How can technology boost mental health in enterprise?
Many of these resources have taken the form of remote mental health and wellbeing apps – an option that many workers appear to have embraced. Over the past year, 76% of employees who received mental health support, did so virtually and most say that the support is important as it helps them cope at work.
For enterprise, there is a wide variety of mental health technologies on the market: from meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm for Business, to apps that use AI to track employees’ moods such as Woebot and Neuroflow, as well as others that encourage physical health to boost mental health, such as buddyboost.
While the sole purpose of many of these apps is to improve user wellbeing, for businesses it not only means happier employees, but a more productive workforce that produces better financial results.
Businesses face a notable price for failing to deal with mental health issues. The World Health Organisation estimates that depression, anxiety disorders, and other conditions cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. The pandemic and remote working practices have only worsened conditions, with 43% of employees across the globe reporting a decline in their mental health.
Research by Deloitte has also found that businesses which invest in mental health programs for their employees, train managers and improve the culture around mental health in the workplace, see a £5 return for every £1 invested.
The pandemic has caused mental health apps in general to soar in popularity, seeing downloads increase by 200% year on year from summer 2019 to summer 2020.
For the workplace, these apps vary in terms of the services that they offer and their technical complexity.
Simple meditation apps are proving a popular option. Calm for business, for instance, has clients including Universal and GoFundMe and was co-founded by Acton Smith who developed the app after meditation helped him cope with feeling burnt out from work.
In an interview with inc.com, Smith said that the most important action entrepreneurs could take was to “look after themselves.”
“As entrepreneurs, we obsess at looking over our teams, we spend so much money and time looking at our metrics but what’s the most important part of business? It’s ourselves. If that piece of the puzzle is not happy and healthy, the whole things start to crumble,” he said.
In the same vein, Headspace was founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former monk, and Richard Pierson, who visited Puddicombe for help after a series of traumatic events.
Firm believers in meditation, the duo established a mental health app that provides meditation courses and now counts Google and LinkedIn as its clients.
Pizza firm Domino’s, meanwhile, uses Ginger, an app that uses personal text-based therapy and counselling video calls to help employees. This app was founded by a pioneering lab team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011, which sought to “build the world’s first mental health technology platform.”
Ginger uses smartphone-based technology to identify patterns of anxiety, stress, and depression, and alerts patients and their healthcare providers to deliver care. It uses a mix of human interaction, data science, and augmented intelligence to deliver mental healthcare on demand.
Developed by Robert Tansey, Sky’s former director of brand strategy and marketing, buddyboost enables employees to ‘buddy up’ and support each other through encouraging each other to exercise.
Through its own research the app claim that 70% of is users found that it had a positive impact on their overall wellbeing, with 85% reporting that they were either happy or very happy after their activities – which suggests that encouraging employees to improve their physical health helps their mental health too.
Other apps make use of AI to integrate themselves into employees’ lives and discover mental health issues as they arrive.
NeuroFlow, for example, was developed by army vet Christopher Molaro, and co-founder Adam Pardes. The app uses AI to recognise when an employee is struggling and supplies appropriate care in a timely manner.
NeuroFlow works by allowing AI to screen and monitor behavioural health conditions with a series of self-service resources, such as mood inputs, and then supplies them with the relevant care, depending on the severity of the condition – from self-care to a personal psychiatrist.
Similarly, Woebot is an AI chatbot created by Dr Alison Darcy after she found group networks for people living with eating disorders insufficient. The app is created around human-centred design thinking and big datasets which help recognise signs of fatiguing mental health. While some raise concerns on the impersonality of AI-assisted technology, the anonymity and personalisation suit employees who prefer discretion Darcy argues
Finally, Feel breaks down the barrier between screens by tracking employees’ emotions through wristbands. The wristband provides real-time monitoring and personalised interventions for individuals with anxiety and depression. Its augmented mental health uses a combination of evidence-based behavioural techniques and the company’s proprietary recognition technology.
Evidence of these apps’ effectiveness varies – something that is not helped by their lack of longevity in the marketplace.
Many mental health apps have emerged from startups which sometimes fail to get their next round of funding off the ground and disappear as quickly as they started. A study among college students found that 28% of apps recommended to them to help with mental health were no longer available to download.
Also, at Manchester Metropolitan University senior lecturer in occupational psychology Sarah Crozier warns that smart phone technologies are often no replacement for helpful social support such as spending time with loved ones.
Key to any of these app’s efficacy, however, is creating a workplace culture that values and supports mental health and wellbeing, rather than just turning to an app as a panacea, to tick that ‘mental health during COVID’ box.
A study by the Harvard Business Review found that it is workplace culture that reduces stigma and empowers employees to use the health benefits provided to them, without fear of retribution.
“The most commonly desired workplace resources for mental health are a more open and accepting culture, training, and clearer information about where to go or who to ask for support,” it said.
Many of these apps themselves – such as Calm for business and Ginger – stress that employees need a supportive culture at work around mental health to aid in their own wellbeing.
Calm cited that “employees who work in an open, supportive environment are 30% less likely to be stressed.”
However, there appears to be a disparity between what CEOs believe they are doing in terms of offering mental health support, and what their employees think they are doing.
According to Ginger’s 2021 report, 96% of CEO’s believe their companies are doing enough for employee mental health, yet only 69% of employees see any benefits.
The research by Ginger also found that 69% of CEOs see themselves as accepting of mental health issues, while only 35% of employees agree.
Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger said that the issue lies in executives not “effectively communicating to employees about what was available to them.”
The report concludes that “employees appreciate when leaders speak about mental health” and it advises bosses to “normalise mental health support by speaking about your own struggles and self-care.”
It adds: “Promote work-life balance through policies that support employees’ mental health, such as no emails on weekends, flexible work hours, and mental health days for employees to relax and refresh.”
Another worry for employees is confidentiality – how much of their information is being given to their managers? Not only is the information they log into an app a concern, but even simply using the app is something that employees may want to keep private.
There are conflicting reports on whether investment in these apps provides commercial returns above and beyond a firm’s corporate responsibility to its staff.
The Harvard Business Review report states that the average engagement rates of mental health apps amongst employees is as low as 5% after two weeks.
But there is evidence to suggest that these apps do boost productivity.
NeuroFlow claims that it saw a 6:1 return of investment for treating depression through Psychiatric Collaborative Care. While a Deloitte report stated that there was a £5 return for every £1 invested in mental health care.
As more staff work in isolation, many never having met their fellow colleagues in the physical domain, mental health and wellbeing apps can be seen as a positive technology for employers to offer and one that employees are likely to welcome.
However adoption of these apps should be supported by a corporate policy that embraces and supports the value of their staff’s mental health and communicates this message loudly and clearly to them.
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