Starbucks adds new dimension to mental health benefits

Mental health benefits are among the most desired among today’s workforce, according to recent surveys. And for good reason, as stress levels in the workplace and at home are on the rise.

For example, a recent survey from the National Business Group on Health found that 27% of 2,200 employees surveyed would like their employer to provide additional support for mental health, including help coping with burnout.

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NBGH’s Workplace Well-Being and the Employee Experience survey found that two in five employees want help with burnout at work specifically, while roughly a quarter would like assistance so they can sleep better and become more resilient.

“Mental and behavioral health are top priorities for employers in 2020,” says NBGH President and CEO Brian Marcotte. Given the tremendous need for services and challenges with access, Marcotte anticipates employers offering more benefits and initiatives to support employees at all stages of their mental health and wellbeing journeys, including extending programs globally to reach more employees .

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To that end, some employers also are adopting a broader approach to mental health, according to the 24th annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey from Willis Towers Watson. The survey, completed by 610 large U.S. employers, found that:

  • the number of employers measuring the stress level of their employees is on track to more than triple by 2021, from 16% to 53%, and
  • more than half of the employers polled (53%) will offer apps to support sleep and relaxation by 2021, up from the 27% that now do.

According to Regina Ihrke, Minneapolis-based senior director and co-leader for integrated wellbeing at Willis Towers Watson, addressing stress and anxiety early on can prevent costly treatment for physical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

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“Employers are making a small financial investment to keep costs low down the road,” Ihrke says.

On Monday, Starbucks became the latest large employer to build on previous mental-health-benefit efforts, as the Seattle-based giant added Headspace to its suite of benefits and resources.

Headspace, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., specializes in meditation through an online platform, which provides sessions of guided meditation to assist users with mindfulness. According to a Starbucks press release, research shows meditation’s many mental-health-related benefits.

“Together, we’re on a mission to take a stand, help break the stigma and get even more partners [the company’s preferred term for employees] and their families the support they need,” said Lucy Helm, chief partner officer.

According to the release, Starbucks has continued to partner with organizations that share its purpose to help break the stigma around mental health, including the Born This Way Foundation (to bring kindness to customers on World Kindness Day), and Team Red White & Blue and Team Rubicon on Veterans Day (to reaffirm the company’s commitment to the nation’s military personnel, their families and their mental health).

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The company says its strategy is “rooted in listening, learning and taking bold actions.” In the coming months, it also will be launching two related major initiatives:

  • It will completely “re-imagine” its employee-assistance program with feedback from partners and qualified mental health experts to connect more partners to quality care that meets their specific needs. The program will draw on partners’ feedback from using the current EAP and build on the company’s legacy of providing comprehensive healthcare to full and part-time partners for nearly 30 years.
  • Dedicated training for all U.S. and Canada store managers inspired by Mental Health First Aid, which is being designed for Starbucks by the National Council for Behavioral Health. The training will provide guidance and skills to help managers listen and provide initial resources for someone experiencing a mental health issue, substance-use problem or crisis.


Mental health benefits, including some mentioned here, will be discussed during the upcoming Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, which will be April 15-17 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Learn more here.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].