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Wellbeing and the Workplace

Source: http://www.scmp.com/

I’m sure that few of you missed the headlines suggesting that sitting is the new smoking and that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to such ill-effects as diabetes and heart disease. Reaching your full potential at work involves more than just staving off illness; it’s about being fully healthy. Well-thought out holistic and physical changes can help workers achieve full health. They can eradicate the scourge of sitting currently plaguing workplaces and lead to healthy habits that improve energy, focus, mood, and performance in the workplace.

In the UK, the people behind Get Britain Standing have partnered with the British Heart Foundation for the On Your Feet Britain campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness and to fundraise by encouraging people to stand for as much of the working day as possible. In Gensler’s London office, we’ve been trying to encourage people to stand more by installing sit-stand desks at perimeter locations. Other strategies being taken to reduce stress and boost productivity include encouraging staff to take regular breaks. Some companies suggest staff find time to meditate or focus their breathing. Others provide yoga, meditation or massage classes. At Gensler London, we provide fortnightly massage sessions for staff in an effort to ease stress and improve staff wellbeing.

As designers, we tend to address wellbeing by dealing with the physical attributes of space. We strive to maximize ventilation and access to natural light. Other important considerations include selecting materials that minimize the number of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air, and providing workers with access to nature through greenery within the workspace or views of the outdoors, two strategies that have been shown to help reduce stress. Our 2014 Well-Being & the Workplace research found that employees who report that the air in their office is “always fresh” are three-and-a-half times more likely to report that their work environment is energising. But a well-designed office also needs to be used in the right way, so maximizing wellbeing is as much about changing behaviors as it is about designing physical space.

Certain companies increase wellbeing by promoting breaks focused on exercise, with on-site gyms, fitness classes and even climbing walls. Missy Farren and Associates in New York allow staff to leave early on Mondays for exercise and provide every employee with a bicycle.

Other more radical stress-relief ideas include having dogs in the workplace. A recent study at Replacements Ltd. (a dinnerware manufacturer) found that those employees who were allowed to bring their dogs into the office had lower levels of stress by the end of the day compared to their colleagues who did not bring their dogs with them. This is not a one-off, other companies who allow dogs in their offices include Autodesk, Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Amazon.

Source: http://martinklimek.com

After looking at ways to redress the work/life balance for employees, Volkswagen decided to turn their servers off at the end of every workday. Doing so demarcates home time and work time and stops the two from merging.

Nutrition is also important when it comes to boosting productivity and energy levels. Businesses that are able to provide food on-site can task chefs with providing healthy and nutritious snacks to help staff with the post-lunch energy dip. Healthy snacks in vending machines, caffeine-free drinks, and blenders to make smoothies provide a more holistic take on eating at work. For example, the Cleveland Clinic limits the amount of sugar available in all their vending machines on site in an effort to provide healthy food to patients, staff and visitors.

Encouraging less caffeine intake and more access to natural light also helps maintain our relationships with circadian rhythms, which in turn helps us get enough good quality sleep and boosts our productivity. Sleep pods within the office are currently a point of controversy, but many companies, like the Huffington Post, swear by them.

In spite of all the efforts being taken by companies of all different sizes and cultures, our Towards a Wellness-Based Workplace study found that only one in five designers sees health and wellness as an issue they feel comfortable raising with clients. We hope new tools like the WELL Building Standard will further empower designers to have these much needed wellness conversations. The recently launched set of standards hopes to address all of these points and more in an aim to cover the health and wellness aspects of workplaces—mood, fitness, nutrition, sleep and performance—that LEED and BREEAM do not. Whether this new standard gains any traction in the UK remains to be seen, but at the moment it occupies a plane of thinking that workplace design is racing towards.

More holistic approaches to wellbeing at the workplace increase concentration and productivity. This in turn leads to healthier and happier staffs. And healthier, happier staffs feel more valued; they are less prone to absenteeism and show higher rates of retention, thus significantly reducing recruitment costs. Moving forward, we need to empower designers to shift conversations from “how do we treat these employee issues” to “how do we promote healthy behaviors and provide healthy environments.” That would constitute a win – win.

Julia is a regional Sustainable Design Leader in Gensler’s London office. She is passionate about creating high quality interiors that are both energy efficient and easy to maintain. Her ability to work effectively as part of a team and liaise with clients and consultants coupled with her attention to detail and methodical documentation skills make Julia a valued member of Gensler’s workplace studio. Contact her at julia_crawford@gensler.com

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