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Wellbeing in the Workplace Means More Cake for Everyone 

Graphic © Gensler

Wellbeing in the workplace means more cake for everyone. Yes, you read that correctly! We don’t actually mean the sugary treat served at weddings and birthday parties. We are referring to the outdated beliefs that misrepresent wellbeing in the workplace as a zero-sum game: if employees get a slice of cake (in this case, wellbeing), organizations will get less. There is staggering evidence that shows the opposite is true: more wellbeing equals more cake for everyone.

The business case is clear. Investing in the wellbeing of your people improves the bottom line and boosts employee retention and attraction. There is a reason that workplace wellness is a $6 billion industry in the United States. Neuroeconomist, TED speaker and author Paul Zak and his research team found evidence that happy employees are not only more productive but are also more innovative and contribute more to an organization’s bottom line. Gallup reports that organizations with highly satisfied, engaged employees experience 37 percent lower absenteeism, 21 percent higher productivity, and 10 percent higher customer satisfaction. These are just two examples demonstrating that employees who feel well and cared for at work are more committed to their organizations and more engaged in their roles. They also build stronger relationships with clients, helping their organizations grow.

Unfortunately, the zero-sum mindset persists among many theorists and business leaders. We have learned that the most successful approach to addressing these misconceptions is to examine both the individual and organizational benefits with our clients. Having an honest discussion about the mutual benefits of workplace wellbeing requires a clear understanding of what it means for their culture and how it can impact individuals and the organization in mutually beneficial ways.

ME + WE = A Stronger US

To continue with our analogy, flour cannot become a cake on its own. You need to add the right ingredients, mix them and then bake under the right conditions to achieve the desired outcome. This is true for individuals and organizations as well. It’s their alignment that creates a stronger, better US and has the best outcomes for all. The definition of wellbeing varies for each organization so let us first clarify what we mean by individual and organizational wellbeing:

When it comes to measuring wellbeing, we need to look beyond salaries and financial performance. For individual (ME) wellbeing in the workplace, we broke it down to seven critical characteristics.

  • Aligns values: Employees who work with organizations with missions and values that aligns with their own are far happier and more successful.
  • Autonomy + control: Space alone is not a solution for wellbeing in the workplace, but it can be an incredibly effective tool when individuals have some control over their work and environment. They feel that they have an influence and a voice.
  • Personal pride: Successful companies celebrate their individuality, leadership and innovation. People who are comfortable being who they are allows for a level of comfort that can spark more creativity, unique decisions and innovative future thinking processes.
  • Take risks: By taking risks and welcoming mistakes, we not only learn and grow but unleash inspiration and creativity that can lead to new and unexpected opportunities.
  • Clear expectations + ownership: A dynamic psychological contract between individuals and organizations, which changes over time, is an important determinant of behavior in organizations.
  • Passion projects: Engaging in projects or activities outside your job role can elevate your connection with others, inside and outside your organization.
  • Intrinsic motivation: Work is not very exciting if you think of it as a daily grind. But, if you get out of bed and feel excited to go to work, you will enjoy a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Much of the current wellbeing research has been focused on individual wellbeing, but we believe it’s critical to help clients aspire for organizational wellbeing (WE) beyond financial health. The corresponding characteristics include:

  • Purpose driven: Gone are the days when it was acceptable to promote profitability as the only goal of the business. Employees are drawn to organizations with a deeper sense of purpose. Work environments are a powerful canvas for expressing and celebrating an organizations purpose. Ironically, when the focus moves away from profitability, organizations do see greater financial results.
  • Culture of trust + empowerment: Working anytime and anywhere is today’s norm. Balancing work and life tasks is important now more than ever, and organizations need to empower employees to do what works for them. Organizations should embrace this for the wellbeing of their employees and also to compete for top talent.
  • Equality + inclusion: The Social Progress Imperative’s 2017 annual report, based on social and environmental indicators, listed the U.S. at number 18, giving it a classification as a second-tier nation. Some of the lowest scores fell under the “Tolerance and Inclusion” category (see full report here. Organizational leaders must do everything in their power to provide physically and psychologically safe workplaces for all employees and ensure that people from all backgrounds feel welcome and are treated equally.
  • Innovation + creativity: Based on our 2013 and 2016 Workplace Research findings, we found that having companies ranked as innovative by their employees are 5x more likely to foster workplaces that prioritize individual and group work. Organizations need to stay innovative and creative to navigate a demanding and competitive business world and continuously adapt to constant change.
  • Defined process + procedures: Organizations that have clear goals for the work ahead allows for employees to master processes. Defining roles and responsibilities clearly is a trademark of good business.
  • Community influence + impact: Organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Participating in the greater community creates opportunities to interact with diverse groups of people, make connections and generate meaningful business relationships.
  • Challenging + creative job functions: Organizations that allow for employees to stretch and grow expertise will retain those employees for longer periods of time. It is not enough for employees to master work. Opportunities for learning must be consistently presented and supported by a workplace which inspires creativity, encourages happy collisions and promotes knowledge sharing.

Two recently completed projects demonstrate how space can be used to support wellbeing:

The concept of IIDA’s Headquarters in Chicago was grounded on the intersection of the creative individual contribution and the togetherness made by shared experiences. Unifying the space in a single continuous gesture is a gallery layered with artifacts that connect people with the art of interior design. Not only has IIDA elevated the employee experience in their new space, but they welcome members of the community to use their facilities for events. Photo: Eric Laignel.

2U’s new headquarters was designed to be functional and inspiring. 2U is serious about their mission and their exuberant culture is reflected throughout the space. Two full floors are dedicated to first-class amenities with a spa-like fitness center, café, servery with multiple food options, dining and a large conferencing center. A coffee bar on the ground floor greets employees upon arrival with a monumental stair that connects the two amenity levels. Further reinforcing their inclusive culture, the fitness center and other restrooms feature gender-neutral facilities. Image by Connie Zhou.

By using space as a thread that aligns the building blocks of workplace wellbeing together, you not only create a place that supports your values and supports individuals and the organization, but also gives you a maximum return on your investment.

Icing on the Cake

Art Gensler said “We [Gensler] personally believe in building a family culture. Families have staying power and build deep roots. A family culture respects both the individual and the group, and is committed to helping each other out. You celebrate in the good times, and you cooperate to figure out your way forward during the tough ones.” This sense of family is the core ethos at Gensler and defines our One Firm-Firm guiding principle. For individual wellbeing to be integrated in the workplace, organizations must support and encourage this type of thinking. Wellbeing cannot be a grass roots effort alone. Leadership needs to foster an environment where employees are comfortable exercising the dimensions of wellbeing in their own lives. Organizations that achieve this will see the value of their investment by having more productive, happy and engaged employees; less absenteeism; and a better culture overall.

Gensler’s Working Wellbeing model looks at both the Me and We of wellbeing. The dimensions are interdependent and reinforce each other to develop happier, healthier humans and organizations. Imagine a person in your organization lives a life with a holistic view of wellbeing. This person sits on a team and can influence his or her peers to consider wellbeing in their own life. A team focusing on wellbeing can affect other teams to shift focus and those teams can shift organizations to consider wellbeing. This ripple effect can influence both people and organizations to be a happier and healthier.

A strong US can lead to results that benefit the individuals of an organization and the organization itself. A strong US has the power to transform organizations by increasing engagement, expanding innovation, creating a resilient culture and winning the talent competition. Now let’s eat cake!

This post is the fourth in a series by Gensler’s Consulting practice in Washington, D.C. Read the first three documents, The Engaged Employee, Change by Design and Wellbeing in the Workplace Has Superpowers.

Lisa Fjeld is a Marketing Specialist in the Washington, D.C. office with a focus on workplace and consulting opportunities. She has been working closely with Gregory and Gensler’s Wellbeing team to develop the WorkWell model and market Gensler’s wellbeing services. Contact her at Lisa_Fjeld@gensler.com.
Gregory Plavcan, an associate in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office, has been instrumental in leading the development of the firm’s WorkWell Model, as well as a key contributor to Gensler’s internal Wellbeing initiatives. He balances this commitment to wellbeing with his role directing the DC office’s Sustainability Consulting group. He works closely with offices throughout the firm, with a focus on the Southeast region, to integrate sustainable design practices on a variety of project types including government, financial, law and professional services. Contact him at Gregory_plavcan@gensler.com.