Workplace wellbeing is a hot topic. Our employers are engaging and seeing value in making wellbeing a priority in the workplace, we might have webinars, expert advice, self-help resources and even mental health first aiders (if we’re lucky) available to get tips and support. As a society, we’re acknowledging the impacts of mental health and we’re doing our best to be accepting, validating and open.
But, reading, hearing, and learning about tackling wellbeing in the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean it's manifesting for us individually. Naomi Osaka opened up, was honest, and vulnerable about her struggles and let the public, and colleagues, in on a slice of her life outside of being the highest-paid female athlete - WOWZA.
Accepting wellbeing has a place in work
It’s becoming more and more widely accepted that wellbeing, mental health and support is needed in the workplace, and isn’t just for personal lives. And rightly so. According to the recent Labour Force Survey, 828,000 of us struggled with work-related stress, depression or anxiety . And yet, while we accept that it needs to be addressed, are we really offering the space to be open? Are we really offering the safety needed to be vulnerable? Are we really ready to hear the honesty it takes to successfully manage workplace wellbeing?
Osaka’s decision to avoid the press for the purpose of protecting her mental health left her with a hefty fine of $15,000, and her decision to decline press conferences is actually a breach of rules (can you believe it!?). Now, if she’d have cancelled because of a migraine, a game-related injury, or any physical health condition would she have faced the same backlash and, essentially, punishment for being open?
We can only speculate, but my guess is not likely. We’re not so good at hearing the hard stuff just yet. We’re on the way there’s no doubt, but when it comes to actually stepping up and speaking out there is a huge fear of what will happen next - and based on the reaction to Osaka’s decision, we are not filled with hope that we’ll be met with empathy and compassion.
Would you dare to speak up?
Have you ever found yourself in a terrible mood; everyone’s the worst, everything’s highly irritating and you just need to rant about it all. You find a friend, your mum, your partner and start reeling off a list of all the thoughts that have crossed your mind during this foul mood moment (or day), and as you go through it all your slowly realising you sound super negative, slightly neurotic and the embarrassment creeps in - like your brain is just thinking ‘why are you still talking?! Shushh’.
Well, that’s the first thing holding us back from speaking our truth - that pesky inner voice that doubts our every move, questions that conversation, judges how we chose to act - it’s a real joy! The serious side of this is that we always don’t open up, even when we feel we might be in a safe space, because that voice talks us out of it or even makes us feel worse for saying anything in the first place which is more than off-putting to have another go. Osaka’s decision to speak up was brave, admirable and down-right badass. Quietening that voice is hard work, it’s something we will need to work on for our mental wellbeing to find some relief in opening up. Opening up and going home to slander yourself isn’t finding relief, isn’t going to enlighten us, and certainly isn’t going to encourage us to keep going.
When we have managed to beat the inner bully, we’re often met with a somewhat disappointed reaction - which is not usually the intention by any means. We’re often not ready to hear the brutal effects of poor mental health. Workplace support offers the space to hear our struggles, but when we use it, it’s almost like they didn’t really want us to use it at all. It can feel like now we’ve been heroically brave (we really have), we feel stupid, regretful and more lost than before we built the courage to get here. And guess what that does? Yep, fuels that inner voice and there’s a whole other battle to fight. Again.
Osaka holding her boundaries was the right thing to do for her mental health, but was it met with support or empathy? Did it seem more like an inconvenience? Now there’s an argument that in the public eye, as an athlete, celebrity, politician, speaking to the media is part of the job. But if you were asked to do something that sends you into a frenzy of stress and anxiety because ‘it’s part of your job’ would you stick at it? Would you feel like you have to and let your mental wellbeing be affected?
You're not on your own if you’d say yes. And that’s why this story is inspiring and brave - she did it anyway, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t accepted, acknowledged or validated. So many of us face work-related stress, anxiety and depression, and our workplace might offer EAPs (employee assistance programs), support, and help but how many of us actually use them?
The fear of what will happen next is real. What will people think of me? Is it going to cause problems around my workload? Will I lose my job? Will anyone want to be friends with me ever again? And this is likely to stop us taking up support, reaching out, and speaking up for ourselves, if we listen to that inner voice. Annoyingly, although it’s life, we have to advocate for ourselves. We can find support to do this, we can find people with similar interests, circumstances and experiences, but we have to fight for our own mental health ourselves - because no one else truly knows what we’re going through.
Tackling our health issues, addressing concerns and seeking support will prevent smaller issues building to unbearable and if they already are pretty unbearable don’t make it any harder than it already is. Osaka thought exactly that, she acknowledged her difficulties, faced the challenges and did something about it - all at the age of 23, truly impressive! And we know you can do it too!
Naomi, we applaud you: Naomi is clever, brave and taking care of herself. Be like Naomi (but maybe without the pressure to meet her athletic skill set). If you’re feeling inspired to start a conversation around your mental health check out our top tips here. And for more advice on wellbeing in the workplace, check out our Time to Talk live event at the beginning of every month. We'll give more advice and tips on how to voice your concerns, be brave and feel empowered.
Beingwell Life Coach
1. Labour Force Survey (2020) Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain