Human Capital Management

Mental Health Lessons Learned from the 2021 Olympics


On the world’s largest stage, Simone Biles took a courageous stand to prioritize her mental health by withdrawing from the all-around team final and four additional competitions. We saw something similar earlier this year from tennis star Naomi Osaka, who pulled herself from multiple competitions to prioritize her mental health. These two women are opening the door to the conversation around mental health and reducing the stigma. This is a critical time for organizations to do the same: courageously open the conversation, foster psychological safety, reduce mental health stigma, and provide well-being support that can help employees become thriving self-leaders. 


One of the biggest takeaways from Simone’s experience is the importance of self-awareness and courage. Simone had the self-awareness to know when it was time to prioritize her well-being and the courage to act upon this. By slowing down and tuning into our personal needs, we can gain the awareness needed to make decisions that can have a major impact on our total well-being. In Simone’s case, she modeled impeccable self-awareness and courage when making the decision to withdraw from several competitions and compete in the balance beam where she won bronze – something that she intentionally did for herself. Many employees are entrained to value being busy and can often push themselves past the breaking point for the sake of meeting goals or deadlines. Tying personal value as a human to performance outcomes promotes a false sense of self-worth that is not sustainable and can be difficult to identify when it’s happening. Remember, we are people first, employees second. 


Another important takeaway from Simone’s experience is the importance of supporting your teams. Even though Simone was experiencing her own mental health challenge, she chose to show up to support, encourage, and celebrate her teammates’ success as they competed. When it comes to the well-being of our team members, it’s critical that managers not only model well-being by how they lead themselves but also have a pulse on how each team member is doing and provide available resources when needed. This is where training to help managers identify signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and an action plan for providing support can be priceless and literally lifesaving. 


From an organizational perspective, it is important to assess norms that exist that overvalue productivity and financial outcomes at the expense of employee burnout. If an employee is pushing themselves to the point of “martyrdom” to complete projects, chronically functioning in that state will inhibit their ability to be optimal, which can also impact the rest of the team’s performance and results. It’s also the responsibility of the organization to ensure that reducing stigma around mental health is a top priority. If the culture does not enable employees to feel psychologically safe to reach out for help when they’re struggling, there’s a great risk that many will be silently struggling and not get support sooner than later. 

Mental health is often stigmatized, but as the mainstream conversations around it continue, organizations need to seize this opportunity to prioritize employee well-being and mental health. It’s the human thing to do that is also good for the bottom line. 

If your organization is interested in reducing employee mental health stigma and providing evidence-based training to help leaders identify the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and crises, please reach out to Exude for more information on programs that we have available.