Mental Health

An article by Dr. Ralf Franke, head of the Siemens department Environmental Protection, Health and Safety, on a new way of interacting with mentally ill employees.

Our playful approach to the taboo topic of mental health

On February 26, 2018 I had the opportunity to give a lecture at the 8th Corporate Health Conference in Berlin. The topic I selected for my lecture was our new gamified management training course for promoting mental health at the workplace.

A serious problem for employees and the company

As you probably know, mental illnesses are not only a major strain on the people afflicted by them; the resulting absence from work and reduced performance capabilities are also a serious problem for the businesses and the economy overall. As the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health calculated in a recent study, annual costs in Germany alone are €21 billion due to productivity losses and absenteeism due to mental ill-health problems. From my perspective, every company should be committed to take care of the mental health of their employees, for the well-being of the employees and of the company.

Facing the taboo

One of the major obstacles to properly dealing with mental illnesses is stigma. Despite the availability of effective mental-health treatments, the number of people experiencing mental disorders who don’t receive any healthcare treatment is estimated at up to 70 percent. During my many years as company doctor and corporate health director, I saw for myself that psychological problems are an absolute taboo topic and something that most people clearly don’t want to talk about with their managers. At the same time, this is a necessary step that could enable companies to help affected employees. That’s why we at Siemens decided to promote the discussion of mental health in the workplace and break down our reservations and uncertainties in dealing with employees affected by mental health issues.


Our measures for breaking the silence and cutting through the mental health stigma focus on the three components of stigma: misinformation or lack of knowledge, prejudicial attitudes and lack of supportive behavior. With a poster campaign we try to create awareness in our organization and introduce a change in mindset. A second measure is a set of video interviews with an affected employee and a manager in which they openly talk about their experiences. Because personal reports about experiences with emotional problems are belonging to the most effective de-stigmatizing measures and help to create a better understanding of the topic for our employees. The third measure is the gamified management training course for promoting mental health in the workplace. Our idea is that if we succeed in showing our managers how they can recognize behavioral changes associated with psychological problems at an early stage, and react appropriately according to their role and responsibility, they can support individual employees in overcoming a mental health crisis.

Learn to deal right

The gamified training puts participants in different daily work situations in a computer game context and provides regular feedback about the decisions they make. It lets managers learn to hone their awareness of mental health issues, to recognize warning signs in employees, and to provide them with optimal support. At the conference in Berlin I had the opportunity to demonstrate a few minutes of the gamified management training course to give the audience an idea of how it works and what it looks like. Feedback from the participants was very positive, and some health managers from other companies told me that they could imagine deploying a similar training at their workplace.

Our initial experiences with the training have been positive. We asked 48 managers to fill out a questionnaire before the day of the training, the day after it, and three months afterward. We wanted to find out if the training helped increase their knowledge of mental health, change their attitude toward people affected by mental illnesses, and improve their ability to deal appropriately with mental health issues at work. The small study showed that the training clearly helped improve the knowledge and the skills of the participants.

Proactive action

Discuss this important topic with us.

During the breaks at the 8th Corporate Health Conference, I had a chance to talk to various health managers. In these discussions I learned that mental health is an important topic for the health management of nearly every company. To better help affected people and reduce costs, we need to proactively approach this topic.

What does your company do to break down the stigma about mental health and promote an open environment for this topic? I’m looking forward to receiving your feedback!