Lyft unrolled a thoughtful workplace mental health strategy—but excluded its drivers

No mental health support for drivers
No mental health support for drivers
Image: Reuters/ Lucas Jackson
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Lyft is keen to prove itself as a supportive employer and, to that end, has unrolled a considerate mental health strategy for full-time employees. The initiative includes a guide for managers on how to respond to signs of poor mental health among their staff, and will benefit those software engineers, marketing directors, and accountants working at the company full time. The guidance is nuanced, but there are no plans to consider the mental health of Lyft’s drivers, whom are legally classified as contractors and so denied such benefits.

Lyft’s mental health guide for managers

The company developed its manager guide with help from Lyra Health, a company focused on employee mental health care, as a way to take a proactive approach to the issue. A Lyft spokesperson sent details from the guide to Quartz. These included instructions like:

  • “If you notice behavior that is out of the ordinary, use phrases and words that are open ended. Example: ‘Just wanted to check in and see how you are doing;’ ‘how are you?’; ‘are things going well with you?'”
  • “Describe what you see, and keep it to professional environment behaviors. (Ex: ‘I noticed you haven’t been showing up for meetings’ and ‘You do not seem focused on your assignments.’)”
  • “Refrain from using judgmental word or phrases like ‘you seem depressed.’”
  • “Don’t ask the team member about their medical conditions or if they are suffering from mental health issues.”

It also lists possible signs of mental health issues, including:

  • Persistent irritability, anger, anxiety or sadness
  • Decline in work performance
  • Withdrawal from regular activities
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Decreased motivation
  • Statements about feeling trapped or hopeless

The guide emphasizes that managers shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s mental health or ability to perform their job from their behavior. And it makes clear that managers have a duty to provide support in response to team member concerns, and can bring in support from HR where needed.

It’s good advice. Quartz has reported on how managers should handle mental health at work and, though it can be extremely difficult, managers do play an important role in sensitively responding to employee mental health. “Managers are the frontline HR [human resources] people,” Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Quartz for an earlier story. “It’s appropriate for the manager, who has the relationship with the employee, to talk with them.”

Rousseau’s recommendations aligned with much of Lyft’s new guide: Don’t make assumptions based on behavior and, if someone seems unwell, it’s best to ask if they’re ok and aware of any general issues or concerns, rather than directly asking them to reveal their state of mental health.

But what about the drivers?

It’s hard to ignore, though, the fact that Lyft’s considerate approach leaves out those workers the public interacts with most: the drivers.

In February this year, Lyft finally agreed to pay $17.22 per hour in New York City, meeting the area’s minimum wage. Elsewhere, however, its drivers make less than the local minimum for employees. Meanwhile a study last year found that 44% struggle to pay for gas, insurance, and car maintenance. Plus, they have to deal with occasionally belligerent passengers. All of this suggests a work environment where mental health support might be especially valuable.

A Lyft spokesperson emphasized that drivers are classified as independent contractors, and 91% work 20 hours or less a week. (Though, as Vox reports, a study by economists at the University of California Berkeley and the New School published last year found that most New York City drivers for ride-hailing apps are driving full time; 40% qualified for Medicaid and 18% qualified for food stamps.) They added that there is some support in place for drivers: Lyft released details of its driver services last month, which includes “Driver Centers” that offer discounted vehicle repairs. These centers will also come with a “community space” where drivers can get help with their taxes and “hospitality education.”

But there are no initiatives for drivers to get the same mental health support as Lyft’s corporate employees. It’s hardly surprising that there’s one rule for Lyft’s office workers and another for its drivers, given the company’s fight to prevent drivers from being recognized as employees. It would be hugely expensive for Lyft to reclassify their drivers as employees, and the company could fail to ever make a profit if it afforded drivers those rights. Ultimately, it seems Lyft does care about workplace mental health. It just cares about profit more.