Benefits that rock: Why Zappos uses music to promote well-being at work

Zappos’ corporate office may be getting a bit more rhythmic, thanks to the addition of a new wellness benefit.

The online retail giant is offering more than 1,500 employees access to online acoustic and electric guitars, bass and ukulele lessons, thanks to a partnership with Fender Play, an app that provides a step-by-step guide for users to learn an instrument.

The program, called Strum for the Sole, allows workers to play the instruments on the company’s so-called jam room, a space in Zappos’ Las Vegas office that is outfitted with instruments, says Bhawna Provenzano, director of employee benefits and diversity at Zappos. Employees can access the mobile app for free in the jam room and will also receive a discount to sign up for Fender Play on their own.

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“The whole premise for Strum for the Sole is to offer employees the opportunity to learn an instrument,” she says. “It helps build social connections, reduce stress, slow down and express creativity. It’s something new that we wanted to try.”

Provenzano says the music benefit is part of a larger initiative at the company that focuses on physical, mental, social and financial wellness. The company also offers workers a fitness program, financial workshops and on-site counselors, among other benefits. Music can help with mental health by allowing employees to destress and take a break from working, she adds.

“It helps people exercise their brains and develop more concentration skills,” she says. “All of these things do end up helping with productivity down the line.”

Employers may need to think more critically about their mental wellness benefits. About 32% of employees reported suffering from depression, anxiety or stress in the workplace in the last two years but only 23% reported using their employers well-being program, according to data from Willis Towers Watson.

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Ignoring these mental health issues could come with a hefty price tag for employers. It is estimated that unengaged workers, a consequence of mental health disorders and stress, cost the U.S. between $483 billion to $605 billion a year in lost productivity. About 83% of employers offer mental health coverage, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

But music isn’t just about reducing stress, there are also physical benefits for employees, says Mary Keenan, director of product at Fender Play. Learning an instrument also has benefits for muscle memory and posture.

“It takes a connection between the brain, hands and fingers and posture to be able to pull this off,” Keenan says.

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This new program is a first for both Zappos and Fender Play. Zappos’ employees are piloting the program, which may be expanded in the future, the companies say. Provenzano says she hopes the program will help workers create connections with others in the office and have a positive impact on productivity and collaboration.

“It helps build new bonds and helps people get closer to one another,” she says. “Often times at Zappos that’s where new ideas are born.”

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