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Employee wellbeing: HR leaders open up about their tech stacks

1 in 6.8 people experience a mental health problem in the workplace.

Laura Holliday

Unleash Your Employees Laura Holliday speaks to several HR leaders to find out how they are leveraging tech to manage employee wellbeing.

  • 1 in 6.8 people experience a mental health problem in the workplace, and in the UK, poor mental health is responsible for 12.7% of sick days.
  • Over the past few years, platforms specifically designed to manage employee mental health and wellbeing have become popular.
  • But what employee wellbeing tech is working and what isn’t?

We’ve all heard of Mental Health Awareness Week, but looking after your employees’ mental health goes beyond online campaigns encouraging people to speak up.

According to research, 1 in 6.8 people experience a mental health problem in the workplace, and in the UK, poor mental health is responsible for 12.7% of sick days. Making sure workers are supported, well-connected, and able to easily communicate is crucial, both for their wellbeing and the continued success of your team.

This past year has shifted our focus even more towards employee mental wellbeing. In addition to existing challenges, employers are adjusting to major changes caused by the global pandemic. From a huge increase in remote working to a decrease in in-person social activities and team building, new styles of work can often have a significant negative impact on our mental wellbeing.

Luckily, this shift has also led to a renewed focus on internal communications, allowing many organizations to reassess our HR tech stacks and reevaluate how teams operate. Thanks to the ever-growing market of apps, platforms, and communication systems, it’s easy to combine these two things and choose new workplace tech that will also boost your employees’ mental wellbeing in the process. 

UNLEASH spoke with CPOs and HR leads at multinational corporations to find out how they’ve been harnessing tech to improve their employees’ mental wellbeing, and the advice they have for other professionals looking to invest.

Invest in mental health-focused tech

Over the past few years, platforms specifically designed to manage employee mental health and wellbeing have become popular.

These include Unmind, which offers self-guided programs, mindfulness exercises, and therapy techniques for employees to follow; and Spill, a London-based startup providing free video therapy for employees, that integrates into Slack for easy use. One of Unmind’s clients, John Lewis, states that over 10,600 of their employees have downloaded the app.

Melissa Werneck, global chief people officer at Kraft-Heinz, says the company uses a similar platform that combines corporate wellbeing with a rewards system, incentivizing employees to use it to manage their mental health. 

“Kraft Heinz has a robust employee resource program called LiveWell, which provides mental health resources and options to employees,” she explains. LiveWell integrates with popular mental health apps, allowing employees to access these easily and use them to cope with workplace pressures.

“This program was strengthened during the pandemic with new capabilities such as the Calm app in the US and UK, and further expansion is planned.” 

If investing in paid software isn’t for you, you could always use apps alone or integrate them into your own internal systems. According to Forbes, there are over 15,000 mental health apps available to download, so you should definitely be able to make a decision based on your company’s size and employees’ needs.

Head of corporate benefits at Merck, Ralf M Kania, says the company recommends employees use Headspace, for meditation and mindfulness; and Humanoo, which encourages team challenges, fitness, and healthy eating. Employees have also recently completed a challenge through the Virgin Pulse GO app.

“The holistic and personalized health app Virgin Pulse GO supports employees to improve their wellbeing and stay connected through mindful self-care,” he explains. 

“One of the many offerings included in the app was the Destination Go Challenge. Counting daily steps and other activities, the challenge made it easier to stay fit and connected during a 9-week virtual journey.” 

It’s important to note that HR teams don’t always need to opt for apps that are 100% focused on mental health. For example, Kraft-Heinz is collaborating with Ezra, a professional coaching app. While Ezra was primarily designed as an alternative for employee training, it can also benefit mental health by increasing confidence, enhancing communication, and encouraging workers to become better leaders. 

Streamline your existing communication systems

Healthy and positive communication is imperative when looking after your mental wellbeing. Ensuring employees feel able to communicate, whether that’s staying in touch generally, replicating social events, or relaying mental health concerns to managers without judgment, is extremely important.

It’s also something that’s highly in demand in the workplace. PwC research shows that two-thirds of employees want their employer to take an active role in their health and wellbeing, and what’s more, they feel that tech should be involved in the process.

Acting CPO at Content Guru, Sam Fuller, explains how the company has deployed resources already at its disposal, augmented by external technology, to open as many channels of communication as possible for their employees.

“We video-enabled every extension for every colleague, and made it the default setting for all internal calls, to help keep teams connected and encourage the use of this more personal method of communication. At the same time, we introduced a chat function to our communications solution, so the tyranny of internal email could be tamed, and colleagues given a quicker way of communicating in short form.” 

However, he stresses that what works for one employee does not always work for another, highlighting the importance of a personalized approach when dealing with employee wellbeing.

“We found that each colleague differed when it came to their internal communications solution of choice. For instance, some preferred to use Microsoft Teams or Zoom for video calls. In response, we made all of these platforms readily available for employees to use.”

AI can also help enhance communication and offers many benefits including anonymity. Moneypenny uses Workplace from Facebook as its primary communication system and is taking advantage of its Bot Platform to build bots that employees can communicate with. No coding expertise is required — managers can simply create the bot and integrate it into the team.

“We already have a number of health and wellbeing bots that we use to help gauge how people are doing but are looking to do more of these,” chief operating officer Ceri Henfrey explains. 

“We are looking into potentially introducing a weekly ‘How are you doing’ Bot every Friday to see how our employees’ week has been and get a general gauge on how they are feeling and how busy they are.”

Having recruited 350 new starters since March 2020, another one of the bots Moneypenny is planning to build would allow it to anonymously ask questions it might be embarrassed to otherwise raise. This could be a lifeline for people who are struggling with workplace problems and don’t want to disclose personal information with managers.

Addressing problems

For many of us, there are valid concerns that becoming too reliant on tech might lead to burnout or fatigue, which can be detrimental to mental health. It’s important to strike a balance, as Werneck explains.

“We’re all struggling with technology fatigue. After 15 months or so of a virtual workplace, we realize that this is not sustainable. At the beginning, employees embraced virtual check-ins and virtual happy hours, but that is no longer the case. A blend of technology and in-person interaction is much more sustainable.” 

Fuller stresses that it’s the smaller changes that can revolutionize your workplace — and these don’t risk overwhelming your employees with too much tech they don’t understand.

“My advice would be to not underestimate the power of small changes to the technology you use on your employees’ mental health. It’s not about implementing an entire new HR tech solution. It is about integrating with new and existing communications and collaboration systems that your colleagues are using, so that you can properly engage with them and support them.”

Kania also raises the importance of looking after your own mental health in the process.

“All of us are experiencing some level of discomfort. So just like we are saying that we are supporting and taking care of our employees, we also need to prioritize our own wellbeing,” he explains.

“Leaders should act as role models, encourage the use of technology, and create awareness for such important topics. By being open and transparent, we can open doors for our employees to feel comfortable in talking about issues, struggles, and challenges and using digital tools,” Kania concludes.

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