Every year, World Mental Health Day serves as an important reminder for businesses: we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to employee mental wellbeing. All indications are that mental health issues are on the rise, affecting thousands across the UK’s workforce every year and we have a responsibility to keep our teams safe and healthy. Yet, a recent Mental Health at Work report found that 62 per cent of managers admit to putting their company’s interest above the wellbeing of staff. With an estimated £7.9 billion lost by UK businesses each year through mental-health related absence, on top of untold losses in motivation and productivity, mental wellbeing must be a priority. In short, not only is looking after employee mental health the right thing to do, but it makes business sense.
Technology is changing the way that we do this, fuelled by ceaseless technological innovation ranging from robotics to Artificial Intelligence (AI). These technologies are enabling us all to be better connected at work, to work more flexibly, to get mental health support faster and more easily and also to adapt the office design to better support mental wellbeing. This has radically changed the way we, as employers, can provide appropriate support and despite fears of technological advancement, we stand to gain far more by embracing such technologies to help foster a happy, healthy and motivated workforce.
Fostering a more connected culture
We can all recall the occasions where technology has failed us – the time sensitive email that won’t send or an important video call that won’t buffer. Technological hiccups have become an increasing source of frustration, with broken chains of communication consistently identified as a contributing factor to work-related stress. While many fear that more advanced technology will fuel a greater sense of isolation, done properly, it should actually work to enhance communication with our colleagues.
This doesn’t mean investing in the latest and most high-tech software every year, but it does mean we should ensure we get the basics right. By incorporating quality technology within the office infrastructure such as modern AV amenities and a high-speed internet network, we can help provide our employees with a more streamlined way of working. Having fast and effective IT support on hand also prevents small tech frustrations from becoming a greater source of stress.
Enhancing employee happiness through flexibility
This generation of workers is each predicted to spend 80,000 hours in the workplace over their lifetimes – little surprise then that the demand for more flexible working practices is on the rise. With workers resoundingly saying that greater flexibility has a direct benefit for their mental health, employers need to respond to this shift, accommodating more flexible ways of working, including part time work and remote working.
Not only does flexible working allow workers greater control and ownership over how and when their work gets done, it frees up greater time for the leisure activities, such as sport and family time which have a huge impact on general wellbeing. Access to the right technologies underpins this and by providing employees with the basics to work flexibly, such as laptops and remote conferencing services, employers can encourage workers to work more healthily.
Ensuring efficient access to support
Although we are successfully wearing down the stigma associated with seeking mental health support in the UK, many still struggle to speak up and ask for the help they need. This is all the more true in the workplace, with a huge number of workers suffering in silence rather than confiding in their employers. However, new technologies, increasingly adopted by businesses, are allowing workers to seek help more quickly and easily.
The introduction of memberships to therapy apps and wellbeing management platforms are just two examples of how employee mental health is increasingly supported in the workplace, with forward thinking companies adopting such support systems at pace. Not only does this signal a clear level of support for employees who might be struggling, it helps workers to seek help before a problem worsens, ultimately minimising the likelihood of losses due to absence and reduced productivity.
Adapting workplace design
The physical environment in which we work is a huge contributor to our health and wellbeing. Even the smallest of environmental factors, such as room temperature, air quality and natural light can have a substantial impact on our productivity and overall mental health.
Natural light in particular has a major impact on an individual’s mood and wellbeing and, with so many hours spent inside the office environment, it’s a factor that companies must consider. Adaptive technologies such as Dynamic Glass, which automatically tints window glass to accommodate optimal light levels are changing our working environment for the better. By utilising basic smart technologies such as this, companies can adapt the physical office environment with minimal disruption and effort, but with huge benefits for employee wellbeing.
Used correctly, it is undeniable that technology has the potential to be a powerful aid in combatting mental health issues in the workplace, whether that’s by increasing connectivity, enabling flexibility, improving access to mental health support or adapting the workplace design. In the past, it’s something employers overlooked and viewed as a low priority, but with the cost of mental ill health now hammering bottom lines, there’s every incentive for us to take clear action and technology is helping us go even further. It’s why every year on World Mental Health Day I’m reminded that it’s a no brainer that mental health should be at the top of the agenda for every business.