Posted At: February 27, 2012 2:00 PM
by Rachel Childers
This year it was ranked the seventh most stressful job in America, according to careercast.com. This stress can be mentally draining and decrease an employee’s productivity. Some companies are combating employee stress by incorporating yoga into their company wellness programs.
Yoga is a practice that dates back more than 5000 years. Many believe that its origins are steeped in Hinduism, but the American Yoga Association said that yoga is much older than Hinduism. The word yoga means to yoke or join together, and that is exactly what yoga does. It combines exercise, breathing and meditation to improve the health of the body and mind. There are many different types of yoga, but the most well-known is Hatha yoga. This type of yoga is what most companies use.
According to chron.com, smaller companies usually provide yoga in conference rooms, basements or any other large room. Larger companies like Nike, HBO, Forbes, Google, MTV and IBM often offer full gym memberships with a variety
of classes to better suit their needs. Prices for these services vary for the employees depending on how much their employer pays.
One pilot study by B.S. Thomley, S.H. Ray, S.S. Cha and B.A. Bauer (2011) from the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic found that yoga in the workplace improves weight, blood pressure, flexibility, body fat percentage and overall quality of life.
Another study, “Functional Fitness Improvements After a Worksite-Based Yoga Initiative” by V.S. Cowen (2010), found that workplace yoga improves functional movement, trunk flexibility and perceived stress.
According to the article, “Yoga for Stress Reduction and Injury Prevention at Work” (2002) by Shira Gura of Berkley, Calif.: “Yoga has been shown to relax the body and mind thereby promoting overall improvement in mental and physical health and well-being. Yoga at work is a convenient and practical needed outlet for work-related stressors. Yoga at work teaches employees relaxation techniques to decrease tension and pain as well as prevention strategies to reduce risks of injury on the job, thereby improving work performance.”
Ann Mirabito, Ph.D., assistant professor at Baylor University at Texas, has been studying wellness programs for five years. She said that wellness programs are good for the company because healthcare costs for the employer will go down, while employee productivity and morale will improve.
“The biggest gift an employer can give to an employee is good health,” said Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute, as quoted by Mirabito.
Mirabito went on to discuss the benefits of having corporate wellness programs in place, whether those programs include yoga or are simply educating employees on healthy eating.
She said that when employees participate in a company wellness program their productivity improves because they are healthier. Mirabito also said that when employers offer fitness classes/facilities to their employees, the employer usually pays most of the costs. The employers often enjoy an attractive return on investment because employee healthcare costs often go down. Not only is there less absenteeism but also less presenteeism, which is when employees are at work but do not feel well. She said that presenteeism is a huge hidden cost to employers.
Finally, Mirabito said that offering wellness programs creates higher morale because of strengthened employee culture. This makes it easier to attract new employees and keep current ones.
What some are discovering through research, Linda Dunn of Tuscaloosa, Ala., is discovering firsthand.
Dunn has been teaching corporate yoga for 10 years. She said when she first began, she was contracted for only six weeks, but the CEO and employees of the company liked the classes so much they wanted to continue them. She now teaches classes on-site for the company two times a week for $3 per employee per class.
“I think that yoga can be beneficial for any company regardless of size,” Dunn said.
Dunn said that she has seen amazing improvements in the company class participants. She witnessed back problems diminish or disappear, weight loss and even some surprising improvements.
“One lady who comes had trouble conceiving so her doctor told her to relax,” Dunn said. “She started coming to yoga and conceived shortly after that.”
She also said that the community among the employees has improved. She noticed how they use the class to get to know each other and even greet new employees. She said they include her in that community, going as far as to give her a monetary Christmas gift.
In addition to these relationship benefits, yoga allows employees to improve flexibility, lose weight and de-stress, but Mirabito reminds us that implementing such a program takes research and planning.
She said that workplace yoga classes are similar to PR campaigns because in order for a PR campaign to be successful, there has to be a goal with strategies to achieve it. In the same way, an employer must evaluate the needs of his or her employees before adding yoga to the wellness program, develop specific objectives and carefully select strategies to meet those objectives. Without strategic planning, the program will be deemed unsuccessful and fizzle out.
As PR practitioners, we understand that human relations is one of the most important parts of management. Employers who choose to implement yoga into their wellness programs correctly can improve employee relations and company morale. Workplace yoga creates happier, healthier employees who are more likely to enjoy working for their companies.