National | Mental Health

Legend encourages businesses to ‘shut down for an hour’ in support of mental health

Two-time Olympic shotput gold medallist Dame Valerie Adams is teaming up with Snap Fitness and mental health charity I Am Hope to launch the Happy Hour Initiative she says will help boost staff morale and business productivity.

The idea is for company boardrooms, worksites, studios and offices to shut down for an hour a day and allow employees and staff to “fill their cup”.

“Do what they need to do to feel somewhat normal, to be able to regenerate, to be more productive in the business. I think we acknowledge that it is needed, especially in today’s society.”

A survey by Southern Cross Insurance and Business New Zealand found that in 2020 64 % of organisations reported increased stress levels among staff, with Covid-19 a significant contributor, while the 2023 Umbrella Wellbeing Report found 43 per cent of workers have to neglect some work tasks because of an increased workload.

Adams says businesses have a responsibility to help decrease the stress levels of employees, and is hoping the conversation started by Snap Fitness and I Am Hope can encourage managers and business owners to take on the challenge.

“They can give you better productivity, they can give you the best of themselves. One hour is just an hour but an hour less at work and an hour more for them and we’ll give you the benefits at the end of the day.

Taking a break ‘important’

“It is a challenge and I get it, money loss, et cetera, et cetera. But you’re not getting the best out of people if we just continue to keep hammering them day in, day out.”

Understanding the importance of taking a mental break to increase physical productivity has come after more than two decades at the highest levels of professional sport for Dame Valerie.

“I’m totally not an expert in this area. But it’s one I have suffered from myself and knowing the importance, it is to be able to give yourself time.

“For me, it’s about training physically. I’ve trained for over 25 years professionally as my job, where now I do it for my mental health. I do it to be able to function on a day-to-day basis.

“Yes, everybody’s busy, I’m a busy māmā too, and life gets in the way. But it’s just a matter of making time because it is important. If you’re not well, you’re not able to give your best to others.”

After retiring from competition last year and stepping away from an environment of private gyms where psychologists and therapists are on hand, Dame Valerie described being a bit whakamā (shy, embarrassed) using public gyms, like Snap Fitness, to keep training.

‘Found my mojo

“All of a sudden, I didn’t want to do those big lifts, I just wanted to look like everybody else. Now I’ve kind of found my mojo, it’s an amazing place to be. But I recognise myself that if I don’t give myself that time, I can’t be the best mother for my children, I can’t be the best person for me.

“And that’s hard, don’t get me wrong. It’s hard!

And some of those days when I just actually can’t be bothered, I don’t do it. I just know I need the rest and I pick it up again the next day.”

With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to an end, and I Am Hope’s annual fundraiser, Gumboot Friday taking place this week, Dame Valerie is also encouraging Māori and Polynesian people to keep reaching out for help when it’s needed.

“When you do need help, it’s not a weakness, it’s actually a strength, being able to acknowledge it and get the help that is needed.”

Public Interest Journalism