Why Does The Health-Privacy Paradox Matter?
How often have you heard people say: “You can’t have the cake and eat it too”? It’s true for many situations for obvious reasons and when it comes to mental health support at work and privacy, we face a similar challenge.
On one hand, we want to get timely and personalized support but on the other hand, we are concerned about sharing our struggles with others because we want to protect our privacy.
The exciting news is that with the help of technology and the right guidelines in place, we can have the best of both worlds and resolve a dilemma that has existed for so long: The health-privacy paradox.
In this blog post, we will dive into what the health-privacy paradox is, what it means for workplace mental health, and how it can be resolved. We want you to have both, the cake and the pleasure of eating it.
What Is The Health-Privacy Paradox?
The health-privacy paradox refers to the tension between the desire for privacy and the need to share personal health information to receive appropriate mental health support or medical care. It arises from the conflict between the benefits of sharing health information and the risks associated with disclosing personal information.
The paradox suggests that for example, we may be reluctant to share personal health information due to concerns about stigma, discrimination, or loss of privacy, even if sharing this information could lead to better health outcomes.
The health-privacy paradox is particularly relevant in the context of healthcare, where sharing personal information is often necessary for effective treatment. However, it can also be applied to other areas, such as workplace mental health or public health initiatives, where we may need to disclose personal information to receive appropriate support or services.
In simpler terms, the health-privacy paradox means that we want to keep our personal health information private, but we also need to share it with our employers, managers, or colleagues to get the help we deserve. This can be especially relevant when it comes to mental health, where many of us may be hesitant to disclose our condition due to the stigma and discrimination that can sometimes accompany it.
The Health-Privacy Paradox In The Workplace
But why is this health-privacy paradox even a thing at work? Well, it’s because we value our privacy and the ability to control who knows what about us at work. At the same time, we want our employers to support our physical and mental well-being, and that often requires sharing information about our health with them.
In the workplace, the health-privacy paradox can be especially tricky to navigate. On the one hand, as employees, we want to be heard, validated, and supported by our managers, but on the other hand, we want to maintain our privacy and not disclose everything. This can create a lot of stress and anxiety for us as employees, which can negatively impact our mental health and overall well-being.
Let’s look at three real-life examples to make the health-privacy paradox relatable. We’ll look at two employee cases and one manager case to illustrate that balancing health needs and privacy is challenging on several levels.
Case Study 1: Trisha* (35)
Trisha*, a 35-year-old finance professional from San Francisco, has been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for some time now. “It’s tough because I want my manager to understand what I’m going through, but I also don’t want my colleagues to know about my mental health struggles. I want to control what information is shared and how” she says during our call.
Like many professionals in her position, Trisha fears being stigmatized or treated differently if her colleagues find out she struggles with anxiety. Although she gets along well with her manager, Trisha’s unsure how she will react when it comes to the topic of mental health at work.
“I heard my company has a mental health program, but I’m hesitant to participate because I don’t want my manager to see me as weak or less competent”
she confesses, fearing her mental health struggles could become public knowledge.
The whole situation creates a lot of additional stress and anxiety for Trisha. She wants to be heard and validated by her manager, but she also wants to maintain her privacy and not disclose every detail of her life. Trisha’s mental health suffers as a result of this health-privacy paradox dilemma, and she fears being caught in a vicious self-feeding cycle of stress and anxiety. It’s already affecting her mental readiness and she finds it increasingly difficult to focus on her work.
Solution: So what can Trisha and her employer do about it?
On the individual level, Trisha can take ownership of her condition and convince herself that she’s not the only one struggling with mental health issues. With 76% of US employees reporting they experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021, Trisha is in good company. If she starts to open up, chances are other who have been struggling alone may join the conversation.
She could start journaling or tracking her anxiety and panic attacks with an app that offers radical privacy. The Earkick self-care companion, for example, does not require her to register and all her data stays on device. Trisha is in full control of her data and can decide what and with whom she wants to share it. She can choose what part of her insights she wants to discuss with her manager, therapist, or coach.
On the leadership level, one potential solution is to create a supportive and inclusive environment in the workplace, making employees like Trisha feel comfortable enough to share concerns and challenges with their managers or colleagues without fear of negative consequences.
Her manager can contribute to such an environment by proactively and continuously addressing workplace mental health. She can
- start sharing her own experiences and struggles to build trust and get the conversation going
- demonstrate empathy and understanding towards employees by actively listening to their concerns
- co-create a plan together with employees like Trisha
Another potential solution is to use technology to help address the privacy-health paradox. For example, the app mentioned above also offers an enterprise platform that aggregates employee data into actionable insights about the entire workforce’s mental health state without disclosing any identity or personal information. By using these tools, leaders can address issues on the team level in a timely and data-driven way while still maintaining employees’ privacy.
Case Study 2: Jeremy* (29)
Jeremy* is a software engineer at a fast-growing Biotech startup in Seattle. He has been diagnosed with depression and has been taking medication to manage it. He’s worried about disclosing his condition to his colleagues because he fears they could lose trust in his ability to handle the high-pressure environment of an ambitious startup.
“I don’t want to lose my credibility or my job,” says Jeremy “This is the place I’ve always wanted to work at!”
This can be a difficult position for anyone to be in, but it can be particularly challenging in the environment Jeremy is in, where success is often equated with productivity and performance. “So far I can still meet all my requirements, but I feel like I need to put in more and more effort to do so,” he says “I’m afraid my performance will deteriorate, and keeping my mental health struggles a secret adds to the pressure”.
Jeremy’s manager has an “open-door” policy, but Jeremy just doesn’t know how to get the conversation started. “Once I spill the beans it’s out and said. I feel like I can’t take it back after opening up about my depression. That’s what makes the decision so difficult.”
Solution: Jeremy can start normalizing a conversation about his depression by making audio-journaling and self-check-ins a habit. Expressing his thoughts and emotions not only helps him validates them but also makes room for a healthy self-reflection. With a journaling app that keeps his data fully private and helps him understand triggers, Jeremy can learn to formulate what he needs from his manager and workplace to perform at his best.
On top of his “open-door” policy, Jeremy’s manager can
- make the conversation about mental health part of the one-on-one routine
- proactively establish policies and practices that ensure confidentiality and non-discrimination
- proactively arrange a reasonable accommodation for employees with mental health conditions
Especially in startups where growth can pick up suddenly, establishing and communicating scalable processes can prevent a lot of pain in the long term.
Case Study 3: Nico* (42)
Nico* is a senior software engineer from the Boston area who has been tasked with leading several teams of young remote workers. Nico faces the health-privacy paradox in the workplace as a leader. He wants to maintain his team’s privacy, but he also wants to ensure their mental health and well-being are being taken care of.
With his team being remote, Nico finds it difficult to observe their day-to-day behaviors and notice any changes in their mental state. “I know that mental health is crucial for maintaining a productive and engaged workforce,” Nico says ” and I’m worried that I won’t be able to notice when someone on my teams is struggling”. He absolutely wants to earn every team member’s trust from the very first day onward. He’s also very aware of the fact that unless he starts asking very personal questions, he might overlook early signs and subtle signals.
Even if having those conversations was not a problem, Nico knows well that having constant check-ins or one-on-one meetings with every team member is not practical, especially given the remote nature of the work.
“I can’t be everywhere at all times and I need help in connecting all the dots across team members”
says Nico. As an engineer, he’s convinced that tech can help solve his challenges.
Solution: To address this dilemma, Nico’s company can provide a full-fledged solution that analyzes employees’ mental health and provides support without requiring registration or personal data.
The member-facing app could aggregate insights from entire teams into a dashboard, which gives managers like Nico a real-time view of how their employees are doing without showing any names or traceable information. Using the dashboard, Nico could easily identify areas where his teams might be struggling and offer support without compromising anyone’s privacy.
In addition, the solution would allow Nico to “knock” on the virtual doors of employees who may need help, without knowing who they are until they give their consent for a meeting.
This feature could empower Nico’s teams to keep control of their privacy while enabling Nico to keep an overview of the teams’ mental readiness.
Rather than trying to squeeze in as many one-on-one meetings with every team member as possible and spreading himself thin, Nico could focus his resources on the cases that require his attention most.
Thanks to such a tech solution, Nico could address mental health issues in his respective teams very timely and support his employees while maintaining their trust. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, and Nico could build up confidence in his ability to lead his teams effectively, even in the midst of very stressful periods such as product launches or tight deadlines.
At Earkick we have built such a full-fledged solution to tackle the health-privacy paradox. Thousands of members already benefit from the radically private app and several companies are using the enterprise part. Get in touch if that sounds like the perfect solution for your workplace!