The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues across the globe, as people struggle with stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression and even PTSD.
At the same time, many employers have been waking up to the importance of employee mental wellbeing and looking for ways to safeguard the workforce.
A recent Mercer webinar brought together experts to explore the future of mental health and examine how digital solutions can improve wellbeing both inside the office and in the wider world.
The panel, which included psychologists and solution providers explored how the world of mental health issues is changing and examined the ways that technology and data can lead to better outcomes.
Krystal Tang, Wellness Leader at Mercer Singapore commented: “The future mental of health is about obtaining data. We have never had data before, as it was very hard to get, and we had to do longitudinal studies. But now, it is all in the hands of the employees. Digital solutions allow people to have insights to plan the wellbeing framework better.”
An opening poll asked whether webinar attendees were actively monitoring their own mental wellbeing, with 74% saying ‘yes’. The panel highlighted that this is a big shift from similar surveys in recent years and that it demonstrates how awareness is growing.
All three panellists focused on de-stigmatization of mental health and pointed to the growing number of people in Singapore that were seeking support through digital solutions or traditional therapy.
Effie Wang, a psychologist at Cognifyx Infinitum, said, “Since the pandemic hit, we all started to work from home and having time to think about our mental health and we have realized it is actually very, very important. I definitely see an increasing awareness in the mental health space. People are more open to talking about it, paying more attention and actively seeking solutions.”
Digitalization has helped with this awareness, by allowing employees to attend workplace programmes remotely and anonymously.
Rodney Thomas Kelly, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Cognifyx Infinitum said, “These types of digital tools where we can have the whole employee cohort on call, you don't have to turn on your cameras, and you can log in with a with a different ID means that everyone can become aware about what mental health is.”
As well as driving awareness around mental health, the pandemic has also broken down some of the barriers to seeking support, particularly with the switch to Zoom counselling sessions which has allowed people to talk to psychologists more easily. This is a critical factor in Singapore, where the wait time for accessing therapy is often two or three months.
Ms. Wang explained: “We do hear people saying this makes them feel like a lot of the roadblocks have been removed. If you are suffering from burnout and stress and feeling like you need professional help, and your psychologist or your receptionist says you have to wait for two months, that is adding on to that anxiety and stress.”
The panellists felt that digital solutions which gave people tips for managing their psychological conditions could help bridge the gap between experiencing issues and getting support. It also helps those people who are still struggling with the stigma of seeking help.
Ms. Wang continued, “Digital solutions allow you to access more preventive and proactive care, so you are actually in charge of your own mental health. Tips on lifestyle changes from sleep and nutrition to exercise can help you build up your mental health resilience; so that in the future, when you do encounter life crisis, you will have that strategy to cope with it.”
Leon CK Leong, Co-Founder and COO, MindFi.co, explained, “The shift to digital is a way to actually reach people, it helps to provide more timely, self-help and preventive care to these individuals when they need it.
“There is a reduced barrier to entry because most people don’t want to physically see a psychologist. When you're battling discrimination or stigma, a digital solution, which is basically your phone if you are looking at a mobile app, it's a lot more friendly and accessible.”
Despite the clear benefits of digital mental health solutions, the audience polling suggested that businesses are not yet embracing these innovations - 61% of audience members have not yet adopted digital solutions and 50% are not collecting data on employee mental wellbeing.
Embracing digitalization allows employers to create data-driven HR strategies and plans. The panellists pointed out the mental health is an extremely broad spectrum and without sufficient data it can be extremely hard to understand where the issues within a company lie.
Mr Thomas Kelly said, “Using objective assessments gives a very robust understanding of where the fires that you might want to fight are, so that HR can provide the rationale and go up to the CFO and say: ‘Look, we need to allocate more funds here. We need to run these programs that we have been telling you about for a long time’. The ROI becomes clear when you are monitoring and actually providing the metrics for this. And that's what digital solutions can really help you do.”
Mr Leong added, “That is where the digital solution becomes the backbone of wellbeing, not just for an employee, but for the organization. Because for the employee, you cover everything from self-care to professional care. And then we are able to glean these wellbeing analytics that becomes the intelligence that organizations can use to strategize HR level decisions for employee wellbeing.”
Leon CK Leong, Co-Founder and COO, MindFi.co, shared how a gamification program meant a major bank could use data-led analytics to improve mental wellness.
“Working with a major bank in the region, we managed to garner participation from about 4,000 employees across 14 locations. As part of the program, we were conducting wellbeing workshops as well as a gamified wellness challenge. It works similarly to a ‘steps’ challenge, but for the mind. Instead of clocking 10,000 steps, we get people to clock 30 minutes a day on mindfulness.
We managed to garner over two million minutes across these 4,000 employees over a short three-month challenge. We tracked the wellbeing and conducted gamified assessments all throughout the challenges and through this, saw a 15 percent improvement in the overall wellness scores.
We were able to look different areas of their wellness such as spiritual wellness, mental wellness, emotional, physical, sleep, social and so forth and then we can glean data from all these gamified quizzes.
With these wellbeing analytics, we could then give data-driven recommendations which helps to shape the HR strategy when it comes to making employee wellbeing decisions.
Having a gamified challenge or a program that connects your employees on a social basis to learn about wellbeing and to also collaborate and compete with your with your co-workers is certainly a very good way of introducing wellness and mental wellness through organization.”
Rodney Thomas Kelly, Head of Strategic Partnerships explains how Cognifyx Infinitum helped a Japanese financial institution solve its retention issues.
“A big Japanese financial institution who had about eight or nine big offices around the region noticed that they were having serious problems with retention. They were running 360 surveys, pulse surveys but could not work out what was the big discrepancy and why so many people were leaving.
On the ground, people were reporting an almost toxic atmosphere within the company, but all the data they got from their survey said that everyone was fine.
We came in and we ran quarterly assessments looking at the brain health and of course, some subjective surveys, looking at mental state. We found that there was a big discrepancy between what was being self-reported and what the data was saying.
Once we overlaid it with the operational data, we found that there were issues with management. There were some managers that perhaps were leading a team in a way that did not get the most productive results.
We ran a mental health ambassador training and trained a selected group of managers to be ambassadors for mental health within the company. At the same time, we also ran training programs for awareness throughout the company. And digital meant we able to do that for the whole company very easily through just simple Zoom sessions.
We created this awareness and a cultural change from within. Through these, we have seen some brilliant results and their retention rate got better.
Data is very important when looking at where to allocate funds and training, and decide what training should be.”