Employee mental healthcare: digital tools or workplace culture?
By Professor Paul Hopkinson, head of Edinburgh Business School, and the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University
There is no question that over the past two years, companies and organisations have had to adapt their models to make considerations for the mental health of their employees. With the rise in hybrid working, it has become increasingly difficult for employers to keep track of the wellbeing of employees. There has been a growing need for personalised options for mental healthcare to ensure that individuals’ needs are being catered to regardless of their geographical location, gender, or age. As such, there has recently been increased attention devoted to digital technologies for mental healthcare to improve traceability, accessibility, and personalised options. A recent report from the think tank Future Care Capital has urged investment in the digitisation of mental healthcare service provision to resolve other challenges relating to cost and the availability of experts. In fact, a report titled “Mental Health Price Index” compiled by German market analysts Kenkou, shows that the UAE had the fifth lowest number of experts among 50 surveyed nations. In addition, the cost of mental healthcare in the UAE is significantly more expensive than the global average. Fortunately, however, the UAE was ranked fourth on providing digital access to healthcare support, which can potentially solve the problem of scarcity of mental healthcare practitioners and mental healthcare expenses.
Where are we with respect to digital technologies?
According to a recent survey by McKinsey that surveyed 1,400 consumers in the UAE and KSA, there are high levels of interest and awareness in healthcare technologies. The report found that both countries have among the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates, at an estimated 93 per cent. In addition, consumer awareness and acceptance of digital health solutions in these countries are on the rise. Therefore, there are sizeable growth opportunities in the Middle East for companies to provide digital mental healthcare services to improve their employees’ health and wellbeing. Currently, some people are already using digital health apps, and a large number reported finding them more beneficial than in-patient care.
What are some important considerations employers must think about before selecting the type of digitised mental health care service?
Before selecting a mental healthcare tool, companies should build an understanding of their employees to understand which tools will help them best. For example, employers should assess whether their employees are spread all over the world, whether they are front-line workers, their demographic makeup. All these factors contribute to selecting the right technology and the one that will be most accessible to them. It is also important that employers assess whether the resources they are considering are evidence-based as digital mental health tools can be expensive to integrate. Finally, employers should evaluate their workplace culture and whether it is accommodating for open conversations surrounding mental health. All these factors can significantly help employers develop a thorough understanding of what their employees need and consequently the tools most suitable to the work climate.
What can employers do to beat the stigma surrounding mental healthcare?
The prioritisation of mental healthcare in the workplace has been one of the positive developments in the past two years. The deployment of digital tools to this end is a promising development that could revolutionise our approach to mental health. However, before embarking on the first digital solution, employers should first assess whether their workplace caters for discussions around mental health, and whether it is a safe space for employees to express their need for support.