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July 30, 2021 Amelia Wilcox

What Simone Biles Can Teach HR Leaders About Employee Mental Health

None of us are beyond having a mental health struggle.

Simone Biles departed from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on July 27th to protect her mental health. A phenomenon called the “twisties” was preventing her body and mind from syncing properly as she performed precise and dangerous maneuvers. Biles stated to critics: “For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit. My mind and body are simply not in sync… I don’t think you realize how dangerous this is on hard/competition surface.”

“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and wellbeing. That’s why I decided to take a step back.”

Here are 5 things HR leaders can take away from Simone Biles putting her mental health first.

1. We all have mental health

Even the best of the best struggle sometimes! Our mental health is like physical health—we all have it and need to take care of it. Biles knew that to protect her physical health, she needed to take care of her mind.

While most of us aren’t making dangerous flips in the air every day, we need to know how our mental state impacts how we interact with others, speak to ourselves, and perform on the job.

When we neglect our physical health, our quality of life deteriorates. The same goes for our mental health.

Just like it is okay to take a sick day when you have a cold, it’s okay to take a mental health day when you need it. Make this a reality for yourself and your team. Set the example and take a mental health day yourself!

Simone Biles performing in air—What Simone Biles Can Teach HR Leaders About Employee Mental Health

2. Mental health and physical health are merging

Our minds and bodies are inextricably connected. Employees and businesses are starting to embrace that reality.

With more people going to therapy than ever before, employees are looking for companies that support their entire being. 57% of Gen Zers say that mental health resources are essential when deciding to stick with an employer.

Millennials have a similar attitude. Company cultures that support the whole employee are becoming more and more crucial for retention and even the bottom line.

We are seeing a trend towards mental health becoming less stigmatized. Your company can help lead the cause!

If you offer healthcare benefits, why not provide employee counseling or meditation?

3. Poor mental health does not equal sadness

Many mistook Biles’ withdrawal from the competition as a sign of sadness or depression.

Mental health struggles can have any of the following effects:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • poor focus
  • restlessness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • withdrawal

The key is to figure out how mental health struggles show up for you—in your body and your mind.

There are many signs an employee is struggling with their mental health. Overworking, poor work-life balance, little exercise, relationship struggles, and impending deadlines can negatively impact our minds and bodies.

4. Mental health significantly impacts performance

1/3 of disability claims are related to mental health. Employees with unresolved depression lose about 35% of their productivity. Remote work has blurred work and home life, leading to unprecedented levels of burnout.

Gymnastics requires a high level of mind-body connection. The reality is that our work does, too—no matter how mundane, and even if we have a desk job.

That’s why we need to take care of ourselves in a holistic way. Taking care of our whole being by eating well, moving our bodies, giving ourselves grace, and allowing ourselves to take breaks when we need them.

The reality is that mental health needs to come first if we want to be at our best in our personal and professional lives.

Companies that recognize this and make it a living, breathing part of their organization have higher retention rates and excellent employee satisfaction. We’ve seen it time and time again!

5. Making mental health a priority shows employees that you value them

At work, we are a team. Teams support one another. Since mental health plays such a prominent role in our professional life, we should acknowledge it. We should call it out, talk about our struggles, and support one another on the journey.

Being a part of that journey for your employees can change lives.

Talking about mental health at work and giving employees (and even better, their families) access to counseling is a huge gesture. It shows that you care about the whole employee—not just what they present at work.

Being a champion for mental health and wellbeing is a true victory. Companies that put mental health first will prevail.

Amelia Wilcox

Amelia Wilcox is the Founder and CEO of Nivati, a leader in corporate massage and employee mental health support since 2010. Her high-growth B2B company provides employee stress management tools that arm businesses with actionable data and positive employee experiences to improve wellbeing, boost morale, and increase engagement.

Amelia has exponentially grown her company from a solo living-room service business to an international technology brand.

Recently listed as a Forty Under 40, Fast 50, Inc 5000 Twice awarded National Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Massage Therapist since 2002
Member of American Massage Therapy Association
Served on Utah Worksite Wellness Council from 2012-2015

Attended Utah College of Massage Therapy
Educated in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Utah

Massage Magazine (AMTA's publication)