From therapy chat apps to stress monitors, London offices are making wellness part of the 9-to-5

Anxiety is a growing issue in the UK. According to AnxietyUK, one in six adults experience some form of “neurotic health problem”, with anxiety and depression being the most common. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, mental health problems will be the leading cause of mortality globally.

All this worry is affecting the workplace. A report by Deloitte in 2017 found that the cost of mental health-related absence in the UK workplace is £7.9 billion, with mental health behind about 11 per cent of all sick days. Yet access to help is getting harder than ever. Analysis by think tank The King’s Fund found that nearly a quarter of mental health trusts reported a reduction in income between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

In the London tech scene, there is a growing trend of “workplace wellness” start-ups, aiming to tackle the wider effects of stress and anxiety on the UK’s working population. For instance, Spill. Founded by Calvin Benton and Gavin Dhesi in 2017, the therapy chat app aims to democratise access to counselling. Companies pay to access Spill’s services, and then offer it as a benefit to their employees.

“From day one, our goal has been to make therapy more accessible to people,” explains Dhesi. “The business route meant we could get revenue from the employer themselves, but for the people who are benefiting from Spill it’s free at the point of use.”

Spill counts companies such as Monzo and Rightmove among its client base. Monzo’s head of people Tara Mansfield said it has improved the overall working environment at the challenger bank. “By saying we accept you on your good days and bad days means that we have high engagement but also a stronger sense of community,” she explains.
The average person spends more than 80,000 hours in the workplace over a lifetime — ie a lot. “That age-old adage of what happens at home stays at home is disappearing. And I think companies realise that to get happy employees, you need an overall happy person,” adds Dhesi.

After experiencing burnout in her previous role at an education company, Madeleine Evans created the wellbeing management platform Levell. She designed it as a tool to help employees manage stress and prevent them from reaching the stage she was at.

Users log on to the platform a few times each week and record their “levels”, such as their mood, stress and energy. Levell anonymises all the responses and detects patterns, before giving this information back to the company, as well as suggesting ways to manage and improve the office environment. “That can be anything from providing spaces for people to get to know each other, to offering a subsidised gym membership,” says Evans.

Levell recently finished its first pilot project and Evans is looking to expand the platform to more organisations, though she says it can be difficult for leaders to know where to start when it comes to improving employee wellbeing. “Is this work meaningful, are there good relationships, how do people feel? Those are hard questions,” she says. “The onus is on us to help leaders start to engage with those questions and have tools to invest in their people.”

Investors are taking note. Felix Capital, which invests in digital lifestyle brands, was the lead investor in a £3 million round raise by another wellness management start-up, Unmind, earlier this year.

Felix Capital co-founder Antoine Nussenbaum explains: “Meditation has been radically facilitated by smartphones [but] we feel a genuine need to go much deeper at an individual level and, thanks to technology, deliver this in a scalable way. This is what Unmind is about.”

The app offers interactive content, including bite-sized programmes lasting five minutes a day on topics such as how to improve focus, sleep better at night, and talk to someone. All the programmes are developed with clinicians and academics (co-founder and CEO Dr Nick Taylor is a trained clinical psychologist). So far, 92 per cent of employees using Unmind have shown improvements in wellbeing.

Unmind co-founder and COO Ry Morgan adds: “It’s not just about reaching those in need, but helping people move into a place where they’re more productive, better leaders, and more equipped to support people around them.”
Businesses are starting to realise that the office is becoming the new touchstone for wellness — and it can only be a good thing.

By Amelia Heathman, as published on 4th October In the Evening Standard

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