Digital solutions: The promise of workplace well-being



Dr Paul Hopkins
Against the backdrop of the Health and Wellness week hosted by Expo 2020 where the latest tech-based health innovations will be showcased, Professor Paul Hopkinson discusses how digital technology can support employee well-being

Although the well-being of employees has long been a central topic of discussion, the evolving nature of the workplace has instigated questions about the responsibility of employers towards their employees' well-being.

Against this backdrop and with the ongoing Health and Wellness Week at Expo 2020, Professor Paul Hopkinson, associate head of Edinburgh Business School and the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, provides insight into some of the top digital solutions that companies can undertake to support their employees' wellbeing.

E-health wellness programmes

Wellness programmes can offer therapeutic approaches and support positive behavioural changes. They include videos, and even more interactive programmes such as chat-bots and virtual consultations. This is essential not only for mental well-being, but physical wellness.

Despite the progress that has been made in mitigating the stigma around mental health, employees remain reluctant to seek mental health support. E-health programmes are particularly beneficial as they enable employees to use them anonymously, guaranteeing their privacy.

Interestingly, Manuel Ronnefeldt, founder and CEO of 7Mind, a meditation app, noted that employees are more likely to use solutions when they are framed within the context of boosting productivity and performance. Cognitive-behavioural therapy over video and apps with programs for treating depression and anxiety have both been reported to reduce symptoms. Other digital formats such as chatbots and gamified exercises could point users towards meditation techniques and virtual psychotherapy.

Personal digital devices

According to a survey by Aetna, 75 percent of UAE employees believe their employers can help them better manage their physical health through technology whether its via smartwatches, fitness trackers or applications and 66 percent say the same when it comes to their mental health. Many employees have had health concerns due to an increase in sedentary lifestyles as a result of remote work and other processes including shopping being accessible online. Therefore, wearables and applications can alleviate health concerns and help employees lead a more active lifestyle.

McKinsey's digital technology report adds that employers can use aggregate data to measure the well-being of individuals or teams within the company and identify challenges that may adversely impact the well-being of employees.

Facilities management

Using AI-based technologies to perform complex mundane tasks and creating convenient work environments can save employees' time and enable them to focus on mentally demanding tasks.

According to McKinsey, at least one-third of the activities that make up a specific job could be automated. Additionally, 40 percent of workers surveyed reporting spending at least a quarter of their week on manual, repetitive tasks. With AI collecting, storing, and analysing massive data sets in seconds, employees can become more productive, which would boost their overall well-being.

Secondly, harnessing the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart technology can create an ideal environment for the employees' needs. This includes heating, lighting, and ventilation systems being switched on automatically upon entry. In addition, automated tasks alerts for cleaning and maintenance tasks can help reduce strain on helpdesk staff. Finally, since facilities management is known to reduce costs, this would help employers allocate the budget required for employee wellness programmes.

Contextualising within the UAE

In December 2021, The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation introduced anti-discrimination provisions that prohibit employers from recruiting on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion, nationality, social origin, or disability.

The government also announced a 30 percent increase in women's paternity leave. Previously, women were allowed 45 days of maternity leave, which has now been increased to 60 days. Additionally, fathers are allowed 5 days of paternity leave. These policy changes are particularly welcomed amongst the female population given that studies show that women bore the brunt of the pandemic, with more than 2 million around the world being displaced from the workforce.

In addition, the government's initiation of the 4.5-day work week and flexible times on Friday encourages work-life balance and supports those with school-going children, encouraging family time and interaction. Most importantly, happiness is part of the national agenda in the UAE. With a dedicated Ministry of Happiness, the happiness programme sets government policies and services that can promote virtues of a positive lifestyle in the community and a happiness index to measure people's satisfaction.

The dedication of one week to Health and Wellness in Expo 2020, showcasing the latest innovations and advancements in the field, encourages a positive outlook on the future of employee well-being.