More companies are offering employees the on-site pleasures of massage and yoga, not just to make their staff happy but to be competitive and even boost the bottom line.
Such programs, once the provenance of nontraditional companies but now popular in bastions of business, help retain employees in a job market where they might easily leave to work for a competitor, companies say.
"We have to do whatever we can to keep our employees happy. There's a lot of competition right now in our industry," said Tracy Cote, head of human resources at San Francisco-based Organic Inc., a digital marketing agency that is part of Omnicom Group Inc..
"There's been an upswing in the market in the past 12 months. Business is better for us, but business also is better for our competitors," she said. "It's all about recruiting and retaining."
Organic first offered on-site massage once a month and, due to demand, increased to twice a month. Now it's grown so popular the company is considering offering it every week.
In a sign of their appeal, programs such as on-site massage -- when a company may hire a licensed masseuse to set up shop in a spare room -- typically show up as desirable factors in lists of the best U.S. places to work.
Companies are digging deeper into their pockets to pay for such benefits, said Meredith Stern, a partner at Infinite Massage in San Francisco.
"With the economy jumping up again, we have noticed that companies are adding this as a perk," she said. "They're trying to find ways to spend money on their employees to keep them, because it's harder to replace somebody."
A survey by Massage Therapy Journal found at most companies that offer massage, more than half added it in the last five years.
In or out of the workplace, some 47 million Americans got a massage in a 12-month period that ended last July, up by 2 million from the previous year, research shows.
"My argument is, you're going to do much better in terms of productivity if you allow your employees to get up and move around for a little bit, and it's better than smoking a cigarette or even having a cup of coffee," said Stern. "But I don't really have to make an argument these days."
In New York, a number of hedge funds offer employees massage or yoga during their workdays.
"It's wonderful, it's a stress reliever, it's good for employee morale," said a worker at one hedge fund.
Research shows massage can lower stress, tension and fatigue, and one study in the International Journal of Neuroscience showed people given massage therapy proved more alert and calculated math problems faster and more accurately.
Demand is on an upswing, said Michael Wald of Namaste New York, which offers anti-stress programs for offices.
"What I'm seeing is increased budgets," said Wald of his business clients. "Each year it has increased.
"I don't have a CEO saying, 'We made X amount of dollars more because of this. It's too hard to quantify," he added. "But morale and the atmosphere are better, and we're seeing a decrease in absenteeism as well as attrition."
At Organic, Cote compared the value of massage to an allegory about two people cutting down trees.
"One of them stops to sharpen their saw, and their tree is going to get cut down faster than the one who doesn't," she said. "That is true about the workplace."