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Sports-Your missed golden ticket opportunity to positive mental health & employee engagement

“Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” — George F. Will

The quest for an engaged workforce is at an all-time impetus as companies continue to struggle with the new reality of a complex multigenerational workforce, a world still reeling from the effects of the post-pandemic world and mass layoffs amidst a looming economic recession. But with every challenge comes the opportunity to innovate. And with the war for talent steaming up, we offer an unlikely hack to increasing employee engagement while improving mental health among staff as we mark this year's #mentalhealthawarenessmonth and prepare for #worldcup2022.

Globally, 10th October is celebrated as World Mental Health Day. The overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

On the other hand, millions of people worldwide are counting down the days until the start of the highly anticipated 2022 Fifa World Cup being held in Qatar on 20th November.

Mental health & employee engagement go hand in hand since one can’t coexist without the other. But why is sports the ultimate way to beat these two birds with one stone? Sports is a universal language. Next to music & art, there’s nothing quite as influential in the world, and below we share why this could be your gateway to a better employee experience;

Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash

1. It provides a practical way to reinforce & learn positive values;

“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.” — Ken Doherty

“The ability to conquer one’s self is no doubt the most precious of all things that sports bestows.” — Olga Korbut

It’s no wonder everyone from kids to global business leaders turns to sports as a way to build the right persona. Everything from Grit, Leadership, Vision, Teamwork, Respect, Ethics, Preparation, Failure, Mentorship, Skill, Competition and so much more. Sports provide a natural way for humans to learn important life skills & values.

2. It’s effortlessly fun

A significant challenge for employee engagement initiatives especially for our younger generation is how to create employee experiences that are seamless. Employees do not want “forced fun”. With sports, as HRPs, we allow the motion of the activities to be participant-led & organized, thereby cutting through the usual corporate bureaucracy & stigma that can dull EE activities. It can also be easier to schedule, coordinate and oftentimes cheaper as well compared to other activities.

3. It’s a window into current emerging issues & trends

From diversity & inclusion issues, politics and corruption to mental health awareness as we’ve seen with famous American player Tom Brady’s confessions last month, sports provides a more comfortable avenue to discuss somewhat sensitive societal topics and emerging issues.

4. It’s a vehicle for nurturing & discovering talent

The best talent managers know that talent isn’t bred in the same environment. This is why for decades many employers have debated the use of traditional performance management techniques. Since not everyone shines the same way, sports could help identify upcoming talent by giving them opportunities away from the traditional office setup. For more on long-term talent acquisition strategies, visit our earlier blog.

5. It’s human

People are human first, employee second.

Employee engagement initiatives if done consciously can provide unique opportunities for employers to cut through the divides that exist in society and by extension the workplace. In a world that's so divisive and angry today, sports provide a way to unite nations and people. For instance, the whole world is coming together in 4 days to engage in the famous #worldcup2022. And with it forgetting tribes, status, political affiliations, religion, race, gender etc. Sports unite human beings by tapping into the values above that make us human. An excellent example of that is how the entire world came together to support our very own Kenyan star marathoner Eliud Kipchoge in 2019 & again in 2022 this year as he broke the 2-hour time record under the mantra #nohumanislimited.

No human is limited- Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own 2-hour world record in 2019 in Berlin

6. It provides a sense of belonging

As we stated in another article, one of the keys to crafting a good career is by mapping the needs around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And one of these all-important ones is the need for belonging. Sports is by far one of the best examples of social psychology and an easy way to get people to get to know & feel connected to each other through the spirit of fans or players. It could also help tackle the same for the workplace as a lack of belonging has been cited as one of the top 10 reasons employees are leaving their jobs.

To retain employees, organizations need to evolve their approach to building community, cohesion, and a sense of belonging at work.- Mckinsey Consulting

7. It promotes positive hormones & good health

For a human being to be most productive, happy & attentive, the body needs several hormones to promote well-being & good health. Whether as a player or fan, physical activity like engaging in sports is a sure way of getting the required hormonal balance for happy living.

8. It offers a variety of options

From soccer, basketball, car racing, boxing, tennis, cricket, athletics, and indoor games like chess & table tennis to over other 200 recognized sports, you’ll be guaranteed there’s something for everyone that’s both enjoyable & frequent.

So how can you make this happen for your team?

From the above, you can see that sports can be a low-hanging fruit for your HR team. You can easily get started by;

  • Sponsor screenings for the upcoming tournaments in the World Cup. All schedules are readily available online. A quick trivia or quiz between matches wouldn’t hurt either. Don’t forget the drinks and snacks too!
  • Sponsor sports quads n your company by linking employees with common physical interests together.
  • Enable & facilitate sports events in & out of the office.
  • Recognise & reward employees who exhibit the right attitudes & behaviors. In the Kenyan military, for instance, officers who perform excellently in sports competitions are also promoted at the workplace or given financial rewards.
  • Embed sports psychology into your team activities from meetings to team buildings. Remember engagement activities have to flow naturally with the human being’s brain flow & energy. For more on game psychology & gamification, read our previous article here.

“Overpower. Overtake. Overcome.” — Serena Williams

“Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the way to succeed.” — LeBron James

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” — Muhammad Ali

For more on what #worldmentalhealthday means and what you can do, visit the official WHO website on the topic here.



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Stella Ngugi

Stella Ngugi


HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech& Entrepreneurship meet| Eat. Pray. Code. Blog. Hire | 🇰🇪 IVisit for more info.