Will others follow Starbucks’ lead on employee mental health programs?

Discussion
CEO Kevin Johnson at the 2019 Starbucks Leadership Experience in Chicago - Photo: Starbucks
Sep 10, 2019
Tom Ryan

Starbucks last week committed to investing in several initiatives focused on the mental health and wellness of its associates. 

Enhanced benefits are seen as a way to attract talent at a time when U.S. unemployment remains at historic lows, although Starbucks said the investments in mental illness are aligned with its purpose-driven vision.

The goals were detailed at a leadership conference for store managers held last week in Chicago.

Store managers will begin a training course that is inspired by Mental Health First Aid, a program that teaches the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use. Starbucks is also planning to partner with organizations such as the Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga’s wellness-focused organization, and Team Red White & Blue, a non-profit focused on helping veterans tackle mental health issues.

By January 2012, employees in North America will have access to subscriptions to Headspace, an app that offers guided meditation. 

Starbucks’ Employee Assistance Program, which provides short-term counseling to all U.S. employees, will be further enhanced in other ways with input from employees and health experts. The program already offers inpatient and outpatient mental health care as well as six free visits with a mental health provider, yet Starbucks finds only four to five percent of employees use it. 

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ CEO, said many partners (store associates) are afraid to reach out because they’re embarrassed or fear discrimination by colleagues.

“In many ways we believe this is a societal problem and we want to take a step within Starbucks for our partners to break the stigma of mental health and acknowledge that it exists and then do some creative things to provide services to those in need,” said Mr. Johnson.

Companies are more openly promoting mental health programs to reduce the stigma associated with reaching out for help. Studies also show individuals experiencing psychological distress are less productive in the workplace, call in sick more often and are less prepared to manage stressful situations. 

The coffee giant also vowed to further eliminate tasks to free up store managers to interact with customers and reduce stress.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are most store managers adequately prepared to identify and refer associates who may be facing mental health challenges? What overall advice would you have around addressing mental health issues in the workplace?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The mental health situation has become an unspoken crisis, as employees are hesitant to reach out for help around any issues they face as they do not want to lose their job."
"I don’t necessarily see this as “Big Brotherism” — but I do see it as an area where companies could potentially do as much, or more, damage than good."
"We need to eliminate the stigma around talking about mental health and turn our attention to helping those who need assistance. "

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11 Comments on "Will others follow Starbucks’ lead on employee mental health programs?"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

My sister is a mental health first aid professional. We need to eliminate the stigma around talking about mental health and turn our attention to helping those who need assistance. Kudos to Starbucks.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Mundane, repetitive tasks such as making highly customized coffee drinks in a high stress, high volume environment is something that needs to be addressed. While it’s encouraging that Starbucks is supporting their managers and baristas to engage with their customers, the typical store model doesn’t enable that engagement. Most people are constantly on the go and are looking for more reward than friction. This does take a significant toll on the workforce who don’t have a moment to waste.

The mental health situation has become an unspoken crisis, as employees are hesitant to reach out for help or raise awareness around any issues they are facing as they do not want to lose their job. This is a commendable move by Starbucks, as their coffee house experience is highly dependent on a happy, supported and empowered workforce. There is a clear correlation between driving an outstanding employee experience and pushing for better customer experiences.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Boy, talk about a little George Orwell truism. Seems like the last thing you want is someone (someone who’s not a professional) informing upper management that certain staffers “have problems.” Is bitching about work a “problem”? or talking about your girlfriend who just broke up with you in an unflattering manner enough to get you “reported” or on some unseemly list somewhere? Super dangerous IMO. One step from Thought Police. Unless this is for the Chinese stores, they do that already.

Don’t do it, Starbucks! Stick with healthcare for all employees!

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Lee, I expect we may share a minority opinion on this one. I think it is too easy to conflate good intentions with good outcomes. I completely agree, for example, with Cathy Hotka’s idea that, “We need to eliminate the stigma around talking about mental health and turn our attention to helping those who need assistance.” It’s just that I would rather have her sister — a trained mental health professional — provide those services than the average barista, no offense to those who struggle to capture the definitive latte. Asking someone to be aware of the signs of potential mental illness will have the unexpected consequence of over-reporting since, as humans, we often “see” what we have been asked to look for, whether or not its actually there. And make no mistake, we are talking about small degrees of behavior here. Anyone can detect a full-blown manic episode, but it’s much more difficult to detect a potential suicide. If it wasn’t, one person around the world wouldn’t kill themselves every 40 seconds. In the… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
No! Most store managers are not mental health professionals — nor should they necessarily try to be. There are two major issues with this approach. One, mental illness is often in the eye of the beholder, or not. One person’s introspection is another person’s depression. One person’s exuberant personality is another’s manic episode. So Starbucks is hoping basically untrained people, no matter how smart they are, will be able to do what so few mental health professionals can consistently do — diagnose incipient mental illness and provide a quick path to recovery. There is a huge opportunity for conscious or unconscious abuse of that kind of power, not to mention a significant potential for lawsuits by the identified employee, customers, or other employees who potentially could be hurt by their actions. What happens, for example, if a manager unfairly labels someone as mentally at risk? Or, even worse, what happens if they don’t and that person goes on a rampage at work? Couldn’t the other employees or customers now have grounds for suing based on… Read more »
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, which makes Starbucks’ new mental health initiatives even more meaningful.

Starbucks differentiates its brand by showing leadership in associates’ total well-being. Creating these new initiatives to directly manage mental illness helps to erode the stigma that prevents people from seeking help – even when their illness harms their personal and professional life.

Healthier workers lead to healthier bottom lines, so Starbucks’ focus on total well-being can increase associates’ productivity, engagement and loyalty by making it easier for associates to access the resources they need – without shame.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is another good step for Starbucks and their employees. Starbucks has a completely different mindset than most retailers. Today, it is not in the retail DNA to take care of employees. “Don’t worry about them — here today, gone tomorrow.”

A little guiding hand to get the appropriate help can make a lifetime of difference.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

Hats off to the purpose-driven leadership at Starbucks for taking on this important initiative. For those above who are throwing them under the train for this, it’s likely because you don’t understand the “First Aid” program, which is amazing. It’s not about labeling someone. It’s about understanding and helping, something completely lacking in most circles when it comes to mental health.

Putting employees first in every way is the ONLY way to go in today’s world. Care for them more than you do about your bottom line — and you’ll find more success.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

While modern employers have enhanced worker benefits, like work from home, liberal time off, pet-friendly work spaces, on-site health and wellness programs, etc., few have taken the steps espoused by Starbucks. While the health perks have been focused on physical well being (gyms, massage, yoga, etc.), mental health issues have not be actively addressed. Do companies offer counseling services, either in person or via telephone, as well as informational services to help with big changes like moving or having a baby, not to mention the stress of dealing with customers on a daily basis? The time is now to make this a mainstay benefit for any modern employer.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I agree that there’s a serious societal issue at play here — especially since most Western governments support mental health programs well while the U.S. doesn’t.

It’s also critical here that this acknowledges mental health challenges without projecting them all onto the homeless or the “others” — but people in the normal daily workplace. Far too often society marginalizes mental health issues as “those people” instead of the real truth: these issues are often faced by someone on your own cul-de-sac.

My only disappointment is that in the U.S., our severe shortage (and nearly complete loss) of long term mental health care is probably the biggest problem we face. Short-term care can do only so much — but is the preference of insurance companies. Some issues require response with long term care — sometimes long term in-patient care (six to 12 months). Regardless of income, that’s nearly impossible to find in the U.S.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I think a minuscule percentage of retail store managers are qualified to make these decisions. The risk is that subjective assessments will be made, rather than objectively observing staff by a professionally-trained manager. This is a big potential exposure to repercussions from rolling out ineffective programs, and serious consideration needs to be taken prior to any implementation.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The mental health situation has become an unspoken crisis, as employees are hesitant to reach out for help around any issues they face as they do not want to lose their job."
"I don’t necessarily see this as “Big Brotherism” — but I do see it as an area where companies could potentially do as much, or more, damage than good."
"We need to eliminate the stigma around talking about mental health and turn our attention to helping those who need assistance. "

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