When you think of the word nurture, what do you think of?
What are the images, sights, sounds and smells that spring to mind? What are your memories of feeling nurtured at work?
What does nurture even mean?
Here is the Cambridge Dictionary Definition:
to take care of, feed, and protect someone or something, especially young children or plants, and help him, her, or it to develop
Our natural desire to nurture others is often triggered by the distress or vulnerability of another. It is one of the wonders of being a human being. We are wired to connect and care for one another - ultimately to preserve life and increase our chances of survival.
It is natural, and when we feel drawn to nurture someone, we need to pay attention to that feeling.
In the workplace, nurture activities can be varied, personal and environment specific. I would argue it costs nothing (or very little) in money, but true nurture often requires our time.
When I think of times I have felt truly nurtured at work, I think of:
Having a cup of tea made for me
A safe space to talk, if I wanted it
Feeling heard, and being listened to
Going a walk with my manager
Checking in on me
Offering real support to deal with specific stressor
Nurturing is a key component of building psychological safety at work. We cannot show true compassion without nurture of some kind. The tenets of psychological safety all serve to nurture, by their very nature. Particularly when we think of ‘helping people develop’ as in the definition above.
You most likely already nurture your team, but here are some ideas for inspiration:
Our first experiences of nurture involve warm milk. That is how we first experience comfort, nutrition and our caregiver responding to our most basic needs. This might seem a leap to just offering a chocolate biscuit - but food and drink are so symbolic. It is not about the food or drink per se, but about recognising the needs of the person and responding to them.
(Caveat - always ask if the person wants the food/drink. And always check for allergies)
2.) Offer a calm space
If you recognise someone is perhaps feeling overwhelmed/stressed/distressed, check in with them. Offer them a calm space to speak with you as their manager (if they wish). Or just a space to catch their breath and thoughts in peace. In an ideal world, every workplace would have a space that is like a ‘mini spa’. I understand this is not the reality but there are small ways to create some of the spa feeling on a budget (see number 3).
3.) Appeal to the senses
Nurture is strongly linked to our senses. Our mood and stress levels can be impacted on a sensory level - for the good and bad. (This reminds me that many of my clients have cited noise in the office as one of their biggest stressors, especially as hybrid workers. It is difficult to concentrate and switch between two very different working environments - work and home).
So if your workplace has a calm room/rest room - you can think of some sensory ideas. If it does not have this type of space - these ideas can mostly be adapted.
Okay so think calm room/rest room/empty office or alternatively a cupboard/box of nurture resources available to everyone.
Think senses, and how a calm room/space can be used to its full potential:
Essential oil diffusers are safe and can smell beautiful. Just watch out for very strong smells. Bring a small selection to an in person team meeting (if possible) and make some decisions together. If your team is remote - it is perhaps worth considering a ‘mini spa’ budget for their home office. Personally, I always use scented melts when working. It is not for everyone, but it can really help people to feel relaxed and nurtured.
An obvious one here is to play relaxing music. Or for some people - silence. But either way where possible, no stressful sounds should be very audible. If there is no separate calm room, you can ensure that relaxing music is available through headphones. Even better, you could develop a playlist for your team. You could have a radio available for everyone to use - a little old school but possibly less problematic than the modern alternatives like Alexa in terms of privacy.
Think mood lighting, LED candles, and fairy lights. Nothing fancy or expensive but with such impact. Also, if your team is in the office at least some of the time, and you have strip lighting - consider alternatives. It is extremely aversive for some people and is probably the most opposite to calming lighting that we can find. Except a flashing light or a beacon.
This is very personal but some research points to strong tastes like mint as it can re-awaken the senses and give an easy focus when stressed. You could have a selection of mints of boiled sweets for this purpose.
Some ideas here are fidgets - they just feel good! There are so many really cool ones available now too for adults. People may also have a favourite piece of jewellery that they enjoy fidgeting with. You can even get fidget jewellery now. It is big business for a reason!
Or a favourite material that they find calming to touch. Think of things you love the feel of, to give you some ideas. Scented play dough and even blu-tac are known to help people feel calm and many adults use them.
Considering and implementing even just a few of these ideas could make a real difference.
Small steps often have a much bigger impact than we imagine.
Dr Elaine Smith
Clinical Psychologist | Business Wellbeing Consultant