We all love to see  mental health given its due. So when Nike announced a week ago it was closing its corporate office in Oregon for a week to give its employees a break (and a greatly deserved kudos), the internet rejoiced. 

But that celebration may have been premature. 

As word spread, part-timers at Nike's retail stores caught wind of the closure. They didn't get a mental health break -- business kept right on going. 

The disparity here is achingly stark. Sure, benefits commonly vary between full-time and part-time employees, but not investing in mental health for all employees weakens your company -- and devalues some of your most important workers.

Let's break down the potential problems here from a business perspective:

  1. Internal schisms could arise

This is as old as sibling rivalry. Give one child candy and the siblings will start coveting it. This has a tendency to create an us vs. them dynamic in the workplace -- which hampers cross-team collaboration.

This applies to other benefits, too, but is particularly insidious with mental health care, simply because it is seen as a must for everyone. (Mike Gaeta of the National Alliance on Mental Illness wrote about this with a great deal of vulnerability -- I encourage you to read his article.)

  1. Trust in leadership is eroded

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. While many human resource and leadership teams spend countless words affirming the value of each and every employee, favoring one group with mental health benefits counters that message. How can an employee trust leadership that says one thing and does another?

  1. Employee productivity wanes, affecting sales

From a business perspective, the "Nike disparity" is potentially damaging to the bottom line. Frustrated part-time employees who don't benefit from a mental health break may lose motivation, quit, or continue suffering from mental health strain which lowers the quality of their work. This could be detrimental to sales, especially in a customer-facing retail environment.   

  1. Customers form unfavorable opinions of your brand and shop elsewhere

As this story reveals, there's little a company does in the public eye that isn't scrutinized. Imbalanced treatment of employees can quickly put a bad taste in customers' mouths -- and they may choose to take their business to competitors. 

 

Now, the million-dollar question: How do you create true mental health care parity in your company? Research groups like Deloitte have spent far more time figuring out the details than I have -- read their study if you'd like in-depth insights. In essence, however, it comes down to four things: 

1) Spend time in the trenches. Clearly understand what each employee does -- specifically, the stresses they face in day-to-day work. 

2) Create a forum for open communication where you can talk to employees about recurring mental health challenges. (Also provide confidential channels for sensitive topics.)

3) Actively provide mental health support and resources for all of your employees -- understanding that needs will vary and change.

4) Consistently vocalize the message and mission of mental health parity, then provide regular updates for employees on how you're "living" your mission. 

Also recognize that this is not a one-time exercise. As professor of psychology Noam Shpancer pointed out, "Mental health is not a destination, but a process." 

Keep the process going -- for all of your employees.