Page last updated at 07:11 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Can massages help cut sick leave?

Person getting a massage

By Dot Kirby
BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent

Are you having a hard day at the office? Workers at a Belfast call centre aren't exactly keeping their noses to the grindstone.

Instead they're enjoying hot stone massages and relaxing under the fingertips of a beauty therapist - even getting advice on how to reduce their waistline.

Part of a Business in the Community initiative, it has got the thumbs-up from worker Margaret Cousins who was enjoying a facial... during work hours.

"It's the first time I've ever had one - I've always wanted to try it. It was great to have an excuse and it was free," she said.

And therapist Kathleen McCullough, who was providing the hot stone massages, said the treatments have proved to be very popular.

"People just float out of here back to their jobs," she said.

So what's in it for the employer?

Martin McAtear is a member of HCL-BPO's sports and social club.

"A healthy, happy workforce performs better, so every month we organise events to help create one," he said.

At any one time, two out of every ten employees are having a mental health problem - these are largely stress-related
Tanya Kennedy
Business in the Community
In the long term, the call centre company - which employs 1,200 people in Belfast alone - expects sickness absences to fall and motivation to rise.

Many of the services available this week aim to improve mental health.

"It's about early intervention and raising awareness," said Tanya Kennedy, who is Business in the Community's Workplace Director.

"At any one time, two out of every ten employees are having a mental health problem - these are largely stress-related," she said.

"By raising awareness, HCL-BPO hope to detect the early warning signs of problems and help people manage their work/life balance better - perhaps through flexible working."

She added: "Work is the place you want to be. Once you leave work, your confidence goes and it's harder to get back into the workplace."

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