Before the pandemic relegated most meetings to video conference, employees at the mental wellness app Headspace gathered each morning at 10 a.m. for a guided meditation led by the company’s co-founder, a charismatic Brit and former monk. They sat on wooden benches in Headspace’s airy, sun-drenched office in Santa Monica, California, taking deep, calming breaths.
But the rest of the workday at Headspace was often less Zen. While the company’s raison d’etre was to promote mental health and well-being, many staffers described working intense hours, skipping family functions to meet deadlines and a high rate of turnover. In interviews with more than 20 people who worked at the startup from before the pandemic through earlier this year, employees depict an intense and sometimes grueling work environment.