The Role of Tech in Workplace Mental Health

Mental health has been at the center of a lot of discussions in the past few years, largely due to an increasing awareness on issues such as depression and anxiety. In fact, here in California, the number of adults who have received mental health services through Medi-Cal increased by 50% from 2012-2015. But these issues not only affect workers; they also impact employers who have to deal with challenges such as low employee morale and absences. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than $200 billion is spent on mental health every year. It has already surpassed heart disease as the most expensive medical conditions in the US.

As more jobs go digital, entire industries feel the need to catch up with the latest tech trends. Technological advancements continue to be a major driving force behind transitions in the corporate landscape, which in turn affect job security and workforce confidence. Companies are scrambling to understand how to best utilize their resources towards employee welfare, particularly in terms of mental health.

The initial step towards this is understanding the connection between technology and mental health, which brings us to the issue of tech addiction. League CEO Mike Serbinis shared that constantly using tech devices robs people of important downtime. He said, “What’s happening is that people are getting conditioned to see those signals or numbers and feel like they have to go back and check constantly… That triggers this fight or flight response… it’s a whole cascade of events that really emanates from this constant interruption.”

This constant state of stimulation also brings about the risk of depression and anxiety. They can come from feelings of inadequacy and/or being conditioned that something serious is bound to come up at any time. These scenarios reflects the findings from the 2018 Global Wellness Trends report from the Global Wellness Summit, which attributed these two conditions to being constantly connected to technology.

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But aside from wellness activities, company leaders can also use tech to alleviate the aforementioned negative effects. One recent trend is smart office designs, where wireless technology enables employees to change lighting levels to improve focus and reduce stress. Moreover, wearable-assisted apps like ZENTA and The Spire can be used to monitor employee activity. Data such as perspiration and breathing patterns can be analyzed to detect stress signals. Employers can then send remedies and other helpful info to their employees’ phones.

There are also “tech-fighting tech” innovations like Off the Grid, an app that allows users to disable their devices at any moment. Instagram uses the same principle in its reminder feature that notifies users to lay off the app after a set amount of time. Countless mindfulness and meditation apps are available as well, and managers are beginning to leverage these tools to create better office environments.

Another technology that has big potential for workplace mental health is artificial intelligence. The AI chatbot Woebot, for instance, can simulate conversations with a therapist and can even be tailored to the user’s specific needs. Through AI, employees and managers can create individualized mental health care plans, identify times of crises, and look for emerging patterns that will help in addressing issues before they happen. While some raise concerns on the impersonality of AI-assisted technology, the anonymity and personalization suit employees who prefer discretion.

Subtle workplace innovations that improve office culture and introduce positive working habits are also worth exploring. For example, notifications that remind workers to take a rest can reduce overwork and create a positive office culture. Introducing them to FluidStance decks can also encourage employees to move and be active. Even just sitting in a chair all day can lead to mental health issues. Having standing decks, along with other tools, can be instrumental in developing a more health-conscious workforce. Awareness, after all, is the first step to a mentally sound workforce.

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