June 21, 2012
by Judy Barouch
Happiness at work has become a serious business.
Whether it be a speed massage at your desk or an in-house meditation course, some big hitters in the corporate sector are finally waking up to the importance of keeping staff smiling.
“Emotions are contagious. If someone in the office is being grumpy it can have a ripple effect,” said psychologist and executive coach Dr Tim Sharp.
“Happier employees are better employees. Retention rates are higher. Personnel have better resilience. They collaborate better. Are more innovative. There are productivity gains.”
Corporate health consultant, Jessica Evans, said while blue collar industries such as manufacturing, construction and mining have been spending up big on health and injury prevention for many years, white collar SME and large companies are only now playing catch-up.
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As an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business at UTS, Dr Sharp’s specialty is the improvement of psychological wellbeing in the workplace.
”We’re not just talking about slapping on a fake smile.”
Together with his colleagues from The Happiness Institute, Dr Sharp runs seminars and interactive workshops at organisations such as Coca Cola Amatil, Ernst & Young, Westpac, Research In Motion (BlackBerry) and law firm, Allens Arthur Robinson.
Take home tools
Topics range from health basics such as good sleep hygiene – “the sleep- deprived can’t think clearly” – to the management of emotions such as anger. Take-home tools include an abundance of mental health first aid tips, useful for preventing burn-out.
Psychologist and former Buddhist Monk, John Barter has run in-house, mindfulness-based meditation courses at companies such as Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers besides holding regular gigs at leading universities and hospitals.
“Dealing with patients can be demanding work for all health professionals,” he says. “Staff is a vital asset and if they are less stressed then everyone is a winner. I’ll often get comments from people to the effect that Wednesday is their favourite day because they look forward to coming to meditation.”
One corporate wellness early adopter is marketing/communications company Salmat. With 5,000 employees Australia-wide, Salmat was three times winner of the Hewitt Best Employer Awards already back in the late 1990s.
“Wellness is in our DNA,” declares Geoffrey Court, head of People & Culture. “We aim to create an environment where people want to come to work. Research shows that having a sense of value as an individual is higher up the hierarchy than pay.”
This involves far more than providing an annual flu jab. Besides training mangers intensively in people skills, all echelons at Salmat are offered classes on subjects ranging from parenting to wise investing. And three of their larger sites boast gyms where a nominal $4 per week is charged.
Speed date with wellness
But for a speed date with wellness, 3Minute Angels are hard to beat with their menu of treatments which include the signature “halo” at -desk, neck-and-shoulders massage to the more-please, one-hour ”celestial”. And, for the keyboard stiff digits, there are even hand massages.
“Since we began in 2002, we now have 2,700 companies as active clients which include 11,000 individual departments within these companies,” says CEO Andrew Ward. “The Commonwealth Bank is one of our most successful clients where we deal with 65 divisions ranging from a call centre in Parramatta, the Commsec Division in the CBD and an IT department in Victoria.”
A varied client list sees a troupe of angels wing into Brisbane’s OAK milk delivery depot to soothe drivers’ knotted muscles once a month from midnight to 3am.
Meantime, 3MA’s younger sibling, Workplace Incentives, delivers in-house sessions in group yoga, Pilates and dance-based fitness workout, zumba, while health food giant, Sanitarium, has also become a player in corporate wellness provision through Cultivate Sanitarium.
“After we ran a successful holistic health programme internally, we decided to offer the same benefits to other companies’ employees,” said programme manager, Alf Foster. “Activity packages are totally customised. The aim is to target physical, mental and spiritual health in order to benefit people at both work and at home.”
And now, corporate wellness can even be extended to clients with the arrival of the Liangzi Health Oasis. Opened recently in a historic sandstone building near Chinatown, the establishment aims to target the growing number of Chinese businesspeople, both local and visiting, who are familiar with the brand from back home. It is also selling itself as place that local suits – both Australian and Chinese – can nurture business opportunities with visiting colleagues.
In China, where 500 centres have opened since 1997, Liangzi is acknowledged as a place for power-brokers to conduct business within a relaxed environment. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2004 that Liangzi was “one of China’s best-known new brands”.
“Chinese medicine believes in massage’s therapeutic effects. It is a good antidote to long stressful working hours,” says Dr Ven Tan, the company’s Australian director.
Sydney’s Liangzi boasts two conference areas plus 11 treatment rooms where deals can be negotiated over side-by-side massages with foot reflexology a specialty.
The mind-body connection extends to the staff who begin each day with a motivational song- and -dance routine. As Chinese tend to work late, a drawcard are the hours: 10am to 10pm (2am by arrangement); perfect for after those late board meetings or lengthy conventions and just the thing to keep everyone smiling and happy.