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Digital wellbeing in the workplace: all it's been prescribed to be?

Digital wellbeing in the workplace: all it's been prescribed to be?

Are digital platforms all they are promised to be?

Digital healthcare and wellbeing platforms have exploded over the last decade so that there now appears to be an app or platform for just about anything. Workplace wellbeing is no exception and in Aotearoa alone, there are several platforms and companies offering wellbeing tools for the workplace.  Here are some important things to consider when exploring different tools, platforms and approaches to wellbeing.

Are they effective?

To measure effectiveness, it is important to consider the basis of the platform. Important things to consider are: is the platform built on a good theoretical base with evidence? Do the people developing the platform have experience implementing the evidence into your environment? And has the platform been evaluated in a sound and unbiased manner?  Evaluation is particularly important as many platforms may show evidence of positive feedback from some users, but this doesn’t actually indicate effectiveness. 

Is the platform engaging?

Engagement can be related to a number of factors including the user’s perception of the need and usefulness of the tool; the perceived benefits from using the tool; reminders about using the tool; and tool design.  Language, place of development, and ethnicity of the developers all contribute to the engagement with the tool.

Just because a platform is built on an evidence base, does not mean that your customers or employees will use it. The majority of people stop using commercially developed tools within 3 months, even if they have a good evidence base [1]. This also includes tools that people have chosen to download themselves, rather than ones that they have been provided for use. Are you more likely to use something you want to use? Or something you have been told to use? Positioning and beliefs are therefore important to get people to use the app.

Even the most effective tool in the world will not be useful if your people don’t use it.  So longer-term engagement is important too when thinking about the benefits and return on investment.

What are the alternatives?

There are always alternatives! If considering a workplace wellbeing platform, we would encourage you to think about what your staff actually want and may benefit from. Even better – ask them! Some of the work we do with businesses is understanding what their staff want in terms of wellbeing; this is often something quite different from what management think they want! If you have staff buy-in you have much better engagement, usage, and return on investment.  If you don’t have buy-in, asking staff to do something else like regularly log into platform to do a questionnaire may actually add to their sense of burden (“it’s just another thing to do and I don’t see the point because nothing ever changes”)

 What is needed to support online platforms?

It is also important to consider how the offline environment supports the online platform. Is your organisation walking the talk? Have you got a good wellbeing strategy in place around the platform and how do you allow your people to implement what is recommended in the tool?

Key things to consider

  • Learning is also much more powerful when supplemented with face-to-face workshops and the opportunities to practice skills in the workplace.
  • Teaching employees about mental health literacy and asking for help can be counterproductive if you don’t train your management team about how to respond to people in distress and how to support those that are distressed.
  • Equally important is also teaching management how to be effective communicators, to maintain boundaries, and to be empathetic and firm so that they also don’t get burnout.
  • Ongoing evaluation and feedback is also important.

If you would like some help in this space, feel free to contact us to discuss further. Several members of our team have expertise in evaluation and online tools and platforms and we would be happy to discuss this with you.

By Dr Liesje Donkin

Workplace Wellbeing Lead



  1. Baumel, A., Muench, F., Edan, S., & Kane, J. M. (2019). Objective User Engagement With Mental Health Apps: Systematic Search and Panel-Based Usage Analysis. Journal of medical Internet research21(9), e14567. https://doi.org/10.2196/14567


Image: modified by author from "Light workplace - Wellbeing Space" by joeflintham is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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