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17 Sep 2021
by Gethin Nadin

Common mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re getting the most from your health and wellbeing technology

The wellbeing technology space is currently valued at more than $9 billion. From virtual counsellors to mental health chatbots and telemedicine, the market is only going to get more investment as we recover from the largest health trauma experienced in generations. Yet, despite growing demand for more wellbeing support, at a time when many employers have recognised the risk associated with living more digital lives, adding more tech to the pile is a decision many employers are making with caution.




We don’t like being told what to do

We all have a common tendency to not do what we are told to. Psychologists call this psychological reactance. When we feel our freedom is threatened, we act against it. We’ve seen this on a large scale during the pandemic as many saw the mandating of mask-wearing as a threat to their freedom. Many studies have shown that this psychological reactance might explain why so many health campaigns seem to fail – telling people what to do doesn’t appear to motivate them to change, yet so much wellbeing technology is designed in exactly that way.

This has led to a tendency for wellbeing technology provides to anchor their services in instructional content like ’10 ways to sleep better’ or ‘Become a better saver’. However, this may simply be worsening the problem. Wellbeing technology that requires employees to digest huge volumes of information or to navigate hundreds of articles can add to cognitive load. While large amounts of wellbeing content gives employees the illusion of choice, the result of information-overload in fact gives us fewer choices, not more. Select, targeted content and education is far more impactful. The crux? Volume of content doesn’t equal worth when it comes to employee wellbeing.

By understanding triggers like reactance, employers can start to reign in some of the common, ineffective features of wellbeing tech. People don’t mind being guided towards better health behaviours, but we don’t tend to simply do what we’re told. Use your wellbeing technology to guide and support your people to living healthier, happier lives, rather than telling them how to live.

Silence the noise

Computer vision syndrome, smartphone slouch and insomnia are just some of the negative side effects of our over-reliance on technology. While many people agree that the positive of more tech in our lives will outweigh the negatives, adding load to the digital lives of employees should be considered carefully.

Speaking about our more technology-driven lives, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, Rob Reich says: “I am willing to express a confident judgement that the next decade will bring a net harm to people’s wellbeing.”

What I think this means for employers is a more concerted effort to avoid buying lots of tech for the sake of tech, when it comes to employee wellbeing. Having multiple logins, apps and notifications can be confusing and harmful, causing engagement to suffer. The downside of having too much technology to support our wellbeing is our lack of ability to manage them all.

Having access to hundreds of pieces of content to help our wellbeing can be overwhelming and push us to spend more time looking at a screen than we really should be. Employers should instead be focussed on giving employees tailored and targeted educational content, so only the most relevant information is digested at the right time. This limits cognitive load, limits time spent looking at a screen and gives employees targeted support.

Take an evidence-based approach

One of the most common mistakes I see with wellbeing technology is the reason for purchase. On the back of the pandemic, wellbeing technology is booming, but health experts have vetted very few of these offerings.

In terms of overall efficacy for tech like mental health mobile applications, the jury is still out. A systematic review of mental health smartphone apps found that despite the rapid growing nature of the marketplace, the evidence for their effectiveness remains unclear. Reviewing almost 6,000 records, some researchers have suggested that while some trials of mental health apps show potential, using smartphone apps as standalone interventions cannot be recommended based on the current level of evidence. The chances of you downloading a wellbeing app and it being consistent with evidence-based treatment is very low.

The move to virtual and remote offices helped wellbeing apps to secure a place in many organisations. These apps have been able to provide support to millions who had no access to help or were afraid to speak to someone. But with no regulatory body assessing these apps, and hard evidence scarce, navigating the market has become increasingly difficult for employers. According to the American Psychological Association, there are as many as 20,000 mental health apps available. In a review of 52 apps designed to help with anxiety, a global team of psychologists found that 67% had been developed without any help or guidance from a healthcare professional.

Without the right regulatory involvement, the vetting of these workplace wellbeing apps falls on the shoulders of employers that purchase them and their employees who use them. Taking an evidence-based view of every piece of wellbeing tech you invest in must become a priority – ask your providers or potential providers for the research, the data and credentials of their technology and the professionals who helped design it. A good provider will not shy away from this request.

Of course, all this is not to say offering employees smartphone wellbeing apps is unhelpful, rather that these systems must be provided with evidence-based reassurance from the providers, and used in conjunction with other wellbeing tools and techniques, as part of a wider strategy.

Become a more discerning buyer

As the role of HR and reward teams has expanded, increasingly these professionals have been expected to become health and wellbeing experts – an ask which isn’t possible or practical for many, considering the widening breath of responsibilities. But as the buying power and budget for wellbeing tends to sit with these teams, it’s important to recognise the common mistakes employers make when buying or using wellbeing tech; so use behavioural science and psychology to inform expectations, check for evidence, and avoid overloading your employees,.

The wellbeing technology market is saturated, loud and confusing. Buying the right tech and making it work for you has never been so hard or expensive, but with a few of these secrets in mind, you’ll be on your way to maximising the value and effectiveness you – and your people – deserve.

The author is Gethin Nadin, director, employee wellbeing at Benefex.

This article is provided by Benefex.

Gethin Nadin, director – employee wellbeing at Benefex, will be speaking at REBA’s live and in-person Employee Wellbeing Congress on 30 September. Find out more and register to attend.

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