Can Tech Help Manage Mental Health in the Workplace?

It goes without saying that mental health problems affect productivity in the workplace, and companies are becoming more aware of this ongoing issue. The Globe and Mail’s detailed report on mental health issues stated that over 500,000 Canadians would skip work in any given week due to mental illness. Additionally, it reveals that mental disorders also affect productivity though presenteeism, or the act of reporting to work despite being ill.

With mental illness becoming a growing problem in the workplace, companies are focusing on programs that will improve mental health conditions. While hosting retreats, inviting speakers, and holding monthly meets are common solutions, there are now also technology-based methods. In hindsight, technology itself has been perceived to be part of the problem. For instance, several studies have linked social media to symptoms of depression. The consensus thus far is that seeing people enjoying their lives on social media feeds can leave one feeling lonely and isolated.

On the other hand, there is a steady emergence of new technology that aims to address common mental health issues in the office — a development that is bound to benefit employees and employers alike. A somewhat immediate solution they can incorporate is to introduce employees to certain health and wellbeing apps. Tictrac is one such app that was developed for large corporations. It pulls data from other apps and wearables in order to provide users detailed information about their wellbeing. Another popular workplace app is Remente, which helps users assess their mood and set goals.

Meanwhile, others are exploring more advanced solutions. Virtual reality technology company Psious has developed products to aid therapists in addressing anxiety disorders and phobias in patients. For example, the technology can immerse people in virtual sitpresenteeismuations (like finding bugs or falling from high places) that would require them to face their fears. Businesses in Spain have reportedly begun to sign up for Psious solutions.

While these digital solutions seem promising, occupational psychology expert Sara Crozier warns against relying on technology to aid mental health. According to her, the increasing number of mental health apps can’t replace social support, which is just as important in promoting wellbeing. Users already turn to their smartphones for other aspects, so these health apps may increase their dependence on their gadgets.

University of Lancaster lecturer Michaela Edwards also pointed out how these apps could misdiagnose the actual real problems. She cited that an employee’s wellbeing might be related to their work, due to things like heavy workloads and difficult bosses, which apps do not address.

This is not to say, of course, that these digital solutions aren’t helping entirely. Various user testimonials prove that the apps and other advanced health strategies like VR are at least making a difference. That being said, the technology will need more time to develop and mature in order to address specific mental health issues.

At the moment, scientists are looking into humanizing machines and giving them “emotional intelligence”. The idea is to help artificial intelligence machines understand human emotion better so that they can adjust their responses and behavior accordingly. The technology is currently being experimented on customer service chatbots. In theory, these bots will send the appropriate responses to a customer whether they are happy, frustrated, or angry.

Artificial intelligence is already revolutionizing various work processes. Digital agency Ayima states that today’s users are already subjected to some form of artificial intelligence, whether it’s conversing with a voice assistant, getting music recommendations from apps, or simply searching online. The article even points out those big businesses like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have incorporated artificial intelligence into their businesses. This means that the technology is already on its way towards reaching the consumer market in some form. Therefore, it probably isn’t too far off before we can expect artificially intelligent machines to hold conversations with humans and respond accordingly.

While these developments may take a while to finish, employees still have the option to train their minds the traditional way. You can read Alan’s post on mental resilience to understand more.

Guest post composed by Jayden Bennett