Managing Stress in the Workplace: Lessons from Olympic Athletes

“Citius, Altius, Fortius.” 

It is quite evident that the Olympic motto, Latin for “faster, higher, stronger” acknowledges elite athletes for their physical strength, but what often goes unnoticed are the mental challenges i.e. stress and anxiety that accompany this strife. On the surface, Olympic athletes may seem invincible; appearing calm, cool, collected, and laser-focused in face of the biggest sporting event of their lives. However, the experience of nervousness and stress is inevitable, unimaginable, and nearly impossible to escape when it comes to competing on the world stage.

Recently, there was a Leadership Lab article posted in the Globe and Mail about understanding similar pressures affecting both athletes and employees, to help increase resiliency in the workplace. The article suggests that stress and anxiety can develop as a result of high expectations from a coach or boss including (Cerullo, 2016):

  • Pressure to meet goals and tight deadlines
  • Mental and/or physical stress from training or working long hours
  • Pressure to excel; and
  • Difficulties finding balance between training, work, and personal lives

Stressors such as these can ultimately become overbearing and have a negative toll on our focus, engagement, and performance in work or sport (Cerullo, 2016).

In combating the pressures of the Olympic games, coaches play a major role in providing guidance and support to their athletes. Employers parallel the role of Olympic coaches as they must provide direction to employees who, like athletes dedicate a large amount of personal resources i.e. time and energy, to achieve organizational targets. Given these striking similarities, how can employers borrow tips from an Olympic athlete’s regimen and help employees cope with stress in the workplace? Here are three key strategies as proposed by Cerullo (2016):

1) Promote good nutrition and fitness

  • Develop a set of eating practices to assist your employees in making healthy choices for lunch meetings e.g. opt out of pizza and sugary drinks
  • Provide opportunities to get up and move e.g. standing work stations, setting up a water cooler, organizing walking groups, promoting stair use, etc.

2) Integrate unique wellness programs

  • Uniting the parallels between sport and the workplace, Morneau Shepell’s Getting to Your Gold program provides employees with the opportunity to be coached, and inspired by Canada’s Olympians through motivational videos, blog posts, and personal updates. Contact us for more information on other resources on corporate wellness programs.

3) Recognize stressful situations and offer support

  • Excellent managers and coaches can recognize when their team is feeling overwhelmed. Monitor for signs of stress in an employee i.e. fatigue, irritability, decreased motivation, or a spike in absences from work.
  • Offer support by scheduling in some time to listen, shift around work duties, or refer to appropriate counselling services available in the workplace.

For your continued interest, check out this video to learn how six Olympic athletes personally deal with the pressure of the games.


How have your athletic endeavors shaped your ability to cope with stress? Let us know in the comments below!



Cerullo, P (2016). What Olympic athletes can teach us about managing stress. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from 

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