You know that a trend is real when people start spending good money on it.
Step right up. There's a whole industry of companies competing to sell you products and services designed to spruce up the quality of life at your company. We're talking about your nutrition counseling; your in-house gyms and aerobics classes; your massaging; your handwriting analysis; your office beautification, meditation, and employee education; your catering services; your voice-harmonics specialists; your stop-smoking clinics. You name it, we've got it. Money talks and nobody walks.
The workstyle market is booming, and nobody is more surprised than the people who serve it. Consider Charles Kuntzleman, who got is on the trend way back in 1969, and now owns Fitness Finders Inc., a Spring Arbor, Mich., consulting firm that advises companies on ways to improve the health of their employees. Ten years ago, there were few companies interested in taking his advice, and even fewer providers of the services he recommended. Not anymore. "I can only guess the number of providers out there now," says Kuntzleman, whose firm's annual sales recently topped the $1-million mark. "There must be 30 aerobic dance instructors working for companies in our community alone." Meanwhile, venture capitalists have begun approaching Kuntzleman with a variety of investment schemes.
"The situation is absolutely going bonkers," agrees Dee Edington of Gets Fit Inc. and head of the Fitness Research Center, at the University of Michigan. "[Corporate fitness] has just taken off in the past two years."
Barbara Harding Associates, of Concord, Mass., has witnessed a similar boom in the field of "graphology" -- that is, handwriting analysis. Since 1980, its client list has grown from 10 to 150 as more and more companies have sought help in matching job applicants to jobs. Encouraged by the response, Harding has recently produced a videotape on the fundamentals of graphology.
Of course, some workstyle providers may find the trend's growing popularity to be a mixed blessing. Harding, for one, thinks that the handwriting is on the wall for many graphologists. "As businesses get more serious about graphology, there's less room for dabblers," she says.
Moreover, even nondabblers have to contend with the challenge of increased competition. "Seven years ago, the concept of wellness in the workplace absolutely baffled people," says Sari Feldman, a health-benefits consultant with William M. Mercer Meidinger Inc. "Today, it's a buzzword, and the big problem for providers is to differentiate themselves from everyone else out there in the marketplace offering similar services."
Perhaps the providers' greatest challenge, however, is to convince otherwise hard-nosed businesspeople that they should spend scarce corporate cash on this stuff. That effort has already led to some ingenious descriptions of what providers do. Atlanta Network Builders International Inc., for example, sells software programs that allow employees to network with one another; it calls its business "resource-revealing technology." Growing Green Inc., St. Louis, provides "interior landscaping services" -- that is, plants. Graphologists market their handwriting analyses as "assessment tools."
But the prize for positioning has to go to David Palmer, founder of Pacific Health Systems, a three-year-old company that gives on-the-job massages to employees at various companies in the San Francisco Bay area.His business: Hands-On Stress Reduction.