Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid trials wellbeing apps

I never thought I would say this, but I love my job. How many people get paid to take care of their own wellbeing? Nope. I can’t think of any, but that is exactly what I am doing today.

Big Bad Boss has latched onto the current mental health zeitgeist, and he has asked me to roll out a wellbeing phone application to all our staff. Like he really cares. The Higher Beings in C-suite have already approved the idea, although, never to be swept away in a wave of generosity, they have stipulated a tiny project budget. Well, at least it is something. It is not like staff are likely to get a bonus this year, and the share options we handed out to executives like sweeties are now worth about as much. We could all certainly do with a bit of a boost.

Wellbeing apps

One of better-known wellbeing apps, Brainplace, has a whole business unit dedicated to corporate clients. That is where I start. Belinda, an account manager, replies within 10 seconds to set up a call to discuss. Either she is very efficient, or she hasn’t got much to do. When we talk, I wonder if there is another reason altogether…

Belinda has a very strange voice. It isn’t one of those little girl voices that grate on my nerves when watching US TV shows. No, it is quite grown up, but sort of monotone. She has no inflection, no melody, just flat words. As the call continues, I begin to wonder if Belinda is, in fact, an android. You know how you get some automated customer service chat-bots that appear to have a conversation with you, but in fact they are running various scripts based on your typed input? Well, that is what it is like.

Trialling products

She sends me a sample version of their corporate product. When I have finished the rest of my emails, I put on some headphones to listen. I am greeted by Dan, my new relaxation mentor. His voice has the same android-like quality as Belinda’s. We start off with a 10-minute focus on my breath. My breath is a bit jerky to be honest, mainly because I don’t like Dan’s mechanical tone. With Big Bad Boss and the rest of the Higher Beings as predictable as they are, I suppose I should be used to talking to machines, but really I am not.

I have used a few relaxation tools in the past, particularly when things at work got really bad, but doing this mindfulness activity for work is different. I am trying to relax but also rate how well the relaxation would be received by our employees, so it is quite hard to let go. I don’t know why, but I keep imagining the response from Jeremy, our head of sales. I think Jeremy has recently stepped into the role of my nemesis, now that Creepy Caroline has left. The workforce development team are still a perpetual nuisance, but it is Jeremy who seems to be trying to make me look bad at any opportunity. Thinking about Jeremy is not helping me to focus on my breath and at the end of 10 minutes I feel considerably more stressed than I was before.

Meditation apps

I download the second app. This one allows you to choose from a banquet of meditation teachers and topics. There are meditations for pain, for grieving, for dealing with illness, and many other more obscure topics. Thinking of Jeremy, I opt for ‘dealing with a difficult co-worker’. I am told to sit in a quiet place and put my feet on the floor. Yes, yes, I already did that. I need to breathe deeply and slowly in through my nose and out through my mouth with a sigh. Luckily, there is no one around to hear the heaviness of that sigh. I am bored already.

I am told to bring to mind someone who I love unconditionally. That prompts a bit of panic. I love my family, obviously, but unconditionally? The soft voice reminds me that it could even be a pet. I breathe out through my mouth with a sigh again. It is a lot easier to think lovingly about my cat. Then, keeping this soft feeling, I should picture my difficult co-worker. Nope. The soppy feeling is gone in a second. Don’t worry, says the voice, this takes practice, and the more I try, the better at it I will get. I feel quite angry after listening right through. I don’t want to think of Jeremy and my cat in the same sentence. It is disrespectful to my cat.

The last app I review came from Smarmy Consulting, and it is all about sleep. I need to lie down in a comfortable position to listen. It is lucky I am working from home right now, because I wouldn’t get away with that in the office. After 20 minutes, I hear a faint ping from my laptop reminding me I have a conference call coming up. I hadn’t heard any of the meditation because I fell instantly and deeply asleep. Well, it certainly worked, so it has my vote.

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Back at my desk, I look at the marketing collateral from the three suppliers. The first offers group training, and, rather sinisterly: compliance tracking. Should we monitor how much our employees are relaxing? I don’t think so. The second, although apparently it is in the top 10 of wellbeing apps used by organisations, seemed a bit amateurish to me. There are no official qualifications for mindfulness teachers and the quality varies substantially, particularly on this app. Finally, I note the ‘Simply Sleep’ app from Smarmy comes as part of trio including ‘Simply Relaxation’ and ‘Simply Getting Along with People’. This last should be useful. Let’s hope that Jeremy has a listen.

Next time… Candid attends online meetings.