Cisco CEO opens up about mental health

by HRD20 Nov 2018

IT giant Cisco is taking a more active role in providing support for employees who may be dealing with mental health issues, in light of the recent suicide of high-profile personalities.

In a company-wide email, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins reached out to employees about the importance of dealing with mental health concerns following the suicide of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Robbins, who was attending the Cisco Live conference in Orlando, felt compelled to address the issue.

“In light of recent tragedies, I wanted to step away from Cisco Live for a moment to talk about the importance of mental health,” Robbins wrote.

“Unfortunately, we all know friends, family, and co-workers battling mental health conditions, or maybe you’re going through your own struggles.”

The Cisco chief urged employees to “talk openly and extend compassion” to each other and that they “have each other’s backs.” He also reminded them that professional support is available if they need it.

Robbins’ email received more than 100 replies within a few days. Some workers even shared their own personal struggles with mental health.

In an interview with CNBC, Robbins said he didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem, but the volume of responses they received from their employees helped the company become more active in addressing it.

Cisco now provides employees with benefits, such as anxiety and depression screening, counselling for workers and their families, meditation and yoga classes, and on-site treatment and health centers. The company also offers emergency paid time off, separate from workers’ vacation leaves.

Robbins said he was compelled to act when an executive opened up to him about a family member who was dealing with mental illness and was potentially suicidal.

“I wanted to help, and in that process it became clear to me that this is a terrible situation and I really sensed the desperation that people feel,” the CEO said.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, close to one in five adults suffer from a mental health issue. The US spends more than US$200bn a year to treat ailments such as anxiety, stress and depression.

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