Bots for mental health: the boundaries of human and technology agencies for enabling mental well-being within organizations

Bots for mental health: the boundaries of human and technology agencies for enabling mental well-being within organizations

Debolina Dutta, Sushanta Kumar Mishra

Journal: Personnel Review

Synopsis: The importance of mental wellbeing and the need for organizations to address it is increasing in the post-pandemic context. Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being adopted in HRM functions, its adoption and utility for enabling mental wellbeing is limited. Building on the Open System Theory (OST) and adopting the technology-in-practice lens, the authors examine the roles of human and technology agencies in enabling mental wellbeing. The study was conducted in two stages; in Stage 1, they adopted a case methodology approach to examine the feasibility of a technology company’s offerings to assess mental wellbeing. In Stage 2, they followed the grounded theory approach and interviewed twenty-two key stakeholders and HR leaders of diverse organizations. They used Gioia’s approach to analyze the data.

The study demonstrates the interdependence and inseparability of human activity, technological capability, and structured context. Specifically, they observe that AI adoption is pushing the boundaries of how organizations could support employees’ mental health and wellbeing. These technological advancements and adoption will likely facilitate the evolution of agentic practices, routines, and structures. 

The study carries two important implications. While the advent of cutting-edge technologies appears to affect employees’ mental wellbeing, their findings indicate the assistive role of technology in supporting mental wellbeing and facilitating changes in organizational practices. Second, the ontology of technology-in-practice shows how human-machine agencies gain newer relevance from the interactions that unite them. Specifically, per OST, technology (from an external context) can potentially change how mental wellbeing practices in organizations are managed.

They extend the existing literature by suggesting that both human agents and internal contexts effectively limit the potential of technology agents to change existing structures significantly. They address the need for more research on the technology-management interface, and the boundaries of technology-enabled wellbeing at work. 

While AI-HRM scholarship has primarily relied on micro-level psychological theories to examine impact and outcomes, they borrow from the macro-level theories, such as the OST and the technology-in-practice to explain how AI is shifting the boundaries of human and machine agencies for enabling mental wellbeing.

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