Having completed an employee well-being survey which indicated an uptick in stress and burnout symptoms, the Chief Human Resources Officer at one of our client organizations had heard from her peers that offering a mental health app might be a quick and effective solution to addressing this trend.
I explained that while there is a plethora of mental health and self-help apps in the marketplace, that these alone haven’t been proven to be as effective as comprehensive clinical therapy and medications. That is, using these apps as complements to therapy may be beneficial, but they shouldn’t be the sole focus.
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on employees’ well-being. Anxiety, stress, and grief from furloughs, layoffs, childcare, eldercare, and burnout, have all impacted mental health. It has also taken a larger toll on women as rigid gender roles place a significantly larger share of childcare, eldercare, and homecare on women, which has resulted in many women leaving the workforce since the pandemic began.
So what should employers look at? First step is to see if the workplace healthcare coverage offers comprehensive mental health care, so that employees who do need care can access and afford it. The second is to evaluate your workplace culture, to see if there are endemic issues that are leading to the uptick. The third is to select the right sets of apps for your workplace to address your employee population’s specific needs, so that users actually leverage the apps (the statistics on engagement rates have not been promising).
Using mental health apps without addressing underlying endemic workplace cultural issues amounts to just putting a temporary band-aid over an oozing wound. Organizations would also benefit from providing training to people managers on both managing self (as undoubtedly they too are feeling the strain) and managing others (how to build connections with employees to check-in, how to spot signs of anxiety, stress, or grief, how to reduce the stigma by talking about health holistically, how to build a culture that allows women, especially women of color, to feel comfortable sharing their work-life challenges, how to respond to a mental health disclosure, how to provide adaptive accommodations, and how to include compassionate perspective in performance review cycles). This is critical, as people managers will be instrumental in leading the charge on modifying practices to address the root causes.
In addition, signaling that mental health is a priority requires engagement from the senior leadership team. I recommend that CEOs take the lead in building an inclusive culture. Sharing one’s own experience is often the best way to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
Workplace mental wellness isn’t something that can be achieved overnight by providing an app, so embracing the need to create a better workplace culture should be the priority, with a comprehensive suite of solutions that address root causes, not just the symptoms. For a positive impact on women’s mental health, organizations must also build a culture and priorities that are equitable and inclusive.