June 16, 2021
Employers nationwide are taking steps to improve employee wellbeing, reduce stress and improve mental health. For many, they are well-meaning, for example, banning work emails during certain hours of the day, encouraging employees to ‘switch off’. However, the risk with blanket policies like these is that they don’t work for everyone. A recent study from the University of Sussex even found banning out-of-hours emails can have a detrimental impact on employee wellbeing – restricting opportunities for truly flexible working and taking away a sense of control and autonomy.
While we typically associate technology as being an enabler of over-working and burnout, it’s time to acknowledge that, for some, it facilitates healthier working habits.
Technology has developed a bad reputation when it comes to workplace wellbeing. In the wake of the pandemic, technology is regularly accused of encouraging employees to be ‘always-on’ and never disconnect from work, even engaging in ‘bedmin’ right up until they fall asleep.
There is an element of truth to this idea. For many, technology can encourage these unhealthy habits and longer working hours.
However, used wisely, technology can help individuals to thrive. Remote access allows for more time spent with family and the convenient freedom of working on the go. For some, briefly checking emails in the evening even allows them to organise their schedule for the following day and avoid stressful mornings.
The key for employers is understanding what works for the individual. One size does not fit all. Being flexible with working arrangements, and providing support from corporate wellbeing experts, helps people develop habits that work for them. But the role of technology in emotional wellbeing goes beyond just facilitating remote working.
Technology can help to transform how businesses can support their people. Previously, wellbeing interventions could be complex, time-consuming, and costly. Now, employees can access bespoke interventions conveniently across digital platforms.
These solutions haven’t replaced face-to-face interventions, but they do offer an informal, easy to access, first step for anxious employees, easing them towards more comprehensive support.
Technology also paves the way for support beyond just diagnosis. Some individuals feel uncomfortable speaking directly with an employer or health professional about their experiences. Online self-help platforms and remote counselling/Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can prove helpful here, encouraging individuals to speak more openly, with an element of anonymity. Delivery of therapy remotely can help employees learn how to break unhelpful thinking patterns and adopt coping mechanisms. Research even suggests remote therapy can be as effective than face-to-face sessions.
In addition to corporate offerings, businesses should also signpost employees towards external support, like mindfulness apps, which allow individuals to practice breathing and mindfulness techniques at their own pace, which they can use during stressful times, preventing them from negatively spiralling.
Employers must also make sure their team is confident in accessing the full spectrum of tools and support available to them. This may include emailing step-by-step guides to accessing corporate interventions and inviting service experts from specialist apps to host live webinars on getting the greatest benefit from their services.
One of the key benefits of incorporating digital interventions into wellbeing strategy is the ability to create data that informs interventions. Traditional blanket wellbeing policies often leave employees feeling disengaged, however, data-led interventions enable them to receive support for their symptoms, in a way that suits them.
Businesses may send regular online surveys to employees which allow them to vote on working preferences such as flexible opportunities and work perks. Business leaders can then access data on a micro and macro scale, allowing them to tailor benefits to their team. For example, data may reveal some employees prefer to start work later and continue into the evening, allowing them to exercise during daylight hours or complete a hobby in the morning.
Businesses without this level of insight may roll out blanket policies such as banning emails after 7pm. However, for some employees, this results in reduced physical fitness and negatively impacted mood, as they’re forced to work set ‘office hours’ and may not have the time or energy to exercise after work.
Collecting data also allows for predictive analysis – helping businesses target wellbeing interventions at the earliest signs of difficulty, distress or mental ill-health and helping individuals get back to their maximum physical and mental fitness.
For example, by encouraging the completion of regular health assessments, signs of fatigue, sleep difficulties, anxiety, low mood and/or musculoskeletal pain can be noticed quickly. Support for mental and/or physical health is less complex if delivered early and can prevent health issues from becoming multifaceted, chronic, or severe.
Diagnostic tools, and subsequent health practitioner appointments, equip employees with actionable advice they can practice to alleviate symptoms and improve their health. For example, making ergonomic changes to their working set-up or practicing sleep hygiene for improved sleep quality.
Brendan is the Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health. He has over 25 years-experience of treating mental health problems in the NHS and private sector. He has delivered mental health treatments in various settings; hospital, community, offenders/prison and homeless hostels, employment/corporate, to adults and children suffering from a wide range of conditions (psychosis, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD).
Brendan is a BABCP Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Supervisor, fully qualified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) practitioner, and NMC registered Mental Health Nurse.