Mental health at work: Why personalisation matters

25 Aug 2020

The personalisation process.   

It's clear in the data: personalised mental health programmes get used more and yield better results than generic services – but only recently have they become a possibility for organisations. This post explores why personalisation matters, how it's become a reality, and the process you can follow to personalise your organisation's mental health strategy at scale. 


Personalisation is nothing new in the field of mental health. Back in 2007, the government outlined a vision to improve social care by adopting a personalised agenda.

The idea behind this was to encourage people to live independently, and to have complete choice and control over the services they use in daily life.

In the decade or so since then, two big advancements have brought the topic of discussion into the workplace, and made personalised mental health programmes possible for every business.

The first is technology.

It’s come a long way since the NHS systems Gordon Brown’s Civil Service would have considered pretty damn neat. And data, which has never been more abundant, is the lifeblood of personalisation. Marketing departments have become devilishly sophisticated in combining data with technology to deliver hyper-personalised and irresistible customer experiences (think video streaming recommendations, or that ad which surfaced shortly after your conversation about slow cookers).

Now HR and people teams have access to reams of data which can be used to provide personalised employee experiences – launching initiatives that make their days happier and more productive.

Ultimately, both disciplines have the same focus – ROI and VOI. Returns for the business; value for the customer or employee. That’s why personalisation doesn’t just hone our initiatives, it also unlocks the budget to launch them.

The second is our better understanding of mental health.

The last decade has seen a huge shift in how we talk and think about mental health. We know that through lost productivity poor mental health costs businesses and economies more than bears thinking about. Thanks to a line-up of influential people speaking out about lived experiences and greater levels of national awareness, we now know that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. And that motifs around stiff-upper-lips and certain genders not crying only lead to people living miserably.

This mindset shift has given rise to preventative and proactive mental health support. By thinking about mental health holistically – as something that’s with us all of the time and worth devoting a little bit of time to nurturing – we can identify issues before they become serious problems. Personalised care is at the core of this idea, which is often referred to as the whole-person approach.

Why personalisation matters

Most workplaces already have in place some form of mental health support, which is a testament to our progress as a society. EAPs and mental health first aid have helped thousands – if not millions – of employees around the world to find crucial care for critical problems. Indeed, one in six employees will experience mental ill-health each year, though nowhere near as many reach for EAPs when things get tough. This is for many reasons, but most stem from the fact these services rarely feel relevant to people; they tend to focus on big problems and one-size-fits-all solutions.

Better prevent problems before they arise.

As alluded to above, personalised workplace mental health programmes get used more and see better results than generic ones. The human brain is a complex thing, and everyone responds to life’s events in their own unique ways.

Where one person finds freedom in remote working, another will feel disconnected. One team member might get eight hours’ sleep a night, while the other struggles to bag two. One might be battling with the realities of first-time parenting, while another is under persistent stress balancing the demands of work with the needs of an elderly, single parent.

It pays to be mindful of the things that could be influencing the mental health and performance of each employee – and being able to provide personalised support when it’s needed.

The factors that influence our mental wellbeing are manifold and ever-changing. Right from menopauses to plain simple blood-sugar levels. So when it comes to providing mental wellbeing support for workforces, personalisation really matters. Here’s a personalisation process your organisation could follow.

The mental health care personalisation process 

1. Mental health and wellbeing assessments

The national standard of mental health assessments used by GPs and therapists are known as GAD-7 and PHQ-9. They facilitate reflection on mental wellbeing over a given period. Responses are used to ascertain the level of support required. While it’s not an employer’s job to act as a psychiatrist, with adaptations this robust framework can be applied to proactively support our entire workforces.

Rather than focusing on problem sets, explore how to find solutions. Frame questions to examine ‘happiness’ rather than ‘depression’; ‘calmness’ rather than ‘anxiety’; and ‘coping’ rather than ‘stress’. Then, similar to a pulse survey, these self-reporting assessments can be sent out and completed in a regular cadence. The information will give employees insight to their mental health, while the employer gets anonymous wellbeing data. 

2. Offering a variety of resources

The organisation needs to have enough tools and resources to meaningfully customise and tailor support provided based on their workforce’s needs. As well as offering a range of topics – from relationships to productivity, physical health to sleep – there should also be a breadth of formats for people to engage with – be it video, audio, text or interactive. Ideally these should be available digitally and in bites-size formats to enhance the user experience.

3. Providing the right care

Based on the data gathered from our assessments and the resources available, we’re able to customise our wellbeing programme for each employee. Our level of personalisation increases with the detail of data and variety of resources. For instance, measuring mental wellbeing across a range of different areas, such as sleep, coping, health, fulfilment, calmness, happiness, and connection, will enable you to assess the whole person and provide tailored support accordingly.

4. Making a personal plan

Day to day, week to week, month to month, our mental health fluctuates. We all exist on spectrums from thriving to surviving; engaged to disengaged; focused to distracted. By regularly documenting our moods, thoughts and feelings, we’re better placed to spot patterns and take decisive action to meet our own specific needs. When encouraging employees to journal their mood, think about providing digital tools that prompt engagement, guide their observations, and spot patterns. Visualising this data with graphs can really help to tell a story over time. 

5. Reviewing the data collected

This process will unearth a tonne of useful data that can help you to personalise your approach further. Not only will you see through the assessments which areas of your wellbeing strategy need focus and which to double down on, but you’ll also glean further insight into how people are interacting with the resources provided. This will help you to shape the support you provide, and make data-driven decisions around your wider people initiatives.

Launch a personalised mental health programme

If you'd like to learn more about launching a fully personalised and scalable mental health programme with Unmind, book a chat with one of our specialists.

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