According to NHS England and the UK mental health charity Mind, one in four people in England will experience a mental health problem of some kind in a given year. In Canada, this figure is one in five, and in the United States, research indicates that around 45 million Americans are suffering from a mental health illness at any given time.
Indeed, mental health is very much a global problem and it’s one which has gained substantial notoriety in recent years, so much so that the majority of employers are now seeking ways to provide resources and support to their employees.
Supporting Employee Mental Health Remotely
In today’s coronavirus-dominated world, where additional and unique barriers face those suffering from mental health issues, such as social distancing and enforced work-from-home measures, these employers are also looking for ways to support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing digitally.
This is for good reason, too. Dr. Megan Jones, the CEO of Headspace, a leading mindfulness app, said that requests from companies seeking support for their employees’ mental health have increased by more than 500 percent.
Fortunately, there is an overwhelming number of ways employees can approach this. From simply going out of your way to check in on team members more regularly to utilizing purpose-built apps and solutions, these are our top five ways to leverage technology to help with employee mental health.
- Stay Connected to Your Team
- Provide Mental Health Resources
- Normalize Talking About Mental Health
- Support Social Connections
- Look Into Digital Tools and Solutions
As their employer or a team leader, staying connected to your team is more important to their mental health than you might think.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, employees worldwide have been made redundant, furloughed, had their hours slashed, and parachuted into new and different job roles—and those that haven’t experienced this are having to deal with the fact that they may well be next given the uncertainty surrounding everything.
Without continued and open communication with your team, however, you run the risk of letting this uncertainty run wild in their minds as they attempt to interpret things and fill in the gaps themselves, worsening their anxieties with questions like:
- What if I lose my job?
- What happens when furlough ends?
- How am I going to meet my targets working from home?
- Is my job safe? Am I?
A lack of communication will only cause employees to fear the worst and feel as if they’re not valued.
To avoid this problem, make use of the many technologies that are available for virtual communications and schedule frequent check-ins with all team members, both on a team and an induvial level, even with those who are furloughed. Even if all you’ve got to say is that nothing has changed, this is far better and more reassuring than staying silent.
Think about it like this: If you were furloughed in March and have heard next-to-nothing since, how would you feel?
Many organizations already provide access to mental health resources through employee assistance programs. Designed to help employees deal with issues that may be impacting their performance at work and overall health and wellbeing, these enable employees to interact with qualified mental health professionals and seek advice on issues that impact their health and wellbeing.
If you don’t already have something similar to this, providing a free platform for your employees to seek help from qualified experts can be their first step towards receiving the support that they need. For many employees, they’ve provided a means of support when other services have been unavailable, and many can be accessed without their employer finding out, meaning that those with particular anxieties are far more likely to use them.
To get started, here are some excellent mental health guides and resources for employers:
- Mental Health at Work guidance from Mind, the mental health charity.
- CIPD’s ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ resources.
- The U.S. CDC’s ‘Workplace Health Promotion’.
One of the reasons why it has taken so long for mental health to become a priority is because not everyone wants to talk about it, especially in the workplace.
As an employer, you need to be able to normalize the discussion of mental health and encourage people to come forward if they’re struggling. Think of different ways you can do this and encourage employees to speak openly about their mental health, or mental health in general, during focus groups, workshops, teambuilding events, or one-to-one.
Thanks to technology, there are so many different ways that employers can strike up conversations about mental health, so be creative and put together spaces where employees can discuss things openly and freely while working apart from one another.
One way you could do this is by creating a dedicated Slack channel or thread where employees can come together, chat, and share their experiences. Not only will this help to normalize discussions around mental health, but it’ll also help alleviate anxieties and the isolation often felt by people working remotely in the long term.
Technology and the internet naturally facilitate social connections. From Zoom calls with colleagues to FaceTime sessions with friends and family, our world is connected in a way that it never has been before.
Given that many of us spend over a third of our lives at work, it’s often the place where lifelong friendships and relationships are formed. While you may have become used to going for drinks at the local bar after work with colleagues, having a chat over morning coffee, or going out for lunch together, this is now for the most part impossible due to current coronavirus restrictions.
As an employer, it’s a good idea to provide your team with the ability (and the freedom) to spend time with their colleagues virtually. Whether it’s Zoom coffee sessions, virtual lunch breaks, or team quizzes, virtual social interactions that deviate from the work-related norm can help your team to maintain their relationships and stay connected with the business. This naturally lends itself to protecting employees from mental health issues, too.
To get a sense of just how far mental health awareness has come in recent years, look no further than the sheer number of mental health-focused apps, tools, and solutions that are available.
Today, there are over 15,000 mental health apps on the Apple App Store, with different apps and technologies focusing on different things; some apps will focus on a specific challenge (e.g. insomnia, substance abuse, depression), types of help needed (e.g. mindfulness, cognitive therapy), or the end-user’s goal (e.g. healthy habits, better sleep patterns).
The types of technologies also vary, including not only smartphone apps but websites, wearable devices, and desktop applications, tools, and software.
Before settling on and investing in a specific tool or technology, employers should consider and reflect on what they hope to achieve by doing so. The most efficient way to do this is to retrieve feedback from employees to find out exactly what it is they want or need from a digital tool or product.
One Mind has produced an excellent resource to help employers with just that, the ‘Employer’s Guide to Digital Tools and Solutions for Mental Health, which we wholly recommend as a starting point.