The scars of the past 14 months are visible everywhere. Perhaps most visible through our LinkedIn feeds which have transformed from polished storefronts for shiny new business skills, into platforms for sharing sobering stories about burnout recovery, managing anxiety, or coping with grief.
Hungry entrepreneurs are competing for the best answer and a slew of fresh mental health start-ups is flocking to the rescue. VCs in turn are equally emboldened by the promise of a huge market, with a clear unmet need, and the perfect timing driven by the rapidly decreasing stigma associated with mental health care. The result: a crowded space, with thousands of mental health apps claiming to be the missing piece needed to solve the mental health crisis.
Employers are under pressure to act. Driven by the record-breaking cases of burnouts, and rising claims of depression and anxiety, Corporate HR and Benefits Managers are left looking for an answer. While some employers are taking the stick approach and calling for ‘an end to work from home’ and a return to the office days, others are embracing the carrot approach and are rolling out mental health apps to support their people. What is the right answer?
The early results are in: productivity is not improving, people are not feeling better and LinkedIn posts keep telling sad stories. The consequence is a growing disconnect between employees and employers. So what has gone wrong?
Let’s break it down:
- Treating symptoms: The mental health crisis is not the root cause, it is a symptom of a deeper problem. To understand the challenges of workplace wellbeing let’s examine the situation through an example. Let’s imagine a person is suddenly losing weight, has trouble sleeping, and their general health is deteriorating. After a few weeks of increasing distress, this person decides to see a doctor. The doctor performs a diagnostic which comes back showing high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. Now, there are two possible scenarios: In scenario A the doctor may prescribe medication to relieve the symptoms and send the patient home. The patient will feel better for a few weeks, even months but will eventually come back feeling sicker. In scenario B the doctor may choose to go a little deeper, may ask a few questions about the patient’s lifestyle, and try to understand any changes in recent circumstances. If they go down this route, they may find out that the patient has recently gone through a challenging time at work and is currently going through a divorce. As a result of the increased stress, they have neglected their self-care by foregoing physical exercise, sacrificing sleep, and ignoring their diet. Instead of medication, this doctor may prescribe ‘a change in lifestyle’ and counseling to get back on track. It may take the patient longer to feel better, but by addressing the ‘root cause’ of the patient’s distress, the patient is able to make a full recovery. Now, the patient is representative for most companies in the wake of the pandemic, which has put unexpected stresses on their people, their processes, and their bottom line. The medication prescribed without an in-depth diagnostic represent the “easy fixes” companies are trying to roll out to fix the symptoms. Meantime, the real root causes are not being addressed.
- The wrong toolkit: While the user-centric design is essential to get engagement, it is not the only thing that matters. Let us now go a level deeper and look at the “medication” that is prescribed to our patient. According to research from the World Economic Forum, there are more than 10’000 mental health apps available in the Apple App Store and Google Play store, and the overwhelming majority of these apps are not evidence-based and have never been properly reviewed by reputable institutions. There is an urgent need for clear safety and efficacy standards for mental health apps, so HR & Benefits managers can weed out proven tools from the noise.
- Low engagement: In order for real change to happen, (mental) wellbeing needs to be addressed at scale, for 100% of employees. Traditional mental health resources (e.g., EAPs) are reactive, confusing, and outdated. As a result, they only reach 2-5% of employees and, oftentimes, much too late once employees are already in crises. New mental health apps promote prevention through self-care tools but only see about 8-10% of employees actively engaging with their services. The root cause for low engagement is also one of the key risk factors for mental distress in the first place: employee workload. No matter how much HR leaders “promote” new tools internally, employees will not engage with them unless it solves their real problem – too much to do, too little time. In order to effectively engage, mental health solutions need to be delivered as part of a coordinated employer action plan that ring-fences time for employee self-care without stigmatizing it.
- Solving parts of the puzzle: While prevention is an essential part of the puzzle, apps that focus only on prevention can only do so much. These apps are effective at “activating the problem” and help many individuals realize they must address their mental wellbeing directly, but stop short of offering effective solutions that go beyond a CBT chatbot or pre-recorded mindfulness mediation content. Instead, they pass on the needs to employee assistance programs that are ill-equipped to address them.
- One-size-fits-all: Most prevention apps offer promising solutions but fail to adapt them to the real needs of their users and to integrate them effectively in their user’s day-to-day life. While a generic approach can work for skill-building and has proven effective for learning activities such as mindfulness mediation, it does not always work for tackling mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. Simply put, there is no silver bullet when it comes to our mental health. When it comes to addressing mental health challenges, a personalized, blended care approach works best.
- Limited access: Most new solutions use subscription-based models (either pay-per-use or pay-per-employee) and only open access to paying members. While they may be a shrewd business model in the short run, these models fail to take into account one important thing – the long-term value of network effects when it comes to changing mindsets and behaviors. For adoption and engagement to increase organically, solutions need to be accepted and used not only by employees but also by their families.
So what’s our solution? We believe that the only way to effectively address employee wellbeing at scale is through a “full-stack approach” that addresses the entire spectrum of needs: from awareness, and early detection through digital phenotyping all the way to personalized self-care and treatment.
We partner with employers to address organizational and individual needs at the same time:
We help organizations address the root causes behind employee turnover and absenteeism and support them to re-design workplaces for psychological safety, promote prevention and early help-seeking and re-define their wellbeing strategy based on facts.
We help individuals become aware of their wellbeing needs through and we deliver personalized content to best support them – be it in dealing with burnout or building a specific skill. When needed we match our members with a therapist or a coach that is right for them, in real-time. No long waiting times, no unanswered calls. Finally, we support recovery and professional reintegration every step of the way.
We see this as the only effective way to achieve a real improvement in employee wellbeing and corporate productivity over time, in an enduring way (Kyan = Enduring in Gaelic).
How it works
At Kyan we always start with an in-depth organizational diagnostic to assess mental health needs which we use to design a program specifically tailored for each organization. We believe change starts from the top, so we engage with senior leaders to articulate the case for change using actual data from their own organizations.
At the individual level, or programs include clinically validated mental health and wellbeing assessments, evidence-based self-care and self-improvement programs, and access to our curated network of psychotherapists and coaches available in real-time for all employees and their families. Our programs are designed and tested to be used as stand-alone in a self-care setting and in partnership with a psychotherapist in a blended-care setting.
At the organizational level, we have designed state-of-the-art dashboards that allow HR leaders to make decisions based on real-time employee data while guaranteeing individual privacy. But it’s not just about the numbers, we believe in the power of storytelling to change hearts and minds, so we work with corporate leadership teams to transform workplaces into psychologically safe spaces through leadership role modeling.
We support our clients every step of the way. From day one, our clinical team and a dedicated Customer Wellbeing & Success Manager works with each client to improve engagement, adherence and manage their overall Kyan experience.
We take safety and efficacy seriously, so we vet every coach and therapist on the platform through a multi-stage process. All our content is evidence-based, which means we only use interventions that have been designed by our in-house psychology team based on methodologies proven to systematically improve patient well-being. Before launching, all our content is reviewed by reference institutions in the field of cognitive therapy and resilience research.
Finally, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that our users’ data is well protected. Not only are we compliant with GDPR and HIPPA standards, but we use medical-grade cybersecurity to guarantee the confidentiality of all data exchanged on the platform.
We are getting ready to change the way mental health is delivered in the workplace as of Summer 2021. If you want to see what this could mean for your organization, sign-up for a free demo here.
The good news is that taking effective action does work and can significantly bolster employee mental health and job satisfaction. It’s also been shown to be good for business: international research estimates a return of 4.25x ROI for every dollar spent.