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Beam me up !

Hull based contractor Spencer Group has become the first engineering business to adopt a new wearable device that allows users to monitor their emotional well-being. David Taylor reports.

Like every other business, Hull based Spencer Group declares that its most valuable asset is its workforce, but unlike many, it puts its money where its mouth is, Spencer claims to have been the first engineering business in the UK to adopt the Living Wage (before it became mandatory in 2016) because “its good for our staff, good for our business and good for the economy”.

The company was therefore highly receptive to the work being done by a local health tech start-up called Moodbeam, which has developed what it claims is the world’s first wearable device allowing users to log their mood and monitor their emotional wellbeing.

Linked to a mobile app and online platform, the device collects data as users touch a blue button for “anxious” or yellow for “calm”. The gadget also records its wearer’s activity and sleep patterns to see how these affect their wellbeing.

Moodbeam has just gone into production following a three year period of research and development.

Spencer’s human resources director Yvonne Moir is keen, however,to point out that the device has not been adopted in order to map employees’ emotional or mental health on behalf of the business.

“One of the key things is that the data belongs to the wearer. I could see that people wouln’t buy into the idea if they thought it was being used to gather data about them”, she explains.

Spencer Group is a signatory to the Time to Change Employer Pledge, a campain led by, mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, whch commits the company to support mental health wellbeing in the workplace and combat the stigma attached to mental illness.

The Moodbeam device is intended to provide employees with their own confidential data to help them understand issues affecting their wellbeing. And although Spencer Group is not gathering data, nor even attempting to evaluate the effectivness of the device, the wearer can always raise any issues that are causing them stress or anxiety with the company’s mental health champions and first aiders or their line manager.

The Moodbeam prompts the wearer to log their mental and emotional state at regular intervals, the frequency of which can be pre-set by the wearer.

“Everybody has some anxiety in their life – that’s perfectly normal”, says Moir. “It’s when that anxiety becomes overwhelming that it becomes a problem”. “The beauty of Moodbeam is that it helps people to pinpoint periods of anxiety and times when they are feeling calm or happy. It will help the to put measures in place to manage and control their anxiety, where appropriate with the support of managers or colleagues”,says Moir.

Initially four members of Spencer Group staff volunteered to trial the Moodbeam when it was first offered in August this year. That number had risen to 12 by mid-September and more people are coming forward, says Moir.

Who’s behind Moodbeam?

Based at Hull’s Centre for Digital Innovation tech hub, Moodbeam was founded in 2016 by Gadget Shop founder and Red5 co-founder Jonathan Elvidge and former journalist Christina Colmer McHugh.

In June 2019 Moodbeam secured a £200,000 investment from NPIF-Mercia Equity Finance (part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund) to enable production of the first Moodbeam One devices.

Colmer McHugh, who came up with the idea for Moodbeam after her daughter became anxious at school, says: “When we first spoke to Spencer Group, it was clear they understood the urgency and need to address better mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

“When you hear that in recent years more than 1,400 construction workers in the UK have taken their own lives, the highest number in any profession, we know that support in the form of self-care and connection can’t come quick enough”.