How can technology support workplace mental wellbeing strategies?

mental health technology

Need to know:

  • Technology provides a quick and easily accessible route for employees to access information about positive mental wellbeing.
  • Although the mental health technology market is still relatively young, there are apps and platforms that employers can promote to staff to support their mental wellbeing.
  • The workplace provides an ideal setting in which these can be promoted.

Mental wellbeing and positive mental health continue to hold a prominent place in many employers’ healthcare and wellbeing strategies. The Benefits and trends survey, published in January 2018 by Aon Employee Benefits, for example, found that employer investment in proactive initiatives to tackle mental health and stress has increased from 36% to 42% in the last year.

Employers and benefits providers are looking at ways in which they can support employees’ mental wellbeing and are looking to mental health technology to provide part of the solution. Aon’s aforementioned survey showed that 48% of employers offer their employees access to health and wellbeing apps.

Ally Antell, UK health and protection product innovation lead at Aviva, says: “The real key with mental health is around early intervention, or even better, the concept of prevention, before these mental health conditions are allowed to grow and nurture within an individual before they become much more serious. Today, the easiest way to get to those people is through a digital setting, whether that is through a website, or an app or through a social media site.”

Why use digital mental wellbeing support?
An important factor in positive mental health is preventative care and encouraging employees to pay as much attention to their mental wellbeing as they would to their physical health. Dr Nick Taylor, clinical psychologist and chief executive officer of workplace wellbeing platform Unmind, says: “That proactive preventative mental healthcare doesn’t happen enough, and if it does happen, often it doesn’t happen in a way that is memorable, scalable, personalisable, and also within the wider health system.

“The issue that employers have is often, for instance with large employers, [which have] tens of thousands of people over multiple sites, how can they structure a service for their employees which is scalable, and affordable? There’s tremendous value in running, say, a workshop to get everyone around a table in one room, but that’s logistically and financially a very difficult thing to scale.”

This is where digital mental wellbeing support is extremely valuable, says Taylor. Employees can access apps, platforms and online libraries that contain information on how individuals can best support their own mental wellbeing, and provide guidance on where they can seek further help. “We’re saying this is part of a picture, part of the solution to mental health,” says Taylor. “Digital is not going to completely get rid of more traditional mental health services, and nor should it. What it might do is ease the burden on them a little bit, which will be positive, it might also accelerate access to them. There’s a lot of fog around mental health; people aren’t really clear about what it is and when they should do something about it.”

Digital mental wellbeing support contains different components that address different needs, although these are primarily focused around proactive and preventative support. For example, platforms might offer support for conditions such as mild anxiety, feelings of low mood, stress and sleep programmes. For example, Unmind’s platform also offers tools that employees can use in ad-hoc moments, such as five-minute-long cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises.

Innovation in mental health technology
The digital mental health market is still considered to be quite young, so there is room for a lot more innovation in the workplace wellbeing space. James Lee, chief design officer at Lifeworks, says: “We see a lack of innovation within wellbeing in the workplace from a technology standpoint. When [we] think about technology in the workplace, [we] think about processes, administration, systems, [and so on]. When it comes to wellbeing, it’s a bit more limiting.  We really see people using and reading resources, and doing things impacting their wellbeing through a mobile-first solution. [It’s] the way to go for the future.”

While not all employers will have the resources to develop digital mental wellbeing support, they are very much driving innovations, says Antell. “I think we’re going to see lots more innovation,[and] lots more organisations moving into this space, driven by demand from employers in the UK [that] are saying, ‘we’ve got some issues, we don’t know how to give the best support to our staff’.

“The vast majority would see it as a paternalistic requirement to look after their staff, but there’s also a very hard commercial lens to look through [because] the cost of absence and the cost of lost productivity is extremely significant. It’s too important for any employer of a decent size to ignore.”

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