As sad as it was to see Simone Biles walk out of the gymnastics arena yesterday in Tokyo, the decorated Olympian was lauded by many, including fellow sporting stars, for her empowering decision to put her mental wellbeing above everything else.
The decision, along with her subsequent demonstration of support for her team mates by returning as cheerleader, reinforced why she is a role model for so many.
It was powerfully acknowledged by US sporting superstar, Michael Phelps:
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience, I really do.”
“I hope this is an opportunity for us to jump on board, and to even blow this mental health thing even more wide open. It is so much bigger than we can ever imagine.
“We carry a lot of weight on our shoulders, and it’s challenging especially when we have the lights on us and all of these expectations being thrown on top of us.”
Tracey Paxton, managing director of TERC, The Employee Resilience Company:
“One of the things I always stress to business leaders is that if they want their employees to acknowledge when things are not going well and they need support, nothing makes that happen more than when those at the top do exactly that themselves.”
This sense of responsibility and expectation is something that is presently all too real for business leaders. Tracey Paxton is managing director of TERC, The Employee Resilience Company. We are extremely proud to call TERC one of our delivery partners; they provide specialist health and wellbeing support to around one million employees across the public and private sector. She shares her views on the need to support directors and senior managers.
“The burden of the business leader is not confined to times of pandemic, but they have been left emotionally exposed and exhausted by the crisis. They have been spinning plates like never before; at the forefront of the crisis, carrying an unprecedented workload. No leave, long hours, always on hand to help their teams, they are building up a lot of stress. They need help, too.”
One of TERC’s key offers is help in building resilience and managing stress within leadership. “It’s important we start to do this better,” says Tracey.
“Every business should have stress management policies. You need to create a culture of attendance where people go into work feeling well but know that there is support when needed. Companies must go above and beyond what’s expected and invest in their employees’ mental health.”
And that philosophy of looking after mental wellbeing has to start at the top.
“One of the things I always stress to business leaders is that if they want their employees to acknowledge when things are not going well and they need support, nothing makes that happen more than when those at the top do exactly that themselves. It’s all very well thinking you must stay strong and that weakness isn’t allowed, but that sends a message to your team that that is how they have to behave, too. It’s counterproductive. If directors are seen looking after themselves and their mental wellbeing, it sends a powerful message that everyone should do the same.
“Best analogy for this? Think back to the last time you were on an airplane, and the steward demonstrated what happens if the cabin depressurises.
“The oxygen masks fall from the panel above. Put yours on; don’t try to help others around you first, including your children. You have to look after yourself first, and only if you are okay, can you look after those around you.
“It’s the same with mental wellbeing; look after yours, and it will help you look after your team’s.”
Returning to sporting leaders, Michael Phelps recalled his own battles with mental health when speaking to the media yesterday, saying that he had found it hard to ask for support when he needed it.
“I can say personally, it was something that was very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help. But it’s so important, especially to teach kids at a young age to take control of their physical and mental health. We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect.”
The International Olympic Committee has provided psychologists in the Athlete Village, as well as a helpline for athletes in 70 languages. A spokesperson commented “Mental health is an incredibly important issue. Are we doing enough? I hope so, I think so. But like everyone else in the world we can do more on this issue.”