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Mental and Physical Health at Work: Corporate Facilities Keeping Globally Competitive Traders in Peak Condition

As employee health is considered indispensable in promoting new value creation, Sumitomo Corporation shepherds policies championing various aspects of health care. The company’s counseling center and massage room support its employees’ physical and mental well being. The Enriching+ interview team paid a visit to both facilities to learn the secret of their popularity which has seen usage increase over the past 15 or more years.

  • Sumitomo Corporation Group (SCG) Counseling Center

    Taeko Morikawa

    Morikawa is a certified public psychologist and is qualified as a senior industrial counselor, career consultant, and family counselor. Following university graduation, she spent nearly a decade in sales support and marketing promotion for an alcoholic beverage and food manufacturer, subsequently studying psychology/counseling both domestically and overseas. In 2000, she transitioned into industrial counseling, handling counseling, consulting, and training for multiple firms. She has been affiliated with the SCG Counseling Center since 2006, serving as its Director since 2019.

  • Human Resources Welfare Department

    Taiki Murata

    In 2009, Murata joined Sumitomo Corporation, focusing on human resources. He has gained experience in executive/staff compensation planning and in welfare, including an assignment in New York. Murata mobilizes the “one-for-all, all-for-one” spirit he nurtured as a rugby player, passionately training and activating human resources—the heart of trading companies.

Shifting From Treatment to Prevention: Shaping Employee Energy Through Health Management

Many have surely heard that people are the prime assest of any integrated trading and business investment company. At Sumitomo Corporation, anticipating the changing times while creating new value each day requires tough negotiations and perseverance. With a global business model embracing over 1,000 employees located in some 60 countries with many others circling the planet, night and day seem interchangeable. Sumitomo Corporation strives to enable employees to work with energy (iki-iki), excitement (waku-waku), and in good health, taking on challenges to create new value. To this end, the company supports employee health based on three pillars: improvement of health literacy, reassurance in emergencies, and global medical support.

Excerpt from the "Health and Productivity Management" page on Sumitomo Corporation’s corporate website

Recently, Japan has shifted focus from emergent disease responsiveness to disease prevention. The government’s 2023 Basic Policies for Economic and Fiscal Management and Structural Reform include enhancing “efforts to promote better health, prevent health problems, and prevent the severe exacerbation of existing health concerns” as measures to strengthen and promote the field of social security. Preventing illness before it occurs is a key factor in extending healthy life expectancy as Japan’s working population continues to decline.

What measures can companies take as prevention initiatives increasingly gain importance? We may glean a clue from the dual facilities occupying a corner of the Sumitomo Corporation head office. The Enriching+ interview team paid a visit to the counseling center and massage room to learn the secret of their popularity and why employee visits have increased over the past 15 or more years since their establishment.

Favored by Employees for 18 Years—a Look Inside the Counseling Center, Flourishing Through Word-Of-Mouth Success

The SCG Counseling Center lies within Sumitomo Corporation’s head office. Occupying 200 square meters, the center is carefully conceived to serve Sumitomo Corporation as well as its 50 group companies, representing a total of 12,500 individuals. The reception area is framed in refreshing greenery, a reassuring welcome for each visitor. The two counseling rooms feature green and orange tones conveying a warm and gentle atmosphere. The rooms are arranged for personal comfort, with diagonal rather than opposed seating and separate entry/exit doors to safeguard employee privacy.

“We keep blankets on hand as some clients have low body temperatures due to stress,” comments Director Taeko Morikawa, who has been with the SCG Counseling Center since it opened in 2005. She has played a key role in the rising popularity of the center, which has grown from about 200 counseling requests in the first year to over 2,300 in 2022.

One employee commented that “there is often an unconscious bias attached to those who seek counseling, so I hesitated to visit, but hearing many positive comments about it convinced me to reconsider. It has changed my view of counseling.” Another explained that, “It helps me organize my thoughts and feelings. I use it as time to gain a bird’s-eye view of myself and my situation.” Remarks such as these point to an increasing in-house awareness of the center’s effect.

From in-house data

The center has been in service for 18 years since its 2005 opening. What might explain its longevity?

Morikawa Over the years, we have built up trust in the center’s security and professionalism, making it a place employees can visit without hesitation. We hope to follow overseas precedent and function preventively for stress management, enabling clients to boost their performance results at work.

When we first opened, some worried that confidences might be conveyed to human resources or work superiors, while others fretted over which problems to present during consultation. The counseling center you see today is a result of our response to these concerns and our steady, cumulative efforts, which together paid off in devotion to counceling and repeat visits.

Our chief operating policy has remained “strict confidentiality.” We operate independently from the company and do not share information or collaborate with HR, workplaces, or health clinics, so consultation privacy is never breached.

Our second operating principle is the freedom to consult on any topic. Discussions are not restricted to work-related issues. We emphasize the freedom to brooch any topic unhesitatingly, at no cost, with impartial professionals. Most recently, the top concern accounting for close to a third of our consultations, has been mental health management, followed by work, human relations, and career issues.

SCG Counseling Center Operating Policies

Strict confidentiality: untethered to HR and the workplace

・ Thorough consideration for/protection of privacy
・ No disclosure of visits, individual names, or consultation content
・ Annual intranet posting of total visits, gender breakdown, and major consultation topics only

Flexible topics: the freedom to consult on any issue, be it personal or work-related

・ Self-management/mental training
・ Insomnia, anxiety, and other physical or mental issues
・ Work-related concerns (workload, work quality, motivation, overseas assignments, career, harassment, and other topics)
・ Human relations (work, family, personal)
・ Family issues (such as healthcare, childcare, education, and caregiving related to parents, spouse, siblings, and/or children)
・ Life stages (partner relationships, marriage, pregnancy, personal grief, etc.)

Consultation requests are increasing. Is this due to specific measures on your part?

Morikawa We strive to have new employees, from college graduates to mid-career hires, made aware of the center during initial training. We also offer monthly 30-minute lunchtime seminars on trending topics to share knowledge, raise awareness, and cement the center’s image as a user-friendly facility.

While in-person sessions are the norm, we began remote counseling to serve heightened needs during the pandemic; despite little research and a scant track record in Japan, our staff studied and found ways to offer counseling online. This accumulated knowledge has paid off; our counselors have been recognized for enhancing their skills to meet current needs such as conducting sessions for employees stationed overseas or hybrid home/office workers.

The main factor in our increasing client number has been word-of-mouth recommendations by employees. It is much easier to seek counseling when those around you have already done so; in fact, that describes most of our new first-time visitors.

The Massage Room — An Oasis for Sumitomo Corporation Group Employees To Enjoy During Work Breaks

Four private cubicles are neatly lined up in the Koriton Massage Room. Yuki Masuda of the Construction Equipment Rental Business Dept. visits the facility about once a week after work. “I injured myself while exercise when I was younger, and now sitting for long periods of time takes its toll on my entire body,” he shares. “A colleague pointed out that massage reaps mental benefits as well as physical, and I do feel mentally refreshed as I mull over current work projects. The massage room is popular and it can be tough to secure a reservation, so I try not to advertise the place (smiling).”

The massage room is operated by visually impaired therapists, with six staff members at present. “Our treatment is tailored to individual request,” explains Yukihiro Yoneda. “Since employees stop by before or after work, or during work breaks, it’s important for us to gauge just the right pressure which will relax their muscles. Nothing encourages us like hearing that our massage makes clients feel good,” he adds, highlighting the source of his job satisfaction.

What is the corporate aim of this massage room?

Murata Our goal is to offer a user-friendly facility which eases employee work fatigue. As many Sumitomo Corporation employees are exercise enthusiasts, this also supports our efforts to promote better health.

How have you promoted Koriton?

Murata We had over 3,000 users annually before the pandemic. That slacked off during Covid, but the numbers are quickly bouncing back with over 2,000 users thus far in fiscal 2023. We think that welfare benefits which keep facility fees lower than those of comparable nearby places may help the massage room’s popularity. I’d say that our location within the head office and the fact that employees can easily pop in during working hours boost the numbers.

Many Sumitomo Corporation employees support both the counseling center and the massage room. The trust borne of ongoing interaction between employees and those staffing the respective facilities may be the secret to their sustained success.


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