This Japanese company’s software may help your mentally challenged employees do a better job

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

There are millions of employees who suffer from mental disorders that sometimes preclude them from doing their best work. Now there’s software available that could help solve this problem.

The software is called SPIS and its made by a small web-design company in Japan called Okushin System. It’s designed to help workers — and their employers — keep an eye on their conditions and to identify any potential problems in advance so that proactive steps can be taken. Japan Today reports that the software is attracting much interest from psychiatrists as “a possible tool to prevent work-related mental illnesses from worsening.”

Its design is simple. As work is done throughout the day, selected employees are prompted automatically on their computers with a series of questions on topics such as whether they’ve done everything they could to avoid mistakes or whether they’ve had a good night’s sleep. There are only four answers, ranging from “bad” to “good.”  Based on the employee’s responses, the software graphically displays how the employee is feeling. Supervisors can monitor to identify any potential problems developing — like headaches, hallucinations or emotional cycles and then be able to take actions like adjusting workloads and schedules. The data can also be shared with outside therapists if permission is granted.

The idea came from the company’s president Manabu Okuwaki, who actively recruits and employs mentally disabled people. He was looking for a way to reduce those employees’ sometimes sudden and drastic changes in moods and help them and their supervisors work better together. After developing the system internally, he decided to make it available commercially. He’s a believer that with the right amount of monitoring, problems can be addressed before they occur and both his employees and their managers can have a better work experience — ultimately resulting in reduced turnover for the company.

The company’s system has only been used for a few years, and more data needs to be collected. But some researchers are encouraged by the prospects. “Most mental problems at work get worse in closed relations between workers and their supervisors,” Teruhiko Higuchi, a psychiatrist and director of the Japan Depression Center, said told Japan Today. “Although it is too early to talk about its effects, SPIS could work to prevent employees from developing a major mental illness.”

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