Digital transformation has emerged as one of the defining trends of the first few decades of the new millennium. Across every industry, it is automating manual processes, increasing efficiency and giving decision makers more visibility over their organisations than ever before. It was also crucial in helping companies and workforces adapt to hybrid working in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A growing number of digital tools are also redefining employee wellbeing by giving more flexibility and freedom of choice. It’s time for businesses to embrace digital wellness.

Awareness of, and openness about, mental health and the potential ways it can impact our overall health and wellbeing is ever-increasing. This has led to an explosion in digital apps and tools looking to help people lead happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives. According to Deloitte, there were over 20,000 mental health apps available in 2021. And there is a potentially huge audience too. The popular meditation app Headspace alone has over 30 million users over 190 countries.

The growing awareness around mental health has also highlighted just how widespread an issue it is. Estimates put the number of people around the world who live with a mental health condition at around 800 million, while research suggests that over half of the populations of middle and high income countries will suffer from at least one mental health condition over the course of their life. This means huge numbers of workplaces and companies are likely being regularly impacted by issues relating to mental health.

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has not helped the situation either. In fact, the Harvard Business Study reports that 42% of employees globally reported a decline in mental health over the first year of the pandemic. This magnifies the risk of burnout, absenteeism, presenteeism and lost productivity. And the cost can be significant– the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts the annual price of lost productivity caused by conditions like depression and anxiety at $1 trillion.

Redefining wellbeing in the workplace

Clearly, employers have a role to play in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. But previous approaches to promoting wellbeing in the workplace have had their limitations. The goal has often been to limit employee screen time and provide employees with activities that promote better health. While things like yoga sessions, mindfulness and gym passes are highly valued by many employees, they do not work for everyone.

The fundamental issue with this approach is that mental health does not work to a schedule. It impacts every part of a person’s life, from the way they interact with friends and loved ones to their ability to perform at their best in the workplace. That is where digital tools can really add value.

Most people carry at least one digital device with them – their smartphone – throughout their daily lives. Many more also use fitness trackers, smart watches, tablets and a range of other connected devices. This means employers are able to offer a range of wellness and health solutions that can provide easy-to-access benefits to employees whether they are working or not.

The benefits of digitising wellbeing

Digital solutions are effective for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are ‘always on’, giving employees the freedom to access them whenever they need support. To benefit from them, an individual doesn’t have to join a lengthy waiting list or attend events that might eat into their working day or cause further inconvenience. This is linked to another key benefit for many people: anonymity. An individual may not want to make their mental health status widely known in the workplace and digital solutions allow them to access support while also respecting their right to privacy.

This idea of putting the employee in control of how they access and use wellbeing solutions is important. Although there is much more awareness around mental health, there remains a perception of stigma around the issue. This means people can be reluctant to seek assistance, either because they are unsure if they are being impacted by a condition or because they think asking for help could have negative implications for their career. With always-on and anonymous digital solutions, employees have the confidence to take positive steps, often earlier than they otherwise would have.

For employers, the benefits of a healthier and more resilient workforce are clear. Not only could it lead to better performance and engagement, but fostering an atmosphere of trust and support can strengthen company culture, recruitment and retention too.

Helping employees take control

With always-on wellbeing support, employees have more choice when it comes to managing their physical and mental health. Apps and services are there when they are needed, whether that is during work hours or not. Importantly they make managing mental health an ongoing function of daily life.

Choice is a key component of any effective digital wellness solution. Businesses need to be able to create benefits and wellness packages that are tailored to the needs of their employees. That is why we have built a global network of innovative partners that can help employers better nurture and support their most important asset.

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