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Is Your Workplace Wellness App Working?

A study of the digital mental health landscape applied to the workplace. Read recommendations for organizations and workplace leaders seeking to support workplace mental health and well-being.

minute read

If you offer your employees access to digital mental health applications, how do you know if the apps are actually helping them? Many employers understand their workforce’s need for mental health support. Nearly 60% of adults in the U.S. report having been concerned for either their own mental health or that of family and friends, increasing 9% since April of 20201. Poor employee mental health is associated with a $1 trillion annual global cost in productivity2.

Mental health in the healthcare workplace

Tech developers from the government, for-profit companies, non-profit companies, healthcare companies, and academic institutions have seemingly saturated the market with promising solutions to aid in the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, including but not limited to mood disorders, anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, PTSD, and substance use.

Many companies, especially healthcare organizations, have adopted technology-based solutions as part of their strategies to address stress, burnout, and deteriorating mental health. Employees may be offered mental health-supportive technology, so-called “digital health apps”, to manage their health and well-being. In some instances, these tools are used in conjunction with more traditional mental health counseling or are offered through employee assistance programs (EAPs) and human resources departments for employees to use independently of therapy.

Because there are not enough mental healthcare providers to meet current demand, licenses for digital solutions are being offered to help bridge the gap.

Here’s the problem. Very few of the more than 10,000 such mental health and behavioral health apps on the market have been tested by science. Most of the existing research that examines the effectiveness of these apps focuses on how they can supplement other mental health treatments. They are rarely tested solely in their own right. When they have been evaluated, that work is often done by the tech companies themselves. We know even less about the effectiveness of these tools when healthcare employers offer them.

What applications are available?

We recently completed an in-depth exploration of the digital mental health landscape applied to the workplace, especially in healthcare organizations. Our study offers evidence-informed recommendations to organizations and workplace leaders seeking to support workplace mental health and well-being. For wellness companies designing these apps, we also advocate for developing products that help organizations assess ways to mitigate workplace conditions that may contribute to poorer mental health.


Our recommendations focus on choosing and offering technology solutions, specifically mobile applications, to support employee mental health and well-being.

When selecting a digital health solution:

Identify and Address Workers’ Needs

Find solutions that directly address employees’ specific needs. Not every well-being app or program promising stress prevention delivers or is what your organization needs. Take the time to explore employee needs and identify top concerns.

Thoroughly Vet Technology

Conduct a thorough review of technology options before making a final choice. Offering these to employees as a benefit will not be free, it requires investment of funds and time on behalf of employees, so invest wisely! Especially in the workplace, prioritize applications that are convenient and accessible for employees to increase its appeal and use.

In promoting the solution to employees:


To remove the stigma associated with using technology, leaders should use positive language to promote it and place the technology into a broader context of how the organization will do its part to mitigate stressful working conditions.


For traditionally sensitive issues like mental health, organizations should carefully explain the specifics of how the technology stores and uses their personal data before rolling out the product. Ensure that employees understand whether anyone in the organization will have access to their use or engagement data or if it will remain private.


Digital health solutions are not the solution for a corporate culture that is stressful and that places extraordinary demands on its workers. Few things frustrate health workers more than being told that they should do a better job of taking care of their mental health and “wellness” by leadership that is seen as contributing to their stress, psychological strain, and mental illness. Before introducing a new solution to help with mental health stressors, employees should already feel confident that their well-being matters, and that the organization shares responsibility for employee well-being. This should be integral in the workplace culture.


Before adopting and launching any new technology, establish a plan and method to determine the success of the program.


Although the technology is a resource, employers must still take a full measure of how the conditions of work themselves contribute to stress, burnout, and poorer mental health. Taking steps to mitigate the impact of work on sleep/fatigue, schedule variability, job demands, and job control is the goal of Total Worker Health® for workers.

Total Worker Health and digital health applications

From a Total Worker Health perspective, relying solely on mental health apps to address employee well-being cannot fully address an individual’s needs if the organization has not examined how it could help alleviate mental health stressors that result from the work environment. Few digital mental health solutions examine mental health concerns at an organizational level or help leaders track the effectiveness of interventions intended to improve well-being. We found major gaps in the market for tools that assess and create organizational solutions to mitigate the issues plaguing workers like grueling schedules, changing shifts, electronic health record systems, high job demands, exposure to violence, and other factors. Technological solutions that educate and prompt leadership and managers to alleviate these issues could help abate anxiety, stress, depression and burnout.

We encourage employers to adopt a more holistic approach where well-being is integrated into a broader mental health strategy, enhanced with effective digital health solutions, and ultimately embedded within the organizational culture. Explore the Impact Wellbeing™ " campaign from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to go deeper.

Featured Experts
Staff Mention

Lee Newman, MD, MA

Staff Mention

Lyndsay Krisher, DrPH, MPH