Ways to Make Employees Happier and Healthier

Make Employees Happier and A recent article in the trend-spotting report of market research firm The Intelligence Group caught my eye. It noted that on the East and West coasts, “Traditional meet-ups over drinks are slowly becoming supplanted by more immersive means of connecting, like fitness-forward sweat-working, and more recently, meditation networking.”

Always on the lookout for connections between health and the workplace, the article got me wondering (as you may be now), what in the heck is this “sweat-working”? Turns out that the term has been around for a while. The gist is that many people are tired of business events that tend to involve too much eating and drinking, and are seeking opportunities to build relationships and make deals while doing something healthy, for example, boxing, spin, or yoga classes. One benefit? No cell phones.

Thinking about the intersection of business and healthy activities led me to wonder what companies (including law firms) are doing to promote the health and well-being of their employees. The standard offerings: newsletters, gym discounts, annual physicals and on-site fitness centers, are still out there, although a recent New York Times article questioned the value of the physicals, and a benefits firm notes in a 2014 study that law firms are scaling back wellness offerings across the board (with the exception of on-site exercise facilities, which are increasing), while struggling to gauge the return on investment in them.

The Happier Healthier Movement

Other organizations, however, are offering some creative things to make employees happier and healthier. Here are some ideas you might want to pass along to your managing partner, supervising attorney or general counsel:

  • Chicago litigation powerhouse Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP takes attorney and staff well-being seriously. The firm pays for each of its associates to take a four-day, three-night, all-expenses-paid trip with their loved ones to anywhere in the country every year, according to founding and hiring partner Mark Ferguson. “The program is very much a part of our wellness initiative,” Ferguson reports, “and all the associates make use of it. We wanted to offer a benefit that was not just cash, and that both encouraged associates to recharge their batteries and made them feel valued. It can only be used by taking time away from the office with loved ones, so they understand we are encouraging them to unplug.” While the firm has gotten press for the half basketball court that doubles as a conference room, it also offers a fitness center, with an on-site trainer and massage therapist. The massages are available to all, but non-lawyer staff has priority, and are able to have monthly massages on the house. Barlit Beck also makes treadmill and variable-height desks available to its attorneys and staff. “While we don’t strictly measure it, we feel confident that these benefits pay off in productivity,” Ferguson added.
  • A recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business featured tech companies that have added prayer and meditation rooms for employee use. Originally built to accommodate Muslim employees’ daily prayers, some companies say that prayer/meditation rooms pay off in productivity. Shawn Riegsecker, CEO of Centro LLC, an advertising software company, said of his company’s meditation space in its River North offices, “You’re better off if you’ve got a space you can go to and come out with more clarity and be more relaxed”. The company also recently implemented what he calls a “pause” at 2:45 p.m. each weekday “so people can sit quietly, meditate or just close their eyes and shut their brains down for a few minutes.”
  • At least two Chicago companies will bring custom-designed yoga classes to your workplace. One program, called LegalYoga is actually taught by a practicing attorney. Another, Bloom Yoga Studio offers both in-office yoga classes and massage. Lisa Clay, the lawyer-owner of LegalYoga, says that it can be a tough sell to get busy lawyers away from their desks. “They like the idea of fitness at the office, but when it comes down to it, it’s hard for attorneys to give up a billable hour at their desk.”
  • A recent article on an employee benefits website mentioned several other innovative ideas offered by health-minded organizations: make FitBit devices available to their employees at half-price, then encourage them to set individual challenges to up their activity level; pay employees’ walking-or running-race entry fees up to $50; and create a “wellness pantry” where healthy selections, like fresh fruit and bottled water, are either free, or offered at a fraction of the price of the items available in soda and snack vending machines

Make the rest of us jealous–what well-being amenities does your legal workplace have? What amenities do you wish it had?



Commission intern Lindsey Lusk of the University of Illinois College of Law contributed to this post.

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