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This Email Cisco’s CEO Sent to Employees Teaches a Powerful Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

Companies can learn a lot, not only from the email--but from the actions that followed.

Gerd Altmann via Pixabay
Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

We live in a world where anxiety and depression haves become more prevalent than ever. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing across the United States. These are just a few reasons why the importance of mental health has been thrust into the forefront. 

Back in June, the suicides of high-profile celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain brought further attention to the topic. Cisco chief executive Chuck Robbins recognized that there was a stigma around publicly addressing mental health, but he wanted to do something to help employees. So, he took advantage of the national conversation to take action.

According to CNBC, Robbins was attending a conference in Orlando called Cisco Live when he sent a company-wide email–to Cisco’s almost 75,000 employees. The subject line: “Making Mental Health a Priority.”

“In light of recent tragedies, I wanted to step away from Cisco Live for a moment to talk about the importance of mental health,” wrote Robbins. “Unfortunately, we all know friends, family, and co-workers battling mental health conditions, or maybe you’re going through your own struggles.”

(You can read Robbins’ full email at the end of this article.)

Robbins went on to encourage employees to “talk openly and extend compassion.” He asked them to “have each other’s backs.” And, most importantly, he assured them that professional support was being made available.

But it’s what happened next that was truly inspiring:

More than 100 employees wrote back–many detailing their own personal battles.

“I didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem,” Robbins told CNBC in an interview. “The volume of responses we got back led us to be more active.”

Companies can learn a lot from Robbins’s email and his leadership team’s subsequent actions–which are remarkable real-world examples of emotional intelligence.

Here are three major takeaways:

1. Start the conversation.

It’s important to remember that employees are more than “human resources.” They’re real people, with real problems and feelings. But while many of your people may need to broach the subject of mental health, it can be incredibly difficult to do so.

That’s why it’s so important for company leaders and managers to take initiative to begin the conversation.

“I had never received an email like that before or heard anyone talk about mental health anywhere I’ve worked,” said one employee who was impressed by Robbins’s email. “It was a relief that someone was making it OK. He swung open a door.”

2. Take action.

Of course, you can preach mental health all you want; it won’t mean anything unless you back up your words with actions. That’s why it’s important that Robbins’s email was only one piece of the puzzle.

Robbins promised that the company would get more active in responding to the mental health needs of employees, but how active?

CNBC reports that Cisco now offers the following benefits:

  • 24-hour access to counseling for employees and family members
  • On-site treatment and health centers
  • Depression and anxiety screening
  • Emergency paid time off (completely separate from vacation time) 

By investing resources and funds into these initiatives, Robbins and his team have proved that their commitment to mental health is more than mere lip service.

3. Follow through.

We read a lot nowadays about companies striving to build a culture they can be proud of, one where integrity and “doing the right thing” become basic norms that are interwoven into the fabric of an organization.

Well, this is how you do it.

It’s not through a single email, or through a single action. But, by identifying a need, promising to fill that need, and then delivering upon that promise, you begin to build a culture that treats people like people. 

A culture that teaches us that a struggling person is not strange. Or weak. Or broken. Or flawed.

Just human.

Here is the original email, provided to Inc. via a Cisco spokesperson:

From: Chuck Robbins

Subject: Making Mental Health a Priority

Team,

In light of recent tragedies, I wanted to step away from Cisco Live for a moment to talk about the importance of mental health. Unfortunately, we all know friends, family, and coworkers battling mental health conditions, or maybe you’re going through your own struggles.

At Cisco, we’ve always tackled challenges by working together and having open, supportive dialogue. Often times, a part of this challenge is the social stigma–a fear of judgment that keeps people from sharing their struggles. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that those suffering feel less afraid to ask for support in the moments they need it most. No one needs to go it alone.

I encourage everyone to talk openly and extend compassion. It may be as simple as recognizing when others are going through a difficult time and allowing them to take any needed time for themselves. It may be listening and encouraging someone to seek help or seeking help for yourself.

I want you all to know we’re here to support you with the help you need. We are tapping into our current network of resources and evaluating additional solutions to increase access to the right professionals. Please visit my message on CEC for a list of resources available.

It’s times like this when it is critical that we come together, support each other, and have each other’s backs.

Thank you,
Chuck

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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