Feature Story

Mental health priorities for employees and leaders remain steadfast at Cisco

by Stephanie Chan

Mental health priorities for employees and leaders remain steadfast at Cisco

The company is working to provide better remote care and even a dedicated day of rest.

It’s no question that mental health needs have risen with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between sheltering-in-place and the difficulties of facing an uncertain future, many have been seeking virtual therapy sessions. The Wall Street Journal reports that online therapy service Talkspace saw a recent 65 percent rise in demand, and therapy chat-based Ginger saw an 88 percent higher demand in a recent week compared to an average week last year. Businesses know that essential mental health services can curb expanding rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse in employees. Bloomberg cites that in recent weeks, 60 to 70 percent of a company’s employees are struggling with their mental health, and Harvard Business Review reports that a recent survey of 1,200 U.S. employees showed that 70 percent believed the pandemic was the toughest time in their careers. With this hurdle, business leaders like Cisco are doing what they can to address the issue head-on.

A day for employees

During the length of Cisco’s work-from-home order, CEO and Chairman Chuck Robbins has hosted a weekly all-hands meeting for employees to hear from medical experts and other executives about the most up-to-date information. During one of these meetings, Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas announced that Friday, May 22nd would be deemed “A Day for Me.” In an email, Katsoudas writes that as the intensity of the global pandemic rose, so did employee’s challenges, priorities, and their commitment to work.

“Our wellbeing always comes first,” writes Katsoudas, “Which is why we continue to focus on our people, talk about mental health, and invite experts to our Cisco Check-In sessions. Now is the time for us to try new things in support of our wellbeing – like taking a collective break.”

The People leader stressed that while employees should be proud of their recent work, they should also feel good about stepping away from that work to rest. Leaders advised the company to spend the day off with family, loved ones, or even use the day for a solo recharge.

Ending the stigma

An email about mental health from a Cisco leader is not unprecedented. In 2018, an increase in coverage of celebrity suicides sparked a company-wide email from Robbins about mental health. CNBC writes that Robbins aimed to end the stigma of talking openly about mental struggles, and to begin a productive dialogue of compassion and support. After he sent the email, more than 100 employees responded with appreciation and their own stories of personal experience. A more conscious culture began to grow within the company, one where emotional health is prioritized.

President of Cisco Canada Rola Dagher has advocated on the importance of mental health after seeing those close to her struggle with their own mental health. The leader went on to push for better emotional health access for all Canadians. In 2019, Dagher announced that Cisco partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to connect patients with physicians faster using Webex collaboration technology.

“More and more of us are realizing that mental health is health, period,” Dagher writes.

Ramping up virtual care

Cisco’s work with CAMH has strengthened through the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 4th, Cisco announced an expansion  of tele-mental health services to meet the growing demand for virtual care in Canada. Between March and April 2020, CAMH saw its virtual care visits increase from 350 per month to 3,000 per month. Because of the increasing need, Cisco deployed its Webex technology across the organization and helped train 400 CAMH clinicians to use the conferencing tech. Through this, patients were able to experience shorter wait times, seamless and secure communications, and flexibility with scheduling.

The use of Webex has been essential to keep many other supportive services up and running during the global crisis. In April, San Francisco’s Suicide Prevention (SFSP) agency leaders knew that they needed to continue enabling their essential suicide prevention and crisis intervention calls. Through the help of a Cisco employee who volunteers at SFSP, the company was able to set up a Webex Calling solution in just 4 days­—this enabled nearly 100 volunteers and staff to take calls and provide necessary help while sheltering-in-place.

Cisco is committed to mental health and the wellbeing of employees and communities. Read more about the company’s commitments on Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility page.

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