More and more UK firms are discovering the human and economic benefits of hiring in-house stressbusters. In fact, 80 per cent of the blue-chip companies contacted by Stressbusting provide some form of stress therapy – ranging from office massages to 24-hour helplines and office punchbags.
Mark Borkowski can still recall the disaster that prompted him to start taking employee stress serious at his PR agency, Mark Borkowski PR. ‘One of my staff had a profound breakdown,’ he recalls. ‘It was something that I knew that I could never let happen again.’
True to his word, he hired a stress therapist.
Now, once a month, Alexandra Whittall visits Borkowski PR’s central London offices. Every employee, from the training floor to the boardroom, has a 45-minute session in a closed room with Whittall, and can choose from a number of treatments, including reflexology, massage, Reiki, and what Whittall calls ‘listening ear’, alias simply talking about anything that’s on their mind.
Feedback has been positive, says Borkowski: ‘All of us work extremely hard, and this gives us a chance to stop for a moment and focus on relaxation. It’s worked wonderfully for team spirit, and inspiration, and I think it also helps staff relax when they’re at home.’
FOLLOWING AMERICA’S EXAMPLE
Borkowski PR is by no means alone in its approach to work-related stress. In the US companies have long been aware of the dangers of an overstressed workforce.
General Motors has a programme that includes meditation and tai-chi at work and offers a 24-hour helpline for its workers; at Ernst and Young’s tax centre in Indianapolis, workers can nap in a recreation room, and have soothing fish tanks in the workplace.
Many UK companies are now following suit. Apple, Powergen, and Lastminute.com now have confidential counselling and leaflets about stress. Cable and Wireless, meanwhile, has adopted the US idea of a 24-hour staff helpline. Law firm Mishcon de Reya invited its lawyers to unwind by emailing their poetry to a poet-in-residence.
Of the 40 blue-chip British companies we contacted, 80 per cent provided some form of in-house stressbusting services.
One firm experienced in helping companies combat stress in the workplace is StressBusters, the UK’s first mobile massage company.
Since 1991, it has worked with over 600 UK companies, including Accenture, BBC, Deloitte, GSK, Renault, Siemens, Unilever and Vodafone. It has provided many thousands of seated acupressure massages, delivered by trained staff, both in the workplace and at corporate events.
‘I knew that by making our brand of on-site massage fully clothed, time-efficient and cost-effective that more people could experience the well-known health benefits of massage for the first time’, says Alisdair Burcher, its founder.
FROM PUNCHBAGS TO FENG SHUI
Less orthodox treatments are also available – punchbags, basketball and table football sets are placed around the offices. A Feng Shui consultant has rearranged the office furniture to maximise inter-personal harmony, and team meetings are never held around a desk, but on sofas.
Technology, the web, email and smartphones have all made our lives faster and more stressful.
‘Once, you had a nine-to-five existence, and work generally didn’t stray beyond those confines’, says Borkowski. ‘Now, you’re connected and contactable the whole time. Technology is meant to help us, but, on the contrary, it means that the whip is bigger. The hamster wheel revolves faster and faster.’
BREAKING THE STRESS CYCLE
Alex Whittall, the stress therapist who visits Borkowski PR, predicts that within the next five years, every company will have to have someone like her on hand.
‘People cannot work 14-hour days indefinitely. Overworking causes stress, and then the stress itself prompts sufferers to work even harder. People can’t even stop when they get home; hence the drugs, alcohol and fast music that people need at weekends.’
Among the other causes of office stress are caffeine (’like kick-starting a motor-bike, it’s so abrupt,’ says Whittall), deadlines, pollution, bad food and lack of fresh air and natural light.
For those whose employers have only limited stress-reduction programmes, Whittall advises: ‘If you can, find a yoga or meditation class. Have some physical exercise.’
She also suggests simply sitting down alone. ‘Then just focus on your breathing for ten minutes. This helps bridge the gap between mind and body, and strengthens and supports the nervous system. It lets you slow down. And don’t get stuck to your desk – take an half-hour walk every lunchtime.’
• Contact StressBusters on 020 8450 7999Image courtesy of keithellwood