5 Ways Women of Color Can Prioritize Their Well-Being at Work was originally published on uConnect External Content.
When I first started working in corporate America, the idea of getting my next raise, promotion, or bonus motivated me to the point that I sometimes worked 60-80 hour weeks trying to prove my worth. And while I felt validated at the moment, it also led me to burnout—which is something more and more women have experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, it manifested as exhaustion, resentment, confusion, and very little motivation to get out of bed every morning.
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It’s hard to prioritize our mental health when it feels like our jobs and success are on the line. Especially since we’ve been told our whole lives we have to work twice as hard to get the same opportunities. Nearly half of Black women feel their ethnicity or race will make it harder to get a raise or promotion. Though women of color comprise just over 20% of the U.S. population, in 2021 they made up only 17% of entry-level roles, 12% of managers, 9% of senior managers/directors, 7% and 5% of VPs and SVPs respectively, and 4% of C-suite roles.
But the further I get in my career, the more I realize setting boundaries and focusing on my overall well-being will lead to long-term career success as a Black woman. If we don’t advocate for our own needs, no one else will. That’s why I’m sharing five ways other women of color can prioritize their mental health and well-being at work, based on my own experiences.
Take breaks before the stress sets in.
I’m guilty of sometimes waiting until my mind is racing and I feel overwhelmed to step away from my computer and take a break. But I’ve realized I’m much more productive when I add 20-minute breaks into my calendar throughout the day and make them mandatory—just like attending a client meeting or running an errand.
I use this time for breathing exercises, eating lunch away from my screen, meditating, journaling, or walking to give my brain a rest. Studies show that breaks can reduce or prevent stress, help maintain performance throughout the day, and reduce the need for a long recovery once the workday is over.
Use your PTO.
Sometimes, a 20-minute break won’t cut it and you need a full day (or week) to step away from work completely. But about 55% of Americans don’t use all of their paid vacation time.
I advise all of my coaching clients and my employees to use PTO before the feeling of burnout sets in. Whenever they’re worried about their workload, I remind them that the work will still be there whether they stay at work or take time off, so why not use PTO? In my experience, stepping away allows me to come back to work more energized and focused. It’s also a reminder to trust the people around me to keep things afloat in my absence.
Remember that you don’t need to go on an extravagant vacation. You can use your PTO to have a mental health day, run errands, get lunch with a friend, or simply stay in bed and binge-watch Netflix.
Find a therapist if you have the means and resources.
Therapy and counseling are definitely a privilege. It can be expensive and not all employers cover mental health services. If you have the resources to meet with a therapist or counselor, I recommend trying it out at least once.
There’s a stigma in communities of color—including Black, Latino, and Asian communities—when it comes to mental health. For example, you may have internalized the idea that going to therapy means you’re weak or broken. I had this exact mindset and for a long time it caused me to stay silent about the workplace trauma and daily microaggressions I had experienced in the past. Therapy has taught me how to regain confidence in my abilities and speak up whenever someone tries to make me feel inferior.
If you can’t afford therapy at this time, here are a few free or inexpensive options you can look into as you begin your healing journey:
- Check in with your employer to see if they have an Employee Assistance Program you can use to connect with mental health resources.
- Visit a community mental health center where you can receive mental health services, regardless of your ability to pay.
- Download a free mental health app.
- Listen to a podcast such as Therapy for Black Girls, Latinx Therapy, or Asian Women for Health.
Speak up when you need help and support.
A lot of our stress in the workplace comes from tight deadlines and an increasing workload. Not to mention women of color, and Black women in particular, tend to receive less support and encouragement from their managers.
I’m here to tell you that your manager might not be aware of how overwhelmed you feel. If you’re working late nights and weekends, and are feeling resentment toward your job and team, it’s up to you to initiate the conversation and advocate for help. Email your manager and schedule a one-on-one to talk through your workload.
Here’s an example of what you can say in that email to set up the conversation: “I’d like to meet and talk about my current workload. Based on my current tasks, I feel like I don’t have enough time to complete them all while also delivering quality work. I’d like to review my task list with you to talk through priorities and identify where we can extend any deadlines so that I can continue to meet your expectations.”
As you work toward a promotion or salary increase, you may take on more responsibilities to prove you deserve that next step. But remember that when you advocate for more opportunities, you can and should advocate for more support as well.
Build a community of supportive women.
Career advancement can be lonely. There are fewer and fewer women of color as you move up into more senior roles—which means you’re increasingly likely to be the only woman of color in the room. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve been in this position and it’s a very alienating experience that makes you question your skills and overall likability.
Having too few fellow women of color or allies in your own workplace shouldn’t deter you from building a supportive community of professional women elsewhere. Speaking from my experience, I’ve made friendships and professional relationships with other incredibly talented women who remind me that I’m not alone.
This is why I created the Career Chasers Members Club for women of color. Members not only receive career guidance and resources but also develop meaningful connections with 500+ other women in the club.
If you’re struggling to build community at your workplace or you work in a virtual setting, here are a few ways I’ve made close connections with the women in my circle:
- I reach out to women on social media to tell them their work has inspired me in my career and I’d love to learn more about their journey.
- I visit co-working spaces and introduce myself to other women who are working there and ask them about the work they do.
- Whenever I’m invited to work and non-work-related events—to be a plus-one to a friend’s company events, for example, or to join a happy hour—I try to attend as many as possible.
Prioritizing your mental health and wellness at work is not a simple journey. It takes consistency, self-awareness, and the courage to set boundaries. In the next three weeks, I challenge you to complete at least one of the following:
- Take three 20-minute breaks throughout the day.
- Use your PTO and take off at least one day.
- Find a therapist or counselor, or use other mental health resources.
- Reach out to your manager when you need help and support.
- Start building a community of supportive women.
As you try these steps, remember that you’re not alone. There are so many other women of color out there—even those you may not know—rooting for your professional and personal success.