Improving Mental Health in the Workplace: Why Employers Should Turn to Tech

Winter is often the time associated with mental health issues, chalked up to the “winter blues,” but mental health struggles can hit at any time. Employers need to recognize employees’ need for mental health support as a year-round concern. This should be considered especially pressing since our recent Global Employee Benefits Watch report found that 64% of Americans feel their workplace has a negative impact on their wellbeing. Investing in wellness tools that educate employees on mental health and help them cope with work stressors is one way organizations can provide support.

By accurately providing care for their employees, employers can create a more balanced and productive workplace throughout the year. One simple but effective solution is to use technology to make mental health treatment easier and more accessible than ever before. Many people turn to technology, specifically mobile apps, to monitor and maintain their own mental wellbeing. Employers should take advantage of the opportunity to provide extra support to their employees via technology.

Why turn to tech?

According to a recent Rock Health report, two of the top funded areas of digital health were healthcare consumer engagement and digital therapies. In the first half of 2017 alone, companies in these categories raised $556 million. These applications are diverse, ranging from telemedicine platforms that enable remote access to care to interactive apps that track emotional fluctuations to daily motivational text messaging services.

The growth in the number and range of mental health apps comes at a time when mental health services are under unprecedented strain. Of the total population of American adults living with mental illness, 56.5% did not receive treatment and, for those seeking treatment, 20.1% reported they still had unmet treatment needs. Employers are realizing they can implement tools to help employees address these treatment needs.

For many, mental health is a topic that is difficult to discuss, either with their employers or a healthcare professional. Technology provides another avenue to monitor how you are feeling and suggest coping mechanisms.

How do employers benefit?

Increasing numbers of people are in need of mental health support. Yet, according to our research only 40% of employers prioritize wellbeing in their benefits strategy. This is a significant missed opportunity for employers. Supporting mental wellbeing can lead to improved employee engagement, reduced absence rates, and higher productivity.

Many employers are realizing the full cost of ignoring their employees’ mental wellbeing. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, depression alone costs employers $44 billion each year. Investing $1 in depression and anxiety treatment leads to a $4 return in better health and work performance.

What can employers do?

Employers need to invest in software that enables employees to access mental health support on their own terms, wherever and whenever they choose.

Wellbeing apps can form one part of this care, but they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Flexible wellness pots offer another solution. With the right software they can be approachable and easy-to-use, giving employees an allowance to spend on their own wellbeing as they see fit. Employees can select wellbeing benefits or choose to be reimbursed, all through a consumer-friendly user experience. This flexibility can remove some of the barriers to care that exist today.

How can we support mental health in the long-term?

Apps or flexible wellness pots can open the door for the use of more sophisticated tools, such as data analytics. Thomsons’ recent Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/18 report found that employers with developed global benefits strategies and systems in place are able to transition to using advanced tools more easily. They can use data and analysis to help identify the root cause of employee stress and create workplaces that foster mental wellbeing and boost happiness well before problems arise.

Analyst Josh Bersin cites one forward-thinking employer who used smart badges to monitor employees’ movements at work. The data revealed that the biggest contribution to employee happiness was walking around the office. Through this analytic process, business leadership came up with a simple solution – relocating conference rooms to encourage more movement.

Analytics can also help employers create data-driven benefits profiles, which can be used to present individuals with the wellness benefits that suit them best. When employees are aware of the benefits that fit their specific needs, they are more likely to take advantage of them. Putting the technology in place that enables this process is key.

Employees’ mental health care should always be a top priority for employers. But identifying and implementing the most effective care will never be an easy task. This process can be made infinitely less complex by technology. Employers can now use wellness apps and wellness pots to give employees the tools to help themselves, while simultaneously conducting data analysis to determine the best way they can support them. By allowing technology to assist them in keeping their employees healthy, happy and productive, employers will create a workplace that fosters a positive culture an unprecedented amount of success.