How the metaverse could impact employee mental health

The negative mental health impact of excessive technology use is well known - where does this leave the metaverse?

We’re spending more time online than ever before in both our professional and personal lives. This could be set to increase even further with the introduction of the metaverse – so what impact could the metaverse have on employee mental health?

A much-hyped concept, the metaverse is, in simple terms, a virtual world for gaming, socialising, and even interacting with businesses. Meta calls it “the next evolution of social connection”, with tech businesses scrambling to create virtual spaces for users.

But what impact will these new digital spaces have on people in their working lives?

The metaverse and employee mental health – will we spend all our time online?

The metaverse is built on virtual reality. Participants will use a headset or glasses to immerse themselves in an entirely digital world and will be represented by digital avatars. You can hang out with friends, family, and colleagues in virtual spaces from the comfort of your own home.

It’s seen as an evolution of remote interactions that blends them with a feeling of being present, so is billed as more personable and immersive than the video calls we all adopted during multiple UK lockdowns during COVID-19.

There are concerns, however, that these easy interactions could see people choose virtual spaces over physical ones. In a world that’s already spending most of its time online, do we really need to spend these precious shared moments with loved ones or our work lives in a digital world too?

The implications for businesses

A number of businesses are offering customers metaverse experiences, whether that’s through virtual reality shopping or immersive guides that walk customers through a simulated experience of your products or services. Many of these experiences are consumer only, but we’re starting to see more interactions between employees and customers taking place in virtual settings.

We could see customers enter a virtual world to find an avatar version of your customer service advisor ready to help out. These interactions would far exceed any other remote customer service experience because your advisors’ avatars could show customers how to use your products. It’s an evolution of the word-based interactions customer service is built on and could impact contact centres and those who choose customer service outsourcing solutions.

The metaverse presents new, improved opportunities for businesses to communicate with customers. While it could revolutionise how we interact with customers, concerns have been raised about the potential detrimental impact it could have on employees and their mental health.

The impact of the metaverse on mental health

The effects of too much technology on mental health are well-documented. It can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Overuse of digital devices, especially when combined with social media dependency, can increase feelings of isolation.

Replacing real-life interactions with virtual ones doesn’t bode well for our mental health, especially if people begin to choose virtual spaces over physical communication in their personal lives. Over time, our ability to communicate in person could be affected as we become accustomed to interacting via our virtual avatar. This can then impact how we perform in our jobs – we may become more withdrawn and isolated.

There are even concerns that the metaverse could lead to symptoms of psychosis, where participants experience symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions as they become “divorced from reality”.

Can businesses support employee mental health in the metaverse?

If your business is implementing metaverse spaces that require employee participation, like customer support portals, it’s important to give employees regular breaks. Splitting employee time between virtual reality spaces and more traditional channels like the phone will ensure they’re not spending too much time in the metaverse. This will be especially helpful for employees who may engage in it heavily outside of work too.

Being able to spot the signs of an employee who may be struggling with the mental health side-effects of the metaverse is important too. Managers should be equipped with the skills to recognise these signs in their people, which may include becoming withdrawn, feeling more anxious, and low mood. Employees may not feel comfortable actively approaching managers to talk about mental health concerns, so those who are able to spot struggling employees will be ever-more important.

Additional layers of mental health support will be beneficial – and not just to help employees cope with the psychological impact of the metaverse. Mental health first-aiders are becoming a more common addition in the workplace. Between 1st April 2020 and 1st June 2021, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trained 77,130 mental health first-aiders, with an additional 55,572 upskilling in mental health knowledge and skills. External counselling programmes can also offer support to employees who may not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with a colleague.

The metaverse has the potential to revolutionise our lives and change the ways businesses interact with customers and prospects. We could see more opportunities to carry out daily tasks in a virtual space, while it can offer more personable communication with friends and family who may be on the other side of the country – or the world. But as with all digital innovations, it can also pose risks to our relationships and our mental health. Whether or not your business is implementing metaverse spaces, it’s important to provide your employees with mental health support to mitigate any negative side effects.

This article was written by Kura, a UK-based market leader in customer service.

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