As a result of the inductive thematic analysis, three major themes emerged. The themes and subthemes (see Table 2) are explained in detail in this section. The descriptions are supported with direct quotations from the focus group discussions.
Summary of Themes and Subthemes
Screening and Self-assessment
Provision for Self-Help: Individual Space
Monitoring and Tracking
Online Relaxation Activities
Availability of Information on stress management
Peer-to-Peer Support Network
Provision for Social Support: Collaborative Space
Ask for Expert Option
Platform and Focus
General Design Considerations for Achieving Success
Simplicity and Familiarity
Privacy, Security and Confidentiality
Customized and Personalized Feature Set
4.1 Theme 01: Provision for Self-Help: Individual Space
The first theme emerged based on the users feature preferences. These features mainly fell into the self-help category, where individuals seek features that can be used by themselves to identify and manage their stress levels. The first theme consists of five subthemes as described below.
4.1.1 Screening and Self-assessment
Overall, participants, especially group 02, highlighted the importance of having a feature to do online screening and assess stress levels. They highlighted the importance of using biomarkers to identify the stress levels connecting with the available sensory features in their mobile devices. They also seek the possibility of having a simple questionnaire to answer and identify the current stress levels. They believed that such a feature would help them evaluate their current condition by themselves rather than seeking external support.
Grp02: “if you have a platform that can identify your stress levels and stress factors and provide suitable activities based on preferences like reading a cooking recipe or sports or whatever is one thing (…).”
Grp03: “An app can be integrated with our existing mobile devices and its sensors and readings to get to know whether the user is stressed or not”
Grp03: “If the app can facilitate to identify or recognise whether you are stressed, it is important. If the app automatically identifies that you’re stressed, maybe when a given threshold level is passed, the app notifies and respond to you accordingly.”
4.1.2 Monitoring and Tracking
The participants’ preferences on monitoring and tracking possibilities had spread across a wide range. They elaborated their preference for background processes capturing user behaviours like eye strain, typing speed, social media and internet usage statistics, etc. They also seek the possibility of having a daily briefing and notification feature highlighting essential activities and upcoming deadlines. The participants expressed that they fall into stressful situations when they cannot manage their workload within the given timeframe. So they believed this type of feature would help them plan their work and appropriately adjust their work routines.
Grp01: “We get stressed because of poor time management, so it can have a feature to manage our time daily basis I think we can reduce stress.”
Grp01:” When we login if we can get a dashboard, it’s useful. Maybe a customisable dashboard based on our preferences.”
Grp02: “If the application can get information from what you are wearing or by analysing your calls or checking screen time, idle time, track what you are doing is important. If they are being captured and analysed automatically rather than we are constantly telling that this happened this time and this happened that time would be great.”
Grp03:” If the app sends notifications based on our work plans deadlines and remind us to start our work early or expedite the work, it would be great.”
Moreover, group 03 participants highlighted the importance of a diary or journaling feature, giving them a personal space to write down their feelings and track their mood changes. Few participants from group 01 shared their experience with a similar application called “Happiness Calendar”, where employees could record their feelings from time to time in the application. The application can summerise the moods and display using visual aids. They believed such a feature helps them recognise how their moods swing over time and quickly identify the root causes of stressful situations.
Grp03: “We are used to keeping a diary to write things happened to us, and when something good or bad happens, we tend to write them there... so if the app also could support similar like a journaling feature is good. Then we can record and track them and keep it with us all the time.”
Grp03: “The app can have a mood tracking feature so time to time, users can record their current mood using a simple emoji so the mood tracking outcome may be displayed at the HR dashboards as well as individual dashboards as well. Later these can be used for predictions even.”
4.1.3 Automated Chatbot
Another feature requested by the participants is the automated chat option. They revealed their experience with similar applications like “Siri” and “Cortona” and sought the possibility of embedding a similar feature in the intervention. They elaborated that this feature could help them have an interactive conversation when bored or stressed. They also highlighted that chatbots could guide through required information on stress management and related activities. They also considered this type of conversation is necessary when they cannot reveal their matters to others but need someone to listen and provide emotional support.
Grp02: “I prefer less guidance from a third party. But automated help would be useful.”
Grp03: “App could minimise the isolated situation and act as a companion. Like a chatbot.”
4.1.4 Online Relaxation activities
All the participants highlighted the importance of having simple artistic relaxation activities that they could perform online. Their preferences included the possibility of listening to relaxational music, playing their favourite playlist, mandala artwork, watching amusing videos, etc. They preferred to have a content based on their preferences, while the intervention may suggest content based on their preferred categories. Moreover, they emphasised adding a feature to suggest physical activities that can be done within a limited time frame to make themselves more relaxed within a work setting. They believed that this type of engagement could help to change their work pattern and be relaxed while working.
Grp01: “as a feature, can we add fun activities that we can engage in simple, fun activities in less time?”
Grp01:” We can include discussion forums and newsletters as well. Motivational quotes and self-calming music are also good to have as a feature.”
Grp02: “(….) something to divert the thinking pattern from one angel to a different angle, maybe watching a movie or maybe do some workout, anything that is different from the usual pattern so that the trend will be broken (…).”
Grp03:” Application must be simple which cater our individual requirements. Many friends of mine listen to music while working, but for me, I cannot work while listening to music. When I start working, I tend to work long hours without taking any breaks, so at the end of the day, I find it really difficult. So, if I can get a feature to remind me to take a break every hour or so this would be a good feature for me.”
4.1.5 Availability of Information on stress management
The participants emphasized the importance of having access to authentic information on stress and stress management activities. They also highlighted the possibility of recommending online books and content to read and refer to. They believed this informational support would help them find the right solution and motivate them to discover new ways of managing their stressful situations.
Grp02: “(…) then the second part would have the knowledge to avoid stress or stress factors it may be training for eye exercises or simple stretching (..)”
Grp03:” Receiving information and tips on stress management is also helpful. So we can try to find a solution by ourselves.”
4.2 Theme 02: Provision for Social Support: Collaborative Space
Similar to the first theme, the second theme also emerged based on the users’ feature preferences. These features focus on collaborative aspects where individuals expand their social circle to peers and experts to engage and seek support.
4.2.1 Peer-to-Peer Support Network
Participants, especially group 01, underlined the importance of having a feature to share experiences success stories, create discussion forums and have chat conversations among their colleagues. They also highlighted the importance of managing the visibility settings for their content. So users could select a preferred audience and restrict the visibility of their posts and activities. They shared their own experiences and explained that they have their friends groups in the actual environment where they share their concerns and problems and seek support. So they believed that if this can be reflected in the virtual setting, they will be able to communicate more efficiently and seek support where necessary.
Grp01: “We have groups, at the moment also we have groups that we use to communicate with.. these groups keep us updated, and whenever I get a problem though I cannot reveal it to everyone, I can expose it to my group members.”
Grp03: “If we can have a collaborative platform, it is important. This platform may support gathering as friends, team members or individuals from the same expertise, this will help share experience, generate creative ideas, collaborate, and support each other. “
Some participants suggested having a peer community within similar job categories. They believed that people from similar jobs would be able to share similar types of problems, and, if they could work closely, they could find solutions more easily.
GRP02: “(….) that anyone can initiate a topic and the participants should be grouped based on each expert areas, problems faced by the BAs may not be the same problem set for the project managers. So if you group them in areas of expertise, you may realise that the same stress level has been faced by some senior guy years ago, you may talk to them and will be able to act before it reaches the red light.”
Participants highlighted that this community-based conversation feature would encourage them to engage in conversations actively and support others in their hard times.
4.2.2 Ask for Expert Help
Apart from the peer support network, participants elaborated their preference on a mechanism to seek support from experts in particular circumstances. They explained that it is necessary to seek professional support when the user is in a severe mental health condition or need extra support to manage the situation. Participants also highlighted that this communication should not be limited to the counsellors and stress experts support but also enable the possibility of conveying certain situations and concerns to the appropriate administrative levels with or without revealing user identity. They believed that this type of expert involvement would enable receiving professional support at their convenience. They also mentioned that when the employee’s conditions are notified to the employer, they will take remedial actions to safeguard the employee by providing adequate resources and support. Participants believed that this type of support within a work setting could place the employee in a safer place to combat work demands.
Grp02: “There can be severe cases as well. Where they may need counselling, and some may be at medical terms. So, if the system can alert or trigger such situations, an expert may jump in to provide required support without reaching the red line.”
Grp03: “If the app has a feature to reserve a slot with a counsellor or doctor or expert that would also be good (….).”
4. 3 Theme 03: General Design Considerations for Achieving Success
The final theme is woven around the points that emerged related to the non-functional requirements and factors that make users actively engage and continue using the proposed intervention.
4.3.1 Platform and Focus
Three focus groups responded to this aspect in similar ways. They all preferred to have a hybrid solution which is rendered as both web-based application and mobile-based application. Participants believed that this would help them use the application conveniently anytime and anywhere using their own devices.
Grp01: “I prefer an online app that can be used on my phone as well as my laptop. Not a desktop or isolated application.”
Grp03: “Currently, I’m using a mobile app, but I feel it’s better to support both mobile and web apps with a chrome plugin to capture our activities and screen time, so we can get some sort of a guide to manage our time and work.”
Moreover, group 02 and group 03 highlighted the importance of embedding wearable devices into the application. They thought it would help capture the required bodily measurements to identify the stress levels and capture the actual behaviours of the employee to customise the interventional content.
Grp02: ”An app can integrate with our existing mobile devices and its sensors and readings to get to know whether the user is stressed or not.”
Furthermore, focusing on the participants’ preference for the delivery mode of the application, they preferred a community-based intervention that supports collaborative features over a standalone application. All three focus groups generally brought this point, but group 01 emphasised their high preference for community-based applications for communicating and engaging with peers.
Grp01: “Better to have a web application which looks like Facebook, but there are introverts and extroverts so if it can have both options then it’s good. Because some don’t like to interact with the community so better to have an option to handle privacy based on user preferences.”
Grp03: “It is good to have groups… so we can communicate our problems in the group and seek support.”
4.3.2 Simplicity and Familiarity
The participants strongly emphasised a simple and easy application without significant configurations. They also highlighted that the features should be user friendly and easy to engage. Some participants preferred to have features running in the background to capture user behavioural data automatically without disturbing their work. They also emphasised that the simple application and feature set would motivate users to use the system conveniently without significant effort.
Grp02:” my preference of the application would be like a lightweight background process, which involves one-time effort to configure and setup.”
Grp02:” In my personal experience, I’m not using these health applications because they are complex to configure at the start. They can be simplified, so you don’t need much time to configure.”
One crucial factor identified within the conversations is “familiarity”. Participants always tried to match their requirements with experience with similar applications. They highlighted Facebook when discussing the peer-to-peer network feature and highlighted its features supporting interactive conversations and engagements with peers. Moreover, when discussing the automated chat option, they have highlighted similar applications like Siri and Cortona to resemble their feature preferences. Further, during the discussion of the possibility of monitoring and tracking, participants highlighted an application called “Happiness Calendar” and its features as their preferred mechanism to capture the mood. Moreover, when identifying the suitable online relaxation activities, they emphasised the importance of having their usual activities on the applications, e.g. Mandala art, clay activities, etc. They believed such familiarity would help them to engage with the application efficiently.
Grp01: “Currently, I’m doing this Mandala Art when I feel stressed, I use this. I just get a printout and try to colour. So, I think something would be good to have.”
Grp01: “I’m used to having a clay ball with me. When I feel stressed, I try to make animals with them. So if I can see learn more on similar, it would be great.”
Grp03:” In our office, there is a dashboard that we see memories and past events popped up from time to time. So, it helps us to refresh ourselves, and newcomers also get inspired. So some similar features maybe add into the app.”
4.3.3 Privacy, Security and Confidentiality
Privacy, security, and confidentiality were raised as a top priority in the application by all the participants. Participants were most concerned about the confidentiality of the data captured through the application and how such data is managed securely. Moreover, participants were also concerned about securing privacy when engaging and communicating with unknown people outside their social circle. Contributors also sought the possibility of anonymous posting, guest user logins, hidden identity conversations with counsellors, etc. They emphasised that identity revealing or hiding options will support introverts and extroverts in carrying out their conversations and engagements at their own pace within a comfortable setting.
Grp01: “Can we keep both the types, registered and guest user access? Maybe some people do not like to introduce themselves”
Grp03:” If the app has a feature to reserve a slot with a counsellor or doctor or expert is also good to have. The company also could get notified based on such appointments. So, they are also aware of such a situation, but users should have the provision to nominate the levels to be notified. Also, there may be situations users need to escalate something to HR without revealing their identity. So, both the aspects should be covered.”
4.3.4 Gamified Content
The participants always embraced interactivity and engagement. They believed that the gamified content rendered in the application would intrinsically encourage users to engage with the application. They highlighted that user would be motivated to collect if the application recognises the conversations and engagements through badges or stars. When the achievements are shared among peer groups, members are also motivated to follow. This would indirectly help them improve their mental health conditions while assisting others in growing. Participants also highlighted the importance of setting workout targets, e.g. step count, mind-calming activities, breathing exercise, etc. Then the application would remind them to achieve those set targets during their busy work schedules. This would help the user break the usual work pattern and enjoy a quality break.
Grp01: “When members are contributing and supporting each other or practising health activities like walking, exercising, doing yoga, they may be recognised with badge or star point system so individually they get motivated, and the other members also would get motivated.”
Grp03: “It’s better to have different team challenges. I have one experience with a client where they provided a platform for us to do a step count challenge as a team, this encouraged us to do something out of work even some tried to walk while there are working in the office.”
4.3.5 Customized and Personalized Feature Set
The participants preferred to have personalised content through the application customised according to their preferences and mental level conditions. Some participants emphasised their preference for online music activities, while others highlighted artistic activities. Different participants had their preferred list of activities they would like to perform in stressful situations. Similarly, some participants liked to log in with their actual identity, whereas others were interested in having a virtual login. Some participants expected recurring notifications, whereas some thought it was a disturbance to their work. Collectively, participants appreciated a tailormade content based on their preferences. They thought such a personalised feature set would make the application more usable and motivate users to engage more.
Grp01: “I think it is better to have the option to set security levels and a possibility to add group members based on my preference.”
Grp02:” Application must be simple which cater our individual requirements. Many friends of mine listen to music while working, but for me, I cannot work while listening to music.”
Grp03:” The app should have activities catered for both levels. I would say one is individual-level activities and then the group level where we as a group can have chat services and conversations to discuss our things.”