Workplace Mental Health and the Role of Technology

June 01, 2021 - 8:0 am
Workplace Mental Health and the Role of Technology
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The pandemic has provided a turning point in the conversation around workplace mental health.

The world continues to evolve and at a seemingly exponential pace. And technological advancement is at the forefront of not just modern business change, but also societal change as a whole. Truly, the horizon of technology is a sea of opportunity in which almost anything is possible.

Business leaders often describe technology as a "double-edged sword". Meaning, it can be beneficial or detrimental to our lives depending on how we use it.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the benefits have far outweighed the drawbacks. Without technology, there would be no remote work or learning, which would have substantially increased unemployment and made schooling near impossible. Despite the crisis, we are fortunate to have the technological infrastructure to meet the demands of the workforce, keeping many businesses afloat.

Mother working from home - at a flexible and height-adjustable desk with baby. Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash.

Therefore, we can say that humans alone can't continue to exist without a partnership with technology. Technology augments and supplements our work experience.

The Mental Health Stigma

There is a reason why workers don't ask their manager, co-workers, or HR for help when they are experiencing stress, anxiety, and burnout. That is the stigma attached to mental health: mental health is a difficult issue to raise in the workplace.

A study conducted by Accenture in 2018 revealed the following:

  • Thirty-six per cent of the employees said that people don’t talk openly about mental health at work.
  • Small and medium-sized companies (those with 1 – 9 and 10 – 150 employees) were the least open. At these organisations, 59 per cent and 38 per cent of respondents, respectively, reported that people don’t talk about mental health at work.
  • Only 14 per cent of the respondents said they had heard a senior leader talking about the importance of mental health and just 1 in 10 had heard a senior leader talk about being personally affected.
  • Twenty-five per cent had heard a colleague discussing mental health.
People don't want to talk about mental health at work because of the stigma attached to it. Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash.

Moreso, people don't want to be judged or viewed as ineffective employees by talking about their suffering, especially during this recession when companies are laying people off. During the pandemic, three out of every four workers have struggled with mental health and 80 per cent would consider quitting their current job for one that focused more on employee mental health.

The thing is, when employees don't feel comfortable talking about their mental health, their productivity declines, they become dissatisfied and start applying for jobs elsewhere.

Technology’s Role in Alleviating Work Mental Health Issues

People have turned to technology for help—and for advice about, and even treatment for, mental health challenges. While there's no denying the power of a human one-on-one mental health conversation, workers would rather turn to technology instead.

A global study by Workplace Intelligence and Oracle of over 12,000 workers in 11 countries found out that only 18 per cent of people would prefer humans over robots to support their mental health. When asked about this preference, workers said that robots:

  • provide a judgment-free zone (34%) and an unbiased outlet to share their problems (30%)
  • receive quick answers to their health-related questions (29%)

Technology doesn't care about your job title, gender, ethnicity, sex or if you have anxiety or depression; it treats you the same no matter who you are. While it's not acceptable to call your therapist or manager at 3:00 am asking for help, technology never sleeps. It is your support system 24/7.

Furthermore, we will never have a billion therapists to meet the needs of the global population. Thus, we need technology to scale support and treatment for mental health.

Humans VS Technology

On the other hand, based on the same research, humans also have a vital role to play when it comes to mental health.

Humans need emotional connections. Photo by Leon on Unsplash.

The study found that humans are better than robots when it comes to relating to their feelings (45%), understanding the pressures of their job (37%), and interpreting their feelings when they don’t know how to explain them (37%).

This proves that we can relate to humans more than machines concerning our health. While they may need maintenance or upgrades, we need an emotional connection to healing our mental and emotional wounds.

Still, technology has a vital role to play in supporting workers and therapists. Without it, therapists wouldn't be able to conduct their business nor would managers be able to check in with their employees.

Technology for Mental Health

As the mental health crisis has accelerated during Covid, the number of technology solutions to meet worker's needs has grown rapidly that it's almost impossible to keep up.

The corporate wellness market is expected to grow from about $57 billion to $97 billion in the next seven years. The market includes technology vendors that provide mental health support like smartphones, wearables, apps, artificial intelligence, and even virtual reality solutions for workers.

Wellness companies fall into several different categories such as:

  • Chatbot therapy
  • Corporate wellness
  • Dieting apps
  • Fitness apps
  • Meditation apps
  • Mood tracking
  • Online counselling
  • Virtual community
  • Virtual reality therapy

Promoting Workplace Mental Health Support

While technology isn't the complete solution to our mental health issues, they have a myriad of solutions that can provide help for employees wherever they are.

During the pandemic with many people working remotely, they are especially beneficial since you can access them from anywhere at any time. As remote working becomes the norm for many (whether or not combined with a phased return to the office), digital services can provide immediate access to the support, tools, and guidance each needs to look after their mental well-being.

Now more than ever, as physical interaction and in-person check-ins aren’t often possible, technology can support businesses in empowering employees. Technology can create space for people to find help at their own pace and to be transparent and honest when speaking about their feelings.

That's why companies have to put mental health technology services and solutions on the agenda. We can't possibly expect employees to fend for themselves without an institution to support them during these troubling times. Employees, on the other hand, expect that companies are part of the solution since long working hours have caused much of the stress, anxiety, and burnout they've been experiencing.

On Rebuilding the Economy

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash.

Our world was shaken by the coronavirus outbreak. And its long-term effects on our mental health are yet to be seen, though early research is beginning to emerge. According to the United Nations, we could find ourselves up against another global health emergency if we don’t take considerate steps to preserve our mental health.

The pandemic, however, has provided a turning point in the conversation around mental health. More people than ever are beginning to recognise the need to nurture their mental well-being and, crucially, to be open about this. And technology can play an important role in aiding this learning experience – as long as we apply it mindfully.

Both humans and robots play a role in addressing our mental health epidemic that continues to grow due to our public health crisis. It is now more important than ever to provide workplace mental health support to employees. This is a critical time where staff productivity, engagement, and morale will play crucial roles in rebuilding the economy.

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