The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are well underway; just when we thought that sport was over for a bit. Once again, the world of sport is teaching employers valuable lessons. This week, American gymnast Simone Biles was praised for prioritising "mental wellness over all else" after pulling out of the Olympic women's team final. She has been hailed widely as an amazing role model for what she has done, someone who has shown even more courage and strength with this decision than she ever could have shown competing.
I for one was blown away and so impressed by Simone's decision. She is an Olympian, carrying the weight of her team and her country's hopes and dreams on her shoulders, and she still found the strength to say "no".
It made me think if an Olympian sometimes needs to take a step back for their mental health, surely, we all need to do the same from time to time. The news that dating app Bumble is to close its offices for a week to allow its staff to recover from "collective burnout" has pushed the issue of worker stress into the limelight. Indeed, the pandemic has really shone a light on how those working from home can be even more susceptible to burnout than usual. Not only does this affect productivity, but it can also have long term effects on people's mental health and wellbeing.
If your best performer, your star employee, the one you can always rely on to deliver, told you that they needed to step down from some responsibility or take some time off for their mental health, how would you react? Thankfully, there are now loud voices on social media urging us all to stop glamorising over working and to stop wearing burnout as a badge of honour. I'm sure that many would agree with this message and discuss it openly with their friends and family.
But how many people really believe that their employer believes this too? How many of your employees would feel safe and comfortable saying "no" to a project or a piece of work you asked them to take on because of their mental health?
Employers need to be showing from the top down that the mental health of their employees is and will always be their priority. Employers need to be training line managers on how to spot the clues and signs that tell them that one of their team is on the verge of or actually suffering from burnout before any damage is done. Employers should focus on creating a culture where it's okay not to be okay, it's okay to say "no" and employees are praised for being honest about what pressure they can and cannot handle. No matter what our day job is, be that Olympic athlete or not, we are all, after all, humans made up of so much more than our work.
I for one really hope that the conversation about mental health in the workplace and the toxic culture of burnout continues to bring about openness and honesty. If you would value a discussion about mental health awareness in your business then please do get in touch.