Employee wellness is a top priority for many companies around the world. For those like Rakuten, with thousands of employees working in a wide variety of environments and locations, it can be difficult to ensure that every member of the team is supported in reaching their physical and mental health goals. That’s where Rakuten’s wellness department comes in.
Established in 2018 in Japan as an offshoot of the HR department’s corporate culture division, Rakuten’s wellness team is focused on encouraging employees to be more aware of their health and supporting the development and maintenance of habits for good health.
The activities of the wellness department have also been recognized by the broader human resources industry. The team’s “wellness empowerment project” was awarded a prize in the corporate human resource division of Japan’s HR Award 2020, creating a new milestone in Rakuten’s efforts as a global innovation company.
Rakuten Today recently caught up with Takayuki Asami, Chihiro Yonemori and Kota Hanzawa, three key members of the wellness team, about how they’re contributing to physical and mental health at work.
Focus on physical and mental health
Rakuten defines wellness as a state in which both the body and mind are fulfilled at a high level and can contribute to society and innovation. So where did the idea for a dedicated wellness team come from? According to Hanzawa, “It all started with Mickey Mikitani asking us to focus more on the physical health and wellbeing of our employees as the organization has grown and diversified so much.”
Asami adds, “First, it was stretching exercises at Asakai (Rakuten’s company-wide Monday morning meeting). This was before remote work began, and Hanzawa and his colleagues lead stretching exercises for all of the employees gathered at Rakuten Crimson House.”
When reminded of the necessity of exercise, one becomes more aware of one’s health. With this in mind, the wellness team was able to take measures to respond to feelings of social isolation through creative use of online space.Takayuki Asami, Wellness Department, Rakuten
While the definition of “wellness” might vary from person to person and from company to company, Yonemori reminds us that the standards of “health” are always evolving. “In the past, the condition of not being sick was described as being ‘healthy.’ But ‘wellness’ means more than just not being sick or injured. There are additional elements, like trying to live positively, and making good lifestyle choices. It goes beyond physical and mental health and includes elements like one’s financial situation and surrounding environment.”
Finding new ways to stay in shape, and stay in touch
Before March 2020, Rakuten employees who worked at Crimson House in Tokyo had opportunities to work on their fitness at the company gym and eat nutritious meals at the cafeteria. But when work shifted online, supporting maintenance of a healthy routine became more challenging. As working remotely was new to everyone, a bit of trial and error was involved. The weekly Monday morning Asakai became an opportunity to do stretching exercises, while a wellness survey was sent out to investigate employees’ health concerns. Using the results of the survey, the wellness department consulted with university psychology professors to determine employee needs.
As a result of the issues identified by the survey, improving employees’ health literacy became a goal. Eventually, the wellness team arrived at the idea of scheduling a large-scale event, inviting as many people as possible to raise awareness of health-related issues. According to Yonemori, “The biggest changes are having some people participating from overseas and more people participating for the first time. The number of participants was about 400 each time, and by holding [events] online, we were able to have more employees participate.”
“After all, practice is the most important,” says Yonemori. “Having a place to practice is as important as improving one’s knowledge.” Put another way, all the theoretical knowledge in the world won’t improve one’s health without a way to practice and put that knowledge to work. To meet this newfound need, Rakuten began providing a place to practice stretching in the office, as well as taking time in daily huddle meetings to do “huddle stretches.”
Working from home can be different from what most employees are used to. However, as Asami commented, “I think that working from home has had an enormous impact on our minds and body. When reminded of the necessity of exercise, one becomes more aware of one’s health. With this in mind, the wellness team was able to take measures to respond to feelings of social isolation through creative use of online space.”
Finally, since you’ve read all the way to the end of this post, why not treat yourself to a stretch or two, with the help of one of the videos shared at Rakuten Asakai? These videos were created in collaboration with a team of paracyclist athletes from Rakuten Socio Business who also happen to be some of Japan’s best para cyclists: Keiko Sugiura, Miho Fujii, Kazuhei Kimura and Takuto Kurabayashi, all of whom competed in the “2019 Tour de France SAITAMA Criterium” cycling event. As athletes proven in international competition, they’re perfectly positioned to share the right form for successful stretching.