Employee burnout is on the rise—and it’s not just surfacing in corporate America or small businesses and start-ups. It’s also impacting the lives of the world’s top athletes, including those currently participating in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Indeed, Olympians face unrelenting physical, emotional, and mental stress. And as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have demonstrated, no matter how on top of your game you are, that stress can be tougher than any opponent.
Athletes may spend most of their time cultivating their bodies, but the wise ones know that what matters most is the mind.— Bloomberg Opinion (@bopinion) July 27, 2021
That's why we should applaud Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for being honest about the state of theirs https://t.co/yi34FGsBvI pic.twitter.com/4vb04fpJig
So, how do you coach someone into winning a gold medal without pushing them too far? And as HR professionals and people leaders, how can you spot—and help prevent—burnout in your top performers before it’s too late?
Here are some lessons to learn from the world’s best athletes on prioritizing mental health, no matter the workplace.
Naomi Osaka Shines a Light on Athlete Burnout
The Tokyo Olympics marked the second of two high-profile events where the athlete spoke on the implications of competitive sport on her mental health and well-being.
Earlier in the year, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing that her mental health suffered from being subject to post-game press interviews. When the tournament organizers refused to let her out of her press obligations, she pulled out altogether—and took to Instagram to explain why she was putting her mental health first.
Since then, she’s returned to the sport—and just days ago, lit the cauldron at the Tokyo Olympics (where she would also be competing).
However, following a disappointing loss, Osaka shared that the pressure may have been too much.
“I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this,” Osaka said, according to The Associated Press. “I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year (it) was a bit much.”
“I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation,” she told CNN.
Let’s unpack that:
- Osaka admits she was under a lot of pressure
- She highlights that she was competing in a new environment (and it was a bit much)
- She acknowledges her mindset wasn’t where she would have liked it to be (possibly because of the pressure, burnout, her mental health, or something else)
- She communicates that she didn’t know how to cope given the above circumstances
HR and people team leaders, this is where you come in.
If any of your employees are communicating to you that they’re under immense pressure, operating in a new environment that feels like it’s too much, acknowledging their attitude is affecting their ability to be productive, and/or admitting they don’t know how to cope—those are all signs of burnout.
And you have to act to help them. This means:
- Helping identify what the priority work is (and isn’t)
- Shifting workload and/or adding resources (such as time or a colleague) to help lessen the burden
- Asking if your employee’s okay—and if they’re not, being ready to offer support, encourage them to take time off, and/or refer them to someone trained (e.g., an Employee Assistance Program specialist) to help
- Letting them know you’re there to support them and help them work through it
While not everyone competes (works) on a global stage, everyone deserves to prioritize their mental health—whether a gold medal is on the line or not.
Simone Biles Prioritizes Mental Health Over a Medal
If you haven’t been following her story, Biles has been open about her waning interest in the sport—partially due to the mounting pressure to keep achieving. So it comes as little surprise we’re seeing the damaging effects of burnout play out during the Olympics.
Despite the pressure to win, and her well-deserved status as the GOAT, she bowed out of yesterday’s competition—putting her mental health and her team’s hopes to win first.
Thankfully, she was surrounded by a strong team; one that allowed her to take a step back and still place second at the Olympics.
So, what’s the takeaway for HR and people leaders here?
- Recognize when employees aren’t enjoying what they do anymore—and might be better suited for a different role
- Build strong teams that lift eachother up—and step in when a teammate needs a break
- Top performers burn out too; look for the signs and respond when they ask for help
- Teams work best when they complement each other’s strengths; hire to fill the gaps in your team, not for the same skills you already have
We’re on Your Team (Even If You’re a Team of One)
We know staying on top of today’s ever-changing workplace can be a lot for a small HR team, especially if you’re a team of one. At Eddy, we help take the administrative tasks off your plate, so you can focus on taking care of employees.
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