During the Olympics this year, Simone Biles stepped away from her competition at the height of her career, citing The Twisties and her mental health.

Depending on where you looked on the internet, people either supported her fully or were completely and irrationally critical of her decision.

A couple of days later, she posted on Twitter, “The outpouring love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics, which I never truly believed before.”

She, Naomi Osaka, and Michael Phelps have all led the way for Olympic athletes to be upfront about their mental health and to change the conversation that, until now, has been perpetuated that it’s weak to admit they’re facing a mental hardship.

And it’s not just Olympians who face this: it’s all of us mere humans, too.

Mental health isn’t just a media headline.

According to research from PRovoke Media, it’s a groundswell that is leading to a paradigm shift, with employees not hesitating to hold their employers accountable for the mental health of them and their colleagues.

As we consider remote working the new normal, particularly in the work that we do, mental health can be addressed in ways it couldn’t when going to a location was paramount to the work that we do.

The Great Resignation Is Fueled By Mental Health

It’s no surprise people are quitting their jobs in droves and citing mental health as one of the reasons.

It’s been coined The Great Resignation because pretty much every employer is experiencing it, from the hospitality industry through the service industry.

People are burned out.

And, while they may not be putting their lives at risk by attempting a triple double during a floor routine while experiencing the Twisties, everyone has said, “ENOUGH!”

A new study by U.S. outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas (that is the best name ever) that surveyed 172 HR and business leaders and found that 68% were concerned about an exodus of talent, and 59% agreed that the “Great Resignation” has to do with worker burnout.

Linked to this, 75% of companies cited that employees wanted more flexibility at work; importantly, this was not just in terms of where they work, but also when.

The survey’s sponsor, Andrew Challenger, said:

For many Americans, after nearly 18 months of lockdowns and precautions, doing their work every day is like trying to light a used match. Add to that, mounting pressure to work in-person, any child care or health care issues, and now rising COVID cases nationwide, it’s no wonder workers increasingly are leaving jobs. Simone Biles is like so many American workers: dedicated, talented, and instrumental team members making the difficult decision to do what they think is best in the face of unprecedented pressures.

I’m watching this happen with some of our clients.

People are saying, “I can go work for XYZ company and make more money than I am now with better flexibility, the ability to work autonomously without back-to-back meetings, and no stress if my kids are quarantined and have to stay home from school for two weeks.”

And it’s up to the employer to respond.

In many cases, they are offering new incentives for the entire workforce, not just those threatening to leave.

According to the survey, the main incentives are around flexible working with the aim of tackling burnout—with 65% of those surveyed offering flexible hours, 62% offering remote working options, and 53% providing hybrid working arrangements—and others offering higher pay and cash bonuses.

Many workers have used the pandemic to reprioritize what is most important in their lives and reassess what they want to do in their careers.

Money is just a piece of that.

People also want to be able to walk their dogs during the day and know they’ll still have opportunities for advancement.

There’s also no denying the increased polarization of political and social views amplified during the pandemic that might contribute to one’s anxiety and comfort levels when faced with going back to an office in person.

Everything from elections to social advocacy and vaccine status will be suddenly up for discussion.

I know how personally uncomfortable it is for me when talking with clients on the phone or Zoom who have widely different views than my own.

It used to be that we could have respectful debate, but the pandemic has changed all of that. And it’s another reason employees are reconsidering their work lives.

We Don’t Have to Sacrifice Ourselves

I grew up in a global PR firm and got my feet wet working on multi-million dollar campaigns for gigantic brands.

I learned how to do my job by being thrown into the deep end and seeing if I could swim.

I’ve traveled the world for clients, spoken at conferences in more countries than I can count, and wined and dined at all of the best restaurants.

I worked 100 hour weeks in my 20s and early 30s and didn’t give it a second thought.

I once worked so many hours in one week that, driving home from the office at 2 a.m. one morning, I got pulled over for suspected drunk driving (I wasn’t drunk and, when the officer realized I was just exhausted, he took me home).

I’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues and clients. I’ve been verbally abused. And I had more than one scary encounter with drunk clients while on the road together.

And, when you did say something, you were always told to go sit in the corner and do your job.

The 100-hour workweeks were just part of the gig.

The sexual harassment had to be endured because they were our largest client.

So you went along to get along.

It wasn’t until I got married that someone actually said to me, “Yeah, you don’t need to put up with this crap.”

And he fully supported me in leaving a toxic job.

But even after going out on my own, there have been multiple times that we’ve had to fire clients because of inappropriate behavior.

The sexual advances didn’t stop; I simply got to decide what we did about it—and I categorically will not stand for it.

There Is Tremendous Mental Exhaustion Right Now

The pressures of a communicator’s job are immense—balancing multiple relationships, servicing internal and external clients to keep them all happy, and the pressure (OMG, the pressure!) to measure every tactic to results.

Add to this leading a team, managing a P&L, and having to transition an organization (or organizations) on the fly to communicate their values and take a stance on social, climate, and political issues.

And that doesn’t even begin to consider all of the family responsibilities—kids learning from home, older students returning home, family members getting sick or worse, not even being able to see our families or friends for way too long.

It’s all too much and has created tremendous mental exhaustion to an already stressful job.

The cost of working without a pause, the endless syncs and Zoom meetings, the isolation, and the inability to express or articulate its effect—it’s all very real.

Everyone knows it and feels it.

Most of us have learned to grin and bear it, but some, like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, have begun to pave the way toward normalizing it and expressing it.

This is the wave of the future and I, for one, could not be happier that our younger generations won’t stand for the crap that we did.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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