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Why Companies Must Embrace Technology to Support Workplace Mental Health

Today's post comes to us courtesy of Workforce Institute board member, best-selling author and Managing Partner at Workplace Intelligence, Dan Schawbel.

The reason why workers don't ask their manager, co-workers, or HR for help when they are experiencing stress, anxiety, and burnout is because of the stigma attached to mental health. They don't want to be judged or viewed as ineffective employees by talking about their suffering, especially during this recession when companies are laying people off.

The problem is that three out of every four workers have struggled with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and 80 percent would consider quitting their current job for one that focused more on employee mental health. When employees don't feel comfortable talking about their mental health their productivity declines, they become dissatisfied and start applying for jobs elsewhere.

While there's no denying the power of a human one-on-one mental health conversation, workers would much rather turn to technology instead. In a global study by my firm and Oracle of over 12,000 workers in eleven countries, we found that only 18 percent of people would prefer humans over robots to support their mental health. When asked about this preference, workers said robots provide a judgment-free zone (34%), an unbiased outlet to share their problems (30%), and receive quick answers to their health-related questions (29%).

Technology doesn't care about your job title, gender, ethnicity, sex or if you have anxiety or depression, it treats you the same no matter who you are. While it's not acceptable to call your therapist or manager at 4:00 AM asking for help, technology never sleeps and is your support system 24/7. Furthermore, we will never have a billion therapists to meet the needs of the global population, so we need technology to help scale support and treatment for mental health.

Based on our research, humans have a vital role to play when it comes to mental health. At least one of your friends has a therapist but aren't vocal about it due to the stigma. And, your manager may be able to give you a "mental health day off", but you could be too afraid to ask because of the stigma. Our study found that humans are better than robots when it comes to relating to their feelings (45%), understanding the pressures of their job (37%), and interpreting their feelings when they don't know how to explain them (37%). As someone who has had multiple therapists in my life, I can attest to the importance of empathy, compassion, and understanding they have that I wouldn't receive from a machine.

We can relate to humans more than machines concerning our health because while machines may need maintenance or upgrades, we need an emotional connection to heal our mental and emotional wounds.

But technology has a vital role to play in supporting workers and therapists. Without it, therapists wouldn't be able to conduct their business nor would managers be able to check-in with their employees. By understanding the "job description" of both robots and humans, we can provide both scalable yet individualized mental health attention that all workers need even if they aren't vocal about it.

Both humans and robots have a role to play in addressing the mental health epidemic that continues to grow due to our public health crisis. Employees expect companies to be part of the solution since long working hours have caused much of the stress, anxiety, and burnout they've been experiencing. Workplace productivity and mental health have an inverse relationship - as productivity goes up, mental health has gone down. While companies have profited greatly from higher levels of productivity it will come at the cost of higher attrition and lower employee satisfaction and morale. And, burned-out workers will become less productive and more unhappy.

That's why companies have to put mental health technology services and solutions on the agenda because we can't possibly expect employees to fend for themselves without an institution and community to support them during these troubling times.

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