American workers are among the most stressed in the world, going by Gallup’s recent data which found that more than half of the American population - a figure 20 percent higher than the global average of 35 percent - experience stress during the day on most days. Also, according to Wrike’s US Stress Statistics, more than 94 percent of Americans experience workplace stress.
The more concerning issue with these alarming statistics is the pernicious effects stress creates - for employees and business owners. Stress causes more than one million workers to be absent from work every day and causes business owners to lose nearly $300 million annually.
Furthermore, stress is associated with close to 120,000 deaths and a $190 billion loss in medical costs every year.
While proactive approaches, such as creating flexible work hours for employees and establishing employee assistance programs, help to mitigate workplace stress, AI-driven systems may also play a pivotal role in lowering employees’ stress levels.
When workers hear automation and artificial intelligence, what readily comes to mind is robotizing the workplace; but recent studies have revealed that deployed to take over certain office tasks and offer mental health solutions to workers, AI tools may do the opposite, making the workplace more human and keeping work stress at bay.
Automating Repetitive Tasks
AI tools are gaining traction in today’s workplace; with chatbots and messaging interfaces used for customer service support, client follow-up, and even automated telemedicine platforms for doctors. This cuts out the unnecessary workload and takes a significant burden off of workers.
Automating repetitive tasks such as filling out reports, responding to emails, and customer support will leave room for workers to harness their intellect and skill set for creative tasks, emotional intelligence, decision-making, and social interactions that AI cannot automate.
For instance, customer service conversational bots can independently interact with customers and answer more than 80 percent of their queries accurately. This reduces the workload for customer service agents.
Emotion Recognition and Stress Sensors
Well-being technology is also upending the workplace, with several innovative tools designed to monitor and improve employee health and wellness.
AI-enabled wearable tools, for instance, built with deep learning models, voice and image recognition, and natural language processing can analyze and monitor employee behavior and emotions. This helps to identify workers who are struggling with job tasks or battling with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
For instance, Cognito, a Boston-based software company has built a platform that can listen in on customer service communications to identify stressed customer service agents.
These tools are built with machine learning algorithms and speech recognition that can recognize tone and speed of speech to track employers’ stress levels.
Affectiva, another Boston-based software company, also recently announced AI-driven applications for ride-sharing services. These tools analyze drivers’ facial expressions for signs of burnout and send messages to the driver on ways to lower their stress levels.
A group of researchers at MIT has also designed a wristwatch with AI sensors that tracks stress through the skin.
Using data analytics from employee mood, movements, and speech patterns, these in-built AI tools can also offer recommendations on when workers can take breaks or when they are adopting unhealthy work patterns.
Therapeutic AI Chatbots
Mental health chatbots, such as Moodkit, Woebot, and Wysa offer cognitive insights and behavioral change based on cognitive-behavioral techniques.
A popular example, Woebot, uses natural language processing and sentiment analysis to interpret a user’s input and generate personalized responses. It assesses the user’s thoughts and mood by asking direct questions and helping the user re-evaluate their thought patterns. Using CBT techniques, this chatbot sends individualized responses that help individuals with mental health issues modify their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors by providing useful tips.
Moodkit application consists of four tools: Moodkit activities, which suggests positive actions to elevate the user’s mood; Mood tracker, which monitors how the user’s mood changes over a day, week, or as specified; Thought checker, which manages one’s negative thoughts and feelings and help the user think positive thoughts, and; Moodkit journal, where the user records their thoughts and mood throughout the day.
These chatbots converse with the user to help them alter their mood and thoughts, guiding them into thinking positive thoughts and feeling positive emotions.
Sanvellois, another mental health chatbot, goes further to provide mindfulness features including meditation and yoga. The application also provides users with effective skills to cope with stress.
BioBase, an AI-based workplace stress management app, works with a wearable device called BioBeam which collects data about the user’s sleep patterns, activity levels, mood, and heart rate variability. The app analyzes these data to get a comprehensive review of the user’s well-being. This is followed by automated recommendations on ways to alleviate stress and improve one’s mental health.
AI Manipulating the Environment
AI is also integrated into office design to improve workers’ mental and physical health. Inarguably, the structure and design of our workplaces influence environmental conditions, such as exposure to natural light vs. artificial lightning, natural air, vegetation, etc., which affect mental health at work.
Automated sensors built into the office space can assess an employee’s mood through input from emotion recognition sensors, and determine if adjusting environmental conditions may improve performance and productivity. Some of these automated systems could adjust the natural lightening of an office throughout the day.
AI-driven tools can even water your office plants! Automated internal watering systems, such as Arduino Automatic Plant Watering System, can boost workplace eco-friendliness, which imparts workers’ mental health positively.
Employees Can Benefit from AI
AI will not cost you your job; it will only make you do it more efficiently. AI tools are built with machine learning models that drive them to automate some workplace tasks, identify stress and burnout among workers, and even offer therapeutic services to relieve stress and improve employee mental health. If leveraged effectively, AI will not only prevent and improves workplace stress, but it will also boost employee productivity.