Danielle Shanes is Head of Benefits and Wellbeing at America’s National Basketball Association, better known globally as, the NBA. She leads the league’s global wellbeing program.
Of all the professional American sporting leagues, it’s fair to say that the NBA has made the biggest commitment toward addressing mental health across the organization. That includes for players, and employees of the league alike.
Shanes will be speaking at Make a Difference (digital) Summit in association with Mind Share Partners on October 15th. In this interview Danielle gives a sneak peek of the NBA’s pioneering international wellbeing program that’s making headlines in the US and inspiring other professional sporting leagues across the globe.
What’s your professional background at the NBA? How did you come into your role looking after the workplace mental health programme?
I was hired to lead the benefits function for the National Basketball Association’s global employees, and our intention to focus on physical, financial and emotional wellbeing was a clear direction at the start of my tenure at the league office.
Recently, we added another element, experiential wellbeing, to focus on everything that is experienced while at work, from training and inclusion to the actual physical amenities and space. All four of these aspects of wellbeing contribute to our employees’ mental health.
How long has the NBA had a support programme for staff mental health? Is this a national or international programme?
Our global program is available to employees in thirteen countries on five continents. We’ve had tools and resources available for many years, but over the last few years, the program has expanded exponentially, which includes the recently launched Mind Health, the NBA’s mental health and wellness platform.
Mind Health aims to help identify mental health challenges, strengths and opportunities for the NBA family including players, team and league staff, referees and coaches in all leagues (NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, NBA 2K League and Basketball Africa League). I attribute the growth in our program to a couple things.
The first is accessibility – resources were not previously available in many countries, and we pushed our vendors to innovate and try new things with us.
Second is confronting the stigma – it can be taboo in many cultures to speak about mental health and feelings, so when players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan publicly spoke about their struggles, people around the world, including our international employees, were able to see an example of it being OK to talk about mental health.
What would you say has been the most effective aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing program?
Our program’s success is dependent on our communications. With such a diverse workforce, we all have different needs. It’s crucial that employees know what’s available to them, so we’re constantly exploring opportunities to communicate.
One year for Mental Health Awareness Month, we created the theme “Mind, Body & Sole” – using the sole of a basketball sneaker to tie the campaign together and align the messaging with our product, basketball.
Since COVID-19 what has been the most effective aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing programme?
COVID-19 and many of the events that have happened over the last six months, including the rise of action on racial injustice and our current business model of playing basketball on a campus at Walt Disney World in Orlando, have had an impact on every aspect of our employees’ wellbeing: physical, financial, emotional and experiential.
Our Community Conversations and other group sessions have been impactful. We gather people together virtually to discuss specific topics such as the office reopening, leadership lessons during COVID-19, racial injustice and living on campus in Orlando.
In some cases, a leader speaks and then we have a Q&A; in others we join together for a small presentation and then have breakout discussions. We recently had such a session where one of our Mind Health psychologists facilitated a discussion with people managers, and we discussed how they take care of themselves and their employees. These opportunities to share show us that we aren’t alone.