Companies turn to brain games to tackle work stress

September 24, 2012: 1:58 PM ET

Some employers are expanding their wellness programs to include brain function exercises to help employees manage stress amid increased demands on their time and attention.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

FORTUNE -- Jeanne Siersdorfer is no stranger to distraction. The 59-year-old government relations specialist at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio works in an open office environment where it's all too easy to latch onto cubicle neighbors' conversations.

But Siersdorfer has a secret weapon: hours of computer time she's logged balancing a virtual basketball while other objects fly across the computer screen.

"I catch myself and say, 'focus, focus, focus.' I visualize that crazy basketball and trying to balance it and the next thing I know, I'm back in my zone at work," she says.

Unlike other office workers who may play solitaire or Words With Friends on the sly, Nationwide actually encourages Siersdorfer to play the basketball game, among others, and has made it a part of its wellness plan. The games, which are produced by a company called Brain Resource and part of a package called MyBrainSolutions, aim to teach concentration and stress management techniques to boost executive function and memory, increase positive thinking, and achieve other brain-enhancing goals.

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As more and more jobs rely on knowledge work, creativity, and communication skills, it's not enough to have workers sitting at their desks -- they must also be mentally sharp, emotionally present, and free from distraction. The answer for some: brain training.

"The brain, we're finding out, is much like muscles in the body. If you exercise it, it gets better. You actually grow neurons," says Gregory Bayer, chief executive of Brain Resource, which created MyBrainSolutions. "If you can teach people how to manage those multitasking and stressful environments optimally, you're going to preserve their health." More

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