Friday, February 27, 2004
How one company endorses balance for better job performance
The January 30 Mosquito published an article I wrote called, "Is the Rat Race Slowing Down?," which targeted stress in our lives and workplaces. A paragraph about the "balance in the workplace" program at New York advertising firm J. Walter Thompson caught the eyes of the Mosquito editors, and they asked me to explore it, to see if it might give us all here in Carlisle some clues about how to achieve better productivity with less stress and more energy and enthusiasm.
As it happens, the J. Walter Thompson program, "Balance at JWT," is very close to home. Last spring, our son Cliff graduated from college and was hired at JWT as an assistant account executive. When I drove down to his Manhattan apartment with some furniture last fall, he took me on a tour of the company's headquarters on Lexington Avenue. I was astonished to find pool and foosball tables, a "De-Stress Room" complete with yoga mats, meditation pillows, stretching ropes, spine rollers, aromatherapy, and a futon for naps, and all manner of vending machines with a variety of juices and waters eclipsing the usual coffee machines. Cliff told me that JWT offers massages by appointment on Wednesday afternoons, meditation sessions on Thursdays, yoga instruction, wellness seminars, and consultations with the company's personal trainer. The JWT employee literature lists a free counseling and referral service available to all staff and their families, and "Lunch and Learn" seminars about everything from feng shui to effective parenting. In addition, there are discounts on cars, hotels, movies and videos, and corporate memberships in many of New York's health clubs and gyms. The company fields volleyball, softball, and basketball teams that compete against teams from other businesses in the city. It sponsors all-agency volunteer days: "JWT Cares Days," shuttling employees all over the city to volunteer in a variety of municipal projects, a bi-annual blood drive, a bring-your-kids-to-work day, movie nights, a book club, and celebrations and exhibitions honoring employees in different areas of the company. JWT also offers health food in rolling carts onsite, and sponsors open bar theme parties and summer Margharita Fridays (margheritas served at 4 p.m.) for all its employees.
Getting the job done
Do these people ever get any work done? They do indeed. JWT, the company that "literally invented the TV commercial," is one of the leading advertising firms in the world today, and boasts some of the industry's largest and most lucrative accounts. Advertising is a deadline-driven industry, and many at JWT, including Cliff, have been known to pull long hours and even all-nighters. Employee response to the program is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Since its inception, the company bottom line has improved as well.
Attracting superlative talent
The reason for success, according to JWT President Bob Jeffrey, is that JWT can attract and retain superlative talent in a work environment that pairs creative energy, innovation, and productivity with physical and mental well-being. Jeffrey himself is a health nut, and "Balance at JWT" was his innovation. Interviewed for an article in Worth Magazine in December of 2000, he noted that pressure in the business world "is especially exacerbated when you're living in Manhattan, where everybody's on overload — particularly information overload." In his office is a big blue plastic Gymnic ball, on which he elects to sit instead of his leather executive chair. The ball demands balance and engages the leg and back muscles. "The harder you work," he says, "the more you have to work to maintain balance." Other agencies nationwide have been metaphorically picking up Jeffrey's ball and turning to health awareness to elevate staff productivity and their own bottom lines.
Living and working in Manhattan represents a big change in the lifestyle of Cliff Stevens. From his perch on the bottom rung of the JWT management ladder, he regularly sings the praises of his new career with zest. He reports that his confidence level is up, his productivity is up, feedback is very positive, and he's working harder than ever before. He's impressed with the talent and the professional relationships among JWT staff, and he's enjoying getting acquainted with them and New York through activities in the balance program. Outside of work, he maintains an active social life and seems constantly busy. What his parents think is remarkable, however, is that even though this is his first year out of school, Cliff is happy, healthy, and relaxed. My first year out in the real world was a rude shock, and I look at my son's experience with envy and admiration. Most of his initial success is Cliff's own accomplishment. "Balance at JWT" certainly informs his outlook, however; it seems to be keeping the fast track comfortable. If he and others who espouse the balance idea can transform our work and health ethic in their working years, it seems likely that America will do very well in a global economy.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito