Massage service sees 95% participation rate

Internet link provides nationwide scope

When Atlanta-based Stress Recess took its chair massage program nationwide in early 2000, the company anticipated that about 50% of employees would show up for massages. "We quickly had to change that, because it turns out that it averages around 95%-99%," says Devorah Slavin, MA, the company’s president.

The company, formerly known as The Stress Solution, is based around the Internet. "We’re one of the few service companies that has figured out how to market our services nationally over the Internet," says Slavin, "So we decided to have a virtual’ office."

Easily expandable

This setup enables the company to offer its services within 40 miles of any major city in the United States. "We have a strong presence in Atlanta, which is where we started," notes founder, president, and CEO Peter Belvin, NCMT. "We’re also active in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose, CA; St. Petersburg and Orlando, FL; New York City; and Richmond, VA — and we’re putting a lot of effort into Dallas, Austin [TX], Denver, and Seattle."

Here’s the rub

Workplace massage started in California four or five years ago, says Belvin, who has been a massage therapist for 12 years. "I came here seven years ago and built up a practice. I started by working on my full-body clients, mainly corporate executives. They talked about how stressed their employees were, so I started to work on them, as well to help reduce stress in the workplace." Belvin started with four employees, and now has 73 therapists.

"Our therapists focus mainly on the arms, wrists, and upper back, to address repetitive stress injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome," notes Belvin. "In the closing of the routine they do percussion or depodements."

"This is a method Peter developed many years ago. In fact, it’s now called the Belvin Method,’" says Slavin. "It ensures that the person leaves the chair ready to work. Depending on where you put pressure and the order in which you perform the various parts of massage, you can leave an employee ready for a nap or ready to work. Employees who have received a massage tell us they feel like they’ve just slept."

The benefits of massage

Slavin cites a number of employee health benefits from massage:

• Regular massage (at least every other week) can have a long-term stress reduction effect, and can therefore be a helpful adjunct in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, hormone imbalance, migraines, or arthritis.

• Massage is a mood enhancer; even a single massage can relieve anxiety or depression for a few hours — or even days. "Many of our clients bring us in, in fact, during layoffs and restructuring to keep spirits up," notes Slavin.

• For reasons that are not completely under-stood, therapeutic touch has a measurable impact on the immune system. "Our clients often report significant drops in absenteeism, part of which is certainly related to these effects," Slavin says.

• Massage is one of the few nonsurgical interventions for repetitive stress injury. It is also extremely effective for certain classes of chronic headaches. "We have received exciting feedback from clients who tell us that they are headache-free for the first time in years," says Slavin. "That’s because many headaches are caused by stress-related contraction of ligaments and muscles at the base of the skull and neck. Our therapists know how to release these areas."

"Another important point about massage is that it is one of the few passive’ ways to treat stress," adds Slavin. "Employees don’t have to change their eating habits, they don’t have to exercise or do stretches to benefit, they don’t have to go see a doctor, and it feels great!"

High-tech and high-touch

By operating via the Internet, Stress Recess has added new dimensions to its service. For example, if they receive a request for service in a new area, they can locate and hire a new therapist, and "roll out" in a new market for about $150. "Most the expense is involved in finding a good therapist — team leaders to whom we have taught our method," says Slavin. "The other half of what we do involves making sure all of the therapists who work for us have training in corporate etiquette, such as how to deal with diversity, how to make women feel comfortable, how to blend in with a company. For example, we screen for things like heavy perfume, or nose rings."

By logging on to the company’s Web site — www.stressrecess.com — a client or a potential client can request information or prices on-line. They can either schedule a massage or reserve one on-line. "This is advantageous for companies looking for a one-time event, as well as our long-term clients," says Belvin. "The therapists are all in contact with their team leaders via cell phone and beeper, and once they are contacted they can log on to their computer and access their schedule."

In part because of Stress Recess’s high-tech approach, notes Belvin, a number of high-tech companies are clients — including US Web/CKS, iXL, IBM Interactive Media, and Cox Enterprises.

A number of larger firms have contracted with Stress Recess to be integrated into their wellness efforts as "a long-term stress management company," says Slavin. "They have us come in a couple of times each week or each month. We usually rotate through departments or in their in-house massage clinic."

Tracking progress

In some companies, she notes, the massage services are directed towards specific high-stress employees, some of whom may receive extra sessions. Pricing varies. "On long-term contracts, the clients get a standard discount," says Slavin.

Technology that is just being developed will make Stress Recess an even more valuable adjunct to health promotion programming in the future. A bar code system developed for one client allows a company to track employee progress in chronic pain conditions affecting specific areas of the body.

"It’s based on a device called the Info Pen,’" Slavin explains. "It’s basically a bar code scanner built into a Cross pen. It holds about 100 scans, which is perfect for us. One is a chart of the body. We talk with the client about chronic pain, and then can scan the affected body part by running the scanner across a specific bar code. The client gets aggregate information on specific complaints and can then target them, whether they be repetitive stress injuries or headaches. It also helps screen for people with very severe anxiety and depression."

Another interesting benefit of massage is that it just puts people in a better mood. Slavin and Belvin have come to call this the "massage effect." "If you can massage everybody on a work team on the same day, the whole work group is a lot happier and nicer to each other," Slavin says.

Improving the work environment

Another trend Slavin noticed lately is that more clients are using massage during meetings. "It is such a great image to see a bunch of suits’ arguing around a boardroom table, then getting up mid-meeting to take turns going over to have a massage in the corner, and coming back to the table calmer — and sometimes taking one or two more turns as the conversation gets heated again," she says.

And as if 95% participation weren’t enough, she says that at some companies the figure actually exceeds 100%. "Occasionally, employees from other companies see the therapists in the elevator and try to sneak in for a massage," she says. "We tell our clients that if you notice that the UPS deliver person suddenly starts making more pickups than usual, you just might find them in a massage chair!"