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On the move to employee wellness

More companies are embracing corporate wellness programmes, and reaping the rewards

The buzzwords right now in progressive companies are corporate wellness, executive healing and employee optimisation. Smiling emojis, thumbs-up tee-shirts, high-five buddy greets and “Be Awesome” slogans have transformed the grouchy grunts and grimaces of the pre-Google generation.

The days when disgruntled workers let off steam over pints, 20 fags and a good bitching session in the pub has been replaced with wellness programmes promoting gong baths, Indian head massages, acupressure therapy and bowls of chia seeds and baobab fruit.

Dorcas Barry, one of Ireland's innovative corporate wellness instructors, creates customised corporate programmes for increasing the happy, healthy factor in workplaces. Currently, she is developing a four-week wellness programme with Sodexo – a food and facilities services company with more than 2,000 employees in Ireland.

“I take a very holistic approach to health and don’t just emphasise nutrition and fitness. I will be looking at areas like mindfulness, mental exercises and creating a sustainable programme that can be maintained by Sodexo,” explains Barry. “The workforce are a community and will work even better when they have fun together.”

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Barry is a trained nutritonist who believes diet can only go so far in a very stressful life.

“Habits are the things we have to change. But if we can hit the three pillars of food, meditation and exercise, we can empower and de-stress ourselves,” she says.

“I will include a very effective form of meditation known as Mindcalm that exercises the brain like a muscle with a few techniques. This helps to automatically bring your mind to the present and leads to clear focus and concentration.”

Indeed, if you hear drums beating as you head into Barry’s group therapy meeting, don’t be alarmed. It’s a drumming session that’s a unique therapeutic way to unwind by beating out those primal fears through vibrational medicine.

“Sleep is also another area I will focus on with Sodexo staff and encouraging routines for a good night’s sleep,” says Barry.

She also offers a nutritional cooking display class to encourage employees to create simple dishes so they avoid takeaways and processed foods at night.

Nessa O’Shaughnessy runs Stressless – a corporate wellness service that offers unique forms of corporate massage, reflexology and Indian head massages for business and public-sector employees. A few years ago, she decided to tailor her service to accommodate busy employees by bringing the benefits of on-site chair massage into the workplace in order to reduce muscle tension and stress.

“The advantages of on-site massage at your desk is that it’s targeted to unravel tension points that accumulate by sitting in a front of VDU screens or over a desk,” says O’Shaughnessy.

“It’s a fully clothed un-intrusive massage with no oils so executives are ready to return to work without needing a shower. It concentrates on a unique series of acupressure points and areas on the back, neck and shoulder area that will leave you feeling relaxed, invigorated and ready to return to work with renewed concentration.”

O’Shaughnessy takes her equipment to company locations and one key item is her specially designed chair with a doughnut style ring. The employees lean forward with their head cushioned in this ring, their elbows placed comfortably on arm rests and legs comfortably supported. Yes, at first glance you may think your work colleague has collapsed face-first into a very large Boston doughnut!

However, once you see the therapist flexing her fingers over the shoulders and doing her magic on those tension knots and muscular aches, rest assured your colleague will soon be revitalised and revving to tackle the next corporate crisis. O’Shaughnessy also provides foot reflexology on site – a proven stress buster and a therapy that delivers maximum benefits in a minimum amount of time.

O'Shaughnessy's clients include Zynga and Danone and she has also worked with the Mater Private and Royal College of Surgeons. She explains: "People don't have the time to get a full body massage during the day – so I reach them during the day in a room that's convenient for them. These beneficial therapies can be carried out over the coffee break with minimal disruption to the working day. The Indian head massage is superb for dissolving tension build-ups and headaches associated with eye-strain and chair posture.

Office pet

Some companies may consider getting an office pet. Company pets are gaining popularity as a happy, stress-free dog generates a relaxing atmosphere for the often sterile work environment.

Top companies are also treating their prize employees to business breaks in therapeutic spa resorts with bespoke treatments. The picturesque 163-acre Galgorm Spa Resort in Co Antrim attracts a top-notch business clientele who avail of their reinvigorating therapies. Overlooking the River Maine, the luxurious therapy suites provide the only customised Quartz massage beds in Ireland. No wonder they are rare, as these beds cost €20,000 each and deliver an-out-of-this-world experience.

Zoe Clayton, the Galgorm Spa therapist explains: "They're amazing for lifting energy levels. The client lies down in a heated bed of warm quartz crystals that contour their body and infiltrate the skin. You feel immediately transported to a sun-drenched beach in Greece as the warm crystals deliver bio-energies and penetrate the body." The therapist then gives her client an intensive poultice back massage with aromatic herbs gently kneaded into the muscles.

“This is the gold standard of sand therapy that originated in ancient Greece,” says Clayton. Galgorm’s body and soul therapies include the fascinating Singing Bowls therapy – where copper cups are placed on the body in the massage suite and tapped to emit gentle vibrations and angelic sound clouds that lift the energy levels.

“This therapy is uniquely comforting, especially if you have been through a stressful business period. It’s a totally unique treat,” says Clayton. “You feel like you’re on cloud nine as you literally imagine yourself floating out of your own body.”

After the vibrational sound therapy, the weary worker may choose to unwind in the Riverside wooden hot tubs, overlooking the river, that bubble with aromatic essential oils and rejuvenating salts. Here, the client might sip a flute of champagne and strawberries as they inhale the vapours and the beauty surrounding them. Later on, the brave of heart can chill out in the connecting Snow Cabin complete with authentic snow, frosted windows and twinkling icicles – it looks like a winter wonderland. “The chilled, icy air stimulates the circulation in the system, restoring the balance as you waft out the door on a breeze ready for fine dining,” says Clayton.

The Serenity Gardens at Galgorm provide the setting for yoga classes on the lawn the next morning. “It’s a haven for business executives who deserve a well-earned bonus and a chance to recharge their batteries for the challenges ahead. It’s also off the beaten track, with privacy and confidentiality guaranteed.” www.galgorm.com

Another way to escape from office stress is through corporate bootcamp. Lorraine Ho runs a series of Irish bootcamps that can take place in the office or at weekends.

“Companies are spending on staff to increase productivity and to offer incentives to promote company loyalty,” says Ho.

“We send in one of our trainers to deliver an authentic bootcamp experience. These guys all have military backgrounds and are seriously fit.

“We also have superb women trainers fully qualified in coaching. Sometimes, the larger company already has a dedicated room but if not we can decamp to the nearest park for open-area drill. We do a total body workout with body resistance techniques,” says Ho.

Bootcamp is high intensity interval training – press-ups, lunges, planks, squats, bicycle crunches – a fitness workout that leaves you breathless and on an aerobic high. The bootcamp trainers do an initial assessment of each employee and can tailor the exercise regime to suit each fitness level. “Lunchtime bootcamps are very popular, as they prevent you from eating too much at your desk and indulging in computer-based sedentary office habits. Fresh air and exercise reinvigorates you for the afternoon,” says Ho.

Aoife Behan of Mercury Engineering loves the workout: "The bootcamps have proven to be a great boost with regard to team building and helping Mercury staff work better together."

Ho agrees: “We use the outdoors as much as possible – most of the time the weather is absolutely fine and the fresh air blows away that stuffy office atmosphere. On Saturday mornings, staff come to our bootcamps for free – in a range of locations like Terenure and Herbert Park at 10.30am,” she says.

Lynne Taggart provides online corporate healing and counselling programmes for those who don't have the time to embark on lunchtime therapies or weekend escapes.

“I try to encourage my clients to allow space for good things to happen, to encourage the universal miracles. They get the strength to unblock the pathways, the negative thinking habits that hinder success. I mainly work with women who want the courage to pursue their ambitions but are dragged back by fear of failure. I hold web-based counselling and motivational talks on a Skype-based platform.”

Taggart was in retail for eight years and felt trapped in her career. “However, I educated myself in the powers of self-empowerment and got the courage to set up my service to assist others. I am motivating other women to trust in their deep inner spirits and get the courage to make that transition from dead-end jobs or non-stop work pressure to find fulfilling careers.

Taggart recommends reading Gabrielle Bernstein's book The Universe Has your Back. She says Rebecca Campbell's book, Light is the new Black, is a good way to start thinking about change.

“It’s all about less doing and more being,” she says.

Taggart’s Facbook group, My Sweet Success.co.uk, is a blend of allowing miracles to happen, untapping success and how to connect with your vision and your mission. “Many of my clients – soul sisters – have money blocks but when you work in an area that inspires you, the material problems are solved. I encourage them through meditation to tap into their spiritual self and transcend the obstacles in their way.” Taggart will hold a “High Vibe” spiritual retreat in November.

The Irish have certainly embraced corporate wellness and the strategies that some claim to have empowered Silicon Valley’s success have arrived here with a vengeance.