Audi champions mental health
New social developments and the transformation processes in the industry are changing our world at a rapid rate. Many of the changes offer extensive opportunities. In combination with stress, crises, or sudden misfortunes, however, they can increasingly strain people’s mental health. In Germany alone, almost 30 percent of the population suffers from a mental illness. AUDI AG is therefore committed to taking various measures to bolster the mental health of its employees and to support those affected.
Everyone has mental health. Let’s talk about it!
Two years ago, a team drawn from the occupational health management of many different departments, the company’s health insurer Audi BKK, the Audi Works Council and Ingolstadt Hospital launched a destigmatization campaign. Under the slogan “Everyone has mental health. Let’s talk about it!”, employees are encouraged at movie nights or discussion groups, and by information stands, podcasts, flyers and seminars to no longer treat mental health as a taboo subject.
For example, employees can find out how to deal with psychological problems in a talk with experts from Audi’s healthcare service and author and mental health advocate, Dominique de Marné. Or they can take the opportunity to share their own mental health story with colleagues in a familiar setting, thereby also encouraging others to talk openly about their own mental health.
“What we want to achieve with the campaign is for the subject of mental health to be discussed in a questioning but non-judgmental way, and without shame or reservation.”
Audi employees should be able to deal with the issue preventively, independently and at an early stage. The initiative is professionally supported by specially developed action aids with a discussion guide and explanations on possible behavior patterns caused by illness.
Health guides and training for managers
As part of the “Everyone has mental health” initiative, Audi has also launched health guides – a pilot project that is intended to give a voice to health issues in the individual departments. The focus is on strengthening individual and team resilience as well as introducing the wide range of prevention services. Seventeen health guides from all business areas have been working in Ingolstadt since the beginning of May. A cross-site pilot scheme is currently being prepared.
Additional, special coaching sessions should also help to improve sensitivity towards mental illness. In future, for example, managers at Audi will be trained on psychosocial health with ‘ovos,’ a virtual role-playing game. Over a period of seven weeks, they practice what effects management decisions have on the state of their employees’ mental health and how these employees perceive the support offered by managers. The aim of the training, which was initially undertaken on a trial basis, is also to sensitize managers to their own personal well-being, so that they can better recognize warning signs in their environment, address them correctly and provide targeted support to psychologically stressed employees.
Audi stands for a strong health care system
With these measures and services, AUDI AG is consistently continuing what has been important to the company in occupational health management for the last 100 years: preventative and caring action. This includes, among other things, the Audi check-up, a comprehensive prevention service for determining individual health and risk factors. Possible illnesses can thus be detected at an early stage and support measures introduced.
The Audi check-up will now be complemented by a special mental health check-up. The pilot project is also part of the “Everyone has mental health. Let’s talk about it!” campaign and will begin initially at Audi’s Ingolstadt site: healthcare experts will support Audi employees in consciously dealing with their own psychological well-being.
The aim is to be aware of one’s own personal needs and behavioral patterns in order to be better prepared for possible mental stresses. The content of all discussions and consultations is subject to doctor-patient confidentiality. Appointments are free of charge and can be booked within working hours.
At the end of last year, the “Everyone has mental health. Let’s talk about it!” campaign team was awarded the prestigious Anti-Stigma Prize for their work by the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN). According to the judges, the award was made in “recognition of the sustained commitment to destigmatizing people with mental illness.”
“A lot has changed at Audi as a result of our campaign,” emphasizes Ute Heinrich. “Now our colleagues have the courage to talk about their mental health more often and engage at a much earlier stage if they aren’t feeling well. With our “Everyone has mental health” initiative, we have broken the first taboo. We now want to ensure that we also continue to talk openly and respectfully about mental health and mental illness. A next step would therefore be to embed the issue permanently in the corporate structures.”
No health without mental health
Ute Heinrich is head of the Ingolstadt-Nord Health Centre, a specialist in occupational medicine and a psychotherapist.
In our interview she talks about the importance of mental health and the first successes of the campaign.
Why is mental health still a taboo for many people?
This is largely due to the fact that the issue is seen as very shameful. Many people, including Audi employees, feel inhibited talking about their psychological problems. They don’t want to or can’t admit to themselves that they may need professional help. And colleagues, managers and even their friends are often worried about saying the wrong thing. All this can lead to those affected and their families being stigmatized. But it is precisely this stigmatization that often prevents an early diagnosis and therapy, although psychiatric disorders are very treatable.
Anyone can be thrown into a state of crisis in their lives at any time …
This often happens via a series of many events until the so-called ‘last straw’ that triggers an illness. Or else a pivotal experience calls someone’s entire life into question. From the start, the aim of “Everyone has mental health. Let’s talk about it!” was therefore to take mental health very seriously and to talk about it as openly as we talk about physical health. We want to support self-awareness, self-care, and individual responsibility for all colleagues in the long-term. Because the fact is: there’s no health without mental health!
How do you judge the success of the campaign?
From numerous conversations I know that we have taken a big step towards our goal of achieving a further destigmatization of mental illness in the company and therefore in wider society too. I got to know an employee who was mentally ill for more than two years without anyone knowing and being able to help. He told me that he had only found the courage to seek help because of the campaign. Moments like this have made us realize how valuable our work can be.
In general, the readiness to speak about mental health seems to be increasing.
The inquiries that we and all our partners in occupational health management are receiving are rising significantly. We have therefore increased the support options again and expanded cooperation with regional experts on mental health. However, it’s also important for further development that the issue is receiving greater focus from Audi’s senior management and executives.
Due to the pandemic, however, many events could only be offered online.
At first, we were very frustrated. We were skeptical about digital services because colleagues don’t actually meet up anymore and there is no subsequent networking. But over time we also recognized the benefits. On the one hand, we weren’t tied to a location, so we were able to offer events for Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm. And on the other hand, the digital format offers greater anonymity. This means that participants feel more secure, especially talking about often sensitive subjects. We will therefore continue our digital services even after the pandemic. But, above all, we are looking forward to face-to-face interaction with employees.
So, you want to continue the campaign?
Of course! The psychological health of the workforce is extremely important to the management and to us. That’s why we are very grateful that the issue can still be given the highest priority. Next, among other things, we want to address the question of which preventative measures are necessary with regard to mental health in the company, so that together we can shape a healthy and performance-enhancing leadership and team culture.