The pandemic has changed internal communication forever. To tackle the challenging COVID-19 situation and ensure the health and safety of employees, internal communication rose to a whole new level and played a key role. First, internal communication realized that digital is the answer, and that there was a need for frequent, almost real time updates. Second, internal communication is pivotal to maintain strong employee engagement. To further this goal, internal communication needs to be people centric, customized, in order to create a sense of belonging. Internal communication developed into community management with a clear focus on employee wellbeing and mental health.
What is the role of an employer when it comes to addressing mental health issues? And how can we as Siemens Switzerland address mental health in the most inclusive way to ensure all needs of 5,300 employees are being considered?
In April 2021, Siemens launched an internal networking campaign to bring the topic of mental health to the forefront and tackle the challenge of engaging and connecting with colleagues during the Corona pandemic outside of the office.
The office traditionally acted as a place for social interaction and bonding with colleagues. When the physical office became the home office, the communication team in Switzerland decided to create an alternative space and mechanism where employees could connect and exchange. The objective was to fight isolation and ensure we leave no one behind.
Almost 17 percent of the Swiss population suffers from one or more mental illnesses, which can range from eating disorders and anxiety disorders to depression and other severe symptoms. They are among the most common and the most limiting illnesses of all and affect all areas of the lives of those affected and can lead to major impairments.
In recent months, some colleagues have developed personal strategies and are dealing with the situation in creative ways. Others find it more difficult to cope due the lack of social contacts and structures in their everyday working lives.
With #InThisTogether campaign, we created an opportunity for all our people in Switzerland to share their own mental health experiences and strategies with each other.
To kickstart the conversation around mental health, we launched the campaign by sending a surprise to the home of our 5,300 colleagues: a note from the Team Siemens Switzerland management board saying it was time to talk about health and safety, some chocolate for its many benefits, and a QR code to scan.
When scanning the QR code, colleagues would land on a webpage about mental health and the benefits of connecting with peers. As such they could fill a short form where they could select location, language, preferences for virtual or in person meetings and more.
This information formed the base for this novel type of corporate matchmaking. Based on those preferences, colleagues were randomly matched with each other.
They received an email informing them they could arrange to meet with their match for a virtual coffee break or after-work beer and meet for a walk, of course in compliance with appropriate protective measures. All meetings could be entered as working time in the time recording system.
At the beginning, we were not sure whether there was a need for such an internal campaign at all. Should we really do more on this topic, which has already been with us every day since February 2020? Will our colleagues even talk openly about such a sensitive subject with complete strangers? And shouldn't such topics be addressed by superiors? Together as a communications team, we have developed and rolled out a concept that we can fully support and which nurtures growth in our company culture. The feedback on this campaign shows that the need is indeed there.
240 colleagues took part in the campaign over several weeks, during which they were randomly connected with a colleague from Switzerland depending on the preferences they highlighted in the tool. Many exciting conversations arose, and new friendships were formed.
We received predominantly positive feedback from our employees on the campaign, most of whom would welcome similar initiatives in the future.
“Sehr gute Aktion von euch. Dadurch habe ich eine neue Kollegin kennengelernt, mit der ich in "normalen" Zeiten gerne wieder einmal einen Kaffee trinken gehe. Merci “
“It was very nice to meet a colleague that was so different in age, gender, nationality, work experience, current roles etc. ...”
“Great initiative, seriously! It opens horizons in all directions”
“It is essential to raise awareness about the importance of mental health. #InThisTogether is a much needed initiative as it addressed the topic of mental health and connected people around a meaningful purpose. And addressing this once is not enough. We need to do more, repeatedly. Across the organization and involving everybody,” said Gerd Scheller, Country CEO for Siemens Switzerland.
By choosing a bottom-up approach, we found success in sparking the engagement of colleagues in exchanging around the topic of mental health. By providing a platform where employees can choose to engage with each other rather than activating superiors, we can also positively promote culture change. Our focus is to ensure we leave no one behind and we will scale up and repeat such initiatives in the future.