Sweetwater chief people officer shares mental health strategy

Mental health programs, benefits and resources 'transcend the conversation about the bottom line'

Sweetwater chief people officer shares mental health strategy

In the United States, 28% of employees are reporting burnout symptoms and 32% are experiencing moderate distress, according to a McKinsey Health Institute report.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have recognized this growing need for mental health assistance and have doubled down on providing benefits and resources, such as extended leave and accommodations programs, to their employees. That’s expected to continue in 2023, with a recent survey by AHIP, a health insurers’ trade association, indicating that health plans are improving access to mental health services by bringing more providers into their networks.

Mental health has been top of mind at Sweetwater, a leading online retailer for music instruments and professional audio gear. Headquartered in Fort Wayne, IN, the company has hosted a series of lunch-and-learns where medical professionals come in to destigmatize the topic. Additionally, the company has hired an on-staff mental health counselor whom employees can see for free.

“We weren’t sure whether people would trust seeing somebody like that on campus, but that concern was quickly removed, and we’ve gotten tremendous feedback from the support resource being so accessible,” Jeff Ostermann, chief people officer at Sweetwater, told HRD.

Ostermann came to Sweetwater in 2012 and for his first eight years provided leadership to the Sweet Family of Companies group of 14 businesses. Holding a degree in finance and international business from Indiana University, an MBA from Taylor University and a professional coaching certification from Duquesne University, he began his career in corporate finance working for Nortel Networks and General Electric.

“Sometimes these programs can feel like numbers, data, and spend,” Ostermann says. “That’s true, and we have to be disciplined and good stewards of our business, but when you get to tell some stories about somebody who walked away from suicide or how they finally got a prompting to get help for their addiction, you realize how we’re really affecting people’s lives. That transcends the conversation about the bottom line.”

Ostermann further discussed employee well-being in a recent roundtable with executives from PwC, Tricentis and AbsenceSoft.

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