Improving our workplace wellbeing

Posted on 13 Oct 2022

Promoting and maintaining good mental health is one of the biggest challenges faced by employers in 2022. According to the Health and Wellbeing at Work survey published by CIPD, stress continues to be a major factor in workplace absences. Their figures show that 79% of organisations report stress-related absences in the past year, a figure which rises to 90% for large businesses that employ over 250 members of staff. But recently big strides in Artificial Intelligence have saw the rising prominence of “therapy bots” and other programmes that aim to help our wellbeing. Could AI technology be the answer to solving the rising problem of poor mental health in the workplace?

AI in Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence’s impact on the world of physical health has long been recognised, with Forbes going as far to say that the healthcare industry “is the sector that could be the most affected by the enormous changes of the fourth industrial revolution”. It has been used to detect the early signs of diabetes in patients and simplify and streamline lengthy processes that previously took valuable time.

And regarding mental health, AI applications, such as Wysa and Woebot, are increasingly being used in countries such as the USA and Singapore to tackle the rising number of cases and referrals and reduced numbers of mental health practitioners.

Here in the UK, research recently conducted by the Cambridge University explored using robots as a method to encourage children to share how they are feeling. Although robots may seem childlike, and therefore less applicable to the workplace, research shows that some adults also feel more comfortable talking to artificial intelligence devices.

The UK is also currently running a trial for 13-18 year olds in Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing and Hounslow which offers them the opportunity to access the premium version of Wysa alongside traditional talking therapies if they display moderate to severe symptoms. But do these AI chatbots actually help to resolve mental health problems, or are they just a sticking plaster?

Does AI therapy actually work?

One of the main issues with AI chatbots, according to Wired, is that they are “wildly unregulated”, and there is currently a lack of independent research to prove if these bots are effective. There are suggestions that they are highly unequipped to deal with emergency or severe cases, but equally many with less severe mental health issues appear to have benefitted from the fact that they are free or low cost, and available 24/7. The general consensus at this moment seems to be that they are a good way to encourage people to reach out for help and beneficially support those with mild mental health issues or working alongside traditional face-to-face therapies. Could Artificial Intelligence be used to solve the issue of growing wellbeing issues at work?

So is AI the answer to the current wellbeing crisis?

Although AI chatbots do appear to be beneficial to some, the majority of the reports and articles published at present focus on working outside, as opposed to inside the workplace. But that’s not to say that they couldn’t. In fact, AI tools could be a very successful way of reaching those who are currently struggling with their wellbeing to reach out and receive support before their symptoms worsen and result in extended sick leave from work.

The timing of this developing technology is also of benefit, as the pandemic saw a huge rise in the number of people reporting poor mental health. The pandemic triggered an additional 53 million cases of depression and 76 million cases of anxiety disorders worldwide. AI therapy is a good way to reach people who may be struggling, including those who are continuing to work from home or are hybrid working and spending large times away from the office.

Not only will this be beneficial for employees, but also for employers. In recent years research has proven that employees with good mental health are more likely to produce a higher quality of work and stay in their current positions, rather than looking for alternative employment. For employers, it’s arguably worth considering if your business is facing wellbeing at work issues.

What are your opinions on Artificial Intelligence therapy bots? Do you think they could be the answer to helping wellbeing in your office?