Think self-care is selfish? Think again. Retail chiefs including The Perfume Shop’s Gill Smith and SilkFred’s Emma Watkinson extol the benefits of investing in yourself.

Retail chief executives in 2019 are likely to have more going on than they can handle, more demands than they can meet and more questions about their business than answers.

Work pressures are often compounded for female chief executives as societal expectations of having and doing it all don’t always match up to reality – exemplified by search threads like this.

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So how can retail chief executives successfully manage their career through the highs and the lows?

According to health experts, psychologists and retail leaders, practising self-care is the answer.

Self-care isn’t selfish

Defined by the Self Care Forum as “actions individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others, to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness”, self-care is focused on taking time out to invest in the business of you.

As Forbes’ contributor Karin Eldor reflects: “We like to think ‘doing it all’ is the badass thing to do, but sometimes the most badass thing you can do is scale back.”

Some critics have argued that acts of self-care are “simply acts of privilege”, yet industry professionals and researchers have highlighted the contrary opinion.

Mental health charity Mind asserts that “self-care techniques can help manage symptoms of many mental health problems”.

Meanwhile, NHS England published a statement last year recommending every person “chooses self-care for life”.

“Self-care is actually an essential, especially if you want to perform at your optimum and particularly in times of pressure and stress”

Fiona Murden, chartered psychologist

Speaking to Retail Week, Fiona Murden, chartered psychologist and author of Defining You, says: “Self-care is often misunderstood as a nice-to-have, say the luxurious bubble bath rather than a quick shower.”

“Self-care is actually an essential, especially if you want to perform at your optimum and particularly in times of pressure and stress.

“It’s an awareness of knowing when to take a break so you can run faster with your business, rather than breaking because you’ve pushed yourself too hard.”

Global HR strategist Rita Trehan told Retail Week she has “worked with many business leaders who are quick to admit they are stressed in their role but are equally as quick to shrug it off as part of the job”.

“Aside from the health issues associated with stress, a lack of self-care can, in turn, affect performance at work and the ability to run a business effectively. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not taking care of your business.”

How to practise self-care

Recent research from Accenture found that nine in 10 people are now touched by mental health issues, making self-care a crucial leadership skill.

Barbara Harvey, managing director at Accenture Research, says: “It’s clear that mental health is not a minority issue. It touches almost all employees and can affect their ability to perform at work and live life to the fullest.”

“Mental health is not a minority issue. It touches almost all employees and can affect their ability to perform at work and live life to the fullest”

Barbara Harvey, Accenture

Knowing how to practise self-care – both at work and at home – can help retail chief executives tackle mental health issues for themselves and their team.

Here, female retail chief executives share their advice on how to weave self-care into the workday.

Foster a network of mental health allies, coaches and peers

Gill Smith, managing director of The Perfume Shop, says: “It took me until my late 30s to find my inner confidence and I wish I’d found it sooner.

“Working with a coach to help shape my career in the direction I wanted has allowed me to love my job, which, of course, is fundamental as a career goal.

“It can be lonely when you’re at the top, but I’m lucky to have a small group of peers outside of the business who meet once or twice a year and share experiences with no judgement.”

Make time for your family at home – not just your work family

Sara Davies MBE, founder of craft retailer Crafter’s Companion, says: “I spend so much of my time travelling that self-care and taking a break comes in the form of just staying at home with my two boys and my husband.

“Self-care becomes a bit of a choice when you’re a mum running a business. You have a choice around time spent on your ‘family at work’ or family at home”

Cat Gazzoli, Piccolo

“We can be crafting, baking cakes or cuddled up watching a film; just spending time with those who mean the most to me in the world is when I’m most content and relaxed.”

Cat Gazzoli, founder of organic baby food brand Piccolo, says: “Self-care becomes a bit of a choice when you’re a mum running a business. Essentially, you have a choice around time spent on your ‘family at work’ or family at home.

“In these uncertain times for UK food retailers, with Brexit looming, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“As I’m on the move a lot in the week meeting customers and suppliers, I try to run a strict routine where I always make time for cooking for, and with, my young daughter, Juliet – even if sometimes this means early mornings or late nights.”

Learn to take time out, not necessarily time off

Juliet Barratt, co-founder of sports and nutrition brand Grenade, says: ”While it’s important to take a break and get away from the office to cultivate positive mental health, I don’t find a ‘relaxing’ beach holiday all that relaxing.

“It’s difficult to switch off and being away from my work with time on my hands only adds more stress.

“Instead, I prefer to keep my mind and body active with an adventure holiday, charity work or a training programme that shakes up my routine. These kinds of activities also offer a change of perspective on a difficult work situation or spark inspiration with a new idea.”

Splash out on activities and experiences

Fiona McIntosh, creative director and co-founder of beauty firm Blow Ltd, says: “As I get older, I find it’s the experiences in my life that make me happiest, rather than the accumulation of material stuff I don’t need.

“For me, self-care is about taking the time to have a massage or a relaxing pedicure, travelling for pleasure rather than duty, seeing a new play and catching up regularly with my girlfriends for a glass of wine and a laugh.”

Endorse self-care at the office

Emma Watkinson, co-founder of fashion marketplace SilkFred, says: “When things get difficult, I lean on my close friends and family for support and encouragement. I also lean on my team, the senior team in particular.

“We’ve been through some pretty tough times, but we always find a solution together. When we go through the highs, it’s important to stop and look at how far we’ve come and celebrate those wins, while staying humble and looking to the next chapter.”

“It’s important to stop and look at how far we’ve come and celebrate those wins, while staying humble and looking to the next chapter”

Emma Watkinson, SilkFred

Cat Gazzoli of Piccolo says: “As a business, we try to instil positive self-care habits within our team. We stop and eat lunch together almost every day in the office, sharing our love of good food.”

Take a ‘meditation vacation’

Christal Earle, founder and chief executive of footwear retailer Brave Soles, says: “I lost my brother to a farm accident when I was 20. I lost my marriage when I was 35. My adopted daughter has been trapped in the Dominican Republic ever since her papers were lost in the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Life never stops being demanding.

“To keep up my energy, I take a meditation vacation at 5.30am every day. It’s 90 minutes dedicated to relaxing into my reality and gaining distance from any emotional turmoil. Practising meditation helps me look at the hurdles I’m facing with curiosity rather than anxiety.

“Self-care is the gift I give myself every day.”

Self-care is a key focus at the 2019 Be Inspired conference.

Be Inspired Conference 2019

Join us on June 19 for sessions including ‘Let’s talk mental health’ and ‘Leading through challenging times’.

Find out more and book your place here.