The stigma long associated with mental health challenges is fading. Companies should turn that to their advantage. Technology can help.
Companies increasingly understand the value of having an inclusive culture at work. When a culture is open and supportive, employees are more likely to love their jobs, be more productive, and advance to more senior levels in the organisation over time.i
One area of inclusion that still gets far less attention than it needs, however, is mental health. That’s unfortunate because, according to the results of a recent Accenture survey of 2000 workers in the UK, nine in ten individuals have been affected by mental health challenges – either their own, or those of a family member, friend, or co-worker.ii
How can companies strengthen – or jumpstart – their mental health offerings? Technology can be a useful tool in three ways: getting the word out; enabling support 24/7; and helping employees help one another:
Getting the Word Out
Although most of the C-level executives in an earlier Accenture survey were aware of the mental health services offered within their organisation, that number dropped to 50 percent for workers below the manager level.iii So as a first step, executives can take to their email to alert employees about services that the company may already be offering.
They might also consider writing a blog, posting a video, or hosting a webinar about mental health support at work and the company’s desire to normalise the topic. Opening up about challenges they themselves have faced can be powerful as well. Senior leaders, by their actions, can shift a culture quickly. Yet only 14 percent of our respondents had ever heard a senior leader talking about the importance of mental health. Just one in ten had heard a senior leader talk about being personally affected.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
Enabling 24/7 Support
It is important for people to be able to access help when they need it, and to do so anonymously if they prefer. Online counselling services, chat rooms, peer groups, “open” around the clock, will typically allow individuals to remain anonymous, enabling someone who is not ready to talk openly to seek help.
In the UK, Accenture employees have access to the “Big White Wall,” a confidential (and anonymous), professionally managed chat environment dedicated to providing mental health support.
There is an important caveat to consider regarding online support though. When offering access to external services, a company will need to screen each one thoroughly. And there is not yet enough rigorous independent testing of these resources to facilitate that process. The good news is that with that goal in mind, one working group led by NHS England (which includes MedCity, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Public Health England, and DigitalHealth.London) is developing guidance and standards to address the issue. More immediately, the Duke of Cambridge in September of 2018 launched an online platform called Mental Health at Work. The site serves in part as a forum on which to share the most effective tools for employers.1
Another concern, and one expressed by a majority of the respondents in our survey, is that seeking tech support for mental health challenges might delay someone from getting the professional help they might need. Company training can help employees to understand what needs can be met online and when it’s important to get help from a medical professional.
Helping Employees Help One Another
Online classes and webinars can teach employees how to recognise the signs of stress, anxiety, and other mental challenges in themselves and in others. Online instruction can also teach someone how to respond if a colleague opens up to them. Of the individuals in our study who had opened up to someone at work, 61 percent said that they had shared their challenge first with a close colleague. Just 15 percent had chosen an HR or wellbeing specialist as their first point of contact.
At Accenture, we offer a variety of online courses in this spirit, including a straightforward overview of what mental illness is and what current treatments are available (and what they’re like) in the medical field. We also have a “Mental Health Allies” program, through which employees can receive additional training that is initially classroom-based in the UK, with follow-up webinars to keep skills up to date, to become a designated source of front-line support for anyone in the organisation who reaches out to them.
Almost everyone in our survey saw some benefit in being able to open up to another at work. These benefits included a decrease in levels of stress, a decrease in feelings of isolation, an increase in confidence, and useful guidance on taking positive steps to get help.
Younger, Older, and In Between
Our findings suggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the youngest workers in our study – the digital natives – are more likely to take advantage of technology-based resources than others. But consider: Across England from 2016 – 2018, people increased their use of mobile technology to manage physical and mental health by 30 percent. During that same period, they increased their use of health-related wearable technology by 40 percent.iv Companies that follow this clear consumer trend can tap the power of technology to great effect, as part of a holistic approach to improving employee health and wellbeing, and creating and sustaining a powerful, increasingly inclusive culture.
Tech Support Advantages
Used well, technology has an important role to play in company support of employee mental health. It can be:
• Empowering: helping employees take responsibility for their own mental health.
• Anonymous: offering a confidential environment for those not ready to talk openly.
• Accessible: available wherever and whenever it’s needed.
• Relevant: particularly for the rising generation of employees.
• Scalable: effective for businesses of all sizes.[/ms-protect-content]
About the Author
Barbara Harvey is a managing director with Accenture Research. She is also the executive sponsor for Accenture’s Mental Health program in the UK.
i. Getting to Equal 2018: When She Rises, We All Rise, Accenture. https://www.accenture.com/es-es/_acnmedia/PDF-73/Accenture-When-She-Rises-We-All-Rise.pdf
ii. Accenture conducted this survey of 2000 working men and women across the UK on behalf of “This Can Happen,” the UK’s largest annual conference on mental health. It’s published in full in It’s Not 1 in 4; It’s All of Us. https://www.accenture.com/t00010101T000000Z__w__/gb-en/_acnmedia/PDF-90/Accenture-TCH-Its-All-of-Us-Research-Updated-Report.pdf, November 2018
iii. Accenture conducted this survey, of 2000 working men and women and 400 undergraduate students in June 2018. It was published in Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace – The Role of Technology, https://www.accenture.com/t00010101T000000Z__w__/gb-en/_acnmedia/PDF-88/Accenture-World-Mental-Health-Final-Version.pdf in October
iv. Accenture (2018) Patients+Doctors+Machines: Consumer survey on digital health
1. There are 11 partners behind this initiative: Heads Together, CIPD, the Federation of Small Businesses,
the City Mental Health Alliance, Mental Health First Aid, the Work and Health Unit, Public Health England, NCVO, The Work Foundation, Time to Change, and the Institute of Directors.