Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Professor Werner Soontiens

Second Supervisor

Dr. Marieke Ledingham


This thesis explores and extends the use of psycho-spiritual self-care choices in support of sense-making and inner healing of workplace stress. The study was motivated by a lack of research about and the observation that, despite their usefulness in other disciplines, psycho-spiritual self-care choices are often poorly understood or ignored in the workplace. Yet, chronic stress, if left unaddressed, can lead to adverse mental health consequences. This is particularly so when harsh self-criticism, poor self-acceptance and lack of self-kindness stymie self-care and meaningful sense-making. Notably too, there is next to no research that shows how workers might detach from work “self-caringly”.

Using a psycho-spiritual lens, this thesis focuses on self-care choices by intuiting, contrasting, comparing and integrating a variety of reflective, self-caring themes from psychology and spirituality. It engages with the fact that, so often, positive psychology and applied spirituality are not integrated well into workplace self-care responses. This has implications not just for workplace chaplains, allied health practirioners but the stressed and suffering themselves. Moreover, while workplace spirituality has sparked much interest in organisational studies, leadership and business practice, little literature exists that examines applied, psycho-spiritual self-care choices, which are arguably an aspect of workplace spirituality in times of stress and suffering.

Bricolage is an emerging methodology in business which lends itself well to engaging with the personal, complex and subjective nature of the inquiry viz the stresssd, suffering self. Such a subject calls for an intuitive, even idiosyncratic and self-focussed approach. So noting the guidance of bricolage and to give it effect, heuristic inquiry process was chosen because it matches the idiosyncratic nature of human experience. Bricolage methodology in its broadest form, is well suited to this type of endeavour. This is about a tender search for new options (emanating from an extensive literature review), intuitive, “self-caring” reflection and the integration of whatever is useful or necessary so as to make inner sense of lived experience. Such an approach not only examines inner and personal responses to the stress experience, it envisages new self-care possibilities through an in‐depth reflection process of interpretation, integration, and transformation. A key result was the discovery of the inter-relatability of three previously separate self-care choices or themes that target how one treats oneself. The literature search led to self-compassion psychology which, despite considerable research, has been little studied in a workplace stress context (Neff, 2003a; Charry, 2010). It also led to particular self-care research questions that arose from the literature review.

It also led to a different form of detachment and to humility, both of which are about the related choice to be self-kind and not get enmeshed. Detachment focusses on separation from the stressful workplace, yet does not necessarily enable the stressed to reflect self-kindly way (Sonnentag, Unger, & Nägel, 2013). Humility is about self-acceptance and living with things as they are and not how we would wish them to be, raising the issue of meaningful detachment beyond physical separation from stressful work (Rohr, 2007). Often, this is limited to being told to go home and not think about the effect, pain or event which is often hard to achieve. These choices emerged repeatedly throughout the course of the intuitive inquiry process:

  • Self-compassion as a modern expression of self-love;
  • Positive humility; and
  • Meaningful detachment and letting go from work

By way of the five published, peer-reviewed papers, this research extends understanding of self-compassion psychology and humility-related spirituality by highlighting their commonalities and integrated use in workplace situations. This is about self-kindly inner dialogue, self-care, and meaningful forms of letting go. Another key outcome was the emergence of a self-care conceptual framework. As guided by the research questions, several unique contributions to self-care literature and praxis eventuated, as evidenced by the five, peer-reviewed papers that form the nucleus of this thesis. This research represents the first attempt to develop theory and praxis relating to psycho-spiritual self-care to ameliorate the detrimental effects of harsh self-judgments, using self-compassion, humility and meaningful detachment. Extending heuristic inquiry into psycho-spiritual workplace research not only offers a new approach for researchers (noting the intuition and inner reflection it offers), it also proposes an intuitive, step by step, self-care framework.

The study concludes with suggested future research directions related to theory development and praxis augmentation and testing the emergent, self-care framework including quantitatively exploring how the three psycho-spiritual choices—self-compassion, humility and detachment affecting self-care—could be related, and how they individually and/or collectively, tangibly add to self-care choices.

Finally, it will be important to test the proposed heuristic inquiry-based methodology that sought to strengthen approaches to self-care research. In these ways, holistically navigating through, and healing workplace stress and suffering will remain at the centre of stress treatment and recovery efforts.

Included in

Business Commons