Welcome to Part 2 of our annual round-up of Well-Being Trends to Watch in 2024. If you missed Part 1, you can catch up here! As we discussed in Part 1 of our Well-Being Trends to Watch in 2024, the conversation around well-being at work is changing. We’re acknowledging that work fundamentally impacts overall well-being and that to have an engaged, productive and healthy workforce, we need to focus on the whole employee.
Let’s take a look at WebMD Health Services 3rd and 4th well-being trends predicted for 2024.
Trend 3: Employers are taking a more proactive, preventive approach to employee mental health.
While the pandemic may have subsided, we’ve emerged into an uncertain economy, high inflation, escalating climate events, social discord at home, and war in Europe and the Middle East. These factors, combined with job-related and financial stress, are taking their toll on workers and leading to unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression in the workforce. Business Group on Health’s 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey found that 77% percent of large employers reported an increase in the mental health needs among their workforce, with another 16% anticipating that mental health needs will continue to increase in the future.1
Workers also increasingly expect employers to support them with their mental health. A 2023 study by the American Psychological Association found that 92% of workers said:
- It is very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important to them to work for an organization that values their emotional and psychological well-being; and
- It is very (52%) or somewhat (40%) important to them to work for an organization that provides support for employee mental health.2
As we discussed in Trend 1, employee well-being is linked to engagement and productivity. And so, in 2024, we’ll see employers step up with increased access to mental health support and services and a deeper, more considered approach to employee mental health that goes beyond simply checking the box, including:
- A year-round focus on mental health. Forty-three percent of employees surveyed in the Business Group on Health’s study reported worrying that if they told their employer about a mental health condition, it would have a negative impact on them in the workplace.3 In 2024 we’ll see a more sustained effort by employers to reduce the stigma through campaigns that go beyond Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) will play a key part in expanding awareness and acting as a liaison between leadership and employees.
- Manager training. Managers are the front line to employees when it comes to educating them about the resources available to them, and they can also be a major source of the stress employees experience. We’ll see stepped-up efforts to educate managers in recognizing mental health issues among their workers (think mental health first aid training); support to help them become more flexible, empathetic leaders; and encouragement to more openly address mental health in all-employee forums.
- Expanded EAP services. In addition to increasing the number of free counseling sessions, employers will continue to promote the EAP’s services and make it easier for employees to access them. Part of this will entail communicating about what employees should expect when they call the EAP and emphasizing that the EAP is not just for serious mental health concerns, but also for everyday challenges that affect our well-being.
- Supplemental networks for virtual or in-person care. While most health plans provide some support for behavioral health services, it comes with restrictions that limit the amount of coverage and care people can receive. And, given the mental health provider shortage, it can be difficult to locate mental health providers who are taking on new patients. By adding external networks that specialize in mental health services employees can gain greater access to care in a way that suits them—either in-person or virtually.
Trend 4: Artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of well-being solutions and their delivery — cautiously embracing.
How AI will impact the future of workplace well-being.
From using AI-generated data to deliver the best possible well-being intervention at the right time and in exactly the right way, to enhancing and augmenting services that previously required human intervention, to being able to detect health risks early, there is certainly excitement about the possibilities AI brings to the world of well-being. But, not surprisingly, some hesitations as well.
- Personalization. Well-being is inherently personal, so anything that enhances our ability to deliver personalized solutions is a game-changer. AI will allow well-being providers to provide more sophisticated and unique data-driven recommendations to individuals that incorporate their health status, preferences and behaviors. Additionally, employees can receive more information about their own progress, which can sustain motivation and increase satisfaction and engagement. This will help organizations deliver solutions that truly resonate with participants and ideally lead to greater behavior change and overall satisfaction with the well-being program.
- Virtual well-being “assistants.” From nutrition advice to exercise suggestions to tips for managing stress, AI-based chatbot solutions can offer 24/7 tailored, personalized support while helping to build motivation to keep participants engaged. And, given the shortage of mental health providers, these chatbots can serve as a short-term intervention while waiting to see a therapist. Plus, AI assistants continuously refine solutions based on user input, ensuring that recommendations are always on point.
- Health risk detection. AI-powered wearable devices have the capability to monitor biometric data like heart rate, sleep patterns and physical activity and determine if any of these indicate a potential health problem. If a risk is identified, the individual can receive the right intervention, potentially warding off a more serious (and costly) condition.4 New AI solutions can also use people’s voices to detect signs and severity of mental health conditions to connect people to the right type of resources. These applications can also track mental health over time to determine whether specific interventions are effective.5
Finally, AI can enable employers to become more targeted and efficient in their approach to employee mental health. For example, algorithms can analyze text-based communication (like employee surveys, chats, or emails) to detect signs of stress, burnout or other mental health issues, allowing companies to target the appropriate support to their workforces.6 AI may even be able to foster a more inclusive work environment by helping organizations identify and address potential biases and discrimination that may be impacting employee well-being and mental health. AI can also help EAPs become more efficient in finding and recruiting counselors, processing new patient requests, and matching people with the right therapist.7
Potential downsides of AI.
While there’s no doubt that AI presents interesting opportunities to maximize the value of well-being solutions, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address some of the pitfalls of AI when it comes to well-being. We know that AI is not foolproof and is only as good as the data it is trained on, so inaccuracies can happen. And, as we know, human behavior is unpredictable and complex, so even the best AI application may not be perfect. AI may also generate incorrect information or biased content. Therefore, quality assurances and validation should still be performed by human experts before leveraging AI content. There is also the trust factor. Well-being data is personal and employees may draw the line regarding how, when and where their private health information is utilized by their employer.
Finally, there will be situations where AI cannot take the place of genuine, thoughtful human interaction. As Brian Evergreen, founder and CEO of The Profitable Good Company, related in a recent podcast: “There are organizations who will automate anything and everything possible. And they’ll learn by feedback from the market that there are certain touch points of human experience that are critical.”8 So, in the end, it will be up to us to decide how we can best channel the benefits of AI to address the well-being needs of our populations.