Wouldn’t it be perfect if we could let our loved ones know that we are having a bad day just by pressing a button?
A UK-based company is offering a silicone wristband, which at first glance can be mistaken for one that tracks your heart rate when you are doing exercise. However, the wearable technology, called a Moodbeam, isn’t here to monitor your physical health. Instead it allows your employer to track your emotional state.
The gadget, which links to a mobile phone app and web interface, has two buttons, one yellow and one blue. The idea is that you press the yellow one if you are feeling happy, and the blue one if you are sad.
Aimed at companies who wish to monitor the wellbeing of staff who are working from home, the idea is that employees are encouraged to wear the wristband (it is optional), and press the relevant button to express themselves throughout the working week.
Managers can then view an online dashboard to see how workers are feeling and coping. With bosses no longer able to check in physically with their team, Moodbeam hopes to bridge the gap.
“Businesses are trying to get on top of staying connected with staff working from home. Here they can ask 500 members: ‘You ok?’ without picking up the phone,” says Moodbeam co-founder Christina Colmer McHugh.
Ms. McHugh originally came up with the idea for the product after she discovered that her daughter was struggling at school, and she wanted a way for her child to let her know how she was feeling. The wristband was launched commercially in 2016.
With many children, especially teenagers, likely to be hesitant at the idea of having to press a button on a wristband to let their parents know how they are doing, there are doubts as to how probable it is that employees would be willing to do the same for their boss. But Ms. McHugh says that many are indeed happy to do so. “We moved away from anonymous to identifiable data after trials found that people do want to be identified,” she says.
Increasing need for care
With depression and anxiety estimated to have cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity before the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health in the workplace has long been a concern. However, COVID-19 lockdowns and home working appear to have worsened the issue.
With a majority of the population not due to return to the office any time soon, a number of other technology firms are also exploring ways to help companies better look after their employees’ emotional wellbeing.
In the US, mental wellness app Modern Health aims to help employers more easily connect their workers with a variety of mental health resources, such as sessions with therapists. The journey starts with staff answering a short online questionnaire about their mental health, leading to a personalized mental healthcare plan. This could involve video call sessions with an expert on dealing with anxiety, or being directed to a digital meditation plan.
“The idea is to give employees the tools to build resilience,” says Alyson Friedensohn, chief executive of Modern Health, which has 190 companies around the world signed up. “People are working from home and struggling. Leaders can no longer expect employees to compartmentalize what is going on at work and in their personal life.”
Efforts from Microsoft
This lack of division between our work life and downtime is one key aspect of working from home that many of us struggle with. To help better separate the two, US-based tech giant Microsoft is set to implement a “virtual commute” across its Teams file-sharing and video-conferencing app.
Billed as a mental bookend for the workday, as the end of the day approaches, users will receive a notification. This will prompt them to go through a series of activities such as adding pending tasks to a to-do list for the next day, reflect on how they felt about the day, and a guided meditation session via the Headspace meditation and sleep app.
“Nobody enjoys commuting, but in our research we found that people appreciated the cognitive separation to mindfully transition between work and life,” says Kamal Janardhan, Microsoft’s general manager for workplace intelligence. “There is a need to empower people to create structure and wellbeing in long workdays.”
However, some human resources experts warn that increased use of technology should not be used as a quick fix to help staff working from home. They say that it has to be backed up with proper support for employees. “These are very worthy intentions around mood and mental health,” they acknowledge. “However, employers looking after staff working from home need to reduce staff feelings of isolation by building a sense of belonging and community.”