More and more, we see mental health discussed as the next global pandemic to look out for: a hidden crisis still considered taboo and an urgent issue companies need to address. That‘s why we‘re breaking the silence on mental health.
The energy sector is going through a major transformation, and sustainability is increasingly in focus. But sustainability doesn’t only apply to climate technologies. We also need to address it in relation to people and their mental health at work. That means sustainability in the sense of: Does everyone receive the emotional support they need to be able to continue to do their jobs? Are our current working practices sustainable?
Ensuring our people feel they work in a mentally healthy environment is an aspiration we wish to fulfil. We need to listen and learn from employees who tell us what it is they need at work. Shying away from openly addressing these issues only intensifies the problem.
Vinod Philip, Member of the Executive Board of Siemens Energy, explains: “There is a business imperative as to why this is important. In addition to the human part of it, you need to be an organization that people want to come and be a part of. You want to be an organization where people want to stay, where people can come in, be their true selves, and then also become their best selves.”
According to the World Health Organization, around one person in eight lives with a mental disorder; that’s almost one billion people. But the number affected is even higher than that: the Mind Share Partners’
2021 Mental Health at Work Report revealed that 76% of those surveyed had experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the previous year.
Suicide accounts for more than one in every 100 deaths and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die on average ten to twenty years earlier than the general population.
Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy $1 trillion every year. The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the situation. The WHO reports a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.
Yet even these figures do not fully convey how debilitating mental health issues can be for those who experience them. First, just hearing our employees describe how they felt tells us that there are different types of mental health issues.
Second, these issues affect staff at every level, from the C-suite to the workshop floor. Managers are not immune; indeed, they may even be more likely to experience symptoms since they are trying to look after others as well as themselves.
Third, some working environments may negatively affect mental health. Companies are facing increasing pressure in a challenging global economy. Especially when we look at the energy sector’s transformation amid calls for making energy more affordable, reliable, and sustainable. This kind of pressure can trickle down to employees and take a toll on their work-life balance.
Not surprisingly, this type of pressure has caused a marked increase in employees leaving their jobs for mental health reasons. The Mind Share Partners’ study of 1500 adults in a range of sectors across the US found that in 2020, 50% of resigning staff cited this as the reason for leaving, compared with 34% in 2019.
Departures on this scale clearly have implications for the sustainability of any business.
So why, given the scale and seriousness of the issue, are people reluctant to talk about it? Regrettably, many people still feel there is a stigma attached to mental health challenges. And for some including Mandy, there is a fear that revealing their struggle could cost them their job:
When I was away, some other people were hired to do my job. So at the beginning, it felt like really, ‘oh my God, they replaced me, they don’t need me anymore’.
The need to encourage and enable employees to speak out could hardly be clearer. Not just because it is a good and caring thing to do on a personal level, but because it is an essential thing to do for the long-term health of the business.
As with sustainability in energy generation and transmission, the solution here lies in taking a collaborative approach; working together for the best outcome since no one can do it alone.
This allyship starts at a personal level, with colleagues asking each other: "How are you, honestly?" – then listening and asking how they can help.
As Nadine puts it: "What is important is that when we ask "How are you?", we are ready to listen. I always try to have open conversations with my team to really understand, "Okay, are you feeling good? How are you? How are things in your life? I mean, would you like to talk?" It‘s important to open these kind of conversations."
But beyond this, there needs to be a company-wide change in culture; a big task, but a vital one. And this needs to be more than providing short-term initiatives and quick-fix resources. Companies need to adopt a more all-encompassing approach and make their whole culture empathetic and caring. That is what we are working on at Siemens Energy.
Our strategy is to promote a culture with open and honest dialogue on mental health, to protect employees from those aspects of work which may cause stress, and to support those colleagues who are affected by these issues.
We have an Employee Assistance Program, a confidential and professional counselling service available to staff in almost every market. It can be accessed by employees looking for individual support, by managers who wish to learn more about how they can take care of their teams, and by the mental health champions who are being trained in a growing number of countries.
Nadine says: “Siemens Energy made available several tools to help employees through the pandemic. One was an app which offered free therapy sessions. That was really helpful.”
If every leader starts to understand how prevalent this topic is, and starts to engage every day in conversations about mental health, to reach out to each other, I think that would have a domino effect.
Member of the Executive Board of Siemens Energy
A more open culture is what employees want to see. And that’s exactly what we want to give them. What does such a culture look like? Elements include, but are certainly not limited to:
We aren’t saying we are perfect. We aren’t saying we’ve found the magic healing formula. We still have a long way to go. But we want to learn more, to invest more, to talk more and listen more – looking for solutions that will help and energize every member of the Siemens Energy team so that they can bring that energy to wider society.