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Spotify's Australian boss explains how the company uses music and authentic leadership to support its employees' mental health – and encourages them to use a 'heart and soul' room

Sharon Masige
  • October 10 is World Mental Health Day, which raises awareness of mental health issues around the world.
  • Spotify Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Karen Lawson shared what the company is doing to encourage positive mental health.
  • Lawson also mentioned the benefits of music to generate positive mental health.

On World Mental Health Day on Thursday, Spotify Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Karen Lawson told Business Insider Australia some of the ways in which Spotify encourages positive mental health among its employees include a safe space for relaxation and a supportive work environment.

"Our goal at Spotify is to foster a culture of awareness, acceptance, sensitivity, and support around issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction," Lawson told Business Insider Australia in an email. "A culture where we can all embrace our identities, look after ourselves and each other, thrive and be our best selves."

Lawson explained Spotify has a 'Heart & Soul' program, where Heart & Soul ambassadors from around the world assemble the company's self-care database of tools, resources and knowledge for employees to gain access whenever they need it.

"In Sydney, we have a beautiful Heart & Soul room which is specifically designed to create a safe space for relaxation, where people can switch off devices, recover and self soothe," Lawson said. "Positive mental health is part of the DNA of our culture."

And it may come as no surprise that Lawson believes music can help in supporting positive mental health. She highlighted research in the Public Health Journal which found that listening to music reduces stress and anxiety – both of which are associated with depression.

"Scientists around the world have proved the positive connections between audio experiences and positive mental health," Lawson said.

"We have all experienced the powerful way in which music can change our emotions, especially when our favourite song is being played or we may have a certain go-to tune to relax us. When this happens our brain creates an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). This feels like a tingling in your brain and is nature's own little ‘buzz’ and natural reward."

Lawson further mentioned other benefits of music such as the links between musical exposure and higher academic performance, as well as the use of white noise to help people sleep.

"There are many benefits to music that we are still discovering," she said.

In honour of World Mental Health Day, Spotify held a company wide juice bar and breakfast, a series of TEDx talks and yoga and meditation sessions. It also hosted a speaker session focusing on mental health, with a chance for employees to share stories about their own mental health.

Plus, hip hop artist Ziggy Ramo shared the importance of speaking about mental health.

"While World Mental Health Day is a topical time for bringing awareness to the cause, at Spotify we ensure that employees have access to initiatives throughout the year, as the issue isn’t contained to one day," Lawson said.

It's an important issue for companies to take seriously. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey, one in five - or 4.8 million Australians - had a mental or behavioural condition in 2017 and 2018. It was a jump from about 4 million in 2014 and 2015, due to the rise in the number of people who reported anxiety-related conditions and depression.

When asked what employers can do to support good mental health among their workers, Lawson said they have to embrace a new type of leadership which recognises "there is strength in vulnerability and authenticity, not perfection".

"To keep people in silence is to disempower them," Lawson said.

When it came to employees, Lawson said it takes courage to say you need help. "I have such admiration for those who are able to do this," she said.

And for employees who feel they are struggling with their mental health, Lawson advised telling someone about it and seeking support.

"The first step is to acknowledge this to yourself and then to tell someone. Hopefully this would be a manager, but if it's a co-worker or peer - we all play a role in listening, understanding and supporting one another.

"At some point in our life mental health issues affect many of us either directly or through someone we love," she said. "There is no stigma or shame.

"Take that step first. Don’t underestimate those around you who will want to help. You are not, and will never be, alone."