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Three ways employers can leverage technology to improve mental health in the workplace.

It might not be readily apparent, but chances are most of your employees have experienced or been indirectly affected by mental illness. Roughly 20 per cent of Canadians develop a mental illness in their lifetime, which can have drastic implications for their personal lives and those around them.

As conditions like depression and anxiety become increasingly common, it’s important for employers to recognize their role in providing staff with appropriate mental health resources they can use to cope. After all, depending on your industry, your employees likely spend about 60 per cent of their waking hours at work; what better place to access the help they need?

Using An EAP

Fortunately, a growing number of organizations already understand the importance of employee mental health and some even have an employee assistance program (EAP) in place for mental health services. While using an EAP is completely confidential, individuals are required to speak to a representative to gain access. Many workers are reluctant to seek help as mental illness is still stigmatized, and they fear how they might be perceived if colleagues or managers ever find out that they have reached out to their EAP.

This hesitation to come forward can have detrimental effects both for employees who are suffering and for the organization as a whole. Every week, 500 000 Canadians miss work due to mental illness. Over $6 billion is lost each year to absenteeism and presenteeism in the form of foregone productivity. The financial stress this places on employers and the healthcare system can be astronomical, not to mention its crushing impact on the lives of millions of Canadians. That’s why it’s critical for organizations to actively provide mental health assistance for their staff.

Regardless of whether you work for a not-for-profit or a Fortune 500 company, every organization has the ability to create a safe space for their employees who are dealing with mental health issues. Here are a few starting points:

Make help anonymous and confidential.

As we work to reduce the stigma around mental illness, many people are still uncomfortable asking for help or accessing resources ‒ especially from their employer. Whether they’re looking for strategies to alleviate stress or seeking information about a particular mental disorder, your employees deserve to receive assistance without worrying that it will affect their livelihood.

The great thing is most Canadians own a computer, smartphone and/or tablet, so offering access to quality mental health support on these devices increases the likelihood that they will use the programs their employers provide. Sharing mental health resources digitally means employees don’t have to feel pressured about attending live seminars or finding time in their busy schedules to book an appointment with a professional. The promise of anonymity and confidentiality is key to ensuring employees get help in a timely manner that is also compatible with their needs.

Make access easy and uniform for all employees.

If employees don’t know that mental health resources exist, or if they must jump through hoops to tap into them, they aren’t going to take advantage of the program. It doesn’t matter whether your employees sit at a desk, staff the front lines, work from home or in the field; having easy access to mental health support ensures that all employees can use the services whenever and wherever they need it.

One way of ensuring easy access is by using digital resources. By simplifying account creation and login processes, it will minimize confusion and reduce barriers to use. It’s also crucial that the resources be as universally accessible as possible. This doesn’t just mean they’re properly formatted across a variety of devices, but that users with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments, can also make use of the program.

Don’t just support employees; their families need help too.

Every person who works for an organization has a life outside of their job, and family stress can seriously harm an individual’s quality of work and productivity. It’s hard not to internalize the problems our loved ones are going through. None of our experiences happen in a vacuum and often the longer we go without addressing an issue the more of a domino-effect it can have on the people around us.

For example, if an elderly person is experiencing health problems, her children are likely to carry their stress and worry into work with them. Their concern for their aging mother could affect their ability to focus on the job and interact appropriately with their colleagues. At home, it could adversely influence how they connect with their partners and children too.

As previously mentioned, technology is ubiquitous and makes sharing information fast and efficient. Employers should leverage the scalability technology affords by providing mental health support not only to their employees, but to their employees’ families as well.

Billions Of Dollars

Employers simply can’t afford to ignore mental health in the workplace anymore. Lost productivity, indemnities, and healthcare expenses are costing the economy billions of dollars each year, and this doesn’t even take into account the personal cost to individuals and their families’ well-being. Luckily, it’s never been easier for employers to actively support their employees by offering useful information about mental health.

Written by: Michael Held, founder and CEO of LifeSpeak

This article was originally published on Benefits & Pensions Monitor.