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Massage, Yoga Programs Gaining a Foothold at More Companies

Firms find the perks can boost the morale of employees as well as the bottom line.

July 05, 2006|From Reuters

More companies are offering employees the on-site pleasures of massage and yoga, not just to make their staff happy but to be competitive and even boost the bottom line.

Such programs, once associated only with nontraditional companies but now popular in bastions of business, help retain employees in a job market where they might easily leave for a competitor, companies say.

"We have to do whatever we can to keep our employees happy," said Tracy Cote, head of human resources at San Francisco-based Organic Inc., a digital marketing agency that is part of Omnicom Group Inc. "There's a lot of competition right now in our industry.

"There's been an upswing in the market in the past 12 months. Business is better for us, but business also is better for our competitors. It's all about recruiting and retaining."

Organic first offered on-site massage once a month and then increased it to twice a month because of demand. Now it's grown so popular that the company is considering offering it every week.

Programs such as on-site massage -- in which a company may hire a licensed masseuse to set up shop in a spare room -- typically appear as desirable factors in reports about the best U.S. places to work.

Companies are digging deeper into their pockets to pay for such benefits, said Meredith Stern, a partner at Infinite Massage in San Francisco.

"With the economy jumping up again, we have noticed that companies are adding this as a perk," she said. "They're trying to find ways to spend money on their employees to keep them because it's harder to replace somebody."

A survey by Massage Therapy Journal found that at most companies that offer massage, more than half added it in the last five years.

In or out of the workplace, about 47 million Americans got a massage in a 12-month period that ended in July, up by 2 million from the previous year, research indicated.

"My argument is, you're going to do much better in terms of productivity if you allow your employees to get up and move around for a little bit, and it's better than smoking a cigarette or even having a cup of coffee," Stern said. "But I don't really have to make an argument these days."

In New York, a number of hedge funds offer employees massage or yoga during their workdays. "It's wonderful; it's a stress reliever; it's good for employee morale," said one worker at a hedge fund.

Research indicates massage can lower stress, tension and fatigue, and one study in the International Journal of Neuroscience said people who were given massage therapy proved more alert and calculated math problems faster and more accurately.

Demand is on an upswing, said Michael Wald of Namaste New York, which offers anti-stress programs for offices. "What I'm seeing is increased budgets," said Wald of his business clients. "Each year, it has increased."

At Organic, Cote compared the value of massage to an allegory about two people cutting down trees.

"One of them stops to sharpen their saw, and their tree is going to get cut down faster than the one who doesn't," she said. "That is true about the workplace."

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