When we are content in ourselves, there’s no doubt that we work better. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has tested us like nothing else. The change to our daily lives and the protracted length of time we have spent isolated from others and from our previous daily routines has taken its toll.
All this has forced employers to make changes they might have been considering much further down the line in the blink of an eye, with a rapid pivot to home and hybrid working. Without staff onsite, technology has had a big role to play in keeping us connected. Yet, while Zoom and Teams have helped people to continue collaborating and communicating, there are hidden tensions in this new way of working that present us all with fresh challenges.
As we approach a new year laced with continuing uncertainty, technology is going to be key in helping us all to be happy and productive. For employers, it is going to play a much more significant role in how they support those who work for them.
Laptops and phones are now the main route to delivery of mental health and wellbeing, especially where a workforce remains at arm’s length. Digital solutions offer mindful programmes to follow, apps that encourage positive ways to change behaviour, or simply a morale boost at the start of the day, but above all they make support much more accessible without the individual having to have an awkward conversation with their HR department.
Mental health related absence is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces. The cost to employers is staggering – estimated at over £14 billion last year˟ and over £2 billion in a non-pandemic year. With one in four of us likely to be affected by poor mental health at any given time, and figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that depression in adults has increased significantly since the pandemic began – from one in 10 to one in six – companies of all size are having to address how they look after their staff in new ways.
Economic productivity relies on having people who enjoy the work they do. If they are burnt-out and trying to juggle work and home life, their output will be affected. For young people entering the jobs market the social aspect of their working lives, catching up over a coffee or going out together after work, has taken a huge hit. Many have been confined to bedrooms and bedsits.
Digital delivery of mental health and wellbeing support is a way of encouraging the employee to take positive steps to help themselves without fear of repercussion. There is often a gap between someone realising they have a problem to seeking professional help and that’s a gap that technology can bridge, lessening the potential for expensive interventions down the line.
Convenience of delivery, investment in the person, indicating that you do care, all these attributes are important for a company to retain staff, especially in light of the Great Resignation and the increasing belief by younger people looking for a career that their employer of choice should also be invested in their health and wellbeing.
The technology we have spent the past few years developing for the corporate market is designed to answer this. While it is delivered digitally, it is rooted in people. This is because we know the importance of talking to each other and encouraging colleagues to open up about how they are feeling.
Listening to a peer or someone with a similar background explaining how they got through something is recognised as a good way to encourage people to take action in their own lives. And when a senior manager shares their own story, knowing that your bosses are not infallible is important too. Once the conversation starts around mental health, it often leads to in-company initiatives that provide a broader education around what have perhaps before been seen as taboo subjects. Humanising digital solutions is vital.
Combine this with the ability to understand the issues being faced by your workforce from the underlying but anonymised data produced, allows companies to adapt the support they offer and plan future resources more strategically.
Bringing together wellbeing content and tools in one place stops employees from wandering off down the deep dark hole of the internet. Content can be curated and specific – everything together in one place making it simple for the employee to know where to go to for help.
And make it voluntary. Offering digital solutions that are mandated lessens their value. They should be there for if and when they are needed. As one HR manager told me, “If just one person is helped, that’s a win in my book.”
There is always going to be a need for clinical services but how much better will it be if we can help limit the number of employees who reach a critical point. Using digital solutions to break the stigma around mental health, will help us build the resilient workforce of the future.