7 things Naomi Osaka taught us about mental health and career success

What if you outperform your colleagues and receive an award for the best performance among your peers? Still, strangers booed you for eclipsing everyone to the point that you had to cover your face with humiliation. Then, the senior executives of the company, after being informed that you were suffering from mental health issues, asked you to deal with more agitation from people asking you questions that create anxiety and anxiety. additional depression. And when you gave up, the company fined you $ 15,000 for refusing to further traumatize you. Obviously, the continued abuse would get you out of this job, right?

This is basically what happened to tennis champion Naomi Osaka, the highest paid female athlete of all time. In 2018, when she beat Serena Williams, the crowd booed her and she was forced to cover her head with humiliation. At the 2021 French Open, despite bouts of depression and anxiety in Osaka, Ground Slam Tournaments (GST) threatened to disqualify her for refusing to speak to the media. After refusing to submit to the traumatic media attack, the GST fined her $ 15,000 and Osaka withdrew from the tournament, citing mental health issues.

The backlash was swift and fierce. To add insult to injury, some media vilified her for withdrawing from Roland Garros, calling her spoiled, weak and selfish. These reactions show that mental health in the workplace continues to be a point of contention that does not have the same bill as a broken arm or a sprained ankle. Osaka’s treatment is not just about the mental health of athletes. These are the expectations of all workplaces – many of which continue to impose punitive demands on employees that go against their mental and emotional well-being.

The outdated and punitive tendency of self-sacrifice to maintain your work is taking a backlash in its own right. Employees are no longer willing to turn off their office lights and curl up behind a potted plant to protect themselves from harmful business demands. They are no longer willing to submit to sexual, physical or mental abuse or trauma. And they’re no longer willing to pay the price for burnout as a “normal” side effect of hard work.

The tennis court is Osaka’s workplace. After openly sharing her vulnerability that the powers that be seemed to reject, she did a brave thing. She quit a job she loved deeply instead of sacrificing her sanity. And she is not alone. One in five people will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime. Here’s what we can all learn from Osaka about defending our own mental health at work:

  1. Practice fierce self-healing. Make mental wellness a top priority and take steps to protect it on a daily basis, even if your business doesn’t. Throw nice people out the window and treat your sanity first. What Osaka did was not selfish; it was taking care of yourself. She is the only person on the planet who knows what steps to take to protect and maintain her emotional well-being.
  2. Stay in control of your career. Speak up if you feel mistreated at work and don’t make career decisions that put your mental health at risk. Stand up for your well-being, no matter the pressure from your employer, and don’t back down when your sanity is at stake.
  3. Set healthy limits. Follow Osaka’s lead by being prepared to say no when companies make unreasonable demands that go against your sanity.
  4. Avoid self-humiliation. You are not weak or selfish when you refuse to submit to unhealthy demands in the workplace. You are a normal person responding to an abnormal situation. Some employees are born with pit bull determination, while others are more vulnerable to slingshots and arrows from workplace pressures.
  5. Maintain a close and strong support system Enlist family, friends, and coworkers you can rely on during times of oil spills. Great tennis player Serena Williams and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps came to Osaka’s defense and supported her decision to take care of her.
  6. Demonstrate a professional attitude. Osaka issued a statement expressing hope that both sides can find solutions to this controversial ordeal in the future.
  7. Consider leaving work. No one can tell you to quit your job without knowing the intimate details of your work and personal life. It can be helpful to see HR or a counselor to weigh the pros and cons of quitting a job that doesn’t make sense or purpose or requires you to sacrifice your sanity and well-being. Osaka did what she had to do for herself.

Exemplary companies support mental health in the workplace

It is no coincidence that some companies have higher employee engagement, morale and productivity and lower absenteeism, burnout and turnover. What are they doing that separates them from the lagging organizations? They make the mental health and well-being of employees the top priority. They are committed to creating psychological safety and open communication, and they prioritize personal care knowing that it goes hand in hand with job performance. They listen to employees, show empathy and take workers’ concerns into account in their decision-making.

Whatever adversity you might face – a toxic work environment, an abusive boss, a coworker looking for your job – you always have a choice, says former U.S. diplomat and workplace resilience expert Beth Payne (see my article on how she turned career adversity into career success here). “We’re all human beings, and it’s okay to be vulnerable,” Payne said. “It’s a paradox, but resilient people don’t necessarily have brute strength. They have resilience skills and tools. They have inner stamina, regardless of their body, gender or size. They know how to say no. They are able to say to someone, “You can’t treat me that way,” and they are able to quit toxic work if necessary. ”

Osaka has shown his vulnerability by sharing his mental health issues – as has Michael Phelps, who has struggled with his own mental health issues. There is an irony in his story. By putting her personal care at the top of the list, she is changing what athletes are willing to put up with. More importantly, she sets an example of what all workers expect from their employers to maintain their performance. Mentally healthy employees are productive employees who ultimately improve organizational results. If you want to follow in Osaka’s footsteps, take off your armor but don’t let anyone abuse you no matter where you work.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health crisis at work, contact Mental Health America or call the 24-hour National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.

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