Retail therapy | Kate Spade offers critical mental health training to front-line store employees

Kate Spade offers critical mental health training to front-line store employees

Fashion retailer Kate Spade has embarked on a major program to train its front-line workers on mental health in a bid to improve their wellbeing.

The Mental Health First Aid (MFHA) at Work retail training program is offered by the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, and has trained over 130 Kate Spade employees to date.

The fashion house expects that by June, over 900 of its employees will have completed the training, with plans to roll it out to its full workforce of 3,200 store associates over time.

Speaking to Modern Retail, Taryn Bird, Director of Social Impact at Kate Spade, says she hopes the program will ensure workers can “cultivate good mental health for themselves.”

The company has made mental health the focus of its social impact portfolio after its founder, Kate Spade, died by suicide in 2018, and has since invested over $31million in mental wellbeing initiatives.

Tailored training for at-risk retail workers

Workers in the retail industry are particularly prone to mental health challenges such as anxiety, due to stressful situations caused by issues including harassment from angry customers, physical and manual labor, unsociable and unpredictable work schedules, and low wages.

Mental Health America workplace health survey of more than 17,000 workers ranked retail, alongside food and beverage and construction, as one of the three unhealthiest workplaces.

The MHFA at Work program, which launched a retail-specific scheme in January, is used by companies like Kate Spade and Ikea, as a solution to these difficulties, aiming to give employees the tools and language to understand their own mental health, and spot when colleagues may be struggling.

According to Bird, the retail-specific context of the program is hugely valuable for Kate Spade’s employees, working through examples like break room interactions and warehouse settings.

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“I think a lot of times when people think about mental health and the stigma around even bridging the conversation, folks kind of back away a little bit because they think they have to fix something,” Bird says. “They did a really nice job with modeling very simple, direct, helpful language to bridge those conversations with coworkers or colleagues that you think might be experiencing a mental health challenge.”

As well as tweaking the content, the National Council of Mental Wellbeing has also adjusted the format and structure of the training program to make it engaging for retail workers.

The training has been condensed from a six-hour program into a two-hour-long, self-paced, mobile-friendly program, helping workers at Kate Spade to complete the course between their shifts.

The MFHA at Work program also collects anonymous survey data about how Kate Spade employees are feeling, allowing the retailer to monitor any concerning trends.

Mental health training a "need to have"

Beyond Kate Spade, the MHFA program has trained over 3 million people in the U.S., with its workplace course being used by more than 400 companies.

Tramaine El-Amin, VP at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, tells Modern Retail that they have seen a 50% increase in the number of workplaces trying to start a training program course, adding that “folks are understanding that this is not a nice to have, but it’s a need to have.”

“Now everybody’s trying to find a solution,” El-Amin explains. “But even with that, what we also saw is that those solutions are typically for corporate environments. They’re not really for the person at the Kroger or Harris Teeter, and yet they’re the ones being impacted every day.”

Bird says that Kate Spade completed the first round of mental health training in March, and will develop the program based on feedback from employees. Kate Spade will also continue to seek out new ways to support employee wellbeing for its in-store and corporate employees.

“We’re trying things and we’re learning as we go through that process,” she concluded.

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