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The Shift in the Wellbeing Horizon: The Critical Need for Outsourced Wellbeing Solutions in Today’s Business Landscape

By June 12, 2024No Comments

We are pleased to share this blog from Everest Group guest bloggers Abhijnan Dasgupta and Dhruv Khosla.

With generative AI further amplifying the complexity of content to be moderated, the need to ensure moderator wellbeing has never been greater. As the next step in moderator wellbeing advancement, we explore the feasibility of outsourcing wellbeing services. Read this latest blog to learn about the advantages of wellbeing as a service (WaaS), the challenges involved, risk mitigation strategies and the future outlook.

“Improving the health and wellbeing of our employees…offers a “win-win” all around. Employees benefit from better support for their health. Companies benefit from less absence and improved productivity. And society benefits from improved public health.” – Steve Flanagan, Chief Executive, The Fremantle Trust.

Introduction

Content Moderators play a pivotal role in trust and safety (T&S) by moderating accurately with their contextual understanding. They are often the last line of defense against harmful, egregious, and disturbing content. While guarding the online galaxy, moderators get exposed to wide-ranging content such as violence, terrorism, Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), hate speech, and multiple types of non-egregious content such as spam, copyright infringement, and misinformation, all of which can present an occupational hazard.

This guardianship and responsibility take a toll, majorly around performance pressure and, in some cases, emotional burnout. Hence, it becomes essential to continuously monitor and support Content Moderators to ensure they are able to maintain accuracy and high-quality decision making while also preventing any negative impact of the disturbing content that they review.

Wellbeing interventions are directly linked to business outcomes as well. Enterprises consider robust wellbeing practices as a hygiene factor while outsourcing T&S operations to providers. Hence, providers with robust wellbeing practices are preferred partners for most enterprises in T&S. Providers consistently scoring high on wellness added on average 10-15 new T&S clients each year. Additionally, studies have shown that employee wellbeing at organizations is linked to greater productivity, lower attrition, and burnout.

Current wellbeing interventions go beyond psychological support and incorporate active interventions

Having recognized the need for wellbeing in T&S, both enterprises and service providers have identified wellbeing interventions as a core investment in trust and safety. Enterprises and service providers use dedicated wellbeing experts to identify activities focused on providing preventive and proactive support. See the current wellbeing best practices below.

Current industry best practices for moderator wellbeing


Source: Everest Group

1. Wellbeing initiatives start even prior to hiring when moderators are tested for resilience along with clear job descriptions highlighting the impact of the job on their wellbeing. Most of the leading organizations mandatorily have robust trainings for all new joiners to enhance their resilience.
2. Access to individual and group counseling programs along with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) with features including 24/7 support and virtual counseling. This is also complimented with onsite trauma and T&S-trained therapists who provide one-on-one support, especially during critical incidents.
3. Enforced wellbeing breaks and defined maximum limit on exposure to sensitive content.
4. Peer support groups focused on mental health and wellbeing.
5. In multiple cases, especially those including moderation of highly egregious content, enterprises mandate access to tooling such as blurring, resizing, access to transcripts, AI -based filter mechanisms, etc., despite the impact on the productivity of the moderators.
6. Several service providers also have trained managers to identify and support employees in distress.
7. Building a wellbeing-first culture at the organization with openness towards discussion regarding wellbeing.
8. Awareness of cultural differences among moderators while designing the programs (customizing the wellbeing modules for regions)
9. Testing and tracking the efficacy of the wellbeing program/ practices and leveraging the data to improve outcomes.
10. Providing post-exit support for moderators, such as access to counselors, EAP resources, exit opportunities, etc., up to one year of exit of the moderator.

Given its importance, moderator wellbeing has become one of the most critical pillars of the content moderation strategy of any organization. Leading T&S providers differentiate themselves by going above and beyond the minimum wellbeing standards and having a robust wellbeing program.

Multiple stakeholders play a critical role in moderator wellbeing

Given the importance of moderator wellbeing in T&S, it becomes important to ensure that moderators across organizations receive a standardized level of wellbeing and care. Stakeholders in the T&S ecosystem, such as industry organizations (such as TSPA, DTSP, etc.) and wellbeing research institutes, play a vital role in shaping wellbeing services.

Undertaking wellbeing research – Conducting research to measure the effectiveness of existing wellbeing programs, identifying wellbeing support and interventions required by moderators, innovating effective wellbeing methodologies, studying differences in wellbeing support required with demographics, researching upon the duration of wellbeing breaks, etc. Such research can form the basis for providing evidence-based support to moderators. For example, the Trust and Safety Teaching Consortium creates content that can be used to teach a variety of audiences about T&S issues in a wide variety of formats

Setting industry standards and sharing best practices – Research institutes and industry organizations can define key wellbeing metrics such as the number of psychologists required for content moderators, minimum wellbeing time, limits on maximum exposure to egregious content in a day, maximum moderation time without any break, etc. With defined benchmarks, organizations can proactively intervene and prevent burnout

Advocating for wellbeing policies – Considering the fact that there are no defined legislations globally on moderator wellbeing, industry organizations can advocate for policies that penalize organizations in case they are unable to provide minimum defined wellbeing standards to their moderators. Such a legislation will not only protect the rights of moderators, but also attract new talent to the industry

Defining training programs – Industry organizations can help set training methodologies for wellbeing professionals at different enterprises and providers. For newer organizations entering the T&S space, they can also provide a starting point for the wellbeing standards. They can also help identify gaps in the existing wellbeing practices of organizations as well.

Sharing open resources – These organizations can become a common point for sharing innovative ideas, brainstorming wellbeing practices, along with accessing open resources such as research papers, wellbeing guidelines, and articles

Wellbeing as a Service (WaaS) can help with access to specialized talent and wellbeing expertise

Wellbeing plays a critical role in content moderation. However, providing a high degree of wellbeing comes with challenges of access to a limited pool of T&S-trained therapists, continuous investment in research, and access to limited literature. Hence, enterprises and service providers can look to outsource wellbeing services to specialist organizations focused exclusively on providing wellbeing services. The advantages of such outsourcing are:

 

Source: Everest Group

1. Specialized talent – Wellbeing experts are highly trained and in-demand individuals. Organizations in the business of providing wellbeing services have access to specialized talent who are experts at handling difficult situations. Therefore, by outsourcing wellbeing, organizations get access to industry leading experts.

2. Service standardization – Enterprises who outsource their content moderation operations often face challenges in standardizing wellbeing practices across different providers. If enterprises partner up with specialized wellbeing service providers, they will be able to ensure standardized wellbeing being provided to moderators of all vendors. Additionally, it comes with the advantages of neutrality and impartiality, with any case of malpractice at any organization, getting raised without any bias.

3. Focus on core business – By outsourcing wellbeing, service providers can concentrate on their core operations. Providers will be able to dedicate greater resources towards improving the efficiency of their operations and innovating new solutions.

4. Continuous innovation – Organizations with the core business of providing wellbeing services continuously invest in research and development in order to stay at the top of wellbeing innovation. By outsourcing moderator wellbeing, enterprises and providers will ensure that their moderators get access to best practices along with the latest developments, technologies, and solutions with the highest effectiveness.

5. Cultural nuances – The need for wellbeing efforts can vary across different regions, cultures, and demographics. Hence, geography-agnostic wellbeing programs may not be effective. Organizations, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs), may not have the resources to invest in countering such challenges. By outsourcing wellbeing operations, they can address the concerns related to variation in wellbeing standards across cultures.

6. Cost advantage – Having a dedicated wellbeing team (especially at scale) is expensive. The degree of uptake of optional wellbeing services can vary by time, and hence, 24/7 availability might not always be necessary. With outsourcing, there is the added advantage of flexibility and scalability. Organizations outsourcing their wellbeing services can look to pay for this basis utilization. At an aggregate level, this can result in cost savings.

However, WaaS is not the promised land

While outsourcing wellbeing services has multiple advantages, at the current stage its uptake is limited. This is because outsourcing wellbeing comes with its own set of challenges. These challenges include:

Challenges of outsourcing wellbeing services

Source: Everest Group

1. Accountability – While outsourcing wellbeing, the concern of accountability is the biggest challenge. The challenge deals with identifying the party on which the burden of responsibility falls in case appropriate wellbeing is not provided or in case of downfall in wellbeing of moderators. Enterprises and providers are reluctant to take a chance with outsourcing, given the criticality of wellbeing in content moderation. Service providers are answerable to enterprises, who, in turn, are answerable to regulators. Any decline in moderation accuracy due to inadequate wellbeing will lead to enterprise incurring hefty fines. For example, in the case of a breach of DSA, enterprises are liable to pay up to 6% of their global turnover.

2. Quality of care – Similar to outsourcing any other process, with wellbeing as well, there are concerns related to the quality of service that the wellbeing organization will be able to provide. Beyond quality, there are also concerns related to the consistency of wellbeing efforts and results across different operation sites. Since the nature of work is extremely sensitive, any variation in the quality of care can have a significant impact on moderator wellbeing and, subsequently, on the business.

3. 24/7 availability – While most wellbeing providers are available 24/7, there are concerns related to the response time of wellbeing experts. This becomes a challenge, especially when any geopolitical event causes a surge in toxic content across platforms, and moderators across organizations will require greater wellbeing support. Hence, managing the high volume of requests will become a challenge for the wellbeing providers

4. Company culture – While standardization of wellbeing efforts is essential, the organizational culture of different enterprises and providers varies with each other. Hence, when they outsource to a common wellbeing provider, the degree of satisfaction might not be the same. Additionally, employees across these organizations may have differences in acceptability of such third-party wellbeing services.

5. Lack of influence – If outsourced, enterprises and providers will have limited say in how wellbeing services are delivered and the day-to-day wellbeing operations. Often, organizations are not comfortable giving away such a degree of control to a third party since it makes them dependent on third-party providers.

A safety-first approach and constant communication are the keys to a successful WaaS

Given its advantages, all the stakeholders involved will have to undertake collaborative efforts to ensure a winning WaaS. At the core of these efforts are the principles of safety-first mindset and constant communication. With a safety-first mindset, the focus is on proactively identifying issues by continuously monitoring employee wellbeing and educating and training all employees with signs of deteriorating wellbeing. Additionally, constant communication between all stakeholders to discuss key aspects of wellbeing of all moderators, especially those requiring critical care becomes necessary. Hence, Everest Group proposes a CRAFT framework to facilitate a winning WaaS.

CRAFT a robust WaaS

Utilize CRAFT for a robust WaaS

Source: Everest Group

1. Contracts with defined standards – Having clear agreements that specify the wellbeing standards, including details such as frequency of support, level of support, services availed, and response time. The contract should include all critical details and modalities of the service along with consequences of failure to meet service standards and defined liability in case of service failure.

2. Regular performance evaluation – This includes tracking of SLAs such as service uptake, satisfaction rate, response time, and quality of care on a regular basis. It also includes conducting regular audits along with site visits to observe and address any potential issues. There could be weekly calls and quarterly reviews to discuss performance against expectations. For example, Meta has a partner compliance and audit program for all outsourced partners.

3. Assign clearly defined roles and responsibilities – There should be documentation of all processes and clarity on the roles of all the parties involved along with ownership of preventive intervention. The role definition should clearly delineate internal and external stakeholders for responsibility and accountability, along with defining those who should be consulted and informed about any key decision. With this, organizations can create a clear and structured outsourcing relationship that minimizes misunderstandings and enhances collaboration and efficiency.

4. Feedback from moderators – Moderator feedback should be taken on a regular basis to identify the degree of satisfaction. Moderators should also be allowed to share anonymous feedback along with 1:1 conversations and focus groups to highlight areas of improvement.

5. Training on company standards – While wellbeing experts have expertise in their field, training them on company culture and standards can help them understand and contextualize their offering to the moderators.

As the next step in its evolution, WaaS needs to answer three key questions around wellbeing

As enterprises and service providers try to identify innovative ways to enhance the degree of care received by moderators, outsourcing for wellbeing can represent a new evolution in T&S wellbeing services, provided all stakeholders are able to mitigate the risks involved. All stakeholders in WaaS need to address:

– Can WaaS lead to greater personalization of wellbeing support for moderators?

– Can WaaS help standardize the level of support received by moderators across the industry?

– Will WaaS drive a cultural shift toward the reduction of stigma for accessing mental health support?

As complexities in T&S increase with the rise in the volume and variety of content to be moderated, it becomes essential to prioritize moderator wellbeing. Taking a people-first approach along with a wellbeing-oriented culture are the keys to long-term sustainable success in content moderation and ensuring user and platform safety.

Abhijnan Dasgupta is a Practice Director at Everest Group. Connect with Abhijnan on LinkedIn.
Dhruv Khosla is a Senior Analyst at Everest Group. Connect with Dhruv on LinkedIn

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