Spotlight on: alternative therapies

From on-site shiatsu massage and sleep counselling to acupuncture, hypnosis and crystal healing, employers are increasingly turning to alternative therapies to dent the UK’s annual £13bn absenteeism bill and boost staff productivity.

Convinced that healthier employees equal healthier profits, firms as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Tesco, Heinz and the BBC report that the crippling problems of stress, back pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI) require access to non-traditional as well as mainstream remedies, despite the fact that many of these emerging therapies are not yet available via the NHS.

Popular alternative

Healthcare specialist HSA, which provides cover for more than 4,000 UK organisations, believes that complementary techniques such as chiropractic and homeopathy are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to pill-popping or injections for many people.

HSA is one of an emerging number of healthcare insurers to offer referral to alternative therapists, costing a minimum of £6 per employee per month, and up to around £18.

Suzanne Clarkson, head of corporate marketing, believes employers are beginning to overcome their cynicism about offering such treatments through work.

Health benefits

“While most of our clients’ spend still goes towards dental and optical services, more and more people are reporting major health benefits via complementary medicine,” she says. “If it means staff end up worrying more about the job than about their health, employers are happy to foot the bill.”

Oliver Gray is the managing director of EnergiseYou, an on-site massage specialist. Its clients include charity Cancer Research, energy firm EDF and publishing and broadcasting giant Emap.

Reduced absence

He claims that a regular half-hour shiatsu massage delivers reduced absenteeism, higher staff retention and notably increased productivity. Typically, Gray will deliver the massage in a corner of the office or a meeting room for around £30 per treatment. The technique is non-invasive, no oils are used and the patient remains fully clothed.

Importantly for HR, employees can book their massage online, reducing the amount of administration the company needs to get involved in.

Chronic complaints

Gray believes that aside from tackling everyday problems such as RSI and back pain, shiatsu massage can significantly reduce chronic complaints such as stress and high blood pressure.

“Employers sometimes fight shy of massage because of the sexual connotations or because they worry that staff will fall asleep after it,” he says. “The whole point is to energise staff so that they feel even more ready to work when we have finished.”

Cynics may argue that investment in these alternative perks is simply an attempt to get more work out of already hard-pressed staff, but Clarkson believes that the alternative route to health will only become more popular.

“As the workforce gets older, they will need more and more healthcare support,” she says.

“We predict that alternative therapies such as physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic can only become more helpful.”

Other alternatives

  • Aromatherapy Uses a blend of essential oils to alleviate stress, encourage positive thinking and boost the immune system. Can also be used in massage.
  • Indian head massage This treatment is especially suited for keyboard operators and desk workers as it is performed while the patient is fully clothed and seated.
  • On-site massage Massage can help relieve muscle tension and renew energy levels.
  • Reflexology A natural holistic therapy where a specialist massages the nerve endings in the feet. Able to induce deep relaxation followed by increased energy levels.

By Virginia Matthews

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