Data driven engagement supports remote worker mental health

Dr. Kylie Ward, Human Resource Director in Asia Pacific for Stantec

Lockdowns have forced many employers to implement new remote and flexible working processes, as well as an evolved approach to employee health and mental wellbeing support.

More employers are making employee mental wellbeing a high priority with the abundance of resources provided by the Black Dog Institute and Workplace Health and Safety Commission.

However, despite these efforts by various organisations, building engaging, effective workplace programs remains a challenge, especially with the sudden rise in remote work.

Data illustrates a need for employers to take a greater role in mental health and wellbeing.

Research from LinkedIn found 52% of white-collared workers have taken time off during the pandemic to support their mental wellbeing, with four in five young Australians (16-24 years old) reportedly taken time off to look after their mental health during lockdown periods.

Prior to lockdowns, mental health issues cost employers $39.1bn per year in lower economic participation and lost productivity, according to the Australian Productivity Commission.

This figure may increase as individual workers continue to struggle with the mental challenges and burnout related to isolation and remote working conditions.

Stantec advocates for listening to the data

With the onset of COVID-19, more Stantec employees were working remotely, making it more challenging for Stantec’s people managers to check in on workers mental wellbeing.

Stantec started a corporate mental wellness program for its workers in ANZ.

The corporate mental wellness program included an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and a new Mental Health Champions initiative that empowers trained volunteer employees in Mental Health First Aid to engage their peers in discussions about mental health.

Human Resource Director for Stantec in Asia Pacific, Dr Kylie Ward wanted a way to collect data about the existing mental wellbeing programs to better understand the drivers for uptake and engagement, beyond the high-level reports provided by the EAP service.

She engaged Medibio, an Australian mental wellness technology firm that offers a corporate wellbeing app, ilumen, that linked individuals with professional mental wellness resources and providied employers with depersonalised data on the mental wellbeing of their workforce.

“The app gave our people a confidential place to track their wellbeing.”

“The app data also gives us an insightful and useful platform for discussion, without which we would make assumptions around what our people need in the mental wellness space.”

“We know people are stressed and they have anxiety, but what does this mean, what do you do with it and where are we going with it as a company?” Dr Ward queried.

“The app’s data helped us open up conversations and ask people what was going on. It provided quantitative data to explore mental wellbeing topics with our leadership team.”

Insights from the app complemented the work of Stantec’s accredited Mental Health Champions, helping to drive further employee engagement by focusing discussion on topics revealed by the data and refine targeted mental wellness activities.

The HR team was able to use these insights to build trust and stimulate discussions around mental health in the offices with targeted themes that pertained to each location.

Unlike other mental wellbeing trackers and apps, the ilumen app uses an algorithm that blends subjective data from fortnightly questionnaires and objective biometric data from a wearable device (optional) to give individuals a more accurate assessment of their mental wellbeing.

Resting heartrate during sleep has strong correlation to physical stress.

This helps in facilitating the app’s algorithm to flag any differences between workers saying that they’re not stressed and the biometric data that reflects patterns of stress.

Aligning data and action for worker mental wellbeing

Stantec ilumen program saw a voluntary uptake of 28.4% of all Stantec staff across ANZ.

The app found that 25.4% of participants experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety in the moderate to severe range and 52% claim to use social withdrawal as a coping mechanism.

The company found that 12,975 hours of productivity was lost in FY 20/21 due to depression.

“With the data from ilumen, the questionnaire results showed that many workers were comfortable speaking to their colleagues about mental health issues.”

“This insight reinforced our decision to invest in the Mental Health Champions program and focus on topics around anxiety or workplace stress to support our workers’ wellbeing.”

“That data-driven insight supported a holistic Mental Health program, and ensured that we had relevant content to give back to our employees,” Dr Ward concluded.