‘We didn’t ask for a meditation app, we want to be able to pay our rent’: Starbucks is offering new mental health benefits, but employees are demanding different kinds of support

As Starbucks offers new mental health benefits for employees, some workers are seeking support of a different kind.

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As Starbucks offers new mental health benefits for employees, some workers are seeking support of a different kind.
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Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Starbucks is rolling out new mental health benefits for employees, including free subscriptions for the mindfulness app Headspace.
  • However, some workers are demanding more support from Starbucks, with some voicing concerns regarding understaffed locations.
  • “I think that Starbucks is taking the steps to make sure partners’ mental health is being addressed and cared for,” one Starbucks employee – or “partner,” as the chain calls workers – told Business Insider. “However, I feel like this is just scratching the surface to fix the real issue.”
  • Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for Starbucks to address its “lack of labor” in recent weeks, with multiple Starbucks employees telling Business Insider their locations have cut back on staffing since late November.
  • “Our store managers make great efforts each week to balance the needs of our business, their stores, and the diverse needs of our partners against the normal seasonality we see throughout the year as customers shift their behaviors and purchases,” Starbucks representative Reggie Borges said.
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As Starbucks offers new mental health benefits for employees, some workers are seeking support of a different kind.

On Monday, the coffee giant announced that it was offering free subscriptions for the mindfulness app Headspace. The new benefit continues Starbucks’ mental health push, which started last fall and has included launching a Mental Health Matters online forum, partnering with organizations focused on mental health, and training thousands of store leaders on mental well-being.

A number of partners – as the coffee giant calls its workers – celebrated the new benefit on social media.

However, some Starbucks employees are seeking a different kind of support from the chain – in the form of higher pay or more fully staffed stores.

“I think that Starbucks is taking the steps to make sure partners’ mental health is being addressed and cared for,” one Starbucks employee told Business Insider. “However, I feel like this is just scratching the surface to fix the real issue.”

She and two other Starbucks employees who spoke with Business Insider were granted anonymity in order to speak freely without fear of retribution. According to the employee, her store saw labor cuts around late November and the beginning of December that made it more “draining” to do her job, as she said there were just three people on staff from 2 p.m. until closing time on certain days.

“There’s a multitude of reasons as to why partners are battling issues with mental health, it’s not all work related,” the employee said. “But Starbucks is a high stress job and from personal experience, it does affect your mental well being.”

Another Starbucks employee from Washington State said that he felt the Headspace benefit was simply an attempt by Starbucks to combat bad press related to understaffing and increased demands for productivity. According to the employee, his store often feels like it needs one or two more people working during peak hours, creating significant stress for workers.

He would prefer Starbucks focus on fixing what he calls a “toxic” environment by focusing on these staffing issues, as well as paying workers more.

“Many Starbucks workers are housing and food insecure and there have been recent petitions to get Starbucks to raise wages nationwide that have been ignored by the company,” the employee said. “We didn’t ask for a meditation app, we want to be able to pay our rent.”

According to Starbucks, the company recently reminded store teams to ensure they are staying close to their staffing and scheduling needs as a regular course of business. Starbucks said there has been no nationwide call to cut labor.

“Our store managers make great efforts each week to balance the needs of our business, their stores, and the diverse needs of our partners against the normal seasonality we see throughout the year as customers shift their behaviors and purchases,” Starbucks representative Reggie Borges told Business Insider. “To get this right, partners and their managers work together to create schedules that are predictable, consistent, and balance the different needs of every partner and their stores.”

Borges said that Starbucks is taking feedback from partners to heart.

“We know these seasonal impacts don’t have a one size fits all solution,” Borges said. “Our leaders have been reaching out directly to those partners who have shared their feedback directly with us to better understand how we can help their particular store and find a solution.”

Seeking support and staffing at Starbucks

Staffing has been a topic of conversation amongst Starbucks employees in recent years.

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Staffing has been a topic of conversation amongst Starbucks employees in recent years.
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Bloomberg/Getty

The issue of understaffing has been a topic of discussion among Starbucks employees for years. In 2017, Business Insider reported on workers’ concerns regarding staffing, citing a 2016 petition started on Coworker.org on the issue.

Understaffing has reemerged as a topic of discussion among Starbucks employees in recent weeks. Since early December, more than 2,000 additional people have signed the very same Coworker.org petition, bringing the total number of signatures to more than 23,500. Self-identified Starbucks employees have said that understaffing issues have continued, with some saying they have grown worse in certain stores in recent months.

“Over the last 3.5 years and 4 different stores I have suffered from understaffing, uneducated management, and ineffective district managers that could care less about partner well being as long our sales and scores were up,” reads one comment. “My depression became so severe from the stress that two max dose antidepressants and weekly counseling were just barely enough to keep the ugliest of my thoughts at bay.”

Starbucks sets itself apart from most fast-food chains with its benefits for employees, including paid parental leave, tuition coverage, and a stock equity reward program. Last April, Starbucks offered all employees a pay bump in addition to their annual wage increase.

However, on social media and in conversation with Business Insider, some employees say they are seeking more support from the company.

“We are literally begging for their support with higher wages, mental health support, more hours, and more,” said a third employee, who said their store cut labor in mid-December. “Their response has been a massive corporate wide labor reduction, elimination of performance based wages, weekly happy hours while understaffed, and now these pop up parties where some stores are taking in 300 customers per half hour.”

With this backlash, some of the response to the mental health push has emphasized the changes Starbucks could make to protect employees’ mental health.

“That’s great, but what about proper staffing and livable wages and actually following the company’s mission and values?” reads a Reddit post about the Headspace app benefit.

One comment reads: “signed up and downloaded the app. i’d still like more money, kev,” referring to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

“It already is hard enough getting by with slightly above minimum wage and yes we are spoiled with benefits like free coffee mark outs & [Arizona State University] online it’s just not enough to cover the cost of living in certain areas,” reads another Reddit comment. “I get it’s an entry job but [f]or the amount of stress we are put through and the hard work that goes into making this business run, there just has to be a way to give employees a raise.”