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Is technology the answer to wellbeing for humans?

9th July 2020: by Maria Paviour - founder of Cari - connect with me on LinkedIn

The question I am often posed is, can technology be the answer to wellbeing issues at work? Wouldn’t be great if the answer was ‘yes’? Naturally, it isn’t that simple.

I have worked in the ‘wellbeing at work’ space for 30 years. It began with understanding stress and its relation to work, and then progressed into Positive Psychology and the impact of wellbeing on happiness and performance.

I became a wellbeing software developer in 1995 and won awards for this in 1996 and 1997. So, I have been part of the wellbeing technological revolution, from the very beginning - I was one of those cranks that you need to start one (old joke!).

On the one hand we have proven with our AI-enabled Wellbeing Super Assistant, Cari, that technology can form a very important element of an organisation's wellbeing initiatives - but therein lies the problem.

We are still thinking of wellbeing as an add-on.

When we talk about having initiatives it's as though we can ‘fix it’. We don’t have IT maintenance initiatives. We just maintain IT, all the time, 24/7. Because if we don’t it all goes wrong.

So the main issue is that we embed wellbeing into everything we do in organisations, whether they are for profit or not, public or private.

We need to ask ourselves ‘what is the purpose of our business’ and if it is ‘to make money’ or ‘to save money’ we are clearly missing a rather big existential point.

All organisations' purpose must surely gravitate back to human existence, and so, as such, we are not just made up of people, we are made up for people.

Enter the Wellbeing Economy

After Coronavirus lockdown, and the creation of the new ‘normal’ we ought to be asking ourselves big questions about wellbeing. With wellbeing (and not profit or cost savings) being central to everything we do, we can forget our interventions and initiatives - a total waste of money.

And at the same time, we can forget driving a successful organisation too - unless you can completely automate and no longer need humans in any capacity whatsoever (I can’t name a single organisation that can).

Wellbeing needs to be part of the fabric of our culture, and I can advise you now, that I have not seen an organisation where this is the case for many years - but don’t be downhearted it’s not too late. It’s never too late. And technology has an important role to play.

Read more about Wellbeing Economics in another one of our blogs.

A wellbeing culture needs humans

The answer to a wellbeing culture is humans. It's about leadership style, and I don’t mean that everyone needs to use a textbook for leadership. I mean that whatever your preferred working and leadership style, wellbeing can easily fit into it. If you understand the basic neuroscience of wellbeing it helps enormously.

Wellbeing requires humans, it is the important part of the jigsaw. Humans to connect with humans, to support humans, to create relationships with humans and you empathise with humans. These are not annoying and time consuming aspects of work that can be delegated.

This IS the work. No matter who you are and what role you have. Failure to connect with others can cause them brain pain, and that reduces immunity and can lead to mental health issues.

So leaders, managers and work colleagues need to take responsibility for what is happening with the people with whom they work. We do ALL have some responsibility here.

How can technology help us?

What is the best practice for managing positive mental health with humans and technology?

  • The Deloittes 2020 evidence-based model for delivering positive mental health, identifies four key characteristics of interventions that provide a 10 times ROI - they are:
  • 1. Preventative – the service must identify and prevent mental health issues from arising – nipping them in the bud with the appropriate level and type of support
  • 2. Organisation wide – the service must reach everyone - have scale. EAPs do achieve this criteria, but only on a reactive level – in that we have to self-refer and make the contact ourselves, often when we are already very low and not performing. See more in our blog about EAPs and mental health
  • 3. Tailored support – one size does not fit all in mental health, and the best support packages are the ones that ensure the right support is delivered to the right person in the right way at the right time.
  • 4. Technology – the service needs to utilise technology to enable accessibility. Can technology really solve the problems of employees’ wellbeing?

Why technology works

If the technology can enable you to reach everyone in the organisation at the same time (scale), provide confidential, tailored support and ensure that people can be linked to other humans (the right people, those qualified to help them), then it can be very effective.

We have found that people open up to Cari, our AI-enabled Wellbeing Super Assistant, because their answers to her neuroscience-based consultation questions are always confidential.

But there is another element of artificial intelligence that is extremely beneficial, and that is the ability for it to read nuances in the answers provided that a human can’t.

As a psychologist I do my best to notice the tiny changes that people demonstrate as they speak to me, and gather this ‘data’ in my mind, so that I can present questions back to my client. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and, I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty good at it.

However, compared to Cari, I cannot identify the tiny nuances that she is able to notice! Darn that robot, will she take over from my job? Answer, no chance!

She will give you a very accurate report of your emotional and psychological wellbeing (92% accurate) and specific recommendations tailored for you. But the fact is, no matter how wonderful her ‘skills’ are in reading my responses, it takes human capabilities to soothe my troubled mind, if I need further support, not a robot.

We have programmed Cari with empathy at her core, but she cannot be empathic like a human because empathy is a mix of behaviours and body chemistry, expressions but most importantly, intent. The intent to care and the intent to do good and not harm, the intent to give of oneself to another. That has to be meaningful or it is meaningless.

Cari meets all of these Deloitte best practice interventions - and her confidential, online wellbeing consultations and personalised support plans are free forever.

So the answer to the question is…

Yes technology can be amazingly helpful, but only when it is part of an overall programme that is embedded in the organisation with empathic, caring humans to ensure everyone feels universally supported. And that, my friends, surely defines a wellbeing organisation.

What are your thoughts on technology and wellbeing, and how successful have you found knitting these together? Any experience, tips or ideas would be welcome and fascinating.

9th July 2020: by Maria Paviour - founder of Cari - connect with me on LinkedIn

  • Interesting references for more reading about wellbeing economics and the importance of wellbeing globally:

  • https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consulting/articles/mental-health-and-employers-refreshing-the-case-for-investment.html
  • Wellbeing Economy Alliance

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