The 5 Pillars of Occupational Self-Care

August 12, 2022

Occupational self-care refers to occupational/professional development and one’s attitudes about their work. Occupational wellness encourages work that is personally meaningful and rewarding. To make the exploration of occupational self-care simpler, I like to break it down into 5 main pillars: personal values, skill development, performance, boundaries and work environment. This blog post will discuss these 5 pillars and hopefully provide some ideas for improving your relationship with your work life.

1. exploring personal values and interests

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We receive messages throughout childhood that it is important to think about what we want to be when we grow up. We search for life purpose, try to discover our passions and take aptitude tests to determine which careers may best suit us. There is no doubt that many people feel pressure to choose “the right job,” especially with the major financial and time commitments we make in order to complete our training – whether we are choosing the college route, trade school or heading straight to on-the-job experience.

Sometimes, we may not even have those privileges or options and feel even less interested in what jobs are available to us at any given time. Unfortunately, exploring personal values is not going to repair the injustices built into society and values do not have a magic wand that can solve all of our financial or occupational struggles. What values can do in relation to occupational wellness, though, is to help determine what is important to you and how you want to show up in your work life. This helps us to make decisions about our work life within our limits of control. If we are able to find work inspired by our personal values, beliefs and interests, then we are much more likely to be successful in reaping rewards and satisfaction from our work.

If you’re interested in starting some values work for yourself, check out this post here.

2. skill development

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Occupational wellness also encourages us to develop transferable and functional skills. These are practical skills that we can utilize in multiple areas of life and/or multiple workplaces. A few ways to practice occupational skill development is to participate in trainings and courses, attend lectures and workshops, consider finding a mentor or perhaps joining a group with other people in your field.

3. personal performance

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Personal performance may include what your workplace or boss expects of you, however, it also includes your own expectations of yourself. A few main topics that people tend to consider relating to personal performance are focus and productivity, attendance and punctuality as well as job responsibilities and competency. Whenever possible, it’s best to find workplaces and jobs where outside expectations (e.g. your job description, company rules, boss’ preferences) match your own personal expectations and values. It is much easier to learn skill sets and complete tasks that you actually feel are important.

If you’re struggling in your work life with low self-worth, poor self-esteem, imposter syndrome, etc., I highly recommend working with a therapist and/or a more experienced colleague (whom you can trust). The way we view ourselves matters – and we need to be able to realistically assess our strengths and limitations; as well as learn and feel our innate worth regardless of those assessments. It is okay to ask for help.

4. boundaries and balance

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Boundaries and balance refers to more than just a workable schedule. Of course, it is important to have clear work hours and clear “not work” hours. It can also be helpful to set boundaries for variable work schedules (such as not working over a certain number of hours per week, so you still have enough time for other things) and on-call duties (such as having a designated workspace away from the office and clarity regarding what you will and will not do for work while out of the office). Boundaries may also include how you speak to colleagues and clients/customers, what you share and do not share at work, when you take breaks and how you manage your time.

Generally speaking, work boundaries can be anything that helps to ensure you have what you need – both while at work and off the clock – to do your best work and to make your own choices with your time and energy. Boundaries vary from one profession to another, and are also different from person to person. However, a few general questions to keep in mind when considering boundaries might be:

How are you currently setting boundaries in your work life?

Is there anything that gets in the way of setting the boundaries that you want or need?

What happens when you set a boundary? What happens when you don’t?

Is there anything you can do to strengthen your boundaries?

5. work environment

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Someone once told me that, “People don’t quit jobs. They quit bosses.” This person was a hiring manager for multiple companies. I believe there is truth in this statement from what I have seen and heard as a therapist, as well. In my experience, most of the time when a client is stressed about work, it is related to a poor fit environment and/or poor boundaries (remember the fourth pillar from above?). In addition, I tend to be very specific about my work environment as a highly sensitive person. The right work environment is different for everyone, but I strongly believe that it can be the difference between mediocre work and flourishing work; and at the worst, a poorly fit work environment can be toxic, stressful and flat out soul-crushing.

My recommendation for considering a well-fit work environment is to pay attention to how employees treat each other and what they talk about behind the scenes. Every time I am looking for a new job, or even a new dentist for that matter, I take note of whether the staff is spending their time gossiping about others, complaining about the workload or workplace, etc. or if they’re more focused on problem solving, compassion, inclusivity, etc. Typically, a well-staffed and well-run workplace will foster a calm, organized and safe (both physically and emotionally) environment for workers and clients/customers.


I hope this post has helped you to deepen your understanding of the occupational/professional self-care domain and perhaps given you some ideas to strengthen some self-care practices in your work life. Self-care is an incredibly personal journey, so remember to be as honest as possible with yourself when exploring what works (and what doesn’t work) for you.

If you’re interested in further reflecting on your occupational self-care habits, please download this free journaling worksheet I’ve created as a guide!

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