The Moodbeam device is a silicone wristband, similar to the fitness tracking ‘watches’ that have become increasingly popular in recent years. The idea is quite simple; the Moodbeam has just two buttons. Users press the yellow button when they feel happy, and the blue button when they feel unhappy.
The Moodbeam was designed for companies who wish to track the well-being of their employees. Data from the wristband is fed into an online dashboard that managers can access to gauge how well their team members are coping, even when they are working from home.
What privacy concerns does the Moodbeam raise?
In accordance with UK data protection law, transparency from employers to employees/ potential employees would be required as to the specific and explicit purpose of gathering this data.
Employers would have to be certain as to the rationale for collecting such data. Data collected is likely to come under the special category of ‘Health’ and therefore how this data is used is a concern for the protection of vulnerable people.
Sharing of such information across HR, OH, wellbeing and management teams raises privacy concerns, therefore employers should proceed with caution when considering adopting such a device.
There is the potential for this data to be misused if employers use it to make decisions linked to promotion prospects. This approach could have positive and negative connotations for individuals. For example, could employers use this data to predict behavioural response and likely outcome? Could this approach lead to direct or indirect discrimination in the workplace? The question to ask is, do employees want to share their mood with their employer, do they want unknown people in the organisation having this insight into their emotional state; would they consider it a breach of their privacy?
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What other devices allow employers to monitor their employee’s emotional states or other aspects of their life?
Digital climate surveys may ask an employee what mood they were in when they completed the exercise. Surveys are often anonymous and therefore the data is at less risk of any privacy concern.
Some employers have introduced employee mood boards (like CELPAX) for employees to express how they are feeling on any given day. This data is freely shared with colleagues. Organisations choose how they utilise the data, however, it is often only at the individual-level rather than for assessment of patterns.
Many employers offer health-related devices as benefits to employees through providers like Vitality Health. Through these schemes, employees can access various apps, including Google fit, Apple Health, Garmin, Polar and Fit Bit. These devices measure physical activity but will also provide information regarding sleep patterns etc.
Third-party sharing of information to the employer is not normally a condition of such a benefit, they are an encouragement to aid healthy living.
Should health and wellbeing devices be allowed?
If the policy regarding data usage is made clear to employees prior to engaging in such an initiative, the device could be seen as a reasonable benefit offered by the employer.
The device should not be mandatory; it is unlikely that such a request would be deemed as reasonable. Therefore, wearing a tracking device should not be a condition of employment or specified within the contract terms of an employment contract.
In order to be able to launch such a device to employees, details of how the data is to be used by line-managers and senior teams would need to be clearly explained for all involved parties.
Line-managers and senior teams would need to understand that if the data indicates low mood within a team or individual on a regular basis, they would have a duty of care to ensure the conversation takes place to find out why, and action would need to be taken accordingly. This may lead to further EDI (Equality, diversity and inclusion) and wellbeing training for managers, HR teams and colleagues.
Devices like the Moodbeam could be useful for teams where it is difficult for the manager to have a regular team meeting or speak to individuals on a 1- 2 -1 basis. The mood check could be a method of selective intervention.
The device could demonstrate to senior leaders which managers are successful at creating a climate of motivation and those who find it more difficult.
During lockdown, this device may have been useful for lone workers and people living alone, therefore, the device could be allowed (in agreement with the employee) for specific situations – employers would be able to provide the specific and explicit reason for collecting such data, in order to ensure compliance with UK data protection law.
In any situation involving tracking employees in a similar fashion it would be important to understand the underlying reasons which impact on the overall feeling of wellbeing. Having employees means that we are all capable of having bad days however, if patterns are starting to develop then it is important to take action to support the employee in dealing with such mental health challenges.