Starbucks Set To Improve Mental Health Benefits For Employees 

By Kelly Burch 09/13/19

The company is encouraging employees to "break the stigma and really normalize that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

Starbucks employees making drinks for customers
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Starbuckshas announced that it will focus on improving access to mental health benefits for its workers. 

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told CNN Business that mental health of employees—called “partners” by Starbucks—is essential to the company’s culture. It also makes good business sense, since employees who are in good health are more productive and engaging, Johnson said in a letter that announced the new focus. 

"The more thoughtful we are about creating a range of benefits that matter to our partners—that helps us attract new partners," Johnson said. “Over this past year, one of the things that partners have highlighted is the need for increased focus on mental health."

Employee Assistance Program

Starbucks employees already have decent access to mental health care. Their insurance covers inpatient and outpatient mental health stays, and the company’s Employee Assistance Program offers six free counseling visits a year. John Kelly, senior vice president of global public affairs and social impact for Starbucks, said that the plan is “very comprehensive,” but less than 5% of employees take advantage of it, he said. 

The company plans to work with employees to design a mental health benefits plan that will be better utilized. This might include coverage of telemedicine or digital appointments with healthcare providers. 

Training Managers

In addition to updating its mental health plan, Starbucks is training managers on how to spot employees who are struggling with mental health issues and connect them with support. The "mental health matters” training kicked off at a recent Chicago conference hosted by the company, and will be integrated throughout the chain in the future. 

Kelly said that in addition to benefiting the company and employees, the focus on mental health will challenge the social stigma against mental illness, especially in the workplace. 

The company is encouraging employees to "break the stigma and really normalize that your mental health is just as important as your physical health,” Kelly said. 

Tracie Sponenberg, chief people officer for The Granite Group, said that more companies are speaking openly about their mental health benefits as a way to attract employees. 

"This is an area that, as HR professionals, we weren't talking about quite as much until recent years,” Sponenberg said. 

A recent survey found that most American workers are afraid to take a mental health day. Discussing the importance of mental health more openly allows people to prioritize their well-being without fearing repercussions at work. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.