31 May 2021

Voice Technology Protecting the Mental Health of the Frontline

Guest blog by James Laird, COO at Intelligent Voice

Frontline workers have been at the forefront of the UK’s response to the crisis that has unfolded over the last year. Their extraordinary efforts have pushed them beyond what any reasonable person should have to deal with daily. This immense and unprecedented pressure is putting their physical, mental and social well-being at risk, and yet they still try to carry on. But exposure to excessive stress, for prolonged periods can have many harmful consequences on the emotional and mental well-being of frontline workers. (http://www.emro.who.int/mnh/news/frontline-workers-and-covid-19-coping-with-stress.html)

Although the past year has been unparalleled for frontline workers, the pressures of the frontline has always led to a sacrifice of their own mental health. Between 2014 -2018 mental ill heath rose by a third, with 365,000 workdays being taken off due to mental health in the UK in 2018 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49910746). These figures are based on the people that came forward:  However, with the social stigma attached to mental ill health and the discrimination people feel they will face, it makes it difficult for them to seek any psychological help, (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-019-00214-x) leading to many people suffering in silence.

When thinking about the frontline we are likely to imagine doctors, paramedics, police, or firefighters, but emergency contact services such as 999 also support distressed members of the public every day. Callers to public sector contact centres are often in difficult or emotionally charged situations. Agents in police contact centres must handle calls from victims of serious and violent crimes (https://intelligentvoice.com/insights-driving-citizen-contact-centre-transformation/). Protecting the health and wellbeing of contact centre employees is a legal duty; employers need to provide a safe working environment and take mental health issues seriously. (https://www.acas.org.uk/supporting-mental-health-workplace)

Supporting vulnerable individuals is a delicate task the results of which impact the caller and the agent alike. Of course, the needs of the caller are paramount, always, but what about the impact on the call handler? This is not an issue unique to mental health interactions but across the board, every call brings unique demands and associated pressure on the call handler, 24/7, 365 days a year.

Through a demand mapping project of 999 and 101 calls carried out by Intelligent Voice and HPE, Lancashire Constabulary gained valuable statistical insights into all calls, helping the police improve efficiency and effectiveness in serving the public.

By analysing the features of interactions that indicate a mental health related need on the call or of the caller is one metric that our partners at Lancashire Constabulary have been able to monitor since this project started. This analysis shows that throughout the pandemic this demand has doubled.

Technology can assist in identifying those high stress interactions where an early intervention and appropriate support could be the key to preventing harm to the officer and maintaining the resilience within the organisation.

Having a record of each and every interaction has led Intelligent Voice and its partners to be able to identify specific behaviours that lead to good and bad outcomes. The next step is to explore the unconscious drivers of behaviour. Taking the record and aligning it to biometric data is one particularly exciting area of research. Whether we are able to recognise it ourselves, our responses manifest in our biometric data, particularly across heart rate variability, skin conductivity and dermal temperature. Technology has accelerated at such a pace that these measures can be captured by wearable devices.

Industry leads the way in the implementation of this analysis with customer service contact centres already utilising these measures to refine their processes, provide an enhanced level of service to their customers and reduce the churn of their employees.

Deschênes et al. (2018) reported that the culture and style of leadership within the police force has more influence in determining an officer’s mental wellbeing, rather than the actual nature of the job itself. Perhaps the most important first step on this journey is to ensure that leadership have the tools required to address this growing need.

The technology is there to help protect emergency contact services and others who use voice and video channels to communicate. If you would like to know more about how we can help you build a system to address the growing mental health problem, just email us at [email protected]