Kate Burton (pictured below) has been giving massage in offices for 17 years. Here she shares her experience as valuable insight for anyone thinking of doing the same.
Why work in an office? It allows you to work with a very broad and diverse group of people. You can really help staff with stress and it has been proven that a 15-minute chair massage can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and helps staff to concentrate on maths problems more effectively after the massage. (1. Tiffany Field’s). It can help to prevent RSI if carried out regularly and there is evidence that it reduces blood pressure. Claims are made that it may help to reduce work-related health absenteeism. Also, it helps with sleep problems, often brought on by stress; and it is said to improve focus, clarity and energy.
I started massaging in offices when I had a young son as it was going to be difficult fitting in clients in the evening and weekends. It was my sole source of income. In 2000 massage was not as popular nor as widespread as it is now and people were less likely to book in the daytime. It was seen as a luxury not a necessity. Spas were few and far between and some truly seedy; health shops offering massage were even fewer, it hadn’t yet become so ubiquitous.
How to get work
Word of mouth was my main source of work and the school playground was an excellent venue for marketing. I had a ready-made network of friends and found myself being invited to different offices to massage for different reasons. If you don’t have this network, I suggest you write up a sheet describing what you offer and how the employees can benefit (*see list of links and info below), and first call and then email the HR officer. Follow this up. I would always offer a session of free massage for them to see how they liked it. If you are then successful, you may find that word of mouth gets you further work. I also always had a sheet of paper outlining to staff how they could benefit, and an outline of what to expect, what to wear, (especially for seated massage), and any major contra-indications.
Why offices want a massage therapist
Offices approached me to help with stress usually related to change – installation of new and unworkable computer systems causing the sales teams to suffer abuse from customers, mergers between companies, downsizing or sudden success and fast paced growth demanding more employee time. I did a lot of work in different departments of the civil service at a time of huge change for them; they were very fast paced, over worked, anxious about their jobs and lovely people. Massage was very successful here. I also worked at a magazine, a textile company, a property analysis company, a publisher and an architectural practice.
Massage at these places addresses issues related to stress, poor posture, achy shoulders, lower back pain, headaches, brought about by poor computer posture, while also addressing any overuse injuries, RSI, ULD through lack of breaks, lack of fresh air, and as we all now know the dangers of sitting (especially cross legged), and not walking enough during the day. I always encourage people to get fresh air, take a lunch break and keep off the computer then and walk about. On this note I am very excited about the Active Working Organisation highlighted by Jenny Hampton in the Members Facebook page. (2). The massage also provides a space for the person to reflect on themselves, time to let go, calm the system, re-assess their situation.
The EU Health and Safety Directives of 1992 (updated in 2002 and in process of being updated now) (3), insist on a break from the computer of two minutes every twenty minutes or ten minutes in every hour. All offices should be advising their employees of this and give them access to a free eye-test, and a computer assessment. You can encourage people to do this and to be aware of why posture helps. The RSI website (4) used to be an excellent aid for this, although it has changed a bit recently.
We talk about the stress of work, but many times I have found the need for massage is for non-work-related causes and in these cases people can feel supported by their employer. The sort of problems can be bereavements, illness in the family, relationship break-ups, difficulty of living in a large city, long commutes, finding somewhere to live, life!, sport and sporting injury (running is so much more popular now, everyone is doing a 10K or a marathon and you are always popular with these people). I did the sports’ massage course and then cancer massage course because of what I encountered in offices. Of course you will also encounter pregnancy and it is great to be able to offer massage during this time, and mothers and fathers love having a massage when they have young children after a night of reduced sleep. See below Suzanne Yate’s course at Wellmother (5) for a highly recommended pregnancy massage course.
Chair or couch?
I started with chair massage as most offices have small spaces to work in: the stylist’s cupboard of a fashion magazine, the filing room, occasionally the board room, but mostly an internal space which I would brighten up with a low lamp, and try to make it friendlier. The chair scenario works well in these circumstances as you can really help people to relax and also do a lot of interesting stretching and opening of the upper spine (see Sally Morris’s courses, 6), but you do need fresh air for your clients and for you. I used to take an ioniser in for stuffy spaces. You also need to ensure there is enough space for you to work in a posture that protects your back. Air conditioning can be blasted from only one side of you, this can start to cause problems for your muscles when only in one position. Chair massage involves a routine that is satisfying for the client, known to relax and revive. The chair is easy to set up and you don’t need much other equipment. As it is often based on a routine you probably need to do less note taking, but I always kept notes of every massage.
I now work in one office two mornings a week and have done so for 17 years. We use a couch as I have access to more of the body and the client doesn’t have to kneel on the chair, aiding circulation. I get to move more too.
The massage and time frame
In an office of 350 to 400 people, I massage nine people over three hours on each of these mornings for 20 minute slots. If more time is needed we double up the sessions, (this might be for older people, people with low blood pressure or diabetes who need more time getting off the couch). Five minutes is taken checking how they are, getting ready for the massage and getting up from the couch at the end, so the work is for about 15 minutes.
People usually like their back, hands and neck massaged, but the beauty of the couch is that you can work in supine, side-lying, work on the feet, legs and hips really easily. I am also surprised at the amount of people who haven’t had their hands massaged when being given a massage elsewhere! I have also done face massages, but most people want to keep their makeup on - but if planned in advance they find it very relaxing. And if addressing slouching posture, there is nothing better than semi-supine position with work to the chest, opening out the arms and giving the client a sense of being more upright at the end of the session. They always feel taller and of course you’ve helped open the abdomen and so breathing and digestion feel better too, especially if they allow you to work on the abdomen and diaphragm.
I incorporate breathing into the massage as I find asking people to relax a muscle to an outbreath with warm hands really helps - and clients love it! It is a mindful intervention that works. Sometimes the whole session revolves around breathing if the client is really stressed or has got into an upper chest breathing pattern.
I prefer to work in silence, but many people like to open up and share information. Over the years you learn to listen well and this is helpful to your client. You have to work strictly in confidence and provide a safe space to work.
The long suffering and wonderful receptionist makes all the appointments, gives me a list with times and phone numbers on and I call everyone before I start my sessions so that I can rearrange any that need to be changed. This often happens as meetings get made without the person’s say. I have a chair outside the massage room for people to wait on.
I ask people to wear appropriate clothing and bring a t-shirt if they do not want oils. I use a towel for each person and these are laundered by the company. I buy and pay for my own oil and wipes. I use wipes to wipe the oil off at the end of a massage and I usually do necks without oils so as to protect people’s hair. I keep records for each client and as I am time-pressed, I now ask new clients to fill in a record card before they have the massage as I get a lot of new people and it can eat into everyone else’s time. I try to record each massage at the end of the whole session and use picture records of any problem areas to prompt me. I find it really helpful to note what needs to be done next time, but also oils used (in case of allergy – of which I have had only one in 20 years!) and as I massage so many people a note to remind me about the individuality of each person. All notes are locked away between sessions.
I ask people to take off jewellery and lace up shoes before coming into the room as it can take five minutes out of your session. I also ask people with colds, or infectious or contagious illnesses to postpone their massage, as this could spread it throughout the company.
If someone has an RSI, a back pain, recurring migraine that needs more attention, I offer six sessions in a row, but generally have to be careful to share out all of the sessions. I also refer on to a physio or osteo if we are not getting anywhere or that just seems the right thing to do. Often a diagnosis is made and we can then work on the muscles after this.
At the end of a massage, I have a range of information sheets, on hints and tips for upper back pain and keeping active, lower back-pain and managing it, neck exercises, accessing mindfulness courses, breathing, computer posture and I usually give these out. There is not always time to show exercises, and people tend to forget them, so a reminder is useful. I now feel more confident to ask people to give over a session to a postural assessment or just doing simple things like semi-supine, as they always want the actual massage.
As there is no basin in the room, I use an alcohol scrub to clean my hands between sessions, not that I’m very happy about this. I have water available for clients to drink. I allow about an hour to set up the room, read my notes, prepare any advice or information that might be useful, and half an hour to wind up at the end, but I may be a bit slow!
Licenses: You probably need a license to work in an office, but the MTI managed to waive our need for this in London. Check with each local authority, as they each have different rules, and it depends on what you offer (acupuncture for instance may need a licence). I did this online for where I live in East Sussex and it was very straightforward.
Insurance: The office may request a copy of your insurance. Balens should cover working on-site but do check if you are unsure. I wouldn’t advise working without insurance.
Pay: Some offices want to pay for the massage and some want the employees to pay for themselves, - yet provide them with the time off to have the massage and the venue, so still it’s a good perk. In this situation, I charged the going rate divided by the time for each session. Once settled it is quite difficult to put your prices up so be sure of what you want to charge. Being self-employed you can only work so much for any one organisation, as you have to balance out your income stream for the HMRC. For offices that pay you, you need to think about what rate to ask (as they are providing the room and hopefully organising the list), how often you would put up your rates and whether to include oils and wipes, travel etc in your fee. If doing seated chair massage fully clothed you can make it much cheaper and simpler for you. Remember not all offices or people work in the City, which tends to skew prices in London. I believe there are on-site agencies, but know little about them. Check what fee you would be given and what the office pays them though!
To sum up, I think it is very rewarding working in an office, it is a mirror of life. You hope to be preventative and informative so helping people to maintain good health. You meet a huge variety and diversity of people some who may not otherwise be able to access massage, and you learn a lot from them too. It makes a good day time use of your time and allows you some evenings off. It can be tiring at times and some people would find the 20 minute slots too short, although I have found sometimes less is more and you learn to adapt your massage. You may get a bit tired, but I got used to the intense nature of the work.
Once you are in the office, there is guaranteed work if the office pays you and arranges your list. If people sign up and pay for themselves it can take a little more time to build up a list. Mine got more men once they knew I’d studied sports massage! It is flexible. You can also recommend longer sessions at your clinic if you have one. In London, as employees tend to commute in, I have often recommended looking at the MTI list for a massage therapist in their area, so you can also spread the word and the work.
“There is evidence to suggest that investment in healthy working practices and the health and wellbeing of employees improves productivity and is cost effective for businesses and wider society (Coats and Max 2005, Dunham 2001, Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008). Research suggests that successful organisations share the characteristics of a healthy working environment (Pfeffer 1998).
Percept Mot Skills. 1997 Feb;84(1):157-8.
Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress. Cady SH1, Jones GE.
1. Int J Neurosci. 1996 Sep;86(3-4):197-205. Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations. Field T1, Ironson G, Scafidi F, Nawrocki T, Goncalves A, Burman I, Pickens J, Fox N, Schanberg S, Kuhn C.
2. MTI membership facebook page: Jenny Hampton entry August 2017 “Could too much sitting be bad for our brain?” See the Active Working website for advice and information about how to get offices moving. V useful website, thanks to Jenny Hampton for bringing this to our attention.
3. Work with display screen equipment Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002.
This is a free-to-download, web-friendly version of L26, (2nd edition, published 2003). This version has been adapted for online use from HSE’s current printed version.
c. Kate Burton 27/10/17