How the Hull-based Spencer Group is using technology to protect workers' mental health

The Spencer Group is taking action to promote wellbeing at work.
The Spencer Group is taking action to promote wellbeing at work.
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The Spencer Group has become one of the first employers in the engineering industry to use a new device to support the mental health of its staff.

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The health tech start-up Moodbeam has developed a wearable device which allows 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. The Hull-based Spencer Group has become one of the first businesses to adopt the

device and offer it free to all staff members who wish to take advantage of it.

The company has begun by trialling it with four people in different roles across the company, including managing director Gary Thornton.

Spencer Group has signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge, led by the Mind and Rethink Mental Illness charities, which commits the company to support mental health wellbeing in the workplace and combat mental health stigma.

Spencer Group has established a network of mental health first aiders and champions and launched a mental health wellbeing area within its internal online portal, with employees encouraged to use the support and information available.

A spokesman said: "Adopting Moodbeam is the latest way in which Spencer Group is ensuring staff don’t suffer in silence.

"Using the device will provide employees with their own confidential data to help them understand issues affecting their wellbeing. If they wish, they can raise any issues that are causing them stress or anxiety with the company’s mental health champions and first-aiders or their line manager."

Spencer Group human resources director Yvonne Moir said: “Everybody has some anxiety in their life – that’s perfectly normal. 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 them to put measures in place to manage and control their anxiety, where appropriate with the support of managers or colleagues.

“Mental health wellbeing is a real challenge within the engineering sector. It can be a very stressful environment and we know that, unfortunately, suicide rates are high in the construction industry.

“We have signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge and have a wide range of initiatives to support the mental health wellbeing of our employees, so it’s very high on our agenda.

“We believe having access to the Moodbeam device will support our people and help them to manage their anxieties. Hopefully it will also encourage other companies to promote mental health wellbeing.”

Training administrator Sarah Jarvill, who is one of the first staff members to try out the device, said: “I do feel anxious sometimes, so I thought it would be really good to be able to track and analyse why I feel as I do at certain times and identify triggers for those feelings.

“I think it’s really good that the company is offering this to staff. It makes you realise you’re not on your own, that people are interested in your wellbeing and the company is ready to provide the support you need if you’re struggling.”

Spencer Group is one of the UK’s largest privately-owned multi-disciplinary engineering businesses. With a directly-employed workforce of 250, the company delivers engineering services in the energy, transport, infrastructure, materials handling and industrial sectors.

Based at Hull’s Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI) 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, which is managed by Mercia Fund Managers and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, to enable production of the first Moodbeam One devices.

Ms Colmer McHugh, who came up with the idea for Moodbeam after her daughter became anxious at school, said: “The simplicity of Moodbeam One's technology is its strength, we believe. Over the past three years, it has grown from an idea born out of the need for a mother who was worried about her young daughter to keep a connection with her when away from her.

“Now it is seen as the missing link in being able to evidence feelings in real time for people of all ages. Seeing how daily activities impact on them as individuals acts a mechanism for reflection, with the ability to prompt conversations when help is needed, whether that;s personally or professionally.

“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."