Mental health is finally taking a top role in sports, with world-class athletes Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Ben Stokes all speaking out about the pressures of performing on the world stage and taking a step back to protect their health.
While most people don’t have the pressures of global audiences in their daily working lives, wellbeing is often overlooked in the battle to climb the ladder to success and work-life integration. For many, this leads to stress, anxiety, and even depression which, when combined, accounted for 17.9 million working days lost between 2019 and 2020.
It's not one or the other
Looking after mental wellbeing doesn’t have to come at the cost of success. On the contrary, it can enhance the chances of long-term, sustainable progress. By taking a short break and withdrawing from the Olympic gymnastics team final to protect her mental health, Simone Biles was able to return, refreshed, to win bronze in an individual final just days later.
Just as athletes rest when physically injured, so they should do so to protect their mental health. By recognising that, Biles showed that her success and status as one of the most decorated athletes of all time didn’t have to come at the cost of her health.
Witnessing an open discussion at the top level of sports around the pressures to perform and the impact on wellbeing helps remove the stigmas around protecting mental health. Most careers don’t have the same intense focus on short-term success that sportspeople deal with, so we must recognise that taking time to look after ourselves shouldn’t be an impediment to a successful career.
A business problem
With 1 in 6 workers experiencing mental health issues at any one time, employee wellness is a non-negotiable issue business leaders have to tackle. Sacrificing mental health for career success can result in people becoming more stressed and burning out quicker, which in turn stalls their progression and development.
It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to be at their peak performance at all times, and implementing a top-down approach that stresses the importance of a work-life balance can help to lessen the expectations and pressures put on the workforce.
Poor mental health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion annually, and leaders have an important role to play in setting an example and creating environments in which staff can thrive, with the necessary support to protect their health.
Challenges of the modern workplace
Remote working has caused a blurring of work and home life. This is taking a toll on staff, who can struggle with motivation and loneliness, with some finding it difficult to switch off outside of office hours. As much of the workforce is still regularly separated by screens, it can be easy to miss the signs of those who are struggling.
Instead of waiting until someone starts prioritising their work and neglecting their wellbeing, every business should have preventative practices in place, such as coaching and training, in order to support staff and ensure they don’t reach that tipping point.
To facilitate open conversations in the workplace, leaders can be empowered through coaching skills to be proactive and have a two-way dialogue with colleagues around pressure, health, and wellness. Dedicating time to actively listen to employees’ issues will also enable leaders to understand each person’s individual situation.
By understanding on a personal level, employers and managers can create a range of different solutions to help, instead of implementing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, which inevitably works for no one. Coaching as one of the interventions provides an individualised approach to help employees to come up with their own solutions to manage their wellbeing.
Get ahead of the curve
A willingness to invest in coaching for wellbeing is also critical to attracting and retaining talent, and business survival going forward. The most progressive business leaders will truly appreciate the impact the pandemic is having on mental health and wellbeing. Accordingly, those who actively help staff readjust to ‘normal’ life post-restrictions and lockdown will reap the rewards of staff satisfaction, retention and productivity.
Reactive measures automatically put organisations behind their competitors when it comes to tackling problems, and can make people feel like their health and welfare are an afterthought. Personalised training, support and wellbeing coaching are proactive and preventative measures businesses can take to intervene early, showing appreciation for the wellbeing of staff while helping to prevent unnecessary pressure and reducing the risk of burning out.
The world’s leading athletes are proving that success and mental wellbeing are not diametrically opposed; by prioritising mental health, we are prioritising long-term growth and progression. Businesses should recognise that any short term adjustments made to accommodate wellbeing result in long term gain, not just for their employees but for the business bottom line as well.
Windy Maledu is a coach and senior behavioural scientist at CoachHub