Technology to Support Workforce Mental Health
Technology has been a boon to remote workers. It makes it easier to collaborate on projects and connect from a distance. Without it, remote work as we know it today would simply not be possible.
But there is a downside: the lack of in-person interaction can be detrimental to individual workers' well-being. Numerous studies show the importance of face-to-face social connection to mental health.
Hybrid work arrangements will certainly help combat isolation, as employees blend time in the office with remote time. But the likely reality is that full-time remote work has become a staple of American business, and employers will have to play an increasingly important role in helping combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Here are some tools and insights to consider to support the mental well-being of remote workers. As an added bonus, in-office and hybrid workers will likely enjoy the benefits, too.
The Importance of Mental Health in a Remote Workplace
Humans crave social interaction. In fact, it is critical to mental health. So it's no surprise that isolation can take its toll on workers in a remote setting, and employers have a responsibility to ensure employees enjoy both mentally and physically safe work conditions.
Steve Anevski, CEO of Ohio-based staffing platform Upshift, has directly seen the increased symptoms of stress and burnout in employees working remotely. "In a remote workplace, work-life balance gets disrupted due to long working hours and no communication, which could lead to burnout if not addressed timely," he said.
To prevent burnout and other work-related mental health repercussions, employers should seek to create a safe and open environment, where employee well-being is communicated as a top priority and everyone is welcome to speak up. Checking in regularly with team members and keeping a close eye on potential indications that an employee's morale is taking a turn for the worse are important ways to stay ahead of potential downturns.
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How to Support Workers' Mental Health
Each employer situation is unique. Larger workforces require a different approach than small groups, and the same is true of companies whose employees are spread out over different time zones vs. those located in the same vicinity. Yet, there are simple guidelines every company can adopt:
- Promote a culture that is open to talk about mental health: Talking openly about mental health may be difficult for some, but it can be necessary. Instilling a culture that says it's OK to have a conversation regarding mental health at the workplace provides a healthy platform for employees to speak up when the burden starts to feel too heavy.
- Encourage walks or "away-from-keyboard" (AFK) time: A walk, some light exercise or even just a few minutes away from the computer doing something other than work are all great ways to relieve stress. Anevski said managers "should set realistic timelines and achievable goals to lighten the employee's workload without expecting them to do everything at once."
- Leaders should put themselves in employees' shoes: Irene McConnell, managing director at Australian resume writing firm Arielle Executive, said employers should show empathy and try to understand the other person's situation. "Plus," she said, "being flexible and allowing the employee to take some time off is also essential for them not to feel burned down."
- Prevent a siloed mentality: Employees in remote work environments can experience a growing sense of isolation and siloing, along with an insidious encroachment of their work into their private life. Managers should have conversations with employees to make sure boundaries are established.
Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care
7 Tools to Support Employee Mental Health
The past year has seen a boom in technology and tools that employers can use to facilitate conversations about mental well-being and support employees wellness. Here are seven popular ones:
- Remente is a platform that monitors employee's mental health. This app helped Anevski obtain actionable insights to handle and manage common issues regarding mental health. "Real-time metrics such as engagement levels, workplace well-being and productivity are the key elements of its well-being programs," he said.
- Hubstaff's workforce management app provides organizations with the ability to track work progress as it happens, without disturbing employees. It lets employers know when employees check in and out. Employees simply select the task they are working on and start the timer, which automatically stops when they complete the task.
- Calm is an app available to download on a phone or tablet. It offers hundreds of meditation practices and sleep stories written and recorded by actual people with proven results. Calm is a full-fledged meditation app that aims to improve focus and help improve work.
- Sanvello is a mobile app to help manage stress and anxiety. It is based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation. It offers mood-tracking features, coaching, self-care tips and health-related articles from around the world.
- Headspace is a meditation app that teaches mindful meditation through a wide range of themed sessions on everything from stress, anxiety, depression and sleep. It also offers what the company calls SOS exercises for moments of crisis. The app gives users a free two-week trial and starts the users off by guiding them through the essential steps of meditation.
- Yerbo is a mental wellbeing platform that collects data from 2-minute weekly surveys and translates results into insights that help employers understand a team's burnout risk. Its measurable parameters assess employees' mental status to alert managers to potential signs of distress and allow them to work to remediate the situation before the onset of burnout.
- Moodfit is a free mental health app whose tools and insight are meant to "shape up" a user's mood. Just like how they might decide to get into physical shape, this app is designed to help users get into mental shape. It is intended to relieve stress and help users better understand their moods and feelings.
While many of these apps are marketed to consumers, some offer enterprise plans to scale services across businesses of differing sizes. Others, such as meQuilibrium, BetterUp and Ginger, have come to market in recent years specifically to help enterprises boost employee resilience and mental well-being.
However a company chooses to address it, it's clear that the cost of not addressing employee mental well-being is high. The US spends approximately $113 billion per year on mental health care. The pandemic and a more isolated work environment are only contributing to the increase in cases. By prioritizing employee well-being and creating a healthier work environment for them to explore their full potential can set employees and their employers up for success.