Co-founder of digital support platform Tomo, Gus Booth-Clibborn discusses how technology is impacting mental health in the workplace and how digital tools can help improve employee mental health.
The average person spends 90,000 hours, 26% of their waking lifetime, at work. In many offices, mental health and wellbeing is something to do outside of work hours and activities to support mental health are placed beyond the scope (and responsibility) of employers – for example early morning yoga sessions, therapy after work, exercise in a lunch break. However, employees do not stop having a mental health when they walk through the door. Many jobs necessarily involve high stress, long or antisocial hours, or other elements that drain psychological wellbeing. This needs to be countered actively – both by mitigating the negative aspects of a job and through initiatives that promote wellbeing. The alternative is a constant cycle of burnout that is detrimental to employee and employer alike. Put another way, the workplace, where we spend over a quarter of our lives, represents an unprecedented opportunity to promote good mental health.
The Thriving at Work report by Mind chief executive Paul Farmer and crossbench peer and mental health advocate Lord Stevenson finds that 15% of workers have symptoms of underlying mental health conditions and 300,000 people with mental health conditions lose their jobs each year. The workplace does not necessarily create poor states of mental health. However, as Farmer and Stevenson point out, the impact of not addressing mental health at work has a hefty price tag. It costs employers £33-42 billion a year, the government £24-27 billion and the economy as a whole £74-99 billion.
This report lists digital platforms and support services as one of the many tools employers should use to increase employee mental health. They sit alongside efforts to shift workplace culture, increase mental health literacy and put mental health and wellbeing strategies into workplaces. They recognise that appropriate digital tools can provide “low cost, scalable support for employees.” Digital tools, such as our app Tomo, have the ability to reach out to employees to help them manage and understand the shifting patterns of their mental health. Having an app on your phone, a wearable, or an online digital platform allows employees to have on hand advice and support that can help them understand when and how to to take more time for their mental health.
Tomo is based on Behavioural Activation, a therapeutic practice that helps people identify psychologically unhealthy habits – for example, avoiding social situations during periods of stress – and replace them with healthy ones. We have turned this into a chatbot who prompts you to carry out and maintain the habits that keep you healthy. These can be as simple as getting out of bed in the morning, standing up from your desk to stretch or meeting a friend for a (non-work) coffee. However, if you keep them up evidence suggests that your mental health will remain better for longer. One of the greatest challenges in workplace mental health and wellbeing is the stigma of talking about it. Tomo provides users with an anonymous, distributed buddy system where users share photographs of themselves completing habits – like a bowl of cereal if you’re having breakfast –showing other users that they are not alone.
Digital mental health products can fit easily into the existing patterns and rhythms of the work day. They can also offer support beyond the office – Tomo can help you get up and be active on weekends, or remind you to take time for your social life in the evenings. Digital mental health products are not the only answer to improving mental wellbeing in the workplace but will form a vital part of any strategy as they are adaptable and scaleable. Turning the work day into a catalyst for improved mental wellbeing can greatly improve the life of your workplace. Digital mental health tools are a great first step to take to achieve this goal.