Over the past few months, the future of working has been brought sharply into focus, with the way in which HR teams operate undergoing rapid transformation. This turbulent time has stimulated explorations of employee wellness strategies specifically harnessing AI & other technologies to improve employee wellbeing.

It was a pleasure to team up with The HR TECH Partnership to host “Exploring Wellness Through Technology and AI”- a panel event chaired by Sharon Sagoo, Director and Learning Solutions & Innovation at HR TECH partnership. Sharon was joined on the panel by; Dan McCormick, Group Digital Products and AI Director at Rentokil Initial; Rachel Duncan, UK & Ire HR Director at Experian; and Devyani Vaishampayan, Managing Partner and AI Investment & Innovation Expert at HR TECH Partnership and Ex-Chief HR Officer at Rolls Royce and Citigroup.

Below are a few of the event’s key takeaways.

Coronavirus has required overnight changes to wellbeing provision

Over the last few years, companies have seen the benefits of improving wellness in the workplace, specifically with regards to productivity and providing outstanding customer experience. However, the recent crisis has shone an even brighter spotlight on the importance of physical and mental wellbeing.

Both employees and businesses have had to make rapid changes to adapt to this “new normal”. As one panellist observed: “within the last 6 weeks, companies have had to go through digital journeys which normally take two years.” One key outcome is that employees have been instantly cut off from the typical corporate support system of onsite services around wellness and exercise.

HR departments and business leaders have therefore had to pivot to AI and technological solutions to ensure that employees have access to the range of support services they need during this challenging period. The stress placed upon employees by the pandemic mean it has never been more important for companies to trial and offer up a range of financial and wellbeing support.

Digital solutions to health and wellbeing challenges are “exploding”

There are a host of personal wellbeing apps on the market, ranging from well-known mindfulness applications like Headspace to mood-tracking services such as Moodflow. Moodflow helps individuals identify and track factors that affect mood on a daily basis by tracking variables such as where you were and who you were with so it can start to predict triggers for changes in mood.

One panellist suggested that this could be a useful tool in an HR department’s arsenal, as it would enable employees to better identify what it is about their working day that is dampening mood or augmenting stress. The company could then take this information and implement preventative solutions to improve employee mood and therefore boost productivity.

This fits into a broader trend towards business and personal health apps being amalgamated to safeguard the wellbeing and morale of employees. Of course, data privacy is a key concern for companies seeking to implement wellbeing applications which capture employee health information. Companies should be mindful of current regulations and closely follow how this issue evolves over the next 12-18 months.

Looking ahead, the panellists predicted that we will see significant shifts towards providing emotional support through conversational bots and avatars. Already in the market are message-based therapy services such as Spill, which uses AI to ask employees questions via Slack to identify who is in need of counselling support. Such services are likely to be a useful asset that should be on any HR managers radar.

Financial wellbeing and connectivity are being improved through AI & digital solutions

Many employees are going through a difficult time financially, and companies can be in no doubt about the connection between financial worries and mental wellbeing. Businesses can be proactive in exploring tooling to mitigate this. The panel touched on companies who are using tech coupled with new approaches to finance, like Salary Finance, whose financial wellbeing “hub” helps employees to manage debt, build a savings habit and access earned pay.

Coupled with financial anxieties are growing concerns around employee isolation. With many employees living alone at a time where social activities are stymied, the creation of virtual communities at work is vital. These communities can operate in messenger services or via regular informal video calls and emulate the “necessary and uplifting coffee machine conversations” that boost mood and have a positive impact on productivity.

Building an effective business case around tech & wellness

With squeezed budgets, getting your business case right for technological wellness solutions is essential. The number one priority is to articulate clearly the crucial nature of wellbeing to corporate strategy. As one panellist observed, “the current crisis gives us a burning platform to trial and test the solutions coming through for the greater good of the employees.”

Identifying a specific issue, such as employee burnout due to longer working days, and piloting a tech solution enables HR professionals bring concrete results and a proven hypothesis into a business case for sustained use. All the speakers suggested being agile and experimental – identifying a range of hypotheses and trialing various solutions without waiting for a ‘guaranteed’ method to come to you.

Wrapping up, panellists agreed that the current crisis made it all the more crucial to provide employees with the right tools and information to enable them to be their best selves in the ‘new workplace’.

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