What the Olympics Can Teach Businesses About Employee Culture

What the Olympics Can Teach Businesses About Employee Culture

By Tricia O'Connor

We’re almost a week into the Olympic Games and American athletes have experienced tremendous highs and lows.

The pressure under which these athletes compete is unlike anything else in global sport. It’s made us pay close attention to how Team USA athletes interact with each other and with their coaches. In other words, what’s the culture like in between high-stress moments of competition?

If organizational psychology teaches us anything, it’s that a positive environment will produce dramatic benefits – and this holds true whether you’re reaching for a gold medal or launching a new initiative.  

Here are some examples of how the Tokyo Olympics are giving business leaders a master class in building team culture, and why background screening should always be a part of it.

The Weight of Gold

Two days ago, the greatest gymnast in the world stepped away from the team Olympic competition citing mental health concerns. American gymnast Simone Biles told reporters, “Whenever you get in high-stress situations, you kind of freak out and don’t know really know how to handle all of those emotions especially at the Olympic Games.”

Biles’ focus on mental health is a theme echoed in the HBO Sports documentary The Weight of Gold, which underscores the tremendous amount of stress and pressure American Olympic athletes endure on their quest for gold.

Olympian Michael Phelps says, “approximately 80% [of athletes] go through some kind of post-Olympic depression.” The documentary highlights ways in which the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOC) can improve the mental healthcare, safety, and culture of its athletes. This foundational support can go a long way to improving the overall happiness and productivity of our nation’s Olympic athletes.

Cut-Throat Culture Cuts People Down

The same principle holds true for businesses.

Businesses built on a cut-throat, high-stakes culture often operate on the assumption the pressure and stress will elevate their employees to perform better, harder, faster. Instead, just like Olympic athletes without a positive support system, those employees burn out quickly and suffer mental health and even physical health stresses.

The American Psychological Association estimates:

  • 550 million workdays are lost each year owing to stress on the job
  • 60-80% of workplace accidents are blamed on stress
  • More than 80% of doctor visits are to deal with stress
  • Workplace stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, among other health problems

All these missed days of work, accidents, and health problems add up for companies, too. Health care spending at cut-throat organizations is nearly 50% higher than at other less stressful workplaces.

Key Principles for Positive Culture

Positive culture needs to solve for two things:

  1. Optimize business operations
  2. Grow a unified, cohesive, healthy workforce

The return on investing in culture is exponential. Invision, a world leader in digital design touting every Fortune 100 as a client, reports “design-driven organizations outperform the S&P by 228% over ten years.” Culturally designed organizations produce successful and well-designed products and services crowning themselves industry leaders. People bonded through a common belief system collaborate more effectively and efficiently. Team members are connected by a guiding sense of purpose. This creates community, tenure, and retention. These human dynamics directly translate to higher profits and revenues, ultimately capturing additional market share. 

So, what should businesses focus on to build or re-establish company culture? These essential principles should fit any sized organization:

  1. Demonstrate empathy – This is emotional intelligence 101. At its core, empathy is compassion; The ability to understand someone’s thoughts and feelings and take their concerns into consideration.
  2. Practice active listening – Active listening is hearing not only the words your colleagues are saying but understanding the complete message they’re communicating. It’s listening to obtain information and learn the motivation or reason behind their words.
  3. Be emotionally and physically safe The impact of COVID-19 brought feelings of despair, loss, and disruption to many people, but it also brought a drastic change in what employees find essential — their health and wellbeing. Tracking environmental factors in real-time helps keep the workplace safe and helps employees feel safe.
  4. Foster open communication Opening communication between employees, not just from a top-down approach, boosts morale. It doesn’t have to just be about work either. Showing you care for colleagues as friends is kind and compassionate.
  5. Find the fun – Since the pandemic, employees are working in an entirely new way and in some cases an entirely new space. This can contribute to employees’ fear and anxieties. It’s important to find ways to make work fun and distract employees from this new reality.
  6. Focus on trust Innovation, experimentation,and more creative outcomes develop from a place of trust. Employees feel empowered to try things when they are supported and encouraged. A culture of negative consequences makes employees fearful and feel boxed in.

Background Screening Builds Safe Cultures

While developing culture itself is an idealistic practice, there are actionable pieces of culture that are pragmatic. Background screening is one of them. Background screening is a pragmatic piece of building a positive work culture because it simultaneously addresses and improves business workflows, workplace safety, and employee wellbeing.

But wait, you say. Aren’t background checks invasive or lead to unfair hiring practices? The truth is that when deployed correctly, background screening helps promote a positive work culture by building safer working environments filled with engaged, skilled, and culturally significant employees.

Pre-employment background checks play a key role in ensuring a strong fit between a new hire, their new job, and their new company. Screening candidates helps HR professionals establish and maintain a safe workplace for employees, clients, and visitors – a vital success factor in talent retention. Screening also helps recruiters learn information about each candidate that helps place the right talent at the right time with the right team in the right job.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee conducts background checks on all athletes, coaches, volunteers, contractors, vendors, and board members, among others. The USOC states its background check policy is to “Create a safe living, training, and competition environment for athletes and other individuals associated with the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”

Keep People Safe with EBI

Just as Olympic athletes continue to shine a light on the importance of a safe working environment, we’ll continue to do the same here at EBI.

Prioritizing a healthy and safe workplace is crucial for businesses to retain employees, recruit new talent, and continue building a positive reputation for their brands.

Known for our exceptional client service, seamless integrations, and the best migration team in the business, EBI is the screening industry’s most-awarded background screening company. EBI is the only Consumer Reporting Agency (background screener) that offers a Transition Framework and dedicated Transition Management Team to help enterprise clients realize maximum efficiency during migration and beyond. The result is smarter and safer background checks to optimize your business and keep your people safe. Contact us to learn more.

Go Team USA!

HR & Recruiting

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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