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“Know your limits” Emily He and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

After seven months of office closures, we’ve all been battling the blurred lines between work and personal life. Especially in the tech industry, remote employees are working at an accelerated pace to keep up with innovation and sustain momentum. As we push ourselves to the limits both physically and emotionally, it’s important to recognize the […]

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After seven months of office closures, we’ve all been battling the blurred lines between work and personal life. Especially in the tech industry, remote employees are working at an accelerated pace to keep up with innovation and sustain momentum. As we push ourselves to the limits both physically and emotionally, it’s important to recognize the key indicators of burnout, stress, anxiety, or depression and learn how to address them.

As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily He.

Emily He is the SVP of Human Capital Management Marketing at Oracle Corporation. As a 20-year veteran in enterprise software, she has played a key marketing role at Saba Software, E2Open, Siebel Systems and DoubleDutch.

With a passion for thinking outside of the box, Emily is known for driving business growth through highly differentiated messaging and new, innovative takes at traditional marketing and demand generation.

Emily is a well-recognized thought leader on digital transformation, the future of work and technology’s impact on personal and professional lives, with insights featured inThe Economist, Fortune, The Financial Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., The Huffington Post and more.

Emily has an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She lives in San Francisco with her entrepreneurial husband, master inventor son, and daughter who’s a naturally fierce leader.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thank you for having me!

My backstory is a bit of an adventure, and all around the concept of constant learning. The first phase of that experience began when I came to the United States from China. I had to learn a new language, a new culture, and ultimately how to live in a new country. Then, while attending graduate school at Stanford, I had to learn business from the ground up — both from a practice and processes perspective, and also from a business culture perspective. Then, finally, I decided to go into technology — which was yet another whole new world for me. I jumped right into the field with the focus of learning and observing and found a passion in marketing.

Are there any tools or services you turn to for support during periods of high-stress and high-anxiety?

This year, adapting to remote work full-time has definitely been a challenge for me and my team. Initially I thought the free time I’d be saving from my regular commute I could spend working out and getting into the best shape of my life. But I quickly realized it’s incredibly easy to fill that free time with more work and more meetings. Just like everybody else, I had to find a way to intentionally schedule breaks and a proper work-life balance.

One thing I’ve really been trying to take advantage of in this new world of virtual work is the opportunity to spend quality time with my family. We’ve all been quarantining together and have had a lot of bonding time as a family, taking care of our chickens and tending to our garden. I’ve truly valued the time to focus on what matters to me the most — my family — and schedule work around them, instead of the other way around.

Another method I’ve been using is meditation apps to help me schedule breaks throughout the day, and remind myself to take time away from work to focus on self-care. It’s all about finding the right balance.

What percentage of the workforce is experiencing mental health issues right now? How has COVID-19 exacerbated these issues? Are there any age groups impacted more greatly than others?

Mental health is the most pressing topic for nearly every organization right now. It’s a global crisis that needs to be addressed. In a recent study we conducted in partnership with Workplace Intelligence, we found that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of 78% of the global workforce. The study surveyed over 12,000 people across 11 different countries, and 70% said that 2020 has been the most stressful year in history. And moreover, we found that the increased mental health struggle is not confined to the workplace: 85% of respondents said their mental health issues at work negatively impact their home life too, causing sleep deprivation, poor physical health, and reduced happiness at home.

Mental health does not discriminate — it impacts every age, gender, and country. But our data did show that younger workers are feeling the impact more acutely than older generations: 89% of Gen Z and 83% of Millennials said the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, compared to only 62% of Baby Boomers. And 94% of Gen Z and 89% of Millennials say their mental health issues at work affect their home life, while only 69% of Baby Boomers agree.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

One of the key things we, as a society and global community, can take away from this year is breaking down the stigma around mental health. Because of what we’re all going through this year, we can relate to each other more now than ever before. We’re in this together. Nobody is alone in feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious. We must collectively work on normalizing the conversation.

Our data confirms that mental health at work is a widespread global issue. The biggest challenge for workers in dealing with this is the fear of facing judgement when bringing up their struggles to a manager or peer. But that’s where technology can help. Technology like artificial intelligence, robots, or digital assistants are available to provide mental health support for those who do not feel comfortable discussing it with their boss. In fact, 82% of global respondents from our study believe robots can support their mental health better than humans, because they provide a judgement-free zone and are available 24/7.

The biggest thing we can do to help with this global mental health issue is to talk about it — whether we talk to a manager, robot, or professional. As long as we are talking about it from both an individual and organizational level, we will build a community of support and change will begin to happen.

Habits can play a huge role in workplace mental wellness. What are the best strategies you have adapted or would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal workplace mental wellness?

After seven months of office closures, we’ve all been battling the blurred lines between work and personal life. Especially in the tech industry, remote employees are working at an accelerated pace to keep up with innovation and sustain momentum. As we push ourselves to the limits both physically and emotionally, it’s important to recognize the key indicators of burnout, stress, anxiety, or depression and learn how to address them.

A few things that may sound so simple can make the world of a difference. For instance, despite working and living in the same space, defining a set work schedule can help instill clear boundaries between work and home.

Another key best practice is intentionally scheduling in breaks throughout your day. Traditionally, when we worked in the office, we would have natural breaks during our work day, catching up with coworkers about their weekends, small talk around the water cooler, going out for lunch, etc. Now, in our remote work environments, we need to designate time for these breaks — time to get away from the Zoom and go for a walk, take a lunch break, or get in a workout. While these times away from the computer might sound disruptive to your schedule, it’s really key to give your mind and body a much needed (and deserved) break in order to keep operating under these intense conditions.

How can technology such as AI help improve employees mental health, productivity and overall wellbeing?

Technology can play a key role in maintaining positive mental health at work. In fact, our global study found that workers are turning to technology over people: 75% of the global workforce said AI has helped their mental health at work by providing the information needed to do their job more effectively (31%), automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout (27%), and reducing stress by helping to prioritize tasks (27%).

Additionally, AI has helped the majority (51%) of workers shorten their work week and allowed them to take longer vacations (51%), increase their productivity (63%), improve job satisfaction (54%), and improve overall well-being (52%).

Technology like AI can help scale mental health support in the workplace, and workers are looking to their employers to provide this kind of support. In fact, 76% believe their company should be doing more to protect their mental health and 83% would like their company to provide technology to support their mental health, including self-service access to health resources (36%), on-demand counseling services (35%), proactive health monitoring tools (35%), access to wellness or meditation apps (35%), and chatbots to answer health-related questions (28%).

Because mental health in the workplace is a hot topic, what are organizations doing to address their employees mental health? Are these programs/tools newly created or have they been available for some time?

Most organizations have had employee assistance programs (EAPs) in place, and since the global pandemic many have added and expanded to these support resources. In fact, 51% of respondents from our global study noted that their companies have added mental health services or support as a result of COVID-19.

There are several key services we’re seeing companies adjust, including extending leave options for those caring for children or sick relatives, providing childcare support for working parents, enabling ergonomic work-from-home setups, and delivering access to on-demand therapy or counseling services. Additionally, some companies that have previously offered lunch services for their in-office employees are now offering to reimburse lunch expenses or provide delivery options. And to foster a sense of community and connection, many teams are hosting virtual happy hours, trivia competitions, or even group workouts.

Additionally, when it comes to technology, many organizations have digital assistants or chatbots to support employee needs. Employees can talk to the digital assistant via voice, text, or chat for anything like paycheck information or available vacation days. This technology can also be adapted to help employees with mental health support, guiding them to available resources, offering tips to reduce stress or anxiety, or helping to connect them with a trained professional if needed. This is technology many companies already have in play, and can be easily adapted to address the mental health needs of today’s workforce.

What do you think the future of mental health in the workplace will look like?

Mental health issues at work are not going away and certainly can’t be ignored, so mental health needs to be at the top of every organization’s agenda. With technology advancement and the creation of programs addressing mental health in the workplace, I am hopeful this topic will become normalized and employees will feel empowered to seek help when needed. I see more companies leaning into AI technology to offer mental health support and help streamline employee tasks. The goal for technology isn’t to replace our jobs — rather, these innovations are designed to help us operate more efficiently and ultimately reduce the stress and anxiety our workforce is currently experiencing.

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