Innovation In Relaxation – A Day For Me

I’m going to take a bit of a departure from what I normally write. Ok, I know what you might be thinking – I don’t write much. The reality is that since joining Cisco Systems some time ago, I have been working on some amazing projects – but as you can imagine such projects are generally internal, and many are not for public consumption.

In the last little while, we have been up to some cool stuff, one being a project call “Digital Canopy” amazing project to service over 15,000 people with free internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was one heck of a project, with so many hurdles to overcome. While donating free sounds like a great idea – and it is – that is just the beginning. Between lockdowns and shutdowns it took us almost a year, in the summer heat, in the winter cold – but we got the project done. Below is a quick video talking about what we did, and some of my team helping get the job done. If you catch me at Cisco Live in the future – and have a challenge coin to trade – I just might have a digital canopy one for you.

COVID Stress

I would be lying if I said I was immune to COVID stress, from having very young children at home to a changing technology landscape and so much to learn. There was no question that times were tough. It was easy for some to say “Just work in the evening” but for those of us with young children, or children with needs – after a day of dealing with our kids – working another 4-6 hours at night was just impossible.

Thankfully, Cisco was there for me, with managers that were supportive and understanding, even when it was hard to get things done. Technology was obviously my friend and helped out a ton. However it simply was not enough.

The weekends have not felt much like weekends in some time, with young children, and ongoing lockdowns and limits, there was almost no escape from the daily grind of life. My friends who were physicians told me that mental health challenges were on the rise, and they went from the majority of their day working with chronic care patients to all new acute middle aged patients who had never had mental health challenges before. We were heading for a mental health crisis.

Mental Health is Health

Well, that is pretty easy to say isn’t it. From companies who tout mental health programs to fancy hashtags, it seems to be all the rage to get on the “we support mental health in the workplace”. Yet I still have friends working for organizations that claim to really care – being let go when things get difficult.

The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that by age 40 – 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness of some kind. A complex play of factors can cause mental health challenges, everything from genetics, biological, personality and environmental factors. Oh, you mean like a global pandemic? It’s easy to say “You have it easy compared to…..” but this isn’t a slow adjustment, we woke up one morning and were told “Do not go to the office” – for us there was zero notice, we didn’t even know the day we left we would never return.

One in five Canadians screened for positive symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of COVID-19. Including me. One in four women screened positive for at least one disorder, compared with 17% of men. 68% have reported that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic.

Cisco Takes Action

On May 22nd, Cisco Systems, at the instruction of the CEO Chuck Robbins and Chief People Officers Fran Katsoudas announced ‘A Day for Me’ – encouraging all of its workers to take a day off to rest on May 22nd. At first, some of us even called it “Chuck and Frank Day” – this was direction from way up high that it was time for every Cisco employee to take a day off. More on that here..

“Our wellbeing always comes first, 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.” – said Fran

There are reasons Cisco has been named “World’s Best Workplace 2020” – and this is pretty much the explanation of why. We all feel a direct connection to our leadership, even in such a huge company.

Why “A Day For Me” Is A Game Changer

Ok, so with all of that said – why do I personally feel this is such a game changer. First, I have been living it, we just came off a recent “Day for Me” on August 3rd (In Canada) and I want to explain why this is a game changer. Many people will say “We have many civic, state, federal and other holidays, why can we not just add more”

The key is really in being just a little bit selfish, in order to look after your own personal mental health. We all have our stressors in life. Some have families with children, some have parents, grand parents or other loved ones that require our attention, our own work activities. However once the weekend comes along, or a national holiday – everything in our day to day lives grinds to a halt – and our other set of priorities, our other set of responsibilities – grabs on like an iron fist and says… ok – mode switch – just like it happens every weekend – and for many – we are trading one stressor for another.

A “Day for Me” is exactly that, it’s for ME – nobody else. So my family still goes to work, school and daycare, my job, my boss, and my co-workers all take the day off – so I will not hear from them – and for once, and for that day… I can do whatever I want, with no responsibilities for that 8 hours period…. What did I do on this day for me? Well, we are a little limited due to the pandemic, so I kinda goofed off and played with toys, I made lunch, I went shopping for an hours by myself for no reason – I had breakfast at a local restaurant a friend owns (She kinda did ask me to fix her WiFi…). I did everything without a plan… I made a goofy video while sipping a drink at a picnic table on an iPhone (Still impressed I can basically shoot, edit, product and publish a video ON A PHONE)

It was when this was happening, on luckily a beautiful sunny day where I had nobody that needed me for something, nothing that HAD to be done that minute – I started to realize that “A Day for Me” isn’t just another day off, it isn’t like a long weekend or a national holiday. This was very truly and very uniquely a very very strong Mental Health action that Cisco was taking – somehow they had figured out that we needed a break… FROM EVERYTHING.

This is something that Cisco needs to continue – and other companies should start adopting. Just shut down, for a whole day, empower that employee to let the rest of the world motor on – and for them they can just do whatever they want. For some maybe that is taking their kids to an amusement park, or visiting family they don’t get to see, or attending that Yoga class that you never get to, or going swimming because the pool will be empty.

Or maybe.. just maybe – it is so that “A day for me” can for once, really be about just me, and a chance to unwind the brain and release some mental stress, doing a little bit of nothing.

There isn’t a single employee I have spoken to after “A day for me” that feels refreshed, and every single one feels better than after a typical weekend, or national holiday.

Final Words

Ever wake up in the morning and don’t know where to start? How about worried about the next day activities, not sleeping much, maybe binge eating, not getting things done as much as you used to, feeling disconnected or just not like yourself. News flash, that is normal – and it is all about Mental Health. If you don’t go through mental health challenges, then you are simply not human. Some people can power through, some can muscle it out. Have you ever had a stomach flu or pain so bad you just had to goto the hospital? Mental health is no different – sometimes you just need to get it checked. This year I took multiple steps to address my own mental health, including talking to my family doctor, who did offer up some sound advice – and yes some of it was the normal “Eat healthy, get sleep” stuff, but others were great ways to help me get things in check. At first I thought it was all goofy advice, but my doctor insisted if I gave these things a shot – it would help, and it did, they were right.

If like me you think “Hmmm maybe something is wrong” – call your family doctor, and have a chat. It is worth it, and should you need more help, the government in your country will have resources, and your company probably also has employee self help programs and assistance programs.

Oh… and if you are working for another company that isn’t Cisco Systems…. Perhaps you should send them this blog article, because frankly… they are missing out on one heck of a game changing program.

In the USA, if you do not have a family doctor and need a referral, drop the SAMHSA hotline a call they will help you find help in your area – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

In Canada the national hotline is 1-888-353-2273

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