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mental health centre court Companies must learn from Naomi Osaka and ensure mental health policies more than just PR exercise

French Open debacle indicative of the lip service paid to workplace wellbeing by many large corporations


GAME, SET AND MATCH: Naomi Osaka. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

GAME, SET AND MATCH: Naomi Osaka. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

GAME, SET AND MATCH: Naomi Osaka. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Over the past year, mental health has shot to the top of the corporate agenda.

As staff adapted to the challenges of working from home, there have been motivational newsletters, mindfulness apps, free helplines and even sweet treats aimed at preventing employees from cracking up in between Zoom conference calls.

But the drama around Naomi Osaka this week was an uncomfortable reminder to employees everywhere that it’s OK not to be OK – it’s just not OK to not be OK if it affects the bottom line.

The Japanese tennis star sensationally quit the French Open after being fined $15,000 for skipping a mandatory post-match press conference on Sunday.

World number two Naomi walked away from the prestigious tournament after being threatened with disqualification for refusing to do press during the two-week event, tweeting that “that whole situation is kicking a person when they’re down.”

The 23 year-old later explained how suffering “long bouts of depression” since her first US Open win in 2018 had led to her decision not to play ball with journalists.

“Though the tennis press has always been kind to me... I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media,” she wrote.

Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova are just some of the tennis icons who praised the young athlete for standing up to organisers and putting her mental health first.

Meditation app Calm offered to pay the fine for any player who opts out of media appearances for mental health reasons during the 2021 Grand Slam

As the drama ironically continued to generate more column inches than any press conference could, tennis chiefs reversed their stance on Osaka, pledging “support and assistance” to the “exceptional athlete” as she takes time away from the court.

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A joint statement from Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open and US Open bosses added: “Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media.

“We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements.”

But the whole debacle was indicative of the lip service that is paid to workplace wellbeing by many large corporations.

In threatening to boot Osaka off the tour, the message from her Grand Slam overlords was clear: It’s alright to admit you’re struggling, but only if you’re off the clock.

Practice self-care, sure, but only if it doesn’t interfere with your work commitments. Avoid unnecessary anxiety, but prepare to pay the price, financially and otherwise.

Health experts have warned of the mental health tsunami coming down the tracks as the true impact of Covid takes hold.

As the world reopens, and offices grind back into gear, companies must learn from the incident, and ensure their mental health policies are more than just a box-ticking PR or HR exercise.

The odd duvet day and soothing apps are great – but real, non-judgemental support is better.

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