Therapies on the house

Fans
of using alternative health therapies at work claim it limits the effect of
stress and has a proven benefit to the company. Wwhile medical insurance now
accepts its value, Veronica Simpson learns that traditional businesses need
convincing

While
Employee Assistance Programmes have their evangelists, complementary therapies,
it seems, are the new weapons of choice in the battle against workplace stress.
These are not just a 10-minute back rub for keyboard operators, but full-on
treatments of reflexology, acupuncture or even energy healing – often paid for
by the companies themselves. And it is not just PR companies or new technology
entrepreneurs that are providing such holistic benefits,  blue chip banking and legal corporations
such as Chase Manhattan and UBS Asset Management, retail giants like Marks
& Spencer, The Body Shop and Arcadia have adopted them.

While
some of these initiatives may be experimental, employers are fast realising
that all benefits work in their favour. The estimated cost of stress and
illness in the workplace is a compelling enough incentive – the CBI reckons
that UK companies lost £10bn in 1999 due to absence caused by illness, stress,
pressure of work and personal problems. Around 40 million working days a year
are lost in the UK due to stress-related illness, according to the Health &
Safety Executive.

Medical
insurance companies have, guardedly, declared their support. Due to demand from
its clients, Bupa changed its policy two years ago to incorporate complementary
therapies. Currently it will,  pay for
osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments to the tune of £250 per
person, per year. Other therapies will be considered on a case-by-case basis
but only with a GP referral (which means that very few additional therapies
will be bankrolled by Bupa – GPs are notoriously wary of the whole
complementary medicine field).

The
policy is also flawed as it insists all therapists are medically trained and
registered, which means a medical doctor who has done a weekend’s acupuncture
course could treat a patient with acupuncture, while an acupuncturist with 10
years’ experience could not.

Criticisms
aside, the move has been popular: of its 1,500 corporate clients and 38,000
company clients, Bupa reckons 80 per cent have taken the complementary
therapies cover as an added extra. And among employees there has been a take-up
rate of about 20 per cent so far.

For
its part, PPP Healthcare, the UK’s second-largest provider of private medical
insurance, and sponsor of the CBI’s annual absenteeism surveys, has extended
its private medical insurance cover to include recognised osteopaths,
chiropractors and medically qualified homeopaths. Dr Mark Simpson, medical
director of occupational health services at PPP, says he is willing to consider
other therapies. “If people feel better for something, you shouldn’t let
‘science’ hinder their progress.”

However,
he cautions against companies using therapy as a token gesture towards
occupational health. He says, “Companies need to spend money on risk reduction
programmes to ensure that lighting, heating, equipment, and working practices
are not causing ill-health. If you have any budget left, then you can look at
well-being activities.

“My
perception is that it is common in small, proprietor-run businesses, especially
in the entrepreneurial sectors like e-commerce, communications, PR or
recruitment, and also in the banking and legal worlds where people work very
hard for long hours within an autocratic management system. Often these latter
companies don’t want to admit there’s any serious problems in the workplace so
instead of providing stress counselling, they’ll offer neck massage. When there
is a macho working culture in place, it’s OK to go to the homeopath or reflexologist,
but not to a counsellor. It’s a kind of displacement activity.”

Judging
by Personnel Today’s  anecdotal evidence
the range of companies using these therapies is much wider than  officially recognised. The organisation of
the therapy is fairly haphazard, and often instigated on the back of a senior
manager’s positive personal experience, with appointments arranged by
secretaries or by simply pinning up a timetable on a noticeboard. Only rarely
has it been absorbed as part of a company’s HR department activities, as the
case studies below reveal.

For
this reason, there appears to be little or no data gathered as to its actual
impact on the bottom line, either in reducing sickness and absenteeism or
improving performance. A major improvement in data gathering on employee
absenteeism is required, according to PPP’s Dr Simpson, and the company is
currently working on a new IT platform which will collect all of this data in a
much more sophisticated form. He says, “Every episode of absence will be coded,
so that you will actually begin to develop a proper idea of what is happening –
you will know if an absentee is absent rather than simply taking a day’s
holiday.”

A
more rigorous approach to finding the right therapy for the right ailment would
be even more beneficial, says Huw Griffiths, a registered acupuncturist and
director of the Complete Health Care Centre in London’s EC1 area. By virtue of
location, he gets to see a large number of stressed out senior banking and
legal executives, from vice-presidents to secretaries. CHCC provides several
large financial and legal institutions with a wide range of on-site therapies,
including acupuncture, osteopathy and reflexology. Sadly, none of these
organisations are yet willing to broadcast this fact to the outside world.

Real
improvements can be achieved in employees’ health with the right treatments,
says Griffiths. “Structural musculo-skeletal problems need more than a
20-minute massage. I’m seeing more gastro-intestinal problems in my clinic,
most of them diet and stress-related, and 90 per cent of them women. A proper
nutritional consultation can be hugely beneficial in these cases, as can
reflexology, acupuncture and aromatherapy.

“Headaches
and congestion are typical – generated by lung and sinus problems due to the
pollution in the environment, and within offices. These can be helped and even
cured by osteopathy and acupuncture. These are things that people who have been
on a weekend course to learn how to massage people’s shoulders won’t know.”

Ultimately,
until the right therapies are combined with effective absentee monitoring, it
will be hard to tell just how beneficial these new therapies are.

Truly
hospitable treatment: Mayfair Intercontinental

Long
hours, and the large number of staff who spend all day at computers, on their
feet, lifting heavy bags or moving furniture around have made complementary
therapies a must for the hotel industry, says Christine Engel, general manager
of the Mayfair Intercontinental in London.

Up
to £4,500 a year is spent on subsidising massage treatments, out of the hotel’s
events and staff benefits budget, with monthly chiropody bills added to that
total. The Vital Touch massage therapy service comes to the hotel for one day
every fortnight to provide 20-minute “on-site massage” treatments (a type of
condensed Shiatsu massage, which works on acupressure points and focuses on
neck, back and shoulders), plus 10-minutes posture and nutrition consultation.

Two-thirds
of the cost is met by the hotel, and a third by the individual. With 225 staff
and only 13 massage sessions per day offered, competition for the treatments
are fierce. The schedule is managed by the personnel department on a first come
first served basis.

The
Intercontinental switched from offering more traditional, hands-on massage six
months ago. Engel says, “It was easier, as on-site massage doesn’t require the
removal of clothes. And it seems to be just as effective within a shorter time
period. I also like the fact the therapist gives advice on posture and
nutrition.”

There
was no argument about continuing the practice when the Intercontinental chain
was taken over by Bass Hotels and Resorts three years ago. “It really does pay
its way,” says Engels. “A few of our staff have gone for a massage, to be told
they are developing potentially serious back problems. I have always had back
problems, and the therapist recommended deep tissue massage and referred me to
an osteopath. I’m much better now.

“In
this way, we are able to avert serious illness before it becomes chronic. It is
also motivational: everyone who has a treatment is very happy afterwards.”

The
giant and the gentle arts: Marks & Spencer

Retail
giant M&S’ thoughtful treatment of staff is legendary – not only are
full-time doctors and nurses available within the occupational health
department, but on-site chiropody and physiotherapy have long been offered as
standard. Keeping pace with the times, complementary therapies are newly
available within the workplace to all employees, across nearly 300 UK stores,
within a new “personal health services” programme.

The
move follows a successful pilot scheme, which has been running for the last 18
months at head office, offering reflexology, aromatherapy, Indian head massage,
neck and shoulder massage and the Alexander Technique (postural correction) to
staff on a demand-led basis.

These
particular therapies were voted for by staff, following a “complementary
therapy exhibition”, held at HQ, where they were able to try a wide range of
treatments, which include Reiki Healing and Cosmetic Dentistry.

Staff
pay the full costs of the treatments, at about £15 per half hour (shortly to go
up to £18.50).

“It
has to be cost-neutral” says David Sharp, M&S’ director of health services,
who runs the programme. Having said that, M&S is devoting a lot of
resources to putting systems in place to allow therapies at work. This includes
Sharp’s time over the past two years in setting it up to receptionists’ time in
running the treatment schedules, the work of individual stores’ occupational
health staff in finding rooms and equipment and sourcing appropriate therapists
in the areas.

Therapies
are offered according to company guidelines – Sharp feels hypnotherapy is
inappropriate for a workplace treatment, for example, due to the “uncertain nature
of the client’s mindset after a treatment”. All therapists should be able to
prove they are qualified, insured, and, where possible, have membership of the
appropriate governing body.

Sharp
says the company’s motivation “goes back to why we provided health services in
the first place. The concept was always that if you look after staff, they look
after you”.

He
adds, “A lot of these therapies claim to reduce stress, which is always good
when you are presenting yourselves to the public. If they relieve or prevent
illness, even better. We’re not after miracle cures.”

Certainly,
having benefited from the service for the past 18 months, those at head office,
including the qualified medical staff, are heartily supportive of the scheme.
The most popular therapies there, Sharp says, have been the Alexander
Technique, offered two days a week, and reflexology, on offer most weeks.

Stress
relief is one thing, but the feel-good factor is a vital element of this
programme. Sharp points to the pressure M&S has been under due to its
falling profits and constant media attacks, and the likely demotivating effect
on staff. The company is trying to turn itself around, he says. “As a company,
we are trying to be much more user friendly, human and modern.”

The
media gets the message: TBWA

The
charismatic creative director of TBWA, Trevor Beattie, proved the catalyst for
bringing Nik Janis’ healing arts into the agency. Beattie and Janis had worked
together for years making commercials, when Janis offered to give Beattie a
healing treatment for stress. So impressed was Beattie with his talents that he
booked him to come into the offices and treat staff the following week. As his
healing client list grew, Janis gave up his film-making in favour of full-time
therapy. An office e-mail alerted staff to the offer and by the following week
he was fully booked and has been every week in the three years since.

This
unlikely marriage – the gentle healing arts with the cut-and-thrust of global
advertising – has lasted through a change of company and a merger. When Beattie
switched to GGT, he brought Janis with him. When GGT then merged with TBWA, the
board queried the allocation of some £13,000 of its annual staff benefits
budget to weekly healing sessions.

Beattie
made his point on the issue. E-mail the staff and see if they still want it, he
said. That e-mail prompted a deluge of positive responses, demanding that the
therapy stay put. So it has.

Beattie
says, “I don’t profess to understand Nik’s manipulation of the forces of energy,
although he has painstakingly explained it to me on several occasions, but I do
know that a visit from him will change the atmosphere of our agency. The
benefits are incalculable.”

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