Imagine this. You have a high performer in your organisation. They are super impressive at their day job consistently delivering amazing results. There is a lesser part of their role that they say gives them anxiety and negatively impacts on their mental health. They decide they don’t want to do that for a two week period saying that it will positively help their well being and help them perform in the main function of their role.
a) Public castigate them for their perspective
b) Fine them a hefty chunk of cash for not doing it
c) Threaten to throw them out if they do it again
d) Have a conversation with them to understand how you could better support them
Well if you are the organisers of the Tennis Grand Slams you would choose A-C and only actually (begrudgingly) contemplate D after one of your star players withdraws from the French Open and you are roundly criticised by the sporting world. Naomi Osaka has started an important conversation about the mental health of sports stars, especially those in individual sports. The pressure on them to perform is enormous and if like Osaka you are naturally a quiet, reserved and introverted person the prospect of having to answer questions at a potentially challenging and intimidating press conference is understandably likely to negatively impact your well-being.
I hope that in her bravery Osaka has opened the door to a genuine review about media expectations for professional athletes. We pay to watch them play not to answer a barrage of questions. Our interest is in their skills on court or on the pitch not how articulate they are when faced with a probing inquiry.
The lesson for us is how often to we have conversations with the people in our teams to enquire about their mental health and well-being? How regularly do we check in to see if there are aspects of the job that are in reality peripheral and could be adapted, adjusted or reallocated to improve their performance and productivity? Do we have environments where our teams feel able to speak up and be confident that we will listen, empathise and respond? Too often our default position can be well this is the way we have always done it. If we aspire to have a more inclusive society and more productive teams this has to change.
So my ask of any of you reading this week is speak to your colleagues and teams. Use the Osaka story as a natural route in and have a genuine, open and honest conversation about whether there are aspects of the work you do that causes undue stress or anxiety that could be done differently. I hope that this case will make a big splash on the world of sport resulting in positive change but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the ripples went much, much further.