Jones isn’t alone in seeking new ways to calm her mind. Many individuals are peeling off their socks, crossing their legs and melting workplace tension. Stress relief, according to wellness experts, doesn’t have to entail only high-aerobic exercises. In fact, HR managers increasingly are expanding their wellness programs by offerings meditation, yoga and relaxation training. For employers concerned about increased job stress and employee absenteeism, such programs can lower health-care costs and keep workers rejuvenated and productive.
Telegroup Inc. is among the companies already reaping the benefits. Others include Texas Instruments’ Materials and Controls Group in Attleboro, Massachusetts; Fleet Bank in Providence, Rhode Island; and Textron World Headquarters, also in Providence.
Says one Telegroup employee: "My company is open to new ideas. It’s not rigid about holding on to old methods of wellness." HR managers in charge of benefits or training, therefore, might want to consider the merits of offering these restorative practices because they’ll help lower employee absenteeism. Indeed, whether companies offer meditation classes or establish onsite fitness centers, what was once considered a fad in the ’60s is the Tao (the way) of wellness in the ’90s.
Meditation training decreases psychological stress.
The most useful techniques of relaxation to incorporate in one’s wellness program are those which are easily learned through training—and can be practiced privately with minimal apparatus. One method is mantra meditation.
An ancient and well-known method for calming a restless mind, mantra meditation requires the participant to focus on a particular sound called a mantra. (A mantra can be a word—such as "so-hum"—or a combination of words said aloud or repeated to oneself mentally between 20 minutes and 30 minutes, twice a day.) Transcendental meditation, which gained popularity after The Beatles catapulted founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to fame in the ’60s, is one form of mantra meditation. It’s also the preferred meditative practice for 50 percent of Telegroup’s 550-employee population.
Listed in 1995 by Inc. as the second fastest-growing, privately held company in the United States (out of 500 listed), Telegroup boasts a low turnover and a drug-free environment. Chairman Fred Gratzon, a long-time practitioner of transcendental meditation, believes the practice has contributed to a healthier working environment for his employees. "Meditation dissolves our employees’ stress. And there’s a dynamism and creativity among them—whether they’re working as individuals or in teams," he says.
Jones says Telegroup’s HR started offering classes in 1990. As soon as new employees are hired, they’re informed about the classes during orientation. Employees can read more about transcendental meditation on the corporate intranet. If employees prefer to hear a lecture before signing up, trainers periodically provide onsite lectures at no expense.
The classes would normally cost an employee $1,000, but Telegroup pays 80 percent of the costs. Gratzon says it’s worth the expense to send employees to the local meditation center, and human resources director Jones agrees. She has observed better relationships among co-workers and supervisors, reduced health-care costs and less absenteeism. "Our insurance claims indicate a stunning report of healthy workers," she says. After new employees have been with the company for six months, they’re entitled to attend classes. Four out of the seven HR staff also practice meditation, she says.
Other companies endowed with greater financial resources and space have gone even further. One such company, Texas Instruments, is providing yoga classes through its onsite fitness centers.
Keeping wellness training convenient.
Employees at Texas Instruments’ Materials and Controls Group don’t have far to go when they want to relieve stress. The onsite fitness center is housed in a 28,000-square-foot facility and is actually a full-service health club with all the amenities one can imagine. Approximately 1,000 employees actively participate in wellness programs at its onsite Attleboro facility.
Employees pay $220 a year to join the fitness center, and the amount can be deducted from their paychecks. The full slate of exercise classes are free, but special classes for Tai-Chi carry nominal fees. An employee becomes eligible as soon as he or she joins the company. Employees can use the facility from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to Donna Colline, manager of the fitness center.
Marilyn Fuller, TI’s manager of diversity, career and staffing services, believes there’s no greater way to promote the merits of wellness than by example. She’s among those who have enrolled in a relaxation class. "I felt totally refreshed after we lied down, closed our eyes and listened to soft music under low lights," she says. "It’s one of my favorite classes."
As human resources professionals set up the training classes, they must be aware of the different yoga and meditative approaches and instructors’ credentials. For example, today there is a proliferation of yoga styles, such as Iyengar, Kripalu and Harsha yoga, to name a few. Similarly, different teachers—in their attempts to distinguish themselves from others—have given unique names to their styles of meditation (superconscious meditation, integrative Harsha meditation and others). Which one is right for your company? To come up with the appropriate answer, keep the following in mind.
Although the many meditation centers differ in their approaches and costs, all the different methods taught today have historical roots in common meditation techniques practiced for thousands of years in the Far East. Do some research and local investigating to see which meditation programs or centers are considered reliable in your area. And make sure all instructors are certified to train in their areas of expertise.
Train via health consulting and management firms.
In Rhode Island, some corporations have partnered with health consulting firms, such as Pro Health Inc. in Providence. According to director Kathryn O’Neil-Webster, managers of wellness programs have expanded their training repertoires to include Tai Chi, yoga and relaxation techniques. Fleet Bank and Textron also have used the services of Pro Health Inc. to manage their fitness centers in New England. Both companies have introduced either Tai Chi or yoga for their employees. "We offer these classes every year," says O’Neil-Webster.
Support for such programs must begin at the top. According to David Farley, executive vice president for corporate HR at Fleet Bank, Chairman Terry Murray was the initial driving force behind the organization’s fitness center. Farley measures the program’s feasibility by the number of employees at each organization’s site. For example, there are 2,800 employees located at the Providence location. "If there are a thousand or more employees at a site, we’ll consider either creating a fitness center or making arrangements with a local one—with Fleet picking up the tab."
Of course, nothing beats walking from your desk straight to an onsite facility. Employees at Textron, for example, are taking advantage of yoga and relaxation classes because doing so is so convenient. "We also offer workshops on balancing work and family," says Paula Gruslin, an HR staff representative for Textron.
But regardless of where a company houses its wellness program, one thing is clear. The decision to offer yoga, meditation and relaxation training can enhance a company’s competitive advantage. Offering these increasingly popular programs serves recruitment, wellness and retention. For HR professionals, these quieter forms of meditation can improve comprehension, creativity and focus in a demanding work environment. And with healthier and happier employees, the good karma is bound to rub off on customers, too.
Workforce Extra, February 1999, pp. 10-11.