“You don’t know me, but I’m a good listener. Let’s talk.”
Kristy Anderson has said these words to hundreds of employees during her five years at TD Ameritrade and Schwab—1,040 times to be exact. Kristy is a self-proclaimed data nerd, and she’s part of the Safety & Health team, whose job it is to make sure that all 30,000 plus Schwab employees are safe and able to come to work every day.
It’s a team of lifesavers: Kristy herself is an ex-firefighter, ex-nurse, ex-police officer and current licensed Texas paramedic instructor. On the team there’s also the experience of a decorated former U.S. Marine, an ex-FBI Special Agent, an ex-New Jersey State Trooper, and a current hospital EMT. And all are certified in the National Council of Behavioral Health’s Mental Health First Aid three-year training program. Their range of duties is extensive and includes everything from infectious disease response, severe weather training, CPR certifications, workplace threats and more, but it’s the mental health welfare program that Kristy calls the “crown jewel” of what they do.
Helping others take care of themselves
Recognizing a need, the mental health program was “built out of duct tape and spit,” as Kristy describes it. The program has since matured as the need for it grew. In 2022 the team saw a 500% increase in employees suffering a mental health emergency. While some were in severe need, most just needed to be heard or reminded that they simply aren’t sleeping enough or taking care of their needs.
“It’s hard for people to tell the difference between anxiety and being full-on burnt out or in crisis,” explains Kristy. “What we’re trying to do is keep them occupied until we can understand what they need or get them to a trained therapist. I ask things like, ‘Have you eaten enough? Have you slept enough? Have you seen your family lately?’ We aren’t therapists, but we are trained on how to listen and how to solve problems.”
She’s done everything from encouraging people to take some time off, to sending them a gift card to cover a few meals. In extreme instances she’s helped an employee who was living out of a car with small children find a safe place to stay, and another of her team members has called authorities to the home of an employee that was a risk.
“I try to reassure everyone by telling them the company wants you and needs you, but we need you to take care of yourself first,” says Kristy.
“Every day is different. I love my job.”
Mondays and Fridays are often the busiest, but Kristy explains that the team never knows what to expect.
In the fall of 2019, Kristy was casually talking with a colleague who’d just returned from a walk around the Southlake, TX campus and mentioned how nice it was that they’d planted cucumbers because they smelled so beautiful. Confused, Kristy asked the employee to show her—and it turns out there was a den of copperheads, a breed of venomous snakes that, when angry, happen to release an odor that smells like cucumbers. With the help of authorities, they were able to relocate the snakes.
“Law enforcement wanted to shoot them, but we wouldn’t let them,” says Kristy, who wants everyone to know that they take a compassionate approach to animal control.
Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear vests.
While the Safety and Health team is mighty, it is small. Consisting of only four members, they’re on a mission to recruit and train reinforcements through what they are calling the Safety Squad. Consisting of employees of every level and from every business, the Safety Squad is trained to assist with emergency drills and injury or illness incidents on campus. The goal is to have 10% of the employee population of each Schwab campus trained as a member of the Safety Squad. In DFW alone, that’s more than 600 employees they want to recruit and train.
Kristy recalls a day when she was in the Southlake office hanging a new AED (automated external defibrillator—a device used to help someone who is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest) on the wall and she accidentally set it off. She was worried the loud noise would annoy fellow employees.
“Instead, I heard an employee running down the corridor yelling ‘I know CPR!’” says Kristy with a smile. “I turned to the person and said, ‘You are who we need on the Safety Squad.’”