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Over half of employees cite work as a source of stress: can apps remedy mentally unhealthy workplaces?
February 20, 2019
By Martha Neary, PsyberGuide.org
The last decade has seen an increased emphasis on workplace wellness with many workplaces introducing initiatives to support and improve employee health and wellbeing. These initiatives serve multiple goals.
Better employee wellness:
- increases productivity;
- decreases absenteeism;
- promotes employee satisfaction;
- creates a more positive work environment; and
- reduces turnover.
Aside from that, many companies are committed to helping their employees increase their overall quality of life.
Technology has revolutionized workplace wellness initiatives; employers can incorporate tools like wearable activity trackers and smartphone apps into workplace-wide activity challenges, and leverage social media to promote health campaigns. Technology can also directly deliver wellness resources and decrease the need to seek traditional forms of care.
Wellness programs have traditionally focused on physical health, which happily comes with incidental mental health benefits. Being active throughout the day stimulates our natural feel-good hormones, which can make everyday stresses seem more manageable, boosts mood.
But it’s important for workplace wellness to incorporate mental health as a critical part of wellness.
Employers can support mental health in the workplace in two important ways.
Promote technologies that provide resources and support for mental health
There are thousands of apps out there to support mental health. Many apps promote general mental wellness and self-care (like Calm, Headspace, SuperBetter), while more specialized apps can help with specific problems like low mood, stress, or sleeplessness (for example Happify, MoodMission, Pacifica). One resource to help you find mental health apps is PsyberGuide.org, which allows you to search through apps and filter through categories you are interested in.
Some apps offer corporate partnerships, allowing employees to access premium content (for example, Headspace at Work, Calm Teams) and can integrate with popular productivity tools like Slack (for example, Stop, Breathe & Think). While some workplaces offer on-site counseling, programs like Talkspace for Business provide an alternative when this isn’t possible.
Two keys to the adoption of mental health technologies are perceived benefits and ease of use. An app needs to have demonstrated benefits and research supporting its use. However, in order for employees to engage with a technology long enough to reap its benefits, good user experience is critical. Employees are more likely to use things that are engaging, visually appealing, fun and interesting.
Invest in specialized health technologies that provide actionable data points
You may consider investing in digital platforms which allow you to monitor and analyze your organization's wellbeing. These platforms, or wellness portals, can help determine suitable activities based on indicators of current wellbeing. You can administer a health assessment, provide educational materials, support for behavior change, and measure progress all in one place. These platforms can measure the effectiveness of your wellbeing initiatives across different employee segments while protecting employee confidentiality. Learn more about what makes a successful wellness portal here.
One of the best ways you can support employee mental health is to create a supportive environment. Investing in mental health technologies is one way to clearly signal to that you are committed to supporting workplace wellbeing. Choosing the appropriate technologies requires careful consideration and thought: know your organization, the pertinent issues, and relevant cultural considerations. It’s essential not to rely on technology alone to solve your employees' mental health problems. When you have thoughtfully curated some choices, be clear and frank with your employees about what these tools can and cannot do.
Technology can’t replace face-to-face treatment but may act as a starting point for employees to take steps towards managing their mental health. Leaders should adopt a holistic approach, supporting physical and mental wellbeing from infrastructure to culture -- think of health technology as just one great tool in your toolbox to help you do this
 Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public Health Reports, 100(2), 195–202.