• Technology has exacerbated some mental health issues in the workplace, but it could also provide solutions for better support and employee well-being;
  • Organizations in the UK must deploy tech to help reduce the rising costs to employers of poor mental health in the workplace;
  • A focus on the causes of these costs, which include an always-on culture and low numbers of people disclosing poor mental health at work, is imperative.

It is estimated that in any given week, one in six people of working age experience a common mental health problem like stress, depression or anxiety. Most of us will understand, from personal experiences or friends and family, the huge personal cost that this can bring.

There are costs for UK employers too. These now reach up to £45 billion each year and have risen by 16% in the last two years, according to our recent research.

In this time, businesses have taken significant steps, introducing more support than ever before and working to create more open workplace cultures around mental health.

Our research also shows that this investment is delivering benefits, with employers getting £5 back for every £1 they spend on mental health support.

But why are costs for employers still going in the wrong direction?

Changes in the workplace

Behind this is a complex picture, in which the concept of an always-on culture combines with long-standing problems such as the relatively low numbers of those disclosing poor mental health at work.

The bulk of the identified financial costs are largely driven by a reduction in productivity among the rising number of people who experience poor mental health but don’t take time off to recuperate.

Alongside this, enabled by technology, more people are working outside of their normal hours. Most of us will understand the need to work extra hours when there are deadlines to meet and we all appreciate team members’ willingness to go the extra mile, but finding it hard to disconnect from work can also make it more difficult to maintain good mental health.

Digital disruption

Technology is a disruptive force and all change brings unintended consequences. When one of these appears to be an impact on employee well-being, with knock-on effects including burnout and reduced productivity, organizations that are largely driven largely by tech, like ours, have a responsibility to address it.

But more than that, as workplaces evolve and we integrate more of our own technology capability into our firm, we have an opportunity to design a new generation of technology-based, workplace-specific support.

We’re using the Deloitte Discover app, for example, to support younger workers beginning their career at the firm (a group shown to be the most vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems in the workplace). The app shares important resources to help employees understand the importance of respect and inclusion and offers advice for building resilience and confidence. It’s just a start and we’re looking to develop further tools to help people reach their full potential, with easy access to advice and a community that can offer support.

The state of mental health in the UK workplace
The state of mental health in the UK workplace

We know there is an appetite among our people for tech-enabled well-being solutions and wearables that connect to our organization, as long as people are in control of their involvement and their information.

With this in mind, we’re considering what new approaches we could develop to help people recognize and manage behaviours that blur the boundaries between “on” and “off” as our work and home lives become increasingly connected.

We want to clearly show the benefits to our organizations, as well as to people individually, of taking time to recuperate when they need to. We want to encourage people to talk openly about taking time away to get well in the same way they would talk about physiotherapy.

Where innovations around mental health support in the workplace are concerned, the Wellcome Trust’s Miranda Wolpert rightly points out that workplaces have a vital role in thinking creatively about what works and testing out new ideas.

The opportunity to thrive

Continuing to build a happy and healthy environment at Deloitte, which recruits around 6,000 people a year, is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously. Part of our purpose is to make sure everyone has the opportunity to thrive and well-being is central to this.

Recognizing the unforeseen effects of technology in our workplace is just as important as embracing its potential – and even more so when it has the potential to affect our health.

That’s why, in partnership with our clients, we will be developing technology that integrates mental health and a culture of well-being into our business, rather than as an addition to it.

With many UK employers committed to supporting employee mental health and with the help of organizations such as the City Mental Health Alliance and Mind, I’m confident that the collective power of business, government and the mental health sector can make a real difference to the health of workers across the country.