How technology is helping us to rethink workplace health

The Emoquo app offers employees personalised digital coaching

Health technology integration in the workplace is moving at pace, and is changing how companies think about and implement employee health and wellbeing strategies, as healthcare provider AXA PPP healthcare’s recent AXA Health Tech & You Awards highlighted. The company’s Dr Chris Tomkins looks at some of the innovation that was on show.

According to AXA PPP healthcare’s recent State of the Nation survey , four in 10 of the British workforce have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition in the workplace, and just over half would be prepared to wear a device that detects the early signs of mental health symptoms if their company supplied it free of charge.

The survey looked at the willingness of workers to adopt health technology in the workplace to help support their wellbeing. For employers, health tech can be part of a programme to engage employees in their health and help reduce workforce absenteeism and increase productivity.

About the author

Dr Chris Tomkins is head of proactive health for AXA PPP healthcare

Looking at these statistics, it is little wonder that a growing number of companies are now providing health technology through wearables and apps to their workforce, and in the process introducing opportunities both for employers and employees to support and promote workplace wellbeing.

Wellbeing of course encompasses mental as well as physical health and, with so many working UK adults saying they have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition in the workplace, it highlights the importance of health tech specifically to help individuals detect mental health conditions – before they take hold and significantly impact an employee’s performance and attendance at work. The fact that mental health is at the top of many employer agendas makes the time ripe for employers to offer this technology.

And it seems many are doing just that. Moreover, in the process we are changing the role of OH and HR professionals as they take on new responsibilities in utilising digital health monitoring to support employees and maximise productivity.

Building confidence in health technology in the workplace

The State of the Nation survey also showed that more than a quarter of people surveyed (26%) said they would wear a device at work and would be prepared to share the information gathered to help build employee health and wellbeing strategies, even if they had to supply the wearable device themselves. This went up to 45% if their employer supplied the device.

It is important for OH and HR professionals, employers and senior managers to use and champion evidence-based digital health themselves. They need to normalise it and demonstrate that it’s safe and beneficial to use, building confidence in the self-management of wellbeing. Following formal guidance around GDPR, employers cannot have sight of this data. Therefore there is a clear need for a third party to intermediate between employees and employers to focus support on individuals, while at the same time using aggregated data to help employers.

In our experience, line managers want to support people in their teams who experience mental health issues. We feel technology opens up a new way to help both employees and managers broach the subject as having relevant data is a helpful way into a conversation.

The AXA Health Tech & You programme

The importance of mental health in the workplace was highlighted as part of the AXA Health Tech & You programme 2018. Now in its fourth year, this programme includes annual awards that aim to identify individual champions, innovators and organisations that are creating exciting and pioneering health tech to help people live life well.

This year, the Mental Health in the Workplace Challenge category set out better to support employees’ mental wellbeing and looked for applications that are able monitor day-to-day behaviours and flag up early signs of mental health conditions.

Working with innovation accelerators The Bakery, it format comprised Dragons’ Den-style pitching sessions to sift through the high-calibre of propositions. A shortlist of three finalists was decided with a view to possibly integrating their solutions into AXA’s member health and wellbeing programmes. More widely, from the occupational health perspective, this shortlist potentially provides an intriguing snapshot of where workplace health and workplace health technology may be going and where its future focus may lie.

Category winner – Emoquo

Emoquo is an app for employees that gives them personalised digital coaching to deal with common issues, such as being micro-managed or undermined, moaning and gossiping as well as bullying and harassment.

The app digitally replicates a coaching session using coaching questions, prompts and self-reflection techniques. It provides personalised and contextual guidance, based on input from more than 25 coaches and therapists about how to deal with a subject’s particular challenge.

Data from the app provides management with a real-time “heat map”, revealing insights into the issues employees are seeking advice on and, therefore, where the “hot spots” are. This allows managers to make proactive interventions at a group or decision level, improve the culture and increase the emotional and mental wellbeing of their workforce.

Shortlisted/runner up – Sensiks

Sensiks is designed to be a destressing and relaxation tool, in particular through its “Sensory Reaity Pod”. Workers can be immersed in full sensory experiences in a closed environment for different time periods.

The pod provides tailored experiences to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety as well as more general relaxation in order to help with work-related stress and burnout.

In the pod, audio-visual content (virtual reality, 360o video and film) is enriched with scent, varied temperature, air flow, vibrations, taste and light frequency, resulting in an immersive mixed reality experience. Feedback on stress levels is received from a biometric headband measuring brain waves, and from measurement of heart rate and skin conductance. Could this be the ultimate way to take a break in the future?

Shortlisted/runner up – Performetric

Performetric is a real-time monitoring system that facilitates the management of mental fatigue in the workplace, aiming to improve a user’s productivity.

Mental fatigue is tracked by an algorithm based on several variables acquired from the user’s interaction pattern with their keyboard, mouse and trackpad. This interaction pattern will be specific to the task performed and can be adapted to each user and their user requirements.

Performetric both facilitates the monitoring of mental fatigue and provides recommendations for better workforce management, increasing employee retention and productivity.

Summary – working with health tech innovators

Although offering different solutions to managing mental health in the workplace, all three of these innovative finalists demonstrate how technology can facilitate the early detection of mental health conditions as well as support people to make lifestyle changes, helping them to achieve their goals.

To that end, we are currently exploring potential collaborations with all these innovators so we can evolve our wellbeing proposition across both physical and mental health areas.

We firmly believe that a combination of our own expertise and such innovative partners can help us to develop more comprehensive approaches with client populations and transform mental health support to be more proactive and focused on outcomes.

Reference
AXA PPP healthcare State of the Nation. Conducted by YouGov, November, 2017. Total sample size of 2,057 adults.

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