HR & Management

Mind control: Employers should use technology to their advantage

6 min read

07 December 2017

Deputy Editor, Real Business

In the latest Mind Control feature, Saberr CEO Tom Marsden unveils how the company is using technology to address mental health issues.

While much emphasis has been placed on corporate culture as a means of tackling mental health issues, employers shouldn’t forget the support that technology can lend.

According to the World Health Organisation, over 300m individuals suffer from depression across the globe. Some 260m have anxiety disorders. Many people, it stressed, have both – and it’s losing the global economy $1tn each year.

An article by Time magazine even stressed that “there hasn’t been a major depression-drug breakthrough in nearly three decades. And about 30 per cent of all people don’t respond adequately to available treatments. That’s a dismal failure rate for a class of drug designed to improve a person’s basic ability to function.”

But that’s where technology comes in, moving at as fast a pace as ever. There’s really an app for everything, not to mention behaviour trackers and online therapy sessions. In the US, scientists have created a virtual reality treatment meant to take you back in time through sounds and images so as to better discuss past experiences.

While these may not necessarily be adaptable to the workplace, there’s plenty of ways employers can use technology to their advantage. One boss doing just that is Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr, who tells Real Business about the toolkit the company is making.

Do you believe mental health within the sector is adequately being addressed?

No – I think there are worrying signs. One survey (Britain’s healthiest workplace study by vitality, University of Cambridge) indicated that the average number of days off to absenteeism has in fact risen from 23 to 30 since 2014. Some areas like smoking at work seem to be getting better but others like diet, sleep deprivation and stress seem to be getting worse.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

There’s a core human benefit which is that physical and mental health are important for happiness. However, there’s a clear link to productivity too – if we need a business case. In 2015-16 according to UK health and safety, executive stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 45 per cent of days lost to ill-health.

Read more about the technology Saberr is developing on the next page.

Tell us more about the wellness toolkit Saberr is developing.

Saberr’s focus is on developing engaged and productive teams. Our research has indicated that there are a range of factors that correlate with better team outcomes. These include having a clear sense of purpose and well defined goals and roles, as well as responsibilities, and having trust based relationships amongst team members.

However, there’s also a growing body of research showing that many teams deal with high levels of stress, and so having the energy levels and resilience across the team to deal with stress is key.

We think social support from teammates can be a critical factor here. Whether it’s getting adequate sleep, eating well or adopting principles of mindfulness (or just switching off the phone from time to time), the social support we receive from teammates can help us make behaviour changes.

Saberr’s new product CoachBot (a chatbot that acts as a virtual coach) encourages teams to discuss these factors of health and wellbeing, and creates strategies for maintaining healthy functioning teams. Depending on the user feedback, CoachBoat will suggest various activities and workshops to help resolves issues within a team that have a direct impact on employee wellbeing.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?

It’s not just money it’s also culture. However, any budget that I did have I’d ask the teams themsleves how they wanted to use it whenever possible.

Are there any tech-based solutions bosses can rely on?

There are a range of options available now and more coming. I think part of the challenge is matching the right support (technology or otherwise) to the appropriate challenges. This is why we are trying to encourage teams to talk openly about physical and metal health.

How would you advise SME bosses address staff mental health?

With an open attitude. In the first instance, people need to feel free to talk. It’s then important that you have avenues for people to express problems and engage.

There are professional support groups that can help once people have felt free to express a problem, so I would advocate creating a culture where people feel free to speak up. I would also advocate tapping into established networks and support groups where possible.