Will there be a day when an employee’s unspoken distress signals and actions cause top management to jump to their rescue?

According to a recent Microsoft Work Trend Index, remote-working is widely believed to be the cause of stress.

To make it worse, the disconnect with employees makes it challenging for bosses to identify red flags when their employees are not coping well. This begs the question: are employers doing enough to proactively address the stress level of staff?

According to Mercer, although 48% of executives recognize well-being as a top workforce concern, only 29% of human resource management leaders have a ‘health and well-being strategy’ in place.

Rather than simply enabling access to services such as counselling and therapy, employers should build a holistic supportive environment, and understand that each and every employee is an individual. This is a challenging task, so one way technology can help is to through proper and fair use of artificial intelligence.

Using data and AI for mental health welfare

Employees that are stressed can be detected through unsaid words, non-verbal cues and other actions and behavioral patterns.

These cues can be picked up as continuous data, and then AI and data analytics can be used to discern trends and signs of mental distress. The intelligent use of privacy-centric advanced analytics and machine learning can then help employers to seek out those who need further support.

Here are three AI-driven approaches in detail:

  1. Using predictive analytics to detect and address mental well-being
    Experience management software, which is designed to catch trigger words or upset tones of voice, can seek out and analyze signals that indicate mental health risks. From survey feedback to daily interactions over messages and calls—text, video and voice analytics can be applied to identify negativity and issues from massive data sets.

    For instance, if an employee says he is facing ‘financial hardship’, ‘I can’t pay my rent,’ ‘I’m late on my bills’, these will be automatically flagged out for immediate response. Additionally, AI can identify any type of negativity in a response, even if it is not in the existing set of crisis-related topics. In other words, AI is able to bubble up issues that a company may not even have thought of, and identify their hidden connections with mental well-being. This is very important, given the evolving pandemic situation.
  2. Psycho-analyzing communication and facial expressions
    With remote-working, video conferencing is now the default mode of meetings. This in turn allows companies to leverage AI to analyze emotions based on text and facial expressions. Employers are no longer confined to getting signals from isolated channels, but can uncover a greater number of insights from video feedback.

    Text communication can be transcribed from conference calls, and any trigger words can be then flagged to managers for action. Beyond that, AI can identify sentiments and the type of negativity from tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. The nuances in different emotions such as joy, effortless thought, emphasis and contempt can be automatically captured and shared with relevant internal stakeholders, enabling managers to proactively address issues with employees.
  3. Driving action among frontline managers with real-time data
    Beyond collecting and making sense of employee behavioral data, AI is also increasingly used to lift employees’ spirits. From chatbots that provide health information, to apps that recommend therapies and meditation exercises based on analyses of users’ mental state, AI can provide constant and ongoing support 24/7.

    When AI picks up negative signals and flags issues, companies can tailor their support and drive flexible benefits, such as having one-on-one discussions with employees that have not taken annual leave in a long time.

    From the top down, every level of management must be tasked to gain insightful perspectives on the day-to-day concerns of employees, and be empowered to take action at a local level.

After gaining a better picture of how mental health in the pandemic era can be managed better, employers can choose to show more empathy and care. It is a win-win responsibility to build a safe and encouraging culture where sharing, concern and tactful communication will boost employee loyalty, productivity and trust.