Can technology help employees with their mental health?

Mental illness in the workplace is a costly problem for employers. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Productivity problems can have a trickle-down effect, impacting everything from company culture to employee retention -- and the problem is getting worse, not better. Studies show that mental illness diagnosis rates are rising, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

As this problem grows, employers must establish policies that identify mental illness in the workplace, reduce the on-the-job stressors that exacerbate the problem, and create a more supportive environment that helps employees to work through their hurdles. Here are a few ways that organizations can accomplish these goals with technology.

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  1. Digital counseling services

Perhaps the most popular method that employers are using to support employee mental health is digital counseling services. Most companies can’t afford to have a full-time therapist or mental health expert on the payroll. Offering employees access to counseling through online or app-driven services allows employers to make these services to anyone who needs them without making a huge upfront investment.

One example of this mechanism is the LifeWorks Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which gives users access to not only live video chats and telephone support sessions with mental health professionals but also mental health resources such as videos, podcasts, interactive programs, and online support groups.

  1. Fitness trackers

Physical activity and fitness lead to a long list of benefits for mental health, including improved mood, higher energy levels, higher self-esteem, and a stronger sense of personal wellbeing. Since many employers are already investing in robust wellness programs to reduce absenteeism and cut down on health insurance costs, it makes sense to build a mental health focus into that equation.

Technology can help -- and it already is. According to Glassdoor, more than 13 million fitness trackers were part of workplace wellness programs as of 2018. Fitness trackers are often a strong motivator to help people get active. They offer an eye-opening look at how much physical activity (or lack of it) a person undertakes throughout a day and then rewards activity with badges and other pieces of positive reinforcement.

Employers need to be careful with fitness trackers, as monitoring an employee’s steps or exercises can easily fall into the realm of privacy infringement. However, providing each employee with a complimentary tracker is an easy way to encourage better physical and mental health.

  1. Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is most often considered a technology exclusively for gaming and experiential entertainment. Some employers are using it to give employees more mental health support. The most notable example is Psious, a "VR platform for therapists and mental health professionals" that is now in use by more than 2,000 providers in 50 different countries.

The platform was developed to help patients overcome their fears by facing them in a virtual setting. For instance, someone with aerophobia (fear of flying) could use a VR scenario in Psious to immerse themselves in a flying experience without physically flying. However, it can also be implemented as part of treatment for an array of other conditions ranging from stress to social anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder. Organizations can use a VR system to give employees a chance to confront mental illness head-on in a completely safe environment.

Safe-and-Sound Workplaces

Technology is a significant aid in establishing a stronger company culture and a safer workplace. To maintain a safe, welcoming workplace that encourages strong mental health, employers can also use survey tools to gather employee feedback and identify areas for improvement and employee recognition software to award to track employee performance and award excellence. Background check tools are an essential piece of the equation as well, as screening for red flags -- and hiring accordingly -- can help to keep a workplace safe and positive.

All these pieces of technology and others can help businesses to create a safer and more engaged work environment that helps to minimize stress and support mental health.

Image Credit: igorstevanovic/Shutterstock

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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