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  • Helen Hawkes

Health Is the New Wealth

Corporate wellness has suddenly gone from lip service to full-service, with everything from in-office nail bars to fertility leave and Edenic inspirational summits being dangled by enlightened employers. By Helen Hawkes
The Sunrise Sessions at The Outside, a PwC staff wellness summit held annually at Elysia Wellness Retreat in the Hunter Valley, NSW.

A discount gym membership or an in-office talk on reducing stress is yesterday’s work perk. Today, it’s a retreat at a luxurious wellness spa, or a personal growth conference at which you have a conversation with a colleague in an ice bath, that’s more likely to inspire. Post-Covid, top tier companies are being called upon to seriously ramp up the concept of corporate wellness as a reluctance to physically attend the office, as well as an epidemic of burnout and ennui, cuts a swathe through high-performing staff.

Says a PricewaterhouseCoopers spokesperson: “Covid isolation for over two years compromised the ability of staff to connect safely, physically and psychologically, and has highlighted the need for self-care, mental health and positive human reconnection.”

According to the Global Wellness Institute, 70 per cent of knowledge workers experienced burnout in the past year and 38 per cent of workers say they hate their job so much they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy. Says Edwin Trevor-Roberts, chair of the advisory board for the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing at Griffith University: “Many people now want to know why they have to come into the office five days a week. Work intensification — increased workload and expectations — is also a huge issue, as every organisation is going through a major [post-Covid, hyper-digital] transformation.”

The pandemic has also induced a cultural tipping point, with people globally prioritising health and wellbeing over work, while millennials view workplace wellbeing as a fundamental driver of job choice.

For all of these reasons, superficial wellness schemes are being superseded by memorable offsites at wellness resorts, scaled-up digital wellness options and more diverse in-house offerings — think luxe beauty services, or even menopause leave.

An IBISWorld report on Corporate Wellness Services shows the corporate wellness service industry is now worth $301.3 million a year, with a figure of $377.1 million predicted by 2027–28. Says Ilter Dumduz, CEO of Australia-wide mobile wellness platform Blys, which services clients such as WeWork, Canva and Telstra, “There’s definitely an exciting buzz around corporate wellness with inclusive team activities around mindfulness, self-care and movement becoming more and more embraced than the standard team lunch or boozy Friday afternoon drinks.”

Yoga during The Outside.

The quest for flexibility, balance and purpose is attacked laterally, with inspirational speakers, boxing, tai chi, deep water running, cardio, tennis, habit hacking, beer and wine tasting, fireside chats, sound and ice baths and talks on demystifying the metaverse at PwC’s The Outside event, the latest of which was held last month. Participants receive more than 20 hours of learning, choosing from more than 100 experiences delivered by thought leaders and experts. Now in its second year, and inspired by events such as TEDx and Coachella, the $15 million wellness-fest brings together more than 2,000 future leaders for four days at Elysia Wellness Retreat and Cypress Lakes Resort in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales.

According to PwC, it’s an investment in future-proofing the firm’s senior associates and managers as well as rewarding their hard work, and has reduced staff turnover by four times. “With the war for talent increasing and the looming Great Resignation, the demand for professional talent is higher than ever,” says the spokesperson. “We needed an engagement strategy to help us attract, engage and retain our largest staff cohort — Generation Y and Z.”

Shona Philps, general manager of luxury wellness destination Eden Health Retreat in the Currumbin Valley in Queensland, where blue-chip clients regularly take a collection of employees, agrees: “Keeping top talent isn’t just about paying well — though it helps. It’s about being empathetic, providing opportunities for development, nurturing strengths and, every now and then, hanging out in a custom sauna.”

De-stressing, personal growth and balance at the retreat comes in the form of 162 hectares of rainforest, pottery or painting and other creative classes, thrill-rides on the flying fox, and educational talks. “The spa treatments are also hugely popular, while breathwork teaches techniques to help offset anxiety or stress during the working day,” says Philps.

For staff working at home who want to maintain physical and mental health in-between — or without — luxury wellness get-togethers, it’s the digital sphere, naturally, that has stepped up to offer a solution. Everything from hi-tech fitness workouts to tips on nutrition and mental wellbeing has recently become available through luxury wellness company Technogym’s progressive digital ecosystem. It’s capable of delivering premium content and programs on not only the Italian brand’s prestige equipment — think collaborations with Dior and Ferrari — but also personal devices.

"Signing On to Country” ceremony during The Outside.

Says Tristan Ius, sales account manager, health, corporate and performance, Australia: “Our new app is a full solution, but it’s customised, so corporate customers can personalise it and label it. Across the board it has had more than 22 million downloads.” Head of digital solutions Francesco Arlotti calls it “wellness on the go”, or “a new concept of wellbeing that is available to people wherever they are, whenever they want it, covering any possible discipline on and off equipment”.

With working from home the new black, technology such as this is edging out gym memberships. In the office, there’s nothing like a massage, or even a facial, to switch gears from stressed to rest, plus it’s a great way to entice workers back to corporate headquarters.

Says Dumduz: “We’ve seen demand for in-office self-care services like team massages, manicures and even hair and makeup bars more than double since the start of the pandemic.

“Most often we’re sending massage therapists to our clients, but we’re also seeing an increasing number use self-care experiences to elevate conferences and events,” he continues. “This is where beauty treatments like express facials, nail bars and hair and makeup touch-up stations are growing in popularity and really diversifying the classic ‘wellness experience’ by showing people that self-care is doing whatever it is that makes you feel good, physically, mentally and emotionally.”

While luxury bells and whistles boost employer allure in a tight labour market, the shiny new corporate wellness is also, increasingly, about human needs, with topics such as menopause and infertility getting the attention of the world’s biggest employers. In Australia, Future Super allows up to six paid days of menstrual and menopause leave a year, separate from sick leave, with unions and legal experts advocating for a baseline of 12 days a year to be enshrined in the Fair Work Act. Seventeen countries globally already offer menstrual and menopause leave, according to Sydney Colussi, a researcher at the University of Sydney. Companies including Westpac, law firm DLA Piper and public relations agencies MediaCast and Publicis Groupe now offer fertility leave to attend medical appointments, while a growing number of firms including PwC, Linktree and Square Peg offer paid leave after miscarriages.

At The Motley Fool, official policy is that you take what leave you need, when you need it, says Australian general manager Adam Surplice. He says the company has always treated employees like family and, in the event of a serious illness, for example, has extended paid leave at its discretion. In this time of widespread nine-to-five, office-bound, billable hours’ disenchantment, the private financial and investing advice company may also boast one of the most enviable wellness perks.

The Fool’s Errand is a global initiative by the company in which one staff member a month wins two weeks’ paid leave. No networking, no lobbing a tennis ball over the net to the boss and no need for personal growth, just a fortnight’s holiday of your own choosing, perhaps sipping a cocktail at a beach resort and letting rest, rejuvenation and “wellness” take care of itself.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eighth edition, Page 42 of Winning Magazine. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.


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