No massages if in doubt

The popular option of having a massage at the employer’s expense will not be returning.
Vrouw krijgt stoelmassage Photo Shutterstock

It is not possible to fully guarantee personal safety, says human resources director Martijn Scheen. ‘And the rule is: if in doubt, don’t do it.’

The massages were suspended in July 2023 after reports of transgressive behaviour. Recently, the decision was taken to stop them for good, which led to a lot of comments on the intranet. At the request of Resource, Scheen explains the decision.

Why were there massages anyway?
‘In the collective labour agreements, WUR agreed with the trade unions that it would spend a certain sum of money on secondary employee benefits. One of the aims is to keep staff healthy. In consultation with the unions, we decided in 2018 to offer relaxing massages. The availability of fruit at work is a similar agreement.’

Were there a lot of massages?
‘About one in six employees (some 17 per cent) made use of the option. It started with chair massages at the office. During the pandemic, the possibility was introduced of having a massage at the masseur’s practice. You got ten credits per year for 15-minute massages. In the masseur’s practice, you could use several credits in one go. So you got fewer massages, but each massage was longer.’

Where did these incidents take place?
‘Several incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviour were reported. These were serious incidents that came as a real shock to us. They involved the same masseur and took place in that person’s own practice. After discussions with the Massageprofs organization, we decided to provisionally stop the service. We thought long and hard about this because we know how popular the massages were.’

Why are you now stopping for good?
‘The Massageprofs masseurs are freelancers; they are not employees. They have a protocol for their work, but it was clear from our discussions with the director that there is not enough oversight or guidance of individual masseurs. We concluded we cannot guarantee personal safety sufficiently within this system. What is more, Massageprofs’ response to the incidents was not what we would have hoped. They did not take appropriate action after being told about the incidents.’

Is switching to another company an option?
‘That is not so easy. There are not many companies able to deliver this service for an organization as big as WUR, and they all use freelancers. Also, providing massages isn’t an essential service. The massages were mainly offered as a form of relaxation. Other solutions are more effective for treating and preventing shoulder and neck problems, such as good posture at work, physiotherapy exercises and taking breaks.’

Will you be introducing a replacement for the massages?
‘We are still considering this. Massage chairs are an option, but you need the space for that and space is scarce. One suggestion is to have the massages in public areas, but not everyone feels comfortable with that. We are still talking to the unions about what we could do.’ 

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