Picture this. A worker has an awkward encounter with their boss and then assumes the boss will view them differently. The situation begins to affect their performance, it clouds their mind, they start taking sick days. Well now there’s an app that is designed to alleviate the pressure and help them cope.
In the UK alone there were 440,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety between 2014 and 2015, according to the government’s health and safety watchdog. Roughly 10 million working days were lost to mental illness.
They’re statistics that are likely to have been exacerbated by the fact that we tend to avoid talking about what’s on our mind. Society doesn’t make it easy to disclose mental health issues. It’s taboo and doing so in the workplace can give employers a reason to give us the chop.
Robert Morris, who studied psychology at Princeton, believes the solution is sitting in our pockets, on our smartphones. Koko (originally Panoply) started life as a website, as part of his doctoral thesis at the MIT Media Lab, but can now be found on the iOS store.
The crowdsourced app allows users to post negative thoughts or worries they’re having. Other users then respond with comments and advice about how to reframe them in a different way.
"There are often work-related stressors that we can’t disclose to our colleagues, peers, or even significant others. In these circumstances, anonymous online support can be beneficial," says Morris.
With numerous forums and support groups out there already, what does Morris think sets it apart from these more conventional platforms?
"We don’t tell people how to solve their problems. We offer ways to rethink them. We help people find hope and optimism in places they never thought to look," he says. "If a work-related stress [problem] is nagging you at 3am, you can always turn to this type of network. A crowd can be an inexhaustible resource. You can turn to it over and over, without ever sapping its patience or motivation to help you."
Recent studies have concluded that using gadgets in the evening could be causing an increase of insomnia. The blue light emitted is said to disrupt production levels of melatonin, the hormone that aids sleep. An app that encourages gadget use when we should be tucked up in bed could be seen as a contradiction, but Morris firmly believes mobile has its benefits.
For anyone looking to receive advice, it’s important they stay connected to the peer-to-peer network, and smartphones are portable and, generally speaking, always switched on.
Koko was released on the iOS store at the end of last year; an Android version is in the works. It’s been built with a focus on minimal design, good visuals and a strong UI, which makes it more palatable to users, who, according to Morris, are more likely to return if it’s easy to navigate.
A third of the app’s users are returning a few times a day time a few months after signing up, Morris previously told Co.Design. He thinks that this indicates that not only are users joining to test it out and seek advice, but to also give feedback. For him this is the key. Learning how to cope and manage negative situations comes from both taking advice on board and then using that to help others reappraise their situations.
"On the app, people get immediate relief about whatever’s bothering them. They also start to develop a powerful cognitive muscle that can lead to enduring and transformative changes in how to view and navigate the world," Morris explains.
"Adjusting our mindset is usually the first and most powerful step to overcoming any adversity. Koko is unique in that it not only provides help in the moment, but also helps people to build resilience over time. What’s cool is that these changes seem more pronounced in the people who help others the most on our app."
There are plenty of platforms that get us to monitor and rethink our diets and how sugar, salt and fat are affecting our health and efficiency in the workplace. Koko offers a framework that encourages us to adjust our mental wellbeing so we can ultimately be happy on the job.