Ommmm: Why more agencies are providing wellness programs

Agency, heal thyself.

Gym memberships, nutritious snacks and massages are old news. For agencies, the key to a happy staff is increasingly all about fostering wellness. Employees have a history of launching their own running clubs and meditation groups at the grassroots level. But executives have seen the light when it comes to adopting top-down approaches. Agencies including Havas, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and Big Spaceship are all on board, offering their people everything from meditation classes to high-tech napping pods.

“Our business is a stressful one, and in our business, our people are our biggest assets,” Jodi Neuhauser, head of brand and business development at Maxus Americas, said. “Investing in our people is, therefore, one of the best investments we can make.”

(Related: DDB’s Wendy Clark echoed Neuhauser’s sentiment in a recent episode of The Digiday Podcast.)

Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO at Big Spaceship, agreed. Technology, he said, has not only made our lives faster and more interconnected, but it has also blurred the binary split that used to exist between people’s work and home lives.

“Selfishly, too, it’s just a great investment,” he said. “If someone gets a great idea because of a 20-minute-long guided meditation session, it’s a great deal for a pretty low investment on my part.”

Bonus: Science backs it up. Numerous studies have shown that meditation and a healthy lifestyle not only make people happier but also more productive. In the past five years alone, more than 3,500 studies have shown that mindfulness training leads to many beneficial health and professional outcomes, according to Whil, a firm that specializes in digital mindfulness, yoga, and leadership training. It reduces stress, anxiety and depression and improves the immune system as well as cognitive skills that are key to high performance.

“It’s something that’s been overlooked for a long time in every industry. But the advertising industry too has struggled in helping people coping with stress, resiliency and balance,” said Joe Burton, CEO and founder Whil, who has himself had stints at Ogilvy and McCann. “But people are increasingly realizing that mindfulness not only helps personal development but also fosters teamwork and collaboration skills.”

Agencies across the spectrum have started encouraging employees to stay in shape, both physically and emotionally. Saatchi & Saatchi, Huge, Leo Burnett Chicago and Maxus all have yoga programs, either in the form of weekly sessions in-house, or discounted programs and wellness reimbursement schemes at local yoga studios. Leo Burnett has introduced stress management workshops in addition to massage therapy, blood drives and other efforts at its in-house facility, Revisions.

MEC has a slew of initiatives designed to promote wellness among its employees. It has a program called “iThrive,” which is composed of a series of workshops that help build positive behaviors and a six-week course called “Inspire Happiness” which is a workshop wherein employees study happiness, led by a life coach.

For its upcoming move to its new office space this fall, Big Spaceship has grand plans — and wellness is a huge component of it. The agency has developed a custom mediation room that it is currently prototyping, which will allow employees to not only meditate inside the office space, but also to customize the room’s environment based on time of day and purpose of their chill with color, sound, smell and more.

A model of what Big Spaceship's meditation room could look like
A model of what Big Spaceship’s meditation room could look like

Others like Havas and Ogilvy are taking things a step further, partnering with digital platforms like Whil to provide on-demand online training for employees. The program offers round-the-clock access to mindfulness, yoga and leadership sessions to help people “live happier, healthier and more engaged lives.” Havas ran a pilot program across its offices in New York, Chicago and Boston in November, and is now planning to extend it countrywide.

“My job is to create an environment that inspires people to come in, be happy and do great work everyday,” said Patti Clifford, Havas’ chief talent officer. “This lets me enable them with additional tools that are helpful for them — and they want it. The adoption rate has been great.”