In the mid-to-end 1990s, following the telecom boom and as the World Wide Web was just beginning to be used as a means for self-promotion, companies were trying to present a more humane side by publicly showcasing the benefits their employees could take advantage of, such as an in-house daycare services (Patagonia, SAS) and gyms, multiple team-building retreats per year (Philip Morris, Distributech), State of the Union-type gatherings in exotic locations where spouses were welcome (Industrial Alliance, Toyota), etc.
For many of these companies (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Industrial Light & Magic), the ethical treatment of their employees translated into additional sales; for others, however, additional expenses meant nearing the brink of bankruptcy.
And, thus, because every major action brings forth an equal reaction, the 00s brought with them budget tightening, with organizations looking mainly to reduce what they saw as expenditures: wages, customer service, free coffee, lowering their standards from “excellence” to “satisfying” or “good enough”, extending their client base’s patience to its limit. Some cut on the big expenditures such as rent, travel or daycare. Others, such as American Apparel, saw their managers take on a more hands-on approach that was not appreciated by their employees.
What we are left with in the wake of a noble idea like #BellLetsTalk is to bring attention to such things as employee comfort and peace of mind, as work-related exhaustion and depression now accounts for 90% of mental illness in North America, among other overwhelming statistics such as:(This infographic was crafted by Officevibe. )
So when Patagonia (and Goldman Sachs, for what it’s worth) claims it has a 25% lower turnover rate, that 100% of moms return to work after maternity leave and that morale is always high, when, in Canada, a dozen of the Top 100 Employers (according to the Globe & Mail) offer family-related perks and benefits, when ten of the Top 100 Employers (according to Fortune Magazine) in the U.S. offer daycare - including five insurance companies (Aflac, Atlantic Health, Meridian Health, Baptist Health South Florida and Bright Horizons Family Solutions) - it may be time for some employers to think about certain expenses, particularly those related to employee morale, as investments in current and future productivity instead of just money thrown away.
Which brings me back to #BellLetsTalk, a smart initiative and tool in de-stigmatizing mental illness in Canada, in getting people to talk about it and trying to find solutions to the problem. Marketing-wise, it’s also pure genius, as social media was saturated with Bell’s brand name for an entire day in support of a great cause.
If only they didn’t have a couple of public-relations disasters on their hands involving their firing of medium-profile employees over their asking for help in dealing with… mental illness.