Self-compassion in the workplace

In a competitive work environment, it can easily happen that self-compassion stays behind. Many professionals feel that they need to push themselves beyond what is objectively good for them to fulfill their duties. Long term, that is not a sustainable way to prevent physical and mental health problems due to overworking, and a lack of work-life separation. 

But how can employees deal with a full work schedule and still take care of their personal needs?

Many of my super productive and diligent clients falsely assume that self-compassion will lead to laziness and a decrease in productivity. In my experience, that is not the case. I would even go as far as to argue that a lack of self-compassion will ultimately lead to less productivity, and, therefore, more of it will allow continuous productivity.

Why is that? Earlier, I mentioned that many of the (self-) applied rules clients have for work are not sustainable. This means that the continuous application of these rules can often lead to lowered motivation, tiredness and behaviour such as procrastination and even a feeling of dread before starting a workday. These can all be signs of serious mental health issues such as burnout. A good way to prevent this from occurring is by practicing self-compassion. Practicing self-compassion starts by addressing some common situations in which self-compassion should be used, rather than a constant “go-go-go”-mentality.

Mistakes are not the end of the world

Often, unsustainable work-life practices are driven by the belief that mistakes are a bigger deal than what they actually are. Many employees who struggle with self-compassion find it much easier to forgive others for making mistakes than when they make them themselves. A better way to approach situations such as these is to remember that humans make mistakes. 

Individuals can strive to learn from past mistakes, but they do occasionally happen. Rather than beating themselves up about it, they can be reframed as a learning opportunity. A good way to gauge whether your response to making a mistake was self-compassionate enough, is to ask yourself what you would tell a friend if they had made it. If your answer is a lot more critical than the answer you would have given that friend, it is likely that you should be more self-compassionate towards yourself.

You won’t always have the same level of productivity

Sometimes work is a breeze and it’s easy to enter a state of “flow”, but on other days the work seems to drag on and it’s hard to make progress. To a certain extent, that is completely normal. Our energy levels, how we have slept, the type of work, as well as our hormones can have a strong influence on how easily we can focus. 

While some work needs to be done, we still often have more control over what we focus on than we think. Instead of pushing yourself through a day or days of soul-crushing work, you might want to try and shift the focus to another task, take a break or at least break down the task into more manageable chunks. If you notice that you are struggling with your work more often than not and that motivation is mostly low, there might be a deeper reason than the normal fluctuating energy levels. In that case, it can be helpful to work with a psychological professional, such an Auntie professional, to find out what is really going on.

Asking for support is not a sign of weakness

In a competitive environment, it’s easy to get the impression that everyone needs to fight for themselves. Humans are not meant to work like that. Our social and organizational structures make it necessary that we work together, because nobody can know and do it all. 

In my work with the clients, I often see highly skilled employees postpone asking for help for too long because they are worried that doing so will reflect badly on them. Ask yourself whether you have hesitated to reach out to others in the past because you felt similarly. Sometimes a change in perspective can help to reach out earlier: Do you question your colleagues’ skills if they ask you for help? Most people don’t. In fact, most people enjoy the feeling of being asked for help. In the long run, it will save you and your company time if you ask for help earlier, rather than try and figure it out yourself every time.


I am definitely not the only psychologist who keeps going on about healthy boundaries during their work with clients. That is because boundaries are absolutely essential to practicing self-compassion. Whether that means that the work phone is switched off at the end of the workday or whether you have a serious talk with a colleague or manager who keeps emailing you after work hours and then expects an answer the minute you arrive at work the next day. Boundaries allow you to show others how you want to be treated. They are an essential step towards self-compassion, because they prove to others and yourself that you deserve to feel well and respected. While it can be difficult to start building boundaries, if you usually prefer to avoid confrontation and to make sure others are happy, I have yet to meet an ex-people pleaser who regrets having started to set them. 

I hope you found these tips helpful. Building better self-compassion is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are starting, don't expect it to go perfectly straight away. It takes time to change behaviour patterns that have been with you for a long time. An Auntie professional can be a great coach to help you with developing self-compassion by making you more aware of how you treat yourself and then by offering you ways in which you can monitor and improve it. Packages such as Feeling Down or Stressed Out might be a good starting point. 

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