The danger of employing ‘tick-box’ wellbeing initiatives – a word of caution

This blog provides a word of caution for those who are in danger of employing ‘tick-box’ initiatives when it comes to employee communication.

We don’t often criticise others’ products, respecting the hard work that goes into producing them. However, the following is the sort of idea that people get carried away with and then people like us end up having to help them deal with the fallout.

If you’ve ever wanted to let your boss know how you really feel, look no further than a simple silicone wristband’ goes the blurb. Moodbeam is a white bracelet that looks a bit like a heart rate monitor containing two buttons. A blue one to press when you’re feeling sad, a yellow one for when you’re happy. The very thought has us reaching immediately for the hypothetical blue button.

Even before the pandemic, depression and anxiety were running at a global cost of £730bn every year. Mental health is a very real concern for every organisation and the more that can be done to help tackle it the better. However, when it comes to the workplace, concepts like the Moodbeam are worrying. Maybe we’re a bit cynical from years of seeing far too many organisations get this sort of stuff wrong, yet pressing those buttons is not a recipe for emotionally intelligent management. We’re all for making things simple, though employee wellbeing is a subject that requires a more thorough approach as it’s intrinsically linked to the entire employee journey. Accordingly, there are proper conversations to be had. It’s a fundamental component of any manager or leader’s role to be able to have this dialogue on an ongoing basis. And if there’s technology to underpin this, then great, though monitoring happiness in isolation is not the solution.

As enlightened companies have opened up adult to adult, open channels of communication, encouraging ongoing, transparent and honest dialogue, it’s not a time to be pushing buttons, anonymously or otherwise (there seems to be some confusion on this point across the product’s distribution chain). The sort of companies who don’t have good, healthy communication in place, or at least be working towards it, seem to us to be those that are most likely to think the button pressing is a good idea, yet also likely to be the least well-equipped to handle the fallout.

Of course, employee satisfaction levels should be monitored, and remedial action taken, though this should happen as part of regular, wider conversation. Does Moodbeam assume that managers are emotionally lacking and are unable to gauge the mood of their people? We pity the team manager whose own mental health takes a plummet after being inundated with blue graph readings and not properly equipped to deal with that.

The blurb goes on to extol the virtues of using Moodbeam with remote workers and, of course, engaging with this group is crucially important. However, there’s a real danger here that managers will abandon more robust forms of communicating with their teams in favour of what could become a tick-box approach to monitoring individuals’ happiness. Chris Rowley, professor emeritus of HR management at Cass Business School, agrees that a tool like this has to be backed up with proper support for employees. "These are very worthy intentions around mood and mental health," he says. "However,... employers looking after staff working from home need to reduce staff feelings of isolation by building a sense of belonging and community." Absolutely.

Sad to say, far too many organisations are still applying ‘the tick-box approach’ when more productive, results-based methodology is so urgently needed. An example of this is introducing ‘random wellbeing initiatives’ instead of going back to source, sorting out company culture and then doing a deep dive into what’s really needed.

The company’s promotional video does nothing to allay our fears. Here we see the manager, on a Zoom call with her remote team, chirpily asking whether everyone’s wearing their Moodbeams (even though the blurb stresses they’re optional – and, we suspect, therefore more likely to be avoided by those who need help most). Then observing from her colourful graphs that the team’s had a tough week, she immediately dives in with her ideas. Sigh. This tells us that Moodbeam don’t understand how, in 2021, the team dynamic, should work.

We understand the NHS is to trial the device to keep tabs on patients with mental health issues, chronic pain or social isolation and can see how this could be useful. But in the workplace? Blue or yellow – which way are you leaning?

If you’d like further advice or would like to speak to someone, please get in touch.