Starbucks Aims to Improve Mental Health Benefits

September 16, 2019
Tracey Walker
Tracey Walker

The move could be copied by other large employers.

Starbucks is helping to improve its employees’ mental health with a new initiative that includes an enhanced employee assistance program (EAP) and mental health training for store managers.

“By promoting wellness in the workplace, Starbucks’ leadership team is helping to reduce the stigma around behavioral health and is fostering a safer and stronger workplace community,” says Heather Alder, employee assistance program director at First Choice Health, Seattle.

Starbucks is training its managers to respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse and is partnering with Mental Health First Aid, a national program that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“This strategy is smart because managers often act as a front-line, on-site emotional support for their teams and are able to guide team members on the benefits and resources available at the company,” Alder says.

The changing attitudes around behavioral health should be of interest to everyone in healthcare as they impact member wellness, healthcare costs and employees’ well-being, according to Alder.

David Fingerhut, PhD, HSPP, director of Mental Health Services at Activate Healthcare, says this is likely part of a broader move. "This development is particularly important that a global company with worldwide name recognition and a national reputation for being at the forefront of employee benefits, is committing to such mental health initiatives," Finghut says. "It is highly likely other companies, large and small, will follow this trend toward an increased focus on mental health benefits."

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Finghut adds that healthcare executives should expect to see more emphasis on this, saying that "regardless of industry, attention on workforce mental health continues to grow. With more companies expanding their mental health programs and using benefits packages to differentiate themselves from competitors to attract and retain their workforce, more emphasis will be placed on creative healthcare solutions. For instance, many companies are establishing their own primary care health clinics for their employees-and frequently integrating behavioral health services within those clinics. Not only does this promote a physically healthier workforce, but employee-patients can be immediately referred and screened for behavioral and mental health care onsite improving compliance and outcomes. Healthcare executives can expect their client’s asks to incorporate innovative mental health services such as integrated behavioral health in the services they provide."

Alder agrees. “The industry is flooded with point solutions; Starbucks has created a blended benefit in partnership with their EAP to provide a broad solution supporting their employees at work and at home,” Alder says. “Starbucks is viewed as a leader by businesses in all industries. Other companies of varying sizes are re-assessing their behavioral health needs and are looking to their healthcare partners for creative, integrated, holistic solutions.” 

Through First Choice Health’s EAP offering, “we’ve found that a majority of employees learn about their EAP benefits from a supervisor. The supervisor serves as a ‘doorway’ to educating the rest of the employee population,” Alder says.

Supervisors uneducated in EAP benefits and behavioral healthcare more broadly pose a threat to the company, and overlooked mental health issues can result in burnout and low productivity, according to Alder.

“Without training, it’s also likely that the supervisor will fail to catch warning signs that might result in physical harm to the struggling individual or others who surround them,” she says. “Additionally, well-intentioned but misinformed supervisors can pose a legal risk to the employer if they were to provide a diagnosis or improper advice. We’ve received positive feedback from various employees who have received our supervisor-focused trainings. They generally leave feeling educated on warning signs, aware of how to respond and supported by their organization.”