Before you lose your mind and start screaming, let me acknowledge the elephant in the room. I know you’re not an athlete. You couldn’t be even if you wanted to because you’re stuck in a corporate job, too busy rotating on a non-ergonomic chair in your small-as-matchbox cubicle. We all are stuck somewhere, if you think about it. So, let’s talk about people more successful than us and take a lonesome look at our own life, shall we?
Jokes apart, it was a historical moment when Simone Biles took a revolutionary stand against the unassailable public pressure in competitive sports. All athletes dream of one day representing their country in the Olympics and not everyone reaches that level. However it is rare that after reaching that level and while standing on a pedestal of public’s desires someone chooses her mental health over professional triumph. Simone Biles did just that highlighting the need to take care of yourself at a level of achievement where sometimes a human being becomes only a tool for fulfilling somebody else’s dreams.
While it is inspiring and even hopeful to see such a triumph over public pressure, unfortunately this pressure to perform is not limited to competitive sports only. Companies are opening up post pandemic and a tremendous amount of mental pressure and inhumane competition is sweeping across workplaces regardless of whether the job is glamorous or not.
Mental Health has become a buzzword for employees as well as employers. Every company from Nike to Microsoft has announced a stream of measures to take care of their employees’ well-being. But is there really an internal pandemic at work here or are we in a mental-health bubble as some experts have suggested?
Let’s find out.
The Simone Biles Effect
When Simone Biles, an American gymnast with seven Olympic medals and 25 world championship medals, withdrew from five of her six finals in 2022 Olympics, a shockwave traveled across the globe. The world was divided into two camps. One ridiculing and abusing her for faltering at the international stage. And the second that stood by her decision to prioritize her mental health above her professional achievements and most importantly the unending expectations of those around her.
It is important to observe the similarity here. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Olympic level gymnast or a corporate employee; mental health ailments are running rampant especially after the Corona pandemic. Stuck in the home and staring interchangeably at the white walls and then our laptops screens, our social life has become non-existent. It is no surprise then that we are now seeing employees taking up the reins of their lives by paying equal attention to their mental well-being and professional achievements.
Workplace Fatigue is Not a Superficial Problem
We may think that keeping a straight face to humor our boss, will solve our work life balance problem. However, the workplace burnout topped up with “Nah, I’m okay” attitude instead of solving the problem results in employees suffering from cognitive dissonance. While the employee maintains a façade of an individual content with his job on the outside, internally (s)he is struggling with his/her mental health because of the unreasonable expectations of their job and no respite from the same.
Consequently, (s)he not only has to deal with the tussle inside but also the dilemma existing between workplace and personal life. The effort required to maintain that façade exhausts the employee physically as well as mentally all the while decreasing his/her self-worth in his own eyes. Maybe it’s just me but that doesn’t sound like a superficial problem to me.
An Impending Mental Health Pandemic
Denial is the first step yes, but just acknowledging a problem doesn’t solve it. One needs to analyze possible solutions and then implement the best one. It’s high time that we abandon the “let it be” attitude and do something to make our workplace experience a little better. According to Hopkins medicine*, an estimated 26% of Americans aged 18 and older -about 1 in 4 adults- suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. It is a mind-boggling number especially if you consider the overlap of this age group with the working population.
Remember, even if -and it’s a big if- an employee is pretending to have a mental health disease that in itself means there is a deeper problem. An employee having to resort to acting sick so as to take a day off, speaks a lot about the work culture.
To paraphrase British Hockey player and Olympic gold medalist Helen Richardson-Walsh, mental recovery is not as simple as physical recovery. If you do not put in long term processes for stopping the source of mental health ailments it will keep on pouring in fresh anxiety and toxic workplace scenarios. Until and unless the core of this hidden pandemic is struck with a well-built tool, employees and athletes alike will face the outcomes of an incomplete emotional recovery amidst the never-ending job deliverables.
While companies like Automattic are taking initiatives in the right direction by giving three-month fully paid sabbaticals once every five years, an organizational change is required here. So, somebody needs to tell LinkedIn that paid week offs won’t work if for the rest of the year the employees are burnt in a crucible. If you boil a frog in hot water for 20 minutes, it won’t magically become alive after putting it in cold water for a minute. The approach has to shift from reactionary one to a proactive one.
I will discuss in the next article what we can do to make our workplace a little more welcoming and conducive to mental health. Till then I would love to hear your thoughts.