Laura Banks

19 November 2020

Many avid Tweeters may have noticed the trending hashtag and posts this week around Self-Care Week 2020.

So, what exactly is Self-Care Week and how do we mark it?  

Self-Care Week is a national awareness week that focuses on encouraging people to practice self-care and look after their mental and physical well-being. In the midst of a pandemic and the stresses that this has brought us all, there has never been a more apt time for a reminder to dedicate time to care for ourselves.

Yet in these challenging times, with many people confined to home, and with current restrictions meaning that hotels, cafes, gyms and health centres are currently closed across Northern Ireland, traditional self-care might seem a little more difficult than usual.

In this post, we look at 5 ways to practice self-care, both in our professional and personal lives, drawing on our own experiences as lawyers and what our clients have been telling us.

1. Enjoy a lunch break – At present, many people are working from home and this has resulted in lack of routines for many of us. Employees working from home no longer have the structure of a typical day in the office where they have a set lunch hour and finality of leaving the office at “home time”. Our personal and professional lives have become blurred and this has the risk of heightening stress. “Working from home” often feels more like “living at work” and this is especially so as coffee shops and restaurants are closed and opportunities to leave the house are rare.

This self-care week, why not take the time to enjoy a long lunch break and a clear time to switch the computer off in the day and enjoy some down time? Establishing clear routines can have a tremendous impact on our wellbeing and reduce stress levels significantly and this should be encouraged by employers.

2. Communication is key- Working from home can cause communication obstacles in both our professional and personal lives. In the workplace, there are inevitable difficulties with Zoom calls. Whether it is interruptions and distractions from children or pets, poor signal or lack of home space, remote meetings are often fraught with problems and this can be frustrating for employees and employers alike. Employers should be mindful of these issues as if unresolved, employees can be left feeling isolated, overwhelmed and unsupported. This self-care week, why not reach out to your employees, colleagues and friends by way of an old fashioned phone call or even a card or letter in the post?  Take the time to find out what issues are causing difficulties for employees. Perhaps these can be resolved and employees are likely to feel more valued and listened to as a result.

3. Professional Development – A common complaint amongst employees at present is that the pandemic has reduced their professional opportunities and left them feeling obsolete. Whereas they might normally have taken part in annual training and continuous professional development, attended social events and conferences, now those opportunities are severely limited with many events cancelled or postponed. This self-care week, employers might think about what opportunities they can offer employees. Perhaps mentoring junior employees and offering remote training to staff would be a good idea.  If employees prefer not to use remote resources, is there any other way their professional development can be encouraged? Employees and individuals might consider scoping out opportunities for further learning and development, both in their personal and professional lives. A new skill or hobby might bring new-found motivation and be a welcome distraction at this time. It has been remarkable to find that some courses and resources are being offered by way of online learning and often are free of charge.

4. Care for your mental and physical health – The challenges of the pandemic have brought untold difficulties and at this time, it is paramount that we protect our physical and mental health. One of the key messages of #selfcareweek is that support is available, no matter what issue that you have. Although charities, medical and advice centres may not be offering the same traditional “drop in” services, help is still at hand, albeit that consultations may need to take place remotely or by phone rather than in person. Talk to an expert about any issue that is affecting you and how they can support you throughout this time.

5. Take care of your legal affairs- This self-care week, individuals might consider checking whether they are protected for legal expenses. Many of our clients who enquire with us in relation to employment law, are surprised to learn that legal costs are usually not recoverable even if clients win their case. This means that for some people, sadly costs are prohibitive. Unless you have legal expenses cover on an insurance policy or are a member of a trade union at the time an issue arises, you will ultimately be responsible for your own costs should you wish to consider legal action for employment issues. Claims for legal expenses cannot be made retrospectively so it is important that cover is already in place. Many people are not aware that legal expenses cover is an optional extra on their home insurance policy and usually costs just a few pounds per month. This can protect against the costs of legal disputes, which can easily run in to thousands, or even tens of thousands of pounds. A worthwhile investment and important act of self-care if you ask us!

For any employment law query, contact lbanks@fhanna.co.uk or phone 028 9024 3901.