When you're in a toxic work environment, mental health and well-being benefits may be welcome but can't fix what's fundamentally wrong. Azatvaleev / IStock / Getty Images Plus

Some companies hope some new benefits will solve your mental health issues, but some have raised doubts.

Iran PressSci & Tech: Earlier this year, Amazon did something worth applauding. The trillion-dollar company introduced a new mental wellness benefit for its 950,000 employees, including warehouse workers.

The benefit, known as Resources for Living, provides employees and their family members with a certain number of free counseling sessions, crisis and suicide prevention support, and an app that includes mindfulness instruction and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy, Mashable reported.

"Providing access to—and awareness around—mental health care is a critical responsibility for employers," Beth Galetti, senior vice president of People eXperience and Technology for Amazon, said in a company announcement about the program. "This new offering will help us remove barriers and unnecessary stigma around getting help, to ensure our employees and their families feel safe and supported during this pandemic and beyond."

On its own, Amazon's move is important for the very reasons Galetti describes. Yet, the company has also long denied accusations that its corporate and warehouse workplaces are the epitome of toxic: extractive, punitive, and sometimes discriminatory. 

Indeed, a few weeks after Resources for Living publicly launched, the New York Times ran a disturbing portrayal of life inside New York City's fulfillment center JFK8, where pickers say they raced to pack online orders and struggled to interact with human supervisors when the company's management app fails them.

It sounded like a worker's nightmare: unrelenting demand, little to no control over scheduling and working conditions, and limited empathy from higher ups. People seek therapy for numerous reasons, including parenting challenges, mental illness, grief, and trauma. But for Amazon employees negatively affected by the company's practices, it's plausible they're reaching out for help because their employer has designed a work environment rife with inescapable stressors, which can lead to anxiety, depression, or burnout, or compound the distress they're already experiencing.

This is the crux of the broader and long overdue corporate awakening about the importance of employee mental health. American workplaces know they have a wellness problem, but most won't do what's required to fix it.

Instead of looking inward at emotionally bankrupt leadership philosophies, lackluster or nonexistent training for managers, and policies that emphasize productivity over physical safety and emotional well-being, companies bet on new or enhanced mental health benefits as the key to improving their employees' mood and coping skills. Therapy and other wellness resources can be a valuable tool for surviving a challenging or toxic work environment, but what really needs to change is the workplace itself.


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