not universal. (For those who are sending it in honest positivity, rather than a cheap attempt to get more work without any cost.)

          1. EPLawyer*

            Your friend was pushing you out of concern for wellbeing.

            Companies are doing it because it’s the new buzzword, right up there with agile, and hot desking. Hey Company A is doing this, we should too. Instead of looking at what is REALLY GOING ON. Great, we are offering yoga, all the problems are solved. Except no one can GO to yoga because they are chained to their desks trying to cover the work of 4 people.

            1. Meep*

              This. It is all performative to make it seem like the company culture is supportive and cares about their employees while refusing to do the bare minimum to make changes to actually promote self-care.

              We have a manager, for example, who will be all excited and gushy (re: toxic positivity) whenever you tell her that you are going to take time off. Fast forward to the day of, she will not stop calling you and eating up your time with ~important~ company business (re: her venting how mean the owner is). That is if she doesn’t chew you out for not “planning better”. Doesn’t matter if you gave her a 6-month notice. You should have planned your vacation better.

            2. Thursdaysgeek*

              I’m sure that was part of it – part of it was concern for my wellbeing. But since it really annoyed me, I’m sure at the time, if I’d known the term ‘toxic positivity’, I would have called it that.

              1. none*

                I totally get where you are coming from. Sometimes, it does take more than a gentle nudge. I am glad you are doing better and I am glad you had the friend that didn’t give up.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          True, but on the plus side I wouldn’t be reading those emails after the first day or two, so they wouldn’t really affect my life. Unless the person sending them also sends substantive emails I actually need to read, without the subject line making the distinction obvious.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, and even then, a quick glance is enough to show that it’s not work-related and can be deleted.

      3. Colette*

        Toxic positivity is refusing to admit and deal with any negative circumstances. For example, “I want to see that smile, no frowns allowed” to someone whose loved one is terminally ill.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Oh dear god indeed. Just what I’d want if gravely ill: a mirror that makes me think I’m undead unless I perform fake happiness for it.

          1. pope suburban*

            That’s absolutely ghastly. And I can just imagine the technology there being turned into something to further micromanage workers, too. Like a more intense and boundary-violating version of those customer-service surveys where anything short of a perfect score gets you dinged.

          2. Susan Ivanova*

            I went down the rabbit hole (in a private browser window): it’s a dead project. There’s no trace of the promised Kickstarter and the inventor’s website has nothing to sell, just a signup page for more info. Sometimes the market speaks and says a hard “no”.

      4. Canadian Librarian #72*

        Yeah, that’s a no from me on… all of that. That said, you make a decent point, despite yourself. What’s apparently helpful for you (a friend badgering you about bootstrapping yourself out of depression until you gave in and did what she told you) would be miserable for others, so you’re right: to put it in your own words, “this is why we have to remember that other people can be a lot different from us.”

        You might benefit from googling what “toxic positivity” actually is.

      5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        I’m ever so glad that your wise and loving friend cared enough to help you out of a dark place and not to give up on you. However, your situation vis-a-vis her is not comparable to a firm trying to substitute either canned “mindfulness” or rah-rah feel-good slogans for treating their employees well; providing decent salaries, sufficient time off, growth opportunities, zero tolerance for discrimination / harassment of any kind and overall sound management. (And come to think of it, your friend wouldn’t have been able to you if SHE had smothered you with canned “mindfulness” or rah-rah feel-good slogans either!)
        As Alison has noted several times, (A) you may love your job but don’t expect your company to love you back and (B) a firm is not a family. Your company and your friends/family are NOT fungible; you cannot reasonably expect the first to take the place of the second.

        1. Thursdaysgeek*

          You call her wise, but I suspect she was just lucky – lucky that it worked on me.

          And for Canadian Librarian #72, yes, I know what toxic positivity actually is.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Public education in the US is full of this! “Let’s just talk about the good things!”

      Yeah, no thanks.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        Husband was in the military to pay for grad school. The favorite saying of the enlisted folks was,

      2. no name today*

        Like racism, slavery, toxic masculinity, etc? That’s what kids in my area learn about in public schools. Maybe you’re thinking of charter schools that steal public money to teach anti-American crap.

        1. Not A Manager*

          Kids in your area learn about racism and slavery?! Oh noes, whatever shall we do? How un-American! I am clutching my pearls as we speak.

          I’m old enough to remember when teaching the truth was called “education” and it was considered a good thing. But I guess I’m dating myself here.

          1. Bamcheeks*

            I think you misread that? No name today contrasted public schools teaching sexism, racism etc was a good thing with charter schools where they teach “anti-American crap”! So I think they think teaching power relationships is good and an alternative curriculum is anti-American.

          1. Generic Elf*

            Material that is not a 100% positive reflection on America. So teaching actual American history is really un-American. I guess.

  1. ThatGirl*

    The company I work for is certainly not perfect, but they do seem to understand that what most people want is more free time – so they sporadically announce “pencils down” half-days, typically a Friday, where we’re supposed to stop working at noon. And my team’s manager (boss’ boss) occasionally gives us freebie (non-tracked) days off too. That means a lot more to me than offering yoga.

    1. Alex*

      My job is the same. It’s not perfect, but the sporadic extra time off they randomly offer, plus a company wide “corona inflation” COL increase both help a ton

    2. Liz*

      That’s awesome, and I would appreciate that too, more than anything else other companies have offered. I have to say, while mine hasn’t really jumped on the “self-care” bandwagon. There have been articles posted, in case people want to read them, and they do remind us that its important to take PTO. But that’s really about it. My own bosses are very flexible, so taking time off, even for no good reason (not that I tell them why I’m off), isn’t frowned upon at all. I’m taking a week next month as I have a ton of time still, and am going to just do stuff.

      1. Researcher.*

        Unpopular, pessimist viewpoint:
        I read constant encouragement to “Use! Your! PTO!” as “this is a financial liability on our books because of too much accrued, unusued vacation.”

        I find it suuuuuuper disingenuous. Especially when we were encouraged to take vacation while travel was largely not safe. I get the whole stay-cation thing, but still.

        1. Susan Ivanova*

          Manager: “So what are you going to do with your vacation time?”

          “Only go in three of the four rooms in my house instead of all of them.”

      1. ThatGirl*

        We have deadlines all the time. But they typically announce the half-days off in advance or offer the freebie days to be scheduled at our leisure, and (most importantly) expect our managers to work with us to adjust deadlines if needed and make sure things are getting done without anyone being overloaded.

        1. pope suburban*

          Seriously. ThatGirl shared a really nice perk with us, something that I think would help a lot of people and that more companies should offer. The rush to be snarky about it was unnecessary and uncool.

          1. KHB*

            Because the exact same thing that comes across as a “really nice perk” in some circumstances can, in other circumstances, come across as a “really stressful disruption.”

            In hindsight, my wording was unnecessarily sarcastic, and for that I apologize. But my comment wasn’t for the sake of raining on ThatGirl’s parade. I’m dealing with this very thing myself from the opposite perspective, as I explain in my comments below.

            1. CoveredInBees*

              I could see where you were going with that. I worked somewhere that claimed to do “summer fridays” so we could leave a few hours early on Friday but contingent on multiple factors. As a result, few people took the time off. Also, for my own reasons, I would have greatly preferred extra PTO that could be used as needed or for Fridays when I could actually take them.

          1. allathian*

            Yup, same. In fact, I’d be worried about my job if my ticket queue showed empty for longer than a few hours… I can fill a few hours with some training, preferably by reading a few articles online, video courses if I must.

    3. Brett*

      I started scheduling a meeting with my direct reports where the only agenda topic not to work. They can show up and chat (not about work), or use the hour to do something else not work on the clock, but just plain not work.
      About 90% of the discussion ends up being hobbies we are doing, hobbies we did and would like to get back to, or hobbies we would like to do. Everyone seems to have a better week after we have the meeting, which surprised me.

      1. James*

        See, I would find that extremely annoying. I’ve got enough on my plate without my manager demanding I schedule time to chat about my hobbies. Don’t get me wrong, I chat about them with coworkers–and about their hobbies–it’s just in a more organic way, when we both have some downtime. Needing to carve out time in our day to do so is nearly impossible, and at least one of us is going to get called away for a site emergency.

        I’m not saying you’re wrong to do what you’re doing. It’s working for your team, so by definition it’s a good thing for you. My point is that what works for one group doesn’t always work for another, and what’s going to work is going to be extremely team-specific. That’s why top-down mandates to be positive don’t work (in part): they’re on-size-fits-none, an attempt to satisfy the theoretical average worker that’s a mere mathematical abstraction, not a real person. To an extent this happens with manages and individual teams as well, but managers have fewer people and can more easily manage the trade-offs.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          Yes. Give individual groups some flexibility. One of the reasons I loved working with a particular team was that we spent the first 10-15 minutes of the day checking in with what we were doing that day (saving us the trouble of keeping connected people in the loop separately) as well as how we were doing personally. The latter was not required and people shared when and whatever they wanted.

          However, if I’d had that same meeting with a different team I would have loathed ever minute of it. Same organization doing very similar work but with a different team and boss.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, and I work for an organization with hours that are flexible enough that this would never work. I mean, I can put my 7.5 hours in at any time between 6 am and 11 pm. We don’t have any core hours, either, although we’re expected to attend meetings when we’ve accepted the invite, and to block off any time on the calendar when we’re not available, regardless of whether that is for a personal or work reason. Most of us are moderately to very experienced ICs, so we can do our jobs without much supervision.

            We have weekly or fortnightly team meetings, though, and they usually start with a round of “tell us how you’re doing in a minute or less”. Nobody takes any notice or offence if someone skips that part, but people have spoken up about personal challenges they’re facing, and it’s been well received. For example, when a coworker had to euthanize their cat, and admitted that they weren’t as productive as usual, but wanted to keep working to keep their mind on other things for a part of the day, our manager sent a sympathy card on behalf of the team.

        2. Pomegranate*

          Looks like Brett indicates that there is an option ‘to do something else not work on the clock’ instead of chatting about hobbies. So that’s a win win for different folks on different days.

          1. James*

            It’s more the “carve a big chunk out of my busy day at a random time” thing that’s annoying here. The nature of my work is such that there’s no way to reliably predict when I’ll be needed (if we could predict spills or incidents there wouldn’t BE spills or incidents), so having a set time for chatting with coworkers simply isn’t a good option. It’s not that my coworkers and I don’t chat–field crews, from laborers to construction managers, will talk for hours if you let them–it’s just that we do so throughout the day, when two or three of us have slow moment at work.

            And again, I’m not saying Brett is wrong. If it works for that team, Brett is by definition right. I’m just saying that how we deal with the wellbeing of the team needs to be based on the specifics of the team, and using my experiences as an example to illustrate a team where Brett’s solution wouldn’t work.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          I suspect it works best where people aren’t overworked on all the other hours of the week. It strikes me as like the difference between a healthy workplace offering lunchtime yoga and a toxic one creating a mandatory mental health session.

    4. Rachel in NYC*

      My department does “retreat” days with strict no work rules. It’s fine for me but it can be stressful for some of my workers. And our employer in general has given extra vacation days, which made my friends laugh because we get so many days off my coworkers and I were all using vacations days that we’d “lost” 2 months letter.

      (Our boss gave us an extra 2 months to use “use it or lose it” vacation days.)

    5. Elizabeth West*

      My boss at Exjob (the great one) did this. She’d email me at 1 or 2 pm before a holiday saying, “Is there any reason at all you’re still there? Key in your full time and go home.” This is the same boss who, after we went round and round with Accounting on a completely baffling change to our reports, also emailed me a meme of an angry cartoon locomotive barreling downhill entitled “The Little Engine That Said ‘F*ck It.'” (no asterisk)

      God, I loved her. I pray to whatever gods are listening that my next boss is that cool.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          Oh, I’m dying over here. Too bad I can’t put it up in my ‘office’…it encapsulates my workplace almost perfectly.

    6. sofar*

      Mine too! We are understaffed, which makes it so hard to take time off (there’s nobody to cover for anyone, so anyone who takes a day off is hounded by those still at the office). The head of our division tried to take a long weekend and was hounded, so he was like, “OK know what? If I’ve got to give EVERYONE the day off, to get a day off myself, I’m gonna do it. And I’m taking off the Thurs and Fri before Labor Day, so we’re shutting down those days.” It was wonderful.

    7. Slow Gin Lizz*

      My org just did this, gave us yesterday off because we had a very busy few weeks prepping for big weekend events in Sept. Then last week they announced that yesterday was a company holiday. It was very nice and only raised my opinion of this org I’ve only been with for five months to a much higher level than it had already been at.

  2. KHB*

    My employer likes to pat itself on the back for being “generous” with paid time off – and indeed they are – but HR and senior management don’t seem to quite get that there’s a fixed amount of work we need to do, on a fixed schedule, and it’s really hard to simultaneously juggle that and take all our PTO, especially when they start giving us random “company-wide holidays” with little notice. Whenever anyone points this out, they just shrug and tell us to figure it out. It comes across really insensitively sometimes.

    The worst incident I remember was when they were revamping our PTO package (from continuously accumulated vacation time and a fixed amount of annual sick leave into a (larger) fixed amount of annual PTO). On the first draft of the HR manager’s PowerPoint presentation to explain the changes, she had a slide anticipating the “how am I supposed to take all this PTO and still get all my work done?” objections, complete with an Uncle Sam graphic saying “I want YOU to work more efficiently!” (Fortunately, she ran this by my boss before the presentation went live, and he told her that graphic was a terrible idea.)

    1. Firm Believer*

      So what would you propose as the alternative? Sorry I’m just confused. It sounds like your company is generous with paid time off. We all have to juggle roles and responsibilities with time off. It’s just the nature of work.

            1. KHB*

              Not necessarily the only alternative. Sometimes the problem isn’t so much “too much work” as it is “too much uncertainty in the work.” If any given week could be anywhere from stone-dead calm to hair-on-fire busy, and you don’t know which it will be until it happens, that makes it hard to plan in advance to take a week-long vacation. So there might be ways to make the workflow more predictable, so that the same number of people can get the same amount done and still take PTO.

              But that takes competent management, which is sometimes also not easy.

          1. CoveredInBees*

            This problem well predates the current job market. It has come from a refusal to hire enough people to more reasonably manage the workloads and cover people when they’re out. Some of these “talent shortages” are entirely of the employers’ own making. If they hadn’t been working people past burnout and could be flexible, fewer people would quit.

          2. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Then train more people?
            Or accept that you can’t do everything you want with your current workforce and cut down on the workload.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              Yeah, good luck with that one.

              To my office’s credit, they are desperately trying to hire more people…and are getting UTTERLY HUNG UP FOR MONTHS TO A YEAR by all the different approval levels and hoops they have to jump through in order to be permitted to hire someone.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                We’re in a similar scenario. Public agency, our managers have been pushing to hire more people for over a decade but authorities keep freezing more positions. Even though workload continues increasing.

                We finally put our foot down and said we’re cutting an extremely popular program because we don’t have the staff to run it safely. The authorities tried to argue with us… and then the facility caught fire. We’ll see if they lift our hiring freeze now. My hopes are not high.

      1. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

        Reasonable work loads, cross-training to help cover essential functions/duties when someone is out, making sure open positions are filled in a timely manner …. There’s actually quite a lot companies can do to address these problems, but it means addressing issues with staffing and training and (in some cases) access to systems.

      2. Anonym*

        I’m not KHB, but my team could certainly use more specific support on this from our manager in the form of “Remember, the deliverables for projects X and Y can wait – you don’t need to be working extra hours or delaying time off for these. Project Z is genuinely urgent, so let me know how I can help if it’s starting to threaten your work life balance.” It sucks to feel like (or wonder if) your reputation or career opportunities might be quietly taking a hit just because you use the leave you’re entitled to.

        Our work is fairly strategic and open ended, and it can be really hard to de-prioritize things. It helps to know you have management support to push something off if the overall workload is getting unsustainable. To be fair, my manager does offer to help, but when presented with ways of helping tends to flail about or just half-ass it, which makes more work for us. So the offer isn’t functionally real, though I think he means it in the moment.

      3. KHB*

        For my particular situation, I’d suggest:

        – Limit the last-minute changes to the company-wide work schedule. We have a production schedule (that we need to carefully coordinate with outside vendors) set a year in advance, so when these random announcements come that “Yay, everybody gets the day off on Friday,” and Friday happens to be a critical day for us, that’s actually really disruptive.
        – Hire more people, when appropriate. It’s just not feasible that a fixed number of employees can all go from taking 15 days off per year to taking 30, and still get the same amount of work done at the same level of quality.
        – Stop nagging us to take our PTO. Instead, consider asking people why they’re not taking their PTO – and if you identify any problems (with distribution of workload, say), fix them.
        – Look into ways to reward employees other than by showering them with more PTO. It seems like they’ve gotten it in their heads that PTO is “what employees want,” and that it’s “free” (as in, they don’t have to directly pay anything for it), so that’s the well they keep going to, over and over and over again. But something else that actually is free, and would also be appreciated (at least by me) is company-wide recognition. I’d love it if the CEO were to understand the work that I do (which goes out to the public with my name on it, so it’s not like he’d have to work that hard to find it) and occasionally say, at an all-staff meeting or just to me privately, “Hey KHB, I really like what you did with the Jackson report.” Our previous CEOs did stuff like that. The current one, I guess, thinks it’s beneath him.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Instead, consider asking people why they’re not taking their PTO – and if you identify any problems (with distribution of workload, say), fix them.

          Yesssss this. I’ve run into this. Sometimes it’s because of an unreasonable workload, and other times a coworker who just can’t let go of anything. Either way, these issues should get attention from management.

      4. CBB*

        What everyone else said: err on the side of overstaffing rather than understaffing.

        At my old job, if I took time off, it was impossible to get coworkers to cover for me, because no one had time. As a result, returning to the office meant many days of extra work to catch up. And worse, having to take responsibility for dropped balls.

        It made holidays and vacations really stressful. I resigned with about 100 hours of PTO that I never used because I didn’t want the headaches.

        My current job is the opposite. Everyone has a little slack in their schedule, so coworkers are happy to cover for each other, and it’s not too hard to catch up on whatever is left.

        Ironically at this job I’m also accumulating PTO, not because I don’t want to take time off, but because I don’t need to. I rarely get sick, and I can often duck out early on Friday to make a long weekend without having to use PTO.

      5. hbc*

        Really? There’s not much point in being generous with the time off if the expectation is that you’ll still get just as much work done. And even if there are efficiencies to be found, good employees haven’t been sitting on those improvement ideas waiting for there to be some personal benefit. “Be more efficient” is about as useful as saying “Run faster” to someone struggling in a marathon.

        The functioning alternative to more time off is to actually let people do less work, to be home without watching their inbox, to know that leaving early on Friday doesn’t mean getting up early on Monday to catch up. It’s so much harder to implement, but it has the benefit of actually improving employee health and morale.

        1. Rara Avis*

          I work in education, so we have a built-in sub system, but taking time off is still a lot of extra work — to write lesson plans for someone who doesn’t know my subject, to redo lesson plans previously made to adjust for what didn’t happen when I wasn’t there, etc. In the before times, it was often easier to go to work with a cold. (I did stay home when I had a fever per school policy, and of course, nowadays any symptoms at all mean staying home until a negative covid test comes through.)

    2. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

      I have a lot of time off accumulated, but it’s hard to take it off when there’s no one who can cover for my most critical functions — whenever I take more than a day or two off, I feel obligated to keep an eye on my email. And there have been times when I’ve had to fix urgent issues during my vacation! It defeats the whole point of disengaging and relaxing. But nooooooo, a lack of cross-training and overlap is not a problem that needs to be addressed ….

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That is one thing my current employer does really well. We all have 2-3 coworkers trained as back-up on our critical tasks so if you are scheduling PTO you just need to double check that at least one of them will be in the office for the time you are out. It is pretty cool because you learn more about other folks’ jobs and get to develop new skills and expertise

        1. KHB*

          Part of the reason coordinating PTO is so challenging for us – even though we have plenty of cross-training and people who can cover for each other – is that our work comes in month-long chunks. So if you want to take a week off, you either need to pack four weeks’ worth of work into three (which, because of the rigidity of the schedule, is more like packing two weeks’ worth of work into one), or you need to find somebody to cover for you for the whole month (in addition to doing all their own work).

      2. Not a cat*

        Right. A former employer (Europe-based) used to throw the US crew a bone, occasionally (they got 2x the time off we did), in the form of extra time off. Problem was, you still had to work because the US team ran the website and created 99% of the content. The Euro team was strickly for localization. We also had to be available for their hours and the US (EST-PST). Additionally, we ran mandatory Sunday AM meetings to “catch up on project updates.” I had migraines and anxiety so bad I had to quit after 3 years.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      Yeah, I’m currently fighting this battle with my company. PTO isn’t worth much if you don’t structure the work so that you can actually take it without dooming yourself to drowning in work before and after.

    4. Gerry Keay*

      I wonder if we’re at the same org… we similarly have been “gifted” random days off with varying amounts of notice. (And of course with no reduction in overall workload, just chastisement if you dare to log on during those random days off.) I’ve had multiple conversations with my boss that taking time off actually isn’t restorative and adds stress — I’m a specialist and there are 0 redundancies, meaning if I’m gone the work simply doesn’t get done. My tasks just end up getting jam-packed into the weeks before and after a vacation, and anytime I bring this up I similarly get a shrug and a, “well, you still have to take time off.” It’s very frustrating — the issues isn’t that I need more vacation time, the issue is that we don’t have enough coverage even when we’re full staffed.

      1. KHB*

        Doesn’t sound like the same org (which means there’s at least two of them doing this, so I’m sorry to hear that). We don’t face any consequences if we “choose” to work on these random days off, but we don’t get anything for it, not even comp time, unless we can get our manager to vouch to senior management that we absolutely must work those specific hours (as opposed to working late on a different day, or working over the weekend, etc.) Since that’s rarely the case – most of our work doesn’t have to be done at any specific time, it just all needs to get done by the deadline – there’s no comp time for us.

        My manager, at least, has implemented an informal comp time system, where we can take the “holiday” on a different day instead, and just not record it as PTO. But that’s still pretty worthless when we already have more PTO than we know what to do with.

    5. Anonymity*

      One thing I liked about our extra Covid PTO that our firm gave us is that it came with hour-for-hour billable hour credit. So you could actually use the extra time off without having to work extra on other weeks to meet your target goal. (You still needed to arrange your workload so that deadlines weren’t missed, but that is unavoidable in our line of work).

  3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Excellent article. As always :)

    Reporting one success at my firm: our director of HR at one point floated an idea about sending out a load of ‘how to be healthy in the pandemic’ tips that included:

    Diet/exercise tips (‘hey being overweight pits you more at risk’ – we. know)
    Meditation tips (outside of work hours naturally…)
    How to see the positive in it all (hey we’re spending more time with family!)

    Along with other stuff. The response to the HR mailbox was overwhelmingly ‘don’t’ and the official communication from HR did *not* go out to the firm. What did go out was a load of stuff about resources for mental overload (proper medical stuff, free), list of official company policy regarding masks, distancing, vaccines etc, how to request time off, etc.

    1. Kowalski! Options!*

      Back in January (February? March? Sometime during the winter months….I can’t remember any more), our government department had some HR talking head (external to the organization, who’d never lived in our city) come in and talk to us about self-care, and kept talking about what families had to do to keep their heads above water in the pandemic. Someone sent a question in through the chat feature and said, “Well, your information is great for families, but what about people who live alone, maybe don’t have family nearby, and need something to keep them going?” After getting his jaw off the floor (there are people who live alone? In this society????), he made some lame suggestion that maybe single people in need of physical contact should try hugging themselves, and maybe make eye contact with people on the street when they’re out walking around.
      My bunch can usually rein it in when we’re on workplace communication tools, but I’ve never seen a group chat explode with so many F-bombs in a two-minute period. First, hugging yourself is about as effective as tickling yourself. Second, we’re in a northern city where the car is God, and eye contact is body language for “you wanna piece of me?”
      I’ve just sent this to my team to remind them that, indeed, we are not alone.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*


        Make eye contact on the street….

        Holy moley that’s some tone deaf stuff.

        1. Kowalski! Options!*

          Isn’t it just? What I want to know is why didn’t the guy just put the question to the audience and have the single people provide suggestions. Even if he’d gotten no response, it would have been a far sight better than telling people to go hug themselves.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            The only way I think that could have been worse is if they’d said ‘go out and hug strangers, they’re probably as touch deprived as you!’.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          Tone deaf in a “I never thought of that, having never lived alone myself, have no actual answer, and will just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind no matter how stupid” sort of way.

      2. Elizabeth West*


        Sorry, I’m over here picking my jaw up off the floor while simultaneously imagining some random creep now following, stalking, and killing me because I made eye contact with him.

        1. Kowalski! Options!*

          Oh, exactly. Or, for the menfolk, having the eye contact misconstrued as aggression, and starting a fight when it’s the polar opposite of what you meant to do.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              I’m always torn between ‘you starting something pal?’, ‘oh great a creepy person’ and ‘omg do I have some horrible gigantic bug on my face get it off’ as a reaction to being stared at.

            2. KoiFeeder*

              If someone starts forcing eye contact with me, yeah, that’s going to hit my fight or flight reflex and I’ve never been a quitter.

            1. banoffee pie*

              it’s after 9pm and dark here so there’s extra chance of a good fight ;)
              *runs off to try it right now*

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          When you get your jaw back can you take a look upward for my eyes? They rolled fast enough to achieve orbit.

    2. Double A*

      My HMO sends out emails like this. They’ve been repeatedly fined by the state for providing abysmal mental health care and violating mental health parity laws.

    3. La Triviata*

      This focus on people who have family accessible reminds me of the university that wanted people working remotely to provide proof that they had someone available to take care of their children, so that employees wouldn’t be spending their paid-for time taking care of their children. Or those upper-level executives who assume that everyone has a dedicated private office in their home. sigh ….

    4. EmmaPoet*

      Yes, I want actual useful information that doesn’t make my eyes roll like pinballs. Telling us to learn a new skill! or take regular breaks! isn’t helpful, especially when the latter isn’t feasible because your company expects unpaid overtime and the former just means a new thing to stress about.

    5. Aggretsuko*

      I’m kind of baffled how my organization offers meditation classes during work hours. I don’t mean lunch, I mean like 4:15-5 p.m. My office isn’t going to let me just go meditate for 45 minutes on not-my-lunch-hour! And yet they have a 15 minute “lunch hour” one. It’s very confusing.

  4. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

    A few weeks ago, I was in an all-users Teams call where we were being presented with the latest updates on the complex restructuring process our organisation is currently going through.

    This particular call ended with a guided mindfulness session, where we were encouraged to close our eyes and relax … Which I was able to do for all of 90 seconds before being interrupted by another Teams call to deal with an urgent restructuring issue!

    1. Kitts*

      I frickin hate guided mindfulness. I just don’t have the personality to sit and do nothing. I hate yoga and I despise meditation. If you want to help me relax, have me do something active for 15 minutes, I mean it! Sitting all day and then sit some more to “mindfulness”, bleh.

        1. Solitary squirrel*

          I actually like guided mindfulness. But even I don’t want to do it at work. If (and it’s a big if) I can relax enough to get in the zone, I find it hard to snap back out of “being mode” and get back in the work mindset. And that undoes any benefit. Unfortunately.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            I used to be more into it, but these days I feel like I am just making up bullshit in my head while I do it. It’s nothing new or insightful, it’s just lies I told myself.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        And even people who find mindfulness useful don’t necessarily find the same kinds useful. I did guided meditation by a member of the women’s group I was in for several years and really liked them, then tried a more traditional meditation and ended up distracted and tense.

      2. allathian*

        I have the personality to sit and do nothing, but my one attempt at guided mindfulness had me reaching for the paper bag I kept my lunch sandwich in so I could stop hyperventilating before I had a full-blown panic attack.

        Tai chi is the only kind of meditation that’s ever worked for me. I’m nowhere near supple enough for yoga, I can’t even sit on the floor with my legs crossed.

    2. CindyLouWho*

      The irony of that is that the person calling you was not, in fact, also practicing guided mindfulness. Right?

      1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

        They had also been in the session and summoned out of it to the same urgent call a few seconds before me …

    3. CBB*

      I’m usually an easygoing persons, but “guided mindfulness” fills me with rage.

      “Let’s do a mindfulness exercise” is the secular stand-in for “let us pray”–which is to say, maybe good for those who are into it, but not the magic cure-all that some think it is.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And it’s not even secular! It’s a practice that came from a specific religion and had a specific context, strips out that religion and context, and presents it as an all-purpose technique that’s suitable for everyone in all circumstances, and it really isn’t!

    4. A Library Person*

      Guided mindfulness is a failproof way to trigger my anxiety, occasionally to the point of a near panic attack. I know that it does wonders for a lot of people, but in this context it’s just another example of forcing something on people that is not going to have the intended effect across the board.

      1. allathian*

        Some situations make me anxious, but I don’t have GAD. I posted above about the one time I tried guided mindfulness.

  5. DrMrsC*

    I’ve worked in hospital organizations for 25 years and they have collectively been notorious in all of the ways described. It has always felt like the events and initiatives are well meaning, but developed by people who live their lives in flexible office jobs. For employees who provide patient care – especially on an appointment basis – it always seems like weak lip service to the point of being borderline insulting. Honestly, at this point, I rather they not try at all than read another “rah-rah! we’re doing this for you! you are appreciated!” flyer or email that NONE of my patient care staff members can take part in. My department literally was brought day old pizza last year as an afterthought and were scolded when we apathetic rather than ebullient about being “included.”

    1. Maid Dombegh*

      Healthcare Workers Appreciation Week is terrible. It turns out that a stack of 12-hour old (because there’s a night shift at the hospital, who knew?) burritos don’t actually make up for 51 weeks of being underpaid and understaffed, and no, stale popcorn will not help me pay my rent. And that was in the Before Times.

      There are much more thoughtless things, though. My hospital started painting “inspirational” messages on a set of windows that most of us have to walk past. Things like, “When life sends you rainstorms, play in the puddles!” Yeah, this is not a gentle rain shower that we can joyfully frolic in, this is a hurricane sharknado blizzard. We have had to double patients in rooms not designed to house two patients, create makeshift inpatient rooms (including ICU rooms) out of spaces not architecturally designed for that, support staff (that’s me) is woefully understaffed, we’re seeing so much more death every day than we should be, people are afraid of taking covid home to their families (especially before the vaccines, but the fear is still not completely gone). But I’ll just go splash in the effing puddles to make everything OK.

      I’m right there with you — better nothing than this.

      You know what would have been actually helpful? Raising support staff pay to a level where they could actually attract people, instead of claiming they were trying to hire more techs but couldn’t figure out why nobody was applying, and offering meaningful mental health benefits.

  6. Jay*

    So much this. My company gets a lot of things right (extra time off on Fridays before three-day weekends, a decent amount of PTO, floating holidays and flexibility for those of us who aren’t Christian, not forcing people to come back to the office) and I am still annoyed by the weekly newsletter section on self-care and work/life balance. If you really care about that, stop giving awards to the people who “go above and beyond” who are inevitably the people who work ridiculous hours, pick up extra shifts, and otherwise have no boundaries around work.

    I actually use the company-supplied premium subscription to the Calm app. I’d still rather have a shorter work day and pay for the app myself.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      “stop giving awards to the people who “go above and beyond” who are inevitably the people who work ridiculous hours, pick up extra shifts, and otherwise have no boundaries around work.”

      My place of biz talks a lot about taking time off, recharging, using your PTO, and then segues into effusive praise for the guy who “gave up his Saturday,” the woman “who got this done on Sunday,” the team that “was here until 10pm all week to get this done.”

      The message is pretty clear.

      1. Anonya*

        Sounds like my workplace. It sucks to never get recognized because you actually draw boundaries around having a life.

      2. lizzay*

        A few years, in Q4 my company started giving out (sizeable, not just like a $10 Starbucks card) quarterly bonuses to the top 3 people who had the most billed time in that quarter. This was the quarter that I allowed myself to actually take the whole weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas off, after having 3 quarters in a row, where I was in the top 3. Result: disenchantment, bitterness, jadedness (on my part)! So happy for all the people who got the bonuses that I didn’t b/c I took PTO! Also, people who kind of sucked at their jobs hoarding all the work and/or blowing budgets on various projects b/c they weren’t efficient! So, you know, good results all around!

  7. LikesToSwear*

    So glad my employer is offering benefits that are actually useful. Assistance with paying for childcare due to the pandemic, encouraging us to actually use our vacation, an EAP that we are encouraged to use as needed, modest reimbursements for home office equipment, etc.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Oh man, assistance with paying for childcare would solve 1/2 of my parenting co-workers stress. Your employer rocks

  8. learnedthehardway*

    Another reason I am so happy to be self-employed. My sister was at her wits’ end with DAILY self-care meetings at work, plus all her actual work to do, plus dealing with her kids’ education during COVID. She and a few other employees ended up jointly pointing out to the powers that were, that it was hard enough to manage everything, without the added nonsense piled on top, and that if the company really wanted to be supportive, that they would give them extra time off. I don’t think the extra time off ever happened, but they did get the self-care meetings cancelled.

  9. kiri*

    SO MUCH YES TO THIS. My husband is a public school teacher in a low-income district, so not the most stress-free of environments in the best of times, and hellishly stressful over the last couple years. The district newsletter to staff would always have self-care tips that were just comically out of touch. The one we still cackle at to this day was: “Wear a silly hat!”

    “Having nightly panic attacks from work stress?” “Wear a silly hat!”
    “School board refuses to acknowledge the increased demands of remote learning?” “Wear a silly hat!”
    “System refuses to adequately compensate you?” “Wear a silly hat!”

    1. Double A*

      You turned that into a pretty funny joke… And humor IS a stress reliever. So maybe they just three-dimensional-chessed you into some self care there.

          1. no name today*

            I’d choose a hat with a big middle finger like a sportball foam hand, and wear it to all the meetings.

    2. Provolone Piranha*

      As a teacher, I felt this whole article so hard. The entire public education system is being stretched beyond thin. Because of staffing shortages, budget cuts, and, ya know, the pandemic, we’re being tasked with more duties than before. Every time this happens, our admin says, “I don’t want you to see this as one more thing,” even though that’s exactly what it is. We’ve been asked to reconsider taking any days off; the substitute teacher shortage is so bad that our colleagues will inevitably have to cover our classes. Sometimes I wish they would just say to us, “this sucks and we know it.”

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        My education system is making each school set student wellness goals. I think we’d have more success in supporting student wellness if I didn’t keep hearing my colleagues having stress crying jags in the bathroom.

  10. Brett*

    Even with the yoga classes and self-help lessons….

    I love how my employer gave us a discount $10/month gym membership to make up for no longer having the on campus gym and classes available anymore…
    but for gyms that cost $1000/year (+ class fees) for other family members and will not extend the discount to other family members.
    So not only do I have to find time to get to that gym to take the classes, I have to do them without my spouse unless I want to shell out an extra $1k+.

    On the bright side, I’ve used it as a lever for separating work and home life. I have to leave the house to take these classes that I am signed up for. That means I can sign off from a lot of extended meetings and after hours sessions with, “I have to get to my gym class that is starting in 15 minutes. Bye.”

      1. Brett*

        Yep, they could enroll in classes for a small fee. Plus the gym was open on campus during the workday with classes, whereas that’s not feasible or not available for the membership gyms. For those, I have to go in the evening when I would want to spend time with my family.

  11. Pippa K*

    The workplaces deploying the “self-care” rhetoric to paint a smiley face on their terrible environments and policies – this reminds me of the demon Asfgl in Pratchett’s “Eric,” who thought the chief shortcoming of Hell was that it wasn’t properly bureaucratically developed. Same energy.

  12. F.M.*

    God. The next time I see a chirpy email with a soft-focus picture of some slim blonde lady getting a massage or doing yoga will be TOO DAMN SOON. (Only slightly less bad in the stock photo choices: the smiling family in exercise wear all jogging together, none of them looking sweaty or grouchy or disheveled or tired or…) It’s so damn tone-deaf. Yeah, tell me more about how I can worry less about financial issues by carving out an extra hour in my day to set up, stretch, shower, clean up… Ugh.

    You know I actually appreciate from my employer? Free covid testing on-site, approved time off for personal matters (or extended leave for medical issues), a casual dress code, big air filters in shared on-site spaces, and prompt email about addressing/combatting a hateful flier found on the community bulletin board. That does a lot more for me than any “Watch yet another video about how you should RELAX HARDER or you will SUFFER” email does.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Ooh, the combating community bulletin board flyer thing is a seriously excellent idea. Mind if I borrow that?

      I’ve got a notorious hard line against the IT systems being used to spread antivaxx/conspiracy stuff but I don’t think we have anything on file about how to officially deal with posters at work as yet.

      1. F.M.*

        Borrow freely! I didn’t see the flyer myself, but this morning there was an email about it having been found–with picture–in the building, a discussion of how it’s a crypto-Nazi group, links to reputable sites explaining that, a reiteration of the policy on addressing hate speech, and so forth. They are taking it seriously, and that makes me feel supported and secure in a way that “Try a scented candle!” never does.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Excellent point as well in it making others feel safe.

          We’ve had a thankfully minor problem with people posting up ‘alternative facts’ stuff on the boards or the toilets (blah blah vaccines are gene therapy etc) under the guise of ‘free speech’ but they usually get ripped down within a day. An actual company policy against this stuff would help I think.

    2. Sara without an H*

      a soft-focus picture of some slim blonde lady getting a massage or doing yoga

      F.M., you have hit on one of (many) things that I find annoying about “self care chic.” Much of what’s offered as “advice” assumes the audience has a certain level of economic privilege. “Slim blonde ladies” can afford massages and yoga lessons. An immigrant mother working in a meat-packing plant needs child care and some paid time off. And union membership, but that’s another rant…

      1. F.M.*

        Yeah, it’s much like why I don’t feel comfortable in most gyms; even if I want to use their equipment or take their classes, the relentless imagery about the Right Sort Of Person to be there reminds me that I’m out of place, and won’t ever not be out of place. And, heck, I say this as someone who gets a professional massage about once a month, when I can afford it, because my shoulders knot up so much from the type of work I do that it’s an actual physical necessity.

        I don’t know. Maybe I would feel differently if the self-care emails had pictures of people playing Animal Crossing with some helpful tips on how to catch the rare fish this month and links to cute new user-made outfits. Sure, that wouldn’t speak to everyone, but it’s not like the current versions do either, right?

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, the only time I’ve been comfortable at a gym was when I attended a circuit training class for plus-size people. The gym had a body positive philosophy way back in the early 00s. The idea wasn’t to lose weight, but to be fit at your weight. If someone wanted to lose weight and managed to do so, that was a good thing, but not the goal, which was to improve your muscle/fat ratio, strength, and general fitness. Sadly the gym was bought out by another business that caters to a more diverse (generally fitter) crowd, and I stopped going, mainly because they closed the small gym that was within a few minutes’ walking distance from home. I’m not going to a gym if it means I have to change and shower in front of other people.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        My employer at least – among other things – provides free yoga sessions as well as a free six-month membership to an online yoga/fitness/meditation class service. Much better option than saying “just do yoga!”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Even sending out a flyer with instructions for 2-minute yoga you can do at your desk would be a bit better.

  13. Gracely*

    I would just love for my employer to fully staff us, and in the rare instance where they will hire a must-have replacement, that we wouldn’t be forced to keep the spot open for 90 days before being allowed to rehire to basically prove it really is needed.

    I’m lucky that for now, my personal work load isn’t bad (my department’s only down 1 person), but I have some coworkers who are swamped with no end in sight.

    I also really, really want hybrid work back. I was better at focusing when I was 50/50 WFH.

    Most of the “wellness” initiatives are awful, too. No, I do not need nutrition advice. No, I do not want to participate in a team weight loss challenge. No, I am not about to run a 5k in the summer heat with a bunch of unvaccinated people (hell, I’m not running a 5k in the summer heat period).

    1. Brownie*

      Seconding this. My officially logged task/ticket list just hit 200 things to do because my team of 2.25 people is understaffed by at least 2 full time people. And the continual step count challenges, weight loss tips, and “combat burnout by taking time to practice mindfulness” emails do nothing but raise my blood pressure and irritation levels when what we need is management to stop spending money on nutritionist consulting services and instead hire more employees. It is starting to feel like they’re pushing the responsibility for failure onto their burnt-out employees because in their eyes obviously we wouldn’t be having problems with the workload if we did all the things the emails told us to do. I’d much rather they address the chronic under-staffing problems than anything else right now.

    2. Middle Manager*

      100x this. There would be no better effort my employer could possibly take to allow employees some wellness/self care than hiring for vacancies and doing so in a timely fashion.

  14. Annie O.*

    It’s hard to be a manager in the pandemic and manage a remote staff. and be tasked with their, and your, self care. While most are trying their best there is a small percentage working the system and taking advantage. These are the employees that will shout “but it’s self care time” when you ask why they are excessively absent from work, or can’t seem to work 8 hours without leaving early at least once every 3 days, are mysteriously silent (camera off/ video off on every zoom call) or can’t seem to produce much by way of work. As the manager I’ll be the ogre when it’s so egregious I have to fire that person for not doing the job (already happened more than 3 times since the pandemic began). Remote work in a pandemic and self care does not mean you get to take a permanent vacation from your job responsibilities.

    1. Jean*

      “Remote work in a pandemic and self care does not mean you get to take a permanent vacation from your job responsibilities.”

      I don’t see where anyone suggested that it does?

    2. Rav*

      Here’s the thing: no matter what you do, someone will try to game the system. And then they’ll optimize it to their fullest advantage. It’s the same with productivity bonuses, metrics based bonuses, and others.

    3. Murphy*

      This comment in response to Alison’s article is baffling. No one is suggesting any of this.

      Why do you feel as though you’re tasked with your staff’s self-care? I don’t want my manger involved in my self care at all. I want them to approve my time off requests (when they still allow the department to meet staffing needs) and allow me flexibility in my schedule (as long as I’m meeting deadlines). But beyond that, let me take care of myself.

    4. CBB*

      I think you’re lumping together a few different issues and also missing the point of the article.

      An employee neglecting work to the point where you have to fire them? Yes, that’s bad. Their citing “self care” as an excuse, also bad, but I’m not sure that’s a common phenomenon generally. (Though it may be common where you work.)

      For the other issues you mention–leaving early a couple times a week, and attending meetings without video and without talking. I must confess I do both of those things, with my boss’s approval, and I think there’s a net benefit to me, my boss, and our employer.

    5. Bamcheeks*

      >> can’t seem to work 8 hours without leaving early

      This was me for large amounts of the last 18 months because all the options for childcare were disrupted.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s not self care, any more than the banal coporate (mis) directives mentioned above are.

      That’s taking one or two excuses by people who aren’t doing their work and extrapolating it to cover the entire gamult of remote working. I can guarantee that you’d have heard other phrases like ‘sorry, got a household task to do’ ‘my kids need attention’ ‘I’ve got medical issues today’ ‘sorry, doctors appointment’ if the phrase ‘self care’ wasn’t available.

      Someone who’s really given to slacking off will do it regardless of the situation. Someone who has legitimate other needs on their time (e.g. being in serious stress from a deadly pandemic) will likely respond well to a query if there’s something going on, are there any accommodations you need – a dialogue – whereas, in general, a slacker will just reply back with something muddled like how they can’t or won’t discuss it.

    7. Deborah*

      This is what everyone here is saying. Take an item off YOUR plate and stop managing your reports’ self-care. Decent pay, clear goals/prioritizing work, flexibility when available — those you provide. The self-care is on the employee.

  15. James*

    I find this sort of thing fairly creepy.

    I get why they do it–it’s obvious to most that healthy and happy workers are productive workers. It’s in the company’s best interest to make sure their employees are okay. And it’s nice to see them realize it at a C-suite level, rather than relying on managers to do so.

    However, I come to work to exchange time, effort, and knowledge for money. As an adult I’m capable of handling my own finances and mental health. I don’t need the company to step in as Mommy and Daddy and hold my hand. Make the resources available, sure–a Fortune 500 company is in a better position to negotiate with mental health medical practices than John McEverman–but that’s it. They don’t need to know about my meditation practice (or lack thereof).

    Eventually, if we don’t set boundaries, companies will be involved in a lot of aspects of our lives we don’t need them to be. Companies have a lot of ways to encourage certain behaviors, after all. Do we really want our managers being notified if we exceed a certain limit on our credit cards? If we buy too much alcohol? If we’re not exercising regularly enough?

    1. allathian*

      Absolutely agree on this. By all means provide the resources, but don’t police your employees off the clock.

  16. Beth*

    At my unlamented former job, the bosses (two white men, co-owners of a very small firm) had a complicated “bonus” system that mostly boiled down to pretending to offer bonuses that were so strangled by conditions that they actually never had to give out very much money.

    Then they made it even more complicated and demoralizing by adding a “personal enrichment” component. One-quarter of our “designated bonus amount” was tied to our annual chosen “personal enrichment activity”. At the beginning of each year, each employee chose a Thing that we would do, and after the end of the year, they would decide to what degree we had “succeeded” in this activity, and apply that percentage to that part of our “bonus”.

    Bonuses were never increased in this system, by the way; only reduced. I had a “base” of $1000; the other $750 was tied to the firm’s metrics (revenue, etc), with the top deliberately set VERY high so that the only way we would ever actually get the entire amount was if the firm had such a banner year that it blew every single metric out of the water.

    The “personal enrichment activities” were to be done in our own time, at our own expense (which meant it was going to cost far more than the bonus amount), had to be pre-approved, and had to have quantifiable results on which we would periodically report to our bosses. And we had to choose a DIFFERENT one every year (so developing a real skill over a period of time wasn’t acceptable). And modest goals weren’t good enough: one year, I wanted to do more hiking, and was told that it wouldn’t count unless I summited Mount Rainier (clearly something that any older desk worker with a full-time job and a constrained income is going to be able to work themselves up to in one year).

    I really loathed those guys.

    1. Beth*

      By the way, Alison, if you ever do a collection of Terrible Bonus Plans, I really hope you consider this one for inclusion. There was more to it, all bad.

    2. Apocalypse How*

      My plan: Say that my personal enrichment is to become fluent in a language neither of them speak, then spend our check-in time for it just spouting insults and curses. (My favorite Yiddish curse: “May you go to the bathroom every three minutes or every three months.”)

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I believe my personal enrichment would be to find a job at a place that isn’t run by cheapskate idiots.

        The bonus would be the inevitable increase in pay.

    3. teapot analytics manager*

      This is the most appalling thing.

      Summiting Mount Rainier would eat up a huge amount of money, not even counting the time element of training!

      1. Beth*

        It would have almost certainly been beyond my physical capabilities even then. (And theirs, too.)

        And the whole thing carried a lovely clear message of “The thing you actually want to do, which would be of great benefit to you and make your life better, isn’t good enough, and if we think it isn’t good enough, it doesn’t matter what you think or want.”

    1. Meep*

      You know I was thinking how skewed pay was at my company. My company buys my house, my gas, and my soul, and I give them nothing in return.~

  17. Double A*

    We need to do self care because social care is so lacking.

    For a lot of people “self-care” is necessary because the pandemic has laid bare that no one else is going to care, and even what we thought we solid social contracts (education and care for kids, for example) can be yanked from you and you’ll be blamed because you made choices that took those services for granted.

    1. Threeve*

      You’re totally right, but “self care” as a buzzword has come to mean “do something small to relax or indulge.”

      And for many people, the very idea of a bubble bath or yoga class actually being enough to make a difference in their stress level is laughable, or insulting.

      1. Nanani*

        This. Plus adding “go to yoga” to the to-do list is the very opposite of self care.
        It’s not about the trappings of yoga classes and baths, its about having the time and space to take care of yourself.
        A lot of self care isn’t relaxing but about doing boring but necessary things that are just for your life (as opposed to your work or your family members or anything else)
        Organizing your files to reduce stress come tax time is self care. Going to do errands that only benefit you instead of waiting until you can combine with service to someone else is self care.

    2. Mockingjay*

      But is work the place to do it? I work for an IT/comms company. They are very good at engineering and technical support. Our managers are trained in systems engineering practices and PMPs, not how to support mental and physical health initiatives. While Current Job has done some of the things that Alison recommends, they do tend to send out chirpy, cheerful emails as a salve to COVID anxiety. I worked for another company which used ‘self care’ and bonding exercises to avoid tackling the real productivity and staffing issues. I refer to the company as ExToxicJob for that reason.

      You really want to help me? Fix the problem project I’m supporting – we’re horribly behind schedule. Then I’ll be able to relax after work.

    3. anonymous73*

      Self care isn’t something a company should be promoting directly – it comes across as insincere and out of touch. They should promote self care by treating their employees properly so that they have the ability to take advantage of it. Things like paying a fair wage, providing healthcare that doesn’t cost a small fortune and enough time off to take care of themselves and their families. And hire enough staff so that people are able to take time off and relax. Most people are stressed by work because they aren’t getting the support they need to get their jobs done. They’re expected to do the job of multiple people, made to feel guilty when they want to take time off, and not supported when issues are brought to the attention of management.

  18. Managing to Get By*

    I work for an organization that inundates us with propaganda about self-care. And then when we get burned out, tells us that it’s our fault for not following their suggestions for self-care. It could not possibly be the unreasonable goals, long hours and perpetually changing demands, no, of course not, because the organization has a clear focus on work-life balance and wellness, just look at this blog post it proves that! It’s my fault for not doing all the things in the articles they send on self-care!

  19. Exhausted Trope*

    Wow! Alison hits all the nails here.
    Especially resonating: “Those are things they’re uniquely positioned to offer … but it’s easier (read: cheaper) to send out emails about yoga or bubble baths.”
    My company stinks at balancing work loads. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m actively looking to leave.

  20. Sarra N. Dipity*

    THIS is why I left my previous company. It was all talk. People were burning out left and right. There was so much talk about “resilience” and how we needed to make time during our day for “recovery”… which put the onus of reducing our stress levels on *us*, with the implication that if we were stressed, it was our own fault, not because of the unreasonable working conditions. They talked about supporting WFH parents, but when I tried to adjust my schedule around homeschooling, there was pushback and subtle (and not-so-subtle) repercussions. They hired someone to run “desk yoga” meetings but you had to take 30-60 minutes out of your day to do so…and then you still had the same amount of work to do.

    I am well shut of that place.

  21. H*

    Like what many folks have said… we are being offered things we don’t want. What I want: a shorter work day, a short worker week- YES WITH NO PAY CUTS! I want not to be forced back into the office 4 days a week after being at home for the last year and being productive (my employer has mental health and wellness resources are this “these will ease the transition”)…. people don’t want to commute if they don’t have to. We want better pay. Instead- he is 10% off to the gym, here is the free CALM app for the month, talk to this person from HR or your boss (who can’t really be trusted and WHO ISN’T a licensed professional) about your mental health. Ask what your employees want. Don’t just assume. And don’t ask if you have no intention to follow through at all.

    1. Sarra N. Dipity*

      OMG we got the “talk to this person about your mental health” thing, too. They actually TRAINED a bunch of employees to be “peer support” or some bull**** so that we could reach out if we were struggling. I’m sorry, that LAST person I want to reach out to for mental health support is the head of my entire office.

    2. kiki*

      Yes! I think employers have gotten in the habit of throwing perks at employees instead of making structural changes. Perks will not stop burnout when in reality the only way for a company to stop burnout is to take things off of folks plates. Giving more PTO is not useful if employees have to work late every day in the week before vacation to make sure they’ll be on-track when they return. Giving surprise days off doesn’t alleviate stress if now someone has 4 days to do 5 days of work. Offering yoga classes won’t help if they have an important meeting scheduled for that time. Trying to turn managers or peers into bargain basement mental health counselors won’t help either. People need to be doing less work. I get that it’s not as easy as just snapping your fingers and doing, but it’s what is actually shown to work.

    3. RosyGlasses*

      Here here! I’m pushing so hard to implement 4 day workweeks – I feel like that is the best solution to restructuring our view of the workweek and “productivity”. We’ll see how it all shakes out – but it is interesting to navigate some of the “older” mindsets about how work is supposed to be.

  22. RJ*

    This hits a nerve as my passion is yoga. Five years ago, I was in teacher trainer when the manager at Toxic Job found out via a third party. She was enthused that I could serve as my department’s unpaid wellness adviser. I quickly shot that down, since no amount of chaturangas or downward facing dogs was going to change the fact we were chronically understaffed, held back by two badly trained employees who were her favorites and three large infrastructure project that were going into the red and would eventually be shut down completely.

    The workplace needs to be rehauled in general. I really admire companies who are trying their best to help their employees manage stress and achieve a better work-life balance, but for way too many of them (in my experience and via my yoga associates) it’s mostly lip service and verbage. Real change takes more than knowing what the issues are and offering blanket solutions. It requires real and lasting permanent change.

  23. Meep*

    lol. This reminds me of March 2020 when our class “performative” manager sent me an article about how FB Japan decided to close the office Fridays so employees worked Monday-Thursday. They found there as a huge up-tick in productivity and morale was better. She sent it to me to show how “with-it” she was and how she was going to “advocate” for this during the pandemic (spoiler alert: never happened). I asked her if that meant they only work 32 hours a week. She said “of course not! They still work 40 hours a week!” The article made it pretty clear they only worked 32 hours.

    She also likes to tell me yearly how we are moving offices so that ~my~ (30-minute) commute isn’t so bad. Does it with the new hirers. We have been in this office for 5 years now and will probably be for 5 more years. lol.

    1. Deborah*

      Four ten hour days is a wonderful thing to have as a choice (although not as good as four eight hour days!) But just straight up forcing it on employees who already have the five 8 hour day schedule arranged and settled? No way.

  24. Chairman of the Bored*

    Your employer only cares about your “well-being” to the extent that you being well enables you to do more work, or prevents them from ending up with a PR/regulatory/safety problem.

    In a perfect world this wouldn’t be the case, but it is the case, and it’s smart to plan and act accordingly.

      1. Bamcheeks*

        I think this comment misunderstands something which is a true statement the corporate entities which are employers as being about individuals who can be described as employers. Of course there are tons of individuals who care about the people who work for them and want them to be happy! But as a corporate entity, an employer *has* to care first and foremost about the work product or service, along with compliance to their local legal or regulatory framework, and the well-being of their employees has to come below that. They have a board or trustees or governors and everything about them is structured to make sure that’s the case! That doesn’t mean that everyone who can be described as an employer is a terrible person, just that that the economic and legal arrangements we have are designed to work that way.

        1. RussianInTeaxs*

          Yes, I can’t imagine my OldJob, a company of 10,000 people cares on individual level about each employee.
          Happier employees are more productive, so lets do some things (but not too expensive things) to make them happy. Or at least pretend this is what we are doing.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        I mean on a structural, economic level, Chariman of the Bored is completely accurate. An individual employer may emotionally care for their staff, but once you do the material analysis, it’s pretty dang clear what motivates employers (spoiler: it’s capital). You might be interested to learn more about the social model of disability, and how the medical industrial complex overlaps with capitalism.

  25. Rav*

    I’ve accumulated a series of words or phrases that I loathe hearing (and usually end up seeing red). The latest one is “resilience”.

    It’s a good concept, but most using it don’t understand the urgency behind that word. After María, after the implosion at work, after the earthquakes, after the pandemic, it’s thrown around like candy. I don’t want to be more resilient, I need help now! Resilience is a short term push to stay alive. A month, ok, I may be able to hold the line. But 4-5 years? It’s beyond anything humanely reasonable. Especially when the management has already identified the needs to succeed.

    1. J.B.*

      In my industry, resilience is about building the means to manage extreme events. It almost always requires raising funds in the near term to prepare. It is not a small thing and takes commitment from the top! So the opposite of the way you’ve seen the term thrown around.

  26. Jennifer Strange*

    This is so timely! My employer recently creating a number of committees that are meant to benefit employees in different ways, and I made co-chair of our Wellness Committee. I’m still trying to figure out ways to promote wellness among our staff that go beyond the general “Make sure you take a break and stretch every hour!” or “Here’s a discounted gym membership!” I have made a point of ensuring we’re focusing on all areas of wellness (not just physical but mental and emotional as well), but I’ll definitely keep an eye on these comments for some ideas of how we can do better.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Frankly, I can’t think of anything that an employer could do to promote “wellness” that I wouldn’t find to be at best an irrelevant distraction and at worst an affirmatively awful intrusion.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Well, part of this is also figuring out steps the company can take to reduce work-related stress. And we are trying to come up with ideas that are non-intrusive and completely voluntary for the employee if they feel they would benefit from it.

      2. banoffee pie*

        I’m with you on that Richard. Unfortunately I think you might have to accept that some people don’t want the company involved in their ‘self-care’ at all, even if you mean well, and pushing them won’t make them feel ‘cared for’.

        And that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word self-care in my life. First time for everything!

        1. banoffee pie*

          Sorry I just saw your comment where you said it’s voluntary! Disregard my rant then. I clicked send too soon lol

      3. RussianInTeaxs*

        Yeah, the only way I can see my employer to promote “wellness” is to offer vision insurance, offer more PTO, and hire more people.
        None of the “wellness” advises about walking or stretching, or whatever, matter, from an employer.

    2. Exme*

      Wellness benefits make the most impact if the workload isn’t constantly overwhelming and you feel free to opt in or out without negative repercussions either way. And the cost is primarily covered by employer so all employees have similar access. And they are communicated without shame-inducing messaging.

      Wellness benefits to consider:
      Quiet room with space to lie down in the dark, access to gym, extra attention to nursing area like separate fridge and comfortable seating options, access to fresh food and variety of snacks at office vending, EAP with a high limit of free appointments, mobile dentist/healthcare to come onsite.

      1. LQ*

        Oh this reminds me of a wellness benefit I actually like, on site vaccination for flu shots. Which is lovely and very soon and super convenient. Not required (flu isn’t) but offered and easy and free and enough appointments for everyone.

  27. Emi*

    Hahaha this reminds me of early in the pandemic, when all childcare in the state was closed and my employer hired a motivational blogger to tell parents to practice self-care by locking ourselves in the bathroom for five or ten minutes.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      The number of pets and children that will accumulate outside that door in ten minutes is a non-zero number!

      1. Liz*

        Right? Not work or pandemic related, but my boyfriend’s cat (when I’m there) will sit outside the closed bathroom door when he’s in there and cry like the world is ending! When I’m not there, he leaves the door open a bit so his lordship can come in and see that everything is ok!

        1. The Rural Juror*

          My bathroom door is cut just tall enough to pass over a plush rug when it swings open, which also seems to be the perfect height for my small dog’s paws to reach under and make crazy little waving motions while I’m doing my stuff. Shutting myself in the bathroom for 5-10 minutes would not be very relaxing with the little woosh-scratch-woosh of her tiny furry feet.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          One of the great milestones in a relationship is when you stop bothering about the bathroom door. In my case it came about five years into my marriage.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      ‘Great idea blogger! I ate a whole load of sugar free sweets though to facilitate getting this time though and now I can’t get off the bog. Any suggestions?’

  28. Someone On-Line*

    My employer’s wellness program wants me to answer a quiz so they can evaluate how well I am doing at self-care and then follow up on a monthly basis to see if I am making progress. Way to make self-care another metric to be evaluated, with a scale and everything. I don’t need that. I need management to listen to the fact that bureaucracy has grown to the point that nothing can be accomplished.

  29. A Girl Named Fred*

    Great article, Alison! One of the ways I knew I was absolutely done with my last employer was when, after sitting through a 4-hour session on burnout with the other middle managers and what we as individuals could do to combat it, the trainer asked if we had any questions and I said something like, “Yes, I’m curious what your advice would be on how our company can change their approach on certain issues like X and Y to help prevent the things that make these coping strategies necessary.” There was a pause, and the trainer said, “Now, I’m going to level with you – a company will never care about those things, because it’s not their responsibility to take care of you, so it’s really up to you,” and I immediately decided I was done.

    Individual actions cannot fix systemic problems. (That goes for so much more than just employers not treating their employees as disposable robots who run on “self care”, but I don’t want to derail!)

  30. RunShaker*

    The big thing my company has been focusing for most of pandemic is “diversity.” At beginning of every meeting, we’re asked if anyone wants to share a “diversity moment.” It’s rare for someone to speak up, especially our minority teammates which I’m not surprised. In past, if I spoke up, I’ll ask ahead of time if it would be ok to minority teammate. I’m white cis female & I finally asked in our last department meeting (over zoom) how is this information being handled? Is it only a team discussion and/or are concerns being passed up to leadership if identified? I asked what is leadership doing with information/feedback? We have an HR rep in meeting with us as well. It appears feedback isn’t communicated up the chain. I then stated something to the effect that taking about diversity is good but I pointed out that our company has been in the news for things that go against diversity so I have concerns about even bring up anything when asked during our meetings. HR rep had no idea. My company has been in the news for giving contributions to ultra conservative “things” that can be interpreted as going against diversity. I didn’t provide details on what at all since I definitely didn’t want to bring up anything political. Looking at overall picture & hearing from my company’s leadership, I felt the question should be asked (no answered needed for me). I figured if anyone was interested, they would Google & make their own opinion. But based on what I’m seeing in news, my company is promoting diversity verbally but some of their actions are doing the opposite to me. To add, there has been leadership support for our minority employees in wake of BLM.

    1. Emi*

      What on earth is a “diversity moment”? Like “this morning, I talked to someone of a different race at the water cooler”?

      1. RunShaker*

        In a way I’m not sure and/or don’t remember if this was explained when first started. I’m taking it as being open to differences between us & having a dialogue that allows minority coworkers to be comfortable in speaking up & a learning experience for the rest of us. In my department, hardly any of us say anything so the head of our department will share a movie or recent event. I no longer have any idea especially as I type this all out.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I’m not great at putting it into words but the idea of being a ‘learning experience’ to others just…ick. Totally ok with the ‘when I speak up about discrimination, overt or otherwise, please listen and take me seriously’ bit though.

          This isn’t a statement against you by the way!

  31. Tehanu*

    About 15 years ago, I returned from my 16-month leave to my large government department, and morale was awful. Everyone was burnt out, we all had too much to do, terrible. From talking with my co-workers (who had worked with me before my leave), a lot stemmed from unrealistic expectations, shifting priorities and constantly changing deadlines, much of originating from the senior management of our organization.

    So there was an all-staff meeting with about 500 of us, and the solution to this nightmare? A motivational speaker, who yammered on about the Seattle Fish Market and who extolled us to “Choose Your Attitude”. The real kicker was the copy of “The Art of Possibility” on everyone’s desk when we returned from the meeting. People were *pissed*. The phrase “choose your attitude” became an insult in our group for years after.

    The funny thing is that I think if our leaders had simply said, we hear your frustrations and we will try to work together to alleviate some of the pressures, the staff would have been happier.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      The Seattle Fish Market? Why? Because they throw fish? I don’t think a library’s patrons want the staff to start hurling books. Also not a great plan for a pharmacy or grocery store.

      1. Tehanu*

        I looked into it just now, frankly I ignored the speaker back then. Apparently, that market has been used as the model for technique to make people happy in the workforce. Ugh. That’s where ‘choose your attitude’ came from.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Yeah, I had to look this one up, too, and it seems to be a whole series of seminars.

          Two of the pieces of advice are useful if you’re customer facing or MAAAYBE for relations with your coworkers. But “Choose your attitude”? The kernel of truth about how to approach your work that is there is so wrapped up in the toxic positivity that it’s rendered not only useless but counterproductive.

      2. pamela voorhees*

        In fairness, it would delight me if library staff started throwing books, as long as it wasn’t at me. It wouldn’t be useful. Or productive. Or help me choose my attitude (???????). But it would be pretty funny.

    2. LabRat*


      We had that too, in a 24/7 veterinary emergency clinic where we were chronically understaffed and under-resourced. I worked overnights but came in at 10 AM on my day off for this nonsense, and I was NOT happy. There were lots of FISH jokes for several weeks.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh god I think my former boss from hell probably listened to the same speech. One of his famous quotes was ‘you know, depression is a choice. Choose to feel happy’.

      I felt really happy the day I told him I was quitting.

    4. Just an autistic redhead*

      Somehow “choose your attitude” seems like great fodder for joke coversations though. “Whoa, whoa, did you CHOOSE your attitude for that statement just now?” “Excuse me, my colleague, but I don’t care for your choice of attitude” (if, you know, we’re all treating each other like children) “I spent four hours all in all choosing the various details of this attitude, but I think maybe it needs a touch of nostalgia, don’t you?”

    5. Rara Avis*

      I have a vague memory of the fish too, from a faculty “retreat” about 15 years ago. It was called “Avoiding Workplace Negativity.”

  32. r*

    yeah, it’s something i think of as the team doctor problem (& there’s a reason most CBAs include the right to a second opinion). obviously in that case, the doctor is generally a more competent professional than most of these jokers running ‘mindful’ activities but the conflict of interest is still huge. the incentive is to make the player/worker more effective (by looking after their health) in order to benefit the organization; however, sometimes what is best for the individual will cost the organization. just give me better vacation time, sick time, & health insurance & i will take care of my problems with someone whose responsibility is MY best outcome.

  33. Allegra*

    My company added an EAP in October of last year and reminds us frequently of how to access it and what it can help with, which has helped SO much more than any lip service to “wellness” (which they don’t do anyway, thank goodness).

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, same. We’ve had an EAP for a couple of years now and we get regular reminders that it’s there and it can help with all sorts of things. We’ve also had genuinely flexible working and the company has been really flexible with our holiday days (we’re usually only allowed to take over a couple of days into the next year – this is because we get 25 days’ holiday on top of the 8 English public holidays, plus the office closes between Christmas and New Year and we don’t have to take that out of our holiday entitlement – but last year we were allowed to take over 5 days to be used at any point during 2021 because they realised no one had actually taken any holiday in 2020 because we were all ‘waiting to see whether it would all be better later in the year’, ha). We’re also genuinely not expected to work more than our 37.5 hours and we’re discouraged from checking email or working outside of our standard working hours. That means a lot more than some spurious ‘wellness’ initiative.

  34. Xenia*

    This whole thing feels like yet another effort for us to incorporate our workplaces into our personal lives and vice versa. It’s super not ok. The workplace is where I go to earn my paycheck. I may like my work, I may like my coworkers and clients and building, etc, but at the end of the day it isn’t and shouldn’t be my life. The idea that we should be personally and emotionally fulfilled by our work and our employer to me seems like a massive boundary crossing excuse for a disaster. The employer’s job isn’t to look out for my mental or physical health. It’s to provide good pay and a good working environment where I’m not being overstretched or harassed. THAT’S IT.

  35. Nanani*

    Most of these corporate “self-care” branded initiatives completely miss what self care IS.
    Self care isn’t bubble baths and meditation, its getting shit done that serves YOU and not your job, family, or anyone else with demands on your time.

    Sometimes that does mean taking a break to relax, but the trappings do not make the thing.
    Just as often self care means things like making a trip to the pharmacy or a call to a provider to schedule something YOU need but don’t have time for while working eleventy hours. It’s the boring minutia that keeps YOUR life going but is often delayed or diminished when you’re responsible for other people and answerable to employers.

    Taking an easily-repackaged example and turning into an extra demand is literally the opposite of self care.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      In my case, self care is being able to email my boss and tell them that my doctor appointment had to switch from 3pm to 9am and have them approve it ten minutes later, no argument or stress. Just, “No problem, come in when you can.” Or being able to order my prescriptions online and get them quickly via mail order. Or get help setting up FMLA if it’s needed. Bubble baths are nice (when they don’t trigger migraines) but not having to burn an hour of leave getting to the nearest pharmacy which takes my insurance (and which is only open 8-5 M-F) is a lot better.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Self care for me, and which I’m lucky my current firm is actually good at getting, is things like not working past 5pm because the meds I take turn me into a sedated zombie in the evenings, being able to start work late on the day I have to pick up my meds without issue, being able to call in and take a day off when my pain levels are through the roof without complaints. That sorta thing.

      I do need a certain amount of time inside waking hours to manage my smorgasbord of medical issues to which the stress of being inside, in danger, seeing friends die etc has added to in an alarming fashion.

      A yoga leaflet ain’t gonna do jack.

      I try to pay it forward too. My staff need time off to take kids to the doctor? Off you go, if I can’t find someone else to cover your calls I’ll take them.

        1. J.B.*

          I promise I won’t, although my coworkers have been entertained so far when the 8 year old announces I must end my meeting to play.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            My cat does the same thing, granted not with words (stop chewing the mouse cable you little furry f

    3. Tinker*

      The part of self-care I’m finding deeply deficient lately is in things like having an acceptably clear idea of what my work is aiming to accomplish so that I can effectively do it, being able to get to the resources and information necessary to do my job without repeated spirals into ineffective chaos, getting the opportunity to use skills that I’m actually good at, and seeing that people regard me as skilled and treat me accordingly in the context of my job. All of these buckets are consistently hovering around empty.

      (and yeah, these things are self-care: the lack of them is hurting me on a personal level, despite my best efforts otherwise)

      But that’s an awkward conversation to have, and hot stone massage is picturesque. Wheeeee.

  36. Solitary squirrel*

    To be fair to my workplace, they will allow us to take time out of the working day for workshops, counselling, self-directed continuing professional development etc. Which is great and I wouldn’t knock it. But it would mean more to me if they didn’t allow for those things but reduced the working week a little.

    They run a lot of training themselves but I’m never sure how much is a sensible quantity to sign up for, so I tend only to do the mandatory stuff.

  37. Sea Anemone*

    My company’s wellness initiative this week is an onsite food truck with delicious dessert treats. :)

    1. Tehanu*

      I can get behind delicious treats. :) In an old job, we had employee appreciation week and each team got some small amount per employee to treat them however they wanted (like $3 per employee). There were ice cream bars, cookie bags etc.. Some teams had a few employees get together and buy groceries and make lunch for everyone. These things are small for a massive organization but it can be nice to give people a break from their regular days.

  38. Eeeeka*

    My previous employer had an emergency child care option. If you needed to bring your kid in for some reason, there was a day care on the first floor where you could bring your kid. It was fabulous!

  39. A Genuine Scientician*

    I teach at a university. They’ve held a large number of seminars about establishing an appropriate work-life balance during the pandemic. I don’t actually know what they’ve covered in them, because literally every one of them has been held during a course that I’m teaching.

    On the one hand, that certainly does send a message about work-life balance. What that message is, though…

  40. Napster*

    A couple weeks ago, my boss asked what he could do better. I noted that more money is always welcome, and he laughed. Never mind that I haven’t gotten a raise in three years, and that our business absolutely *boomed* during the pandemic (and still is), and I had a direct role in preparing us to handle that boom.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been substitute teaching and preparing to launch an educational consulting business. I had been feeling slightly guilty about my divided attention, but not anymore.

  41. RussianInTeaxs*

    “Instead, I got a message from a consultant about scheduling a 1-on-1 meeting to discuss my well-being, in which we would discuss the following areas of my life:
    • Physical – your health and energy/ • Emotional – your mental and spiritual side
    • Social – your relationships /• Career – loving what you do every day /• Financial – managing your money /• Community – engaging with the larger world /• Creative – expressing your true self”
    I sort of wish my company tried that (they never would, they are pretty openly do not care) so I could tell the consultant how much this isn’t of their business.

  42. Bryce With A Y*

    From my perspective, things that have caused me stress on the job are things that “self care” would have little to no effect on:

    -Pay that keeps failing to keep pace with the cost of living.
    -Health benefits that don’t do a decent job of covering therapy and medication — the things that actually help me with my mental health issues.
    -Being assigned work that is either too difficult or easy to do; in other words, work that’s not the right match with my skill set. This happens when it’s assumed that I’m good at one thing, I’m also good at another, as in “You’re a great drummer, so we want you to play the guitar.”
    -Not having enough coverage such that my using my time off creates a mishegoss for everyone else.
    -Feeling like I’m on the verge of being fired every time I get critical feedback on even minor issues.

    Your mileage may vary, but those are things that have caused me stress on the job — how about you?

    1. Tinker*

      That is… remarkably recognizable.

      I have fewer problems in the pay/healthcare/vacation area because although I’m probably coming in under my market value, I work in a field such that “underpaid” is still “really quite comfortable”, and in a horrible way vacations aren’t that hard because while going on vacation might result in coming home to a shitshow, almost certainly that shitshow or a similar one would happen vacation or not.

      However, in its place I probably got several extra scoops of the “too hard / too easy” problem: you’re a really good drummer, so we want you to play the guitar, except you’re really bad at playing the guitar so you’re not a good enough musician to be a drummer, so we’re going to have you do inventory management on the guitars, except we don’t really know where the guitars are and don’t want to admit it in the hope that you’ll just sort of fix that problem, and when you ask where they are it has a tendency to turn a thirty minute meeting into an hour-long discussion of ukulele purchasing which is both wrong about the ukuleles and also doesn’t have anything to do with finding guitars. And also the band is not very successful because it doesn’t have a drummer, which is an issue that I could conceivably bring up if I was invited to the meetings where such things were discussed, but since I’m inventorying guitars and not playing an instrument because I’m a very bad musician, I’m not.

      Hence, I will admit, even the guitar inventory project is less counting guitars and more smiling and nodding about guitars while looking for the chance to slide off and go do drum circles with my friends and see if there are any self-defense schools who need something hit with sticks.

  43. vanguard*

    have any of you heard of this company, “Friday Pulse”? A good friend’s workplace started using this and it sounds like an Orwellian nightmare. I’m fine with the idea of “pulse” surveys but they have to do a weekly HAPPINESS SURVEY. Literally it is called a Happiness Survey and gives each team a rating of how “happy” they are.

    I don’t know if this is part of the company’s recommendations or just her workplace gone even more haywire, but they also have to discuss the results in a weekly meeting. So every week, she has to answer “how happy are you?” and then have a meeting with her team to discuss why their Happiness Score isn’t 10/10.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I remember when I interviewed with an aerospace company for a chemist position. It did not start off well because my plane was very late (weather) and I had to take a cab instead of a shuttle to my hotel, which was in the town where the company was located.

      I noticed that the place was very process driven as it should be since they make airplane parts, but even moral was given a number. I still don’t get that. I also noticed that the desks didn’t seem personalized at all.

      When I left the interview, both I and the company agreed that I wasn’t a good fit.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I manage an IT department. We’re all in the business of fixing errors, some of which are really daft ones that should not have happened.

      If I did a ‘feelings survey’ I can guarantee a high percentage of ‘argggggg’.

      (IT tends to have famously sarcastic people in it too)

      1. banoffee pie*

        The Friday Pulse people might need to lower expectations before they start then. So maybe your IT people could only reach a 7 out of 10, but that’s OK! lol

      2. Brownie*

        At this point I’m pretty sure that any kind of “feelings survey” of my IT team (mixed developers and infrastructure) would result in unfiltered suggestions for management to remove their uppermost body parts from their posterior orifices as the initial reaction. We don’t need yet another morale assessment survey by paid consultants, we need more employees!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Oh man, the dev team can frequently out-snark us (software/infrastructure support). Genuinely laughing at your comment though, you got a great way of phrasing the dissent :)

    3. jy3*

      Now imagining the Team deciding to give honest answers.
      “Because our pay doesn’t track cost of living, our benefits plan is a joke, the company’s COVID response amounted to ‘lie about our numbers’, management’s advice for handling all of the above was ‘you don’t need a second yacht’, and now we get punished for not smiling about it.”

  44. James*

    A part of the problem is that these are often Cargo Cult attempts. A good team that’s gelled effectively will take an interest in each other’s lives, get together after work, chat, etc. So some managers think that that’s what makes a team click and work together. They don’t realize that these are the effects, not the cause.

    Here’s the thing: I go to work to exchange my effort, time, and knowledge for money. If the company makes that as smooth as possible, and actively weeds out bad actors, I’m happy. I don’t need someone turning my happiness–ESPECIALLY outside of work!!–into yet another metric I have to meet.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yes! And I think this ties in with the “mirror that forces you to smile” that was mentioned upthread. A good work happy hour comes from the team getting along at work; a happy hour won’t make your team get along if they don’t already. And people smile because they’re happy, they don’t magically become happy if they smile.

    2. Nanani*

      Yes! Good description.
      Workers who have the time to take breaks and participate in activities like yoga classes are happier. Forcing them to participate in classes isn’t going to make them happier. It’s reversing cause and effect.

  45. Dino*

    My work literally took away our self-care time off option recently. And started begging us to take OT even though we’re already overworked.

  46. Wendy Darling*

    I almost thought I’d forgotten I sent you one of the several letters I started and then deleted about my workplace’s godawful self-care programs when I read that first letter, except I knew I didn’t write the line about bubble baths.

    My workplace has been doing a lot of layoffs and not replacing people who quit, resulting in massive overwork and widespread burnout. Their response was to hire a company to do “emotional resilience training”. The training was run by someone with a marketing degree and no psychology background, and the way they talked about stress was so hamfisted and invasive and focused on pressuring us to be “vulnerable” that I had a panic attack and left and told my boss I wasn’t going to do the followup sessions. (As a bonus, the CEO’s executive assistant was in my training group for this exercise!) Thank goodness I have a supportive boss.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      Oh, the other thing my employer did was give us free gym memberships. As if any of us have time to go to the gym.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        The “it’s not our behavior that needs to change it’s YOUR FEELINGS” thing really grinds my gears.

  47. DJ*

    Some of this building resilience mantra is an excuse to push more work onto ppl, increase hours and pay them less and cut govt and community services but not have to deal with the fall out. This being the impacts of poverty and isolation.

  48. TheDee*

    My profession is one with chronic shortages everywhere: it’s a direct- service, pink-collar career. Easy to find a job, but pay is not great and schedule always crazy with too many clients to see.
    Right before the pandemic started, our professional organization’s magazine had an article about reducing burnout and self-care. The author (not an actual member of our profession) caused an outrage with the following piece of advice: when you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, just “cry in your car”!

    1. H*

      OMG I think we might have the same professon?!?/ you can make a good amount of money but you have to “hustle” meaning work FT with a PRN/PT gig on the side that you work 20-35 hours a month after working 40-45 hours at your FT job?!

      1. TheDee*

        It sounds like we probably do have the same profession.There is an FB group and a Reddit group for people trying to transition out of it, if you’re interested. Wow if you are able to do all of that side work that is really impressive: with my ADHD (diagnosed very much into adulthood) and anxiety I really don’t think I would survive. Not sure if you have read the infamous article but I think it was in our professional magazine in January or February 2020. Good luck to you!

  49. Waving not Drowning (not Drowning not Waving)*

    My workplace makes a huge deal out of R U OK Day, with organised morning tea’s, wellness seminars, everyone is encouraged to check on everyone to check that they are ok etc – for one week of the year. The other 51 weeks – not so much. And, there is no support available if you aren’t ok, apart from talking to the EAP people – which doesn’t help if you are under resourced, and overworked.

    We have a multitude of flexible work arrangements (working from home, flexible working weeks, flexible hours, purchasing of additional leave), plus exceedingly generous carers leave/sick leave, which look great on the website – but, if you dare to ask for any of these arrangements, you are swiftly told by your manager that its not possible – while they take advantage of the arrangements themselves.

    I don’t even go to the morning tea’s any more, because it reminds me of how badly the workplace actually handles these issues.

  50. NinaBee*

    I’m in London so this might be different to US, but this trend is just piling up more work on staff. When are we supposed to do all this self care and activities at work? Companies are already laying off people and distributing more and more work onto the rest of the team, who have to work later and later hours or lunchtimes.

  51. DJ Abbott*

    FYI to Slate: I was not able to read this on my phone because the site is too bloated. It froze up, wouldn’t scroll, couldn’t get past the ads, etc.
    I hope to have time to read it later on my computer, but it’s not likely. These days I usually read AAM while I’m waiting for a bus or eating or folding laundry.
    Maybe Slate could make their site a little more mobile friendly and get a lot more readers!

  52. DJ Abbott*

    This is the American way. Companies do everything they can to exploit their employees instead of simply giving them what they need. So when the pandemic happened they didn’t ask, “ how can I help?”, they asked “ what’s the cheapest way to make it look like we care while we continue to take advantage as much as possible?”
    And this is the result.

  53. Jennifer Juniper*

    Back in 2013, I tried a gratitude practice. I forced myself to post something I was grateful for every day on Facebook. I had to come up with something new every day.

    Soon, I got comments like “Are you OK?” and “You sound depressed.”

    Guess what? I was suffering from undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, an abusive job, and a toxic marriage.

    Eight years, one divorce, one remarriage, one job exit, and one disability case later, I’m much better.

  54. A Feast of Fools*

    I worked 152 hours over the past two weeks.

    I discovered a problem with some of the work a staff member had done on the project I’m leading and brought it to the attention of the manager in charge of the project. She barked at me, told me it was my fault for not finding the subpar work sooner (“You can come up with whatever excuses you want, but you should have been monitoring his work more closely”), and that it was up to me if I wanted to redo the work (while still meeting the project deadline) or just sign my name to the subpar work because *she* certainly wasn’t going to take responsibility for my mistake.

    So, uh, not exactly a real choice.

    Next week we have a company-wide lunch-n-learn on “Stress and Burnout” which will be chock full of yoga and meditation tips.

    Ah, no. That’s not what I need. I need grace and kindness from management. I need understanding and support. I need to be told that what we do isn’t brain surgery and so I shouldn’t kill myself trying to meet an arbitrary deadline.

    But, wheeeee… the company is paying for all of us to download the Calm app.

    1. EJ*

      Yes to the grace and kindness from management! I also work at a company that pays for a mindfulness app for us and also sends out calendar invites for yoga and meditation sessions. However, this is also the same company that when I mentioned I needed to take a few days to attend a funeral out of state, the first question was “Who’s covering your work?”

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