3 Steps to Protecting Mental Health

3 Steps to Protecting Mental Health

By: Carroll Higdon, Head of Environmental Health and Safety, Siemens USA

As we pause to recognize World Mental Health Awareness Day on Oct. 10, there’s no question our perception of mental health has changed. The COVID-19 crisis, which has transformed our working environment, has also laid bare our need for greater compassion, empathy and understanding of everyone’s mental health. Today, we realized we probably don't know of anyone whose life isn’t affected by a mental health matter. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five U.S. adults is living with a mental illness.


Who do you know, yourself included, who isn’t dealing with some degree of social isolation, anxiety about the future, or grief? These days it’s OK not to always be totally OK. We need to be compassionate with each other, and also adaptive as individuals. 


As we adapt to the work environment, we are now asking ourselves: Do managers really need to physically sit in front of their employees to ensure productiveness? And the realization is: No. People are doing pretty well without that physical presence so long as they are staying connected. In fact, some, who are able to do their jobs from home, are putting in more time and becoming more productive with increased flexibility to manage personal and work obligations. 


In turn, we are becoming accustomed to hearing on business calls a doorbell ring, dogs bark and children asking for help with schoolwork as we embrace things once considered minor faux pas in the work environment. In a sense, we’ve become part of a bigger family, binding us and our community just a little bit tighter. 


However, this “new normal” comes with its own set of challenges. We used to be able to break away from home to work in the office, which provided some separation. Now, some parents are working while they also support virtual learning, school assignment deadlines, meals and snacks, sibling dustups and more, sometimes much more. It’s a supercharged entwinement that leaves close to zero physical and emotional space for just a little positive distance—for a little focus and a little quiet. This directly impacts mental health daily.


At Siemens, we have found that supporting our employees’ mental health is a three-step process: acceptance, awareness and action. 


First, acceptance. From a business side, this means understanding there are parents on the team who now need to spend time supporting virtual learning for their kids during the typical “9 -to-5” work day, or team members caring for elderly parents who require more attention as a result of the pandemic. Agility and tolerance have been essential as we move toward not only managing professional and personal needs, but also encouraging a healthy balance of both.


Next, awareness. Sometimes it may not be easy for an individual to truly understand how they are really doing. After all, we are just so busy fulfilling those duties of the day. It’s more important now that we talk and have the tough conversations about how people are feeling and coping with the world. Recognizing when we may need to reach out for help is crucial. 


Lastly, action. We have a long-standing partnership with the health-service organization Cigna and offer valuable information and resources for employees and their families, including stress management support, webinars and relevant tips, virtual doctor visits, and other important health reminders through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP).


We also have a healthy leadership training course that has had 80+ percent engagement. Managers sometimes don’t always feel comfortable talking to their employees when they believe something might be wrong, although they very much want to help. This brief training provides tips on how to approach an employee and ask the right questions.


Of course, this is just the beginning of a long journey toward sustaining mental wellness in an unpredictable world during unusual times. 


Let’s embrace our reality and move forward with all the opportunities and the transformed culture it offers. And let’s make sure to practice acceptance, awareness and action to minimize any risks regarding the mental health of our colleagues, as well as our own.