From Meditation to Massage, Unconventional Workplace Perks Are in Demand

NEW YORK - Novel workplace perks are still rare even in today's tight job market, but when they are available workers jump to take advantage of them, a national survey released today shows.

According to a survey sponsored by Oxford Health Plans, Inc., only 29 percent of companies provide healthy lunches or dinners, but when they are offered, a full 84 percent of employees take advantage of the benefit. Similarly, only 18 percent of workplaces offer membership to a health club either on the premises or off-site, but when they do, 72 percent of employees join.

The survey showed that 13 percent of employers offer a meditation room, but when it is available, 55 percent of employees participate. Likewise, only six percent of employers offer massage, but when it is provided, 60 percent of employees relax with a massage.

"Our findings show that these perks should no longer be considered alternatives but mainstays since they are well-accepted among workers and demonstrate an employer's commitment to promoting wellness in the workplace," said Alan Muney, M.D., chief medical officer and executive vice president at Oxford, which sponsored the national survey and is a pioneer in offering health insurance coverage for alternative medicine. "It's especially important for employers to think about this now, at a time of year when employees often have the option of changing their benefits choices."

Age shows a substantial impact on whether an employee is drawn to certain benefits. Younger workers (age 18-34) are more likely than their older colleagues (ages 35-44 and ages 45-54) to take advantage of the fitness club membership (when offered, 75 percent vs. 32 percent vs. 52 percent respectively), the Oxford survey shows. Oldest workers are far less likely to eat healthy lunches/dinners than their younger counterparts (when healthy food was offered, 88 percent of those age 18-34 took advantage; 91 percent of age 35-44; 80 percent of age 45-50, and 70 percent of age 55 and older.)

But in contrast, the most likely group to get a massage are the older baby boomers (when offered 100 percent of workers age 45-54 took advantage; 60 percent of age 18-34; 20 percent of age 35-44 and 50 percent of age 55 and older), the Oxford survey shows.

Perks such as taking a pet to work have virtually equal appeal to men and women (when companies offer the benefit, 55 percent of men and 49 percent of women say they take a pet to work), the Oxford survey shows. The biggest difference arises when the company offers free massage: twice as many women sign up as men (83 percent vs. 41 percent).

Alternative methods to achieve better health have always been a priority at Oxford. The insurer was one of the first health plans in the country to create a credentialed network of alternative providers, which today includes 2,200 providers, all of whom are recredentialed every two years. They include nutritionists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopaths and yoga instructors.

The random telephone survey was conducted from August 17 - September 1, 2000, by Central Marketing Inc., of New York City. The national survey involved 632 men and women, age 18 and older. The margin of error is plus or minus four percent.

Founded in 1984, Oxford Health Plans, Inc. (, provides health plans to employers and individuals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, through its direct sales force, independent insurance agents and brokers. Oxford's services include traditional health maintenance organizations (HMOs), point-of-service (POS) plans, preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, third-party administration of employer-funded benefits plans and Medicare plans.

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