How Corporate Culture Impacts Mental Health and Happy Workplaces

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Earlier this month, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open citing mental health reasons. The media had a field day discussing this.

Osaka, like most high profile athletes, received lots of unsolicited feedback on social media.

Many supporters commented how brave she was.

But there were also plenty of trolls and haters criticising her for “winning millions of dollars and not being willing to spend the time to answer a few questions.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this incident, here are the details:

Naomi Osaka announced she was not going to attend press conferences at the French Open due to the stress and anxiety they caused her and wanting to prioritise her mental health.

According to French Open rules, participants are required to attend press conferences.

Since Osaka decided to boycott the press conferences, the French Open issued her a $15,000 fine and said she would incur harsher penalties if she continued to avoid the press conferences.

Osaka responded by withdrawing from the French Open.

The French Open is a big deal.

It’s one of the four major tournaments which are considered Grand Slams.

Withdrawing voluntarily, particularly after having spent so much time, money, and effort to train over years, is not insignificant.

I took note of this incident is because… Osaka is not technically an employee of the French Open, but being a tennis player is her job.

Being punished for failing to fulfill a part of her job which results in a mental health difficulty is not something we are really OK with these days.

Let’s consider another perspective.

What if the French Open required participants to sign autographs, but she injured her hand? Would they penalise her $15,000 for failing to fulfil part of her contract?

Reasonable accommodations for special needs, whatever those may be, have become the norm.

Standing desks for back injuries. Extended time on tests for people with learning disabilities. Service animals. These are expected accommodations. Why is mental health different?

When the French Open was criticised for fining Osaka, the organisers responded quite quickly by saying it supports the mental health of participants.

Of course, they certainly couldn’t afford the negative PR of saying anything different.

This situation made me stop and think.

Mental Health Advocacy is a Powerful Indication of Corporate Culture

Over the past year, particularly as a result of the pandemic, there has been a lot of focus on mental health. We are seeing companies take an active role, or least, an interest, in the mental health of their employees.

This episode is not intended to focus on mental health. But the way a company treats its employees’ mental health is a good indication of what the organisation prioritises, how they think about their employees, and corporate culture as a whole.

Corporate culture is not something that should be underestimated in a job search. In fact, corporate culture significantly impacts employees’ happiness or lack thereof in their jobs and life in general.

When I work with clients in my 1:1 programme, corporate culture is something I really emphasise to them. Frequently, it’s not something many job seekers care about.

Particularly for job seekers who’ve been made redundant or unemployed for several months, their concern is finding a job and getting a salary. How they will be treated is NOT at the forefront of their mind.

Sometimes job seekers become so tunnel visioned and focused on getting the job that even when they do see red flags about the corporate culture, they ignore them.

Recognizing Corporate Culture During Job Interviews

I had a client recently who had been idolising a company for years. This was his dream employer. He was 100% focused on getting his dream job with this dream company.

We worked together to get his application materials just right. And we did a well because he was invited for an interview.

During the interview we was presenting to a dozen company executives. Towards the end of his presentation one of the executives smacked his hand on the boardroom table and said, “This guy knows what he’s talking about!”

My client was ecstatic. He was so happy because he could see this dream job in his grasp!

But then the same man followed up that compliment by saying, “not like all you other idiots in here!,” referring to his colleagues.

My client was devastated.

He thought to himself, “if this is the way this person, who’s meeting me for the first time, talks about his colleagues in front of a stranger, what will he say about me once I’ve been working with him for a while?”

My client got the offer.

For years he worked to get a position with this particular company.

And he got the offer!

But his enthusiasm was gone.

He was actually conflicted about whether or not to take the position because he could see in his interactions with staff during the interview that the corporate culture was not what he wanted.

You might not think company culture is a make it or break it issue, but it certainly should be a consideration for you in your next job search.