COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) -- Al Lambert wasn't a fan of massage therapy.
Then a year ago, the owner of Precision Optical in Costa Mesa had health problems that forced him to get physical rehabilitation, including massage.
The experience made him such a believer in the business value of massage therapy that he brought Ann Marie Brautigam, a licensed massage therapist, to his firm in December to give massages to employees. Now she vists Precision Optical twice weekly, and the company foots the bill.
''We make precision optics, which can cause a lot of shoulder tenseness and arm aches,'' Lambert explained.
Companies of all sizes are facing a tension crisis. Besides the ever-present competition and pricing pressures, they're feeling the effects of cutbacks, layoffs, customer or vendor bankruptcies, and now the additional fears of terrorist attacks.
No wonder small-business owners and their employees are uptight. Owners like Lambert are trying to address it because the costs of stress are high.
''Stress that arises from work activities is a contributor to such costly problems as low productivity, occupational illness, absenteeism, poor employee morale and high health-care costs,'' said the California Department of Industrial Relations.
The Web site www.jobstresshelp.com adds to that list other potential business problems: Stress causes inattention and fatigue that can contribute to workplace injuries and makes employees rude, which may alienate customers.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance estimates that U.S. companies spend $95 billion a year on lost work productivity and another $26 billion for stress-related medical and disability payments.
An entire industry has developed to provide corporate-stress solutions.
Some Orange County companies have turned to Wellness Alliance Network in Irvine, for example, which offers a workshop series to help employers maximize productivity, reduce absenteeism and boost employee morale.
Lambert of Precision Optics said, ''I'm a firm believer in keeping employees happy to improve productivity. One of the company's biggest expenses outside direct payroll is insurance for work-related injuries.''
As another stress-reduction tool, Precision Optics also pays part of health-club memberships for its employees. A third of the 70 workers use that benefit.
Although Lambert said the struggling economy makes it tough to afford stress-reduction services, he figures the company will come out ahead.
Stress-reduction therapies like massage make employees more productive, happier about going to work and less likely to file workers' compensation claims, said Brautigam.
One method she uses, called soft-tissue release, can relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injuries and frozen shoulder problems in just 15 minutes, she said.
Brautigam works through several chiropractors' offices and also owns Corporate Bodyworks of America of Fountain Valley, which offers a range of wellness services. One company, like Precision Optics, can sign up for a service plan, or several small businesses in one location can form a coalition to share costs.
Millard MacAdam, managing partner of ProActive Leadership Consulting in Newport Beach, is another proponent of stress-reducers like massage.
''If my body hurts, it turns into energy loss, aggravation, mistakes in interpersonal relations,'' he said. ''With massage, I get immediate relief from pain, but I also see greater concentration ... and creativity when I'm writing.''
Neither MacAdam nor Lambert limits his stress reduction to massage.
Lambert exercises and sees a chiropractor.
MacAdam's son is a chiropractor, whom he uses frequently. He does daily stretching, cardiovascular exercise and weight-lifting.
''Eating right is also important,'' MacAdam added.
Laguna Hills insurance agent Rachel Owens often goes into a quiet room in the evening for 40 minutes of strenuous yoga.
''I also reach out to fellow members of the National Association of Women Business Owners to talk out my trouble and get constructive feedback,'' Owens said. Both techniques ''change my focus, which relieves stress. Nothing makes the problem go away but facing the problem,'' she said.
Brent Wood, owner of BC Human Resources Consulting in Fullerton, also changes his focus by committing to activities unrelated to work.
''I coach Little League,'' he said. ''I also take time for my spiritual growth. The CEO of my company is God, and if the heat turns up too much, prayer always helps.''
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