Psychological Health and Safety: What Starbucks is Getting Right


Starbucks has been in the press lately, and not just for their holiday-themed beverages and eye-catching seasonal cups. They’ve announced this month that they’re increasing their mental health benefits for employees to $5,000 per year for employees who work at least 20 hours a week. The masters of the hot beverage world have looked at the evidence, and positioned themselves at the forefront of an important issue affecting many Canadians—mental and psychological wellness.

Especially for hourly employees, working in a non-stop fast-paced environment serving caffeine-deprived hordes can lead to high stress levels. And according to Guarding Minds @ Work, stress is an important workplace factor contributing to mental distress. It’s about more than stress management, though. There are real legal, business, and health reasons to protect employees’ psychological safety.

Organizations that support psychological health and safety enjoy higher retention, easier recruitment, increased morale and engagement, and better productivity.

Here are 4 big reasons to follow Starbucks’ lead and employ concrete initiatives to build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace:  

1. It’s a business issue. Compromised psychological health and associated conditions have a big financial impact. The cost to employers can be huge: increased disability premiums, rising benefits costs, and costs associated with absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover all affect the organization’s bottom line. In contrast, organizations that support psychological health and safety enjoy higher retention, easier recruitment, increased morale and engagement, and better productivity—all results worth investing in!

2. It’s a health issue. Over 15% of Canadian health care costs are attributed to mental disorders, and 1 in 5 people will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime. The annual cost of this health care issue to the Canadian economy? Estimated at between 14.8 and 35 billion dollars. Workplace factors can increase mental distress and disorders and decrease the effectiveness of treatment, while a supportive work environment can reduce the negative impacts of a mental health disorder.


3. It’s a legal issue. For employers, promoting psychological safety at work means reducing the threat of legal consequences from a harmful work environment. While laws defining just how much responsibility employers hold with regard to mental distress, mental injury, and mental illness is still emerging, the bottom line is that employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect employee safety—and that includes their psychological safety.

4. It’s a human issue. Putting aside the financial, health, and legal justifications, there’s another important reason to consider how you’re supporting employees’ psychological wellbeing—the human element. You care about the people you work with and the goals you’re working towards together, so it just makes sense to support their health and protect their safety. It’s a win-win!

The takeaway? Supporting mental health in the workplace is more than just trendy: organizations that support psychological health and safety enjoy benefits in productivity, sustainability, and growth. If an international mega-giant like Starbucks is introducing initiatives to support psychological health, you know it’s going to catch on!

Your Engaged Assignment:  Could your workplace be doing more to support employees’ psychological health and safety? Want to know more? Check out the free training and tools offered by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health and commit to building your organization’s psychological health and safety toolkit:

Additional helpful resources:

Canadian Mental Health Association:

Guarding Minds @ Work: