Reducing the work day, setting more flexible hours, converting work areas into places for both a job and for relaxation… These are some of the proposals that reflect an increasing interest by companies in their employees’ well-being. In many cases the aim is greater productivity; in others it’s just a communications strategy that seeks to offer a modern and dynamic image.
In Japan they know very well the benefits of having employees who are proud to be part of a company –and the results of this loyalty in terms of productivity. In 1949 Kihachiro Onitsuka founded the Onitsuka Tiger firm of shoes and sports goods –known since 1977 as ASICS– and from the very start he knew it wouldn’t be a single-person company. Instead, all the workers could be educated in the values he defended, which can be summed up by what we usually call “team spirit.”
ASICS is currently the fifth largest sporting fashions brand in the world and the fourth largest in Spain. But this situation is very different from that of just a decade ago, when few Spaniards were familiar with this Japanese firm, which was then eighteenth in the national ranking. Last September 26 at IE Business School, Xavier Escales, Country Manager for ASICS Iberia, explained the secret of this huge success, which the brand sums up in the hash tag #AlwaysPeopleFirst.
“We didn’t have the best ambassadors in the sporting world, but we did have our workers,” said Escales, recalling the start of a strategy centered on the workers but whose end purpose is to offer clients the best possible service. “We’re concerned with the purchasing experience and with social networks, but the most important thing is always the commitment on the part of the person who is going to sell you the product.”
It makes sense that a sporting goods company promote sports among its employees. It is very easy for the 80 workers in the ASICS offices in Barcelona to engage in sports. The gymnasium, the monitors, the physiotherapists, the laundry and the yoga sessions are an invitation to take a break in the work routine and disconnect from worries. As Escales puts it, “a person can’t be very pleasant over the phone if he spends eight hours sitting down.”
But the company’s concerns go beyond physical exercise: there are also psychologists who offer personalized help to workers, as well as nutritionists who recommend healthy food appropriate for avoiding the ups and downs that occur during a work day.
This offer of personal care might just remain a nice gesture on the part of the company if only a few workers took advantage of it. But the Country Manager for ASICS Iberia pointed out that this is not the case: “Leadership comes through example, and everyone, including the managers, uses these services.”
The result of this concern for workers? An increase in their commitment to the company and to their fellow workers. It’s what he defines as “leadership where everyone is willing to do something for others and be concerned about them.” He added: “Nowadays it’s fashionable to measure employee happiness, but we began to do it ten years ago.”