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Mind games added to fitness push

THE concept and language of corporate health management is changing in Australia, with ‘wellness’ a popular term now used in the names of gyms and lifestyle clinics.

Early models of corporate health management were very physical.

Clean, safe, pleasant and ergonomic work environments were the sum total of many initial corporate health strategies, and then the concept moved on to include physical fitness, before shifting even further to encompass emotional health management through employee assistance programs.

The idea of total well-being is now the new focus, but Australians have a long way to go to catch their US counterparts in this evolving concept, according to Unique Intelligence management psychologist Ashley Read.

US corporate health practice-speak now includes phrases such as “the fullness of people’s work” and “the spiritual needs of workers”, but such a shift sounds “awful” to many Australians, Mr Read says.

However, his Northbridge coaching and management consultancy is claiming success in breaking down barriers to ways of thinking about workplace stress management.

Mr Read says attitudes are changing to corporate stress management.

Many clients come to his management psychology practice thinking they have a significant stress problem, when all they need is to clear their heads, he says.

Often the cause of the problem is trying to focus on too much at once, which results in a reduction in work capacity.

Employees are expected to juggle multiple demands, even though Mr Read says research shows humans are not good at thinking about two or three things at once.

This affects employees’ ability to make complex business decisions, but teaching people to switch off is all that is required to help restore capacity in many cases, Mr Read says.

And increasing numbers of clients are coming to Unique Intelligence on the way to and from work to do just that.

Switching off is first taught through visualization, often termed self-hypnosis.

While this term has been used for many years in psychology circles, Australian workers and their employers still think of it as “hokey”, Mr Read says, and the term is avoided in favour of visualization, particularly in initial discussion with potential clients.

Teaching such skills is the next phase in corporate health management, Mr Read believes, but changing attitudes towards stress maintenance, as opposed to offering services when things break down, is hard going.

Clearing-the-mind techniques are difficult to promote, Mr Read claims.

“There’s still a tough guy mentality in business, and this does not seem to fit with it,” he says.

“That’s why physical programs took off – one could still be competitive.

“Sitting down in a quiet room is not so appealing, but athletes do this all the time.

“So why don’t business people?”

Nonetheless, Unique Intelligence is promoting the concept to businesses, believing off-the-shelf wellness programs do not work effectively across an organisation.

“A company most often puts one in place, only to find it does not work,” Mr Read says.

“This is because such programs single out individuals to receive assistance, rather than have everyone learning how to switch off when needed.

“But our idea is hard to get across without sounding like a flake.”

Unique Intelligence says its client numbers have nevertheless increased dramatically in two years, with whole office groups now coming from the city to the Northbridge premises.

The service is appealing to professionals across the board, and often to those at a similar level of management, having to make executive decisions, Mr Read says.

Once the switching off/clearing-the-mind technique is mastered, it can be practised unnoticed at a desk.

When they see the benefits, big businesses are embracing such services because they can afford them, but proportionally the rewards are even greater for smaller organisations where the impact of a stressed employee can be greater.

“Organisations do not do it to show they are kind and caring – they do it for the benefits.”

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