Prioritizing Wellness in the Workplace

It’s a known fact that full-time employees often exceed the standardized 40 hours of work time in the office. When faced with an ever-growing nationwide workload epidemic, it becomes pertinent to prioritize employee health and wellness in the workplace.

First, let’s begin with the basics: What does wellness in the workplace mean? 

The state of wellness can mean and incorporate many different aspects of one’s life, all focused on achieving leveled healthiness between your mind, body, and soul. As we go about our daily lives, we experience the highs and lows within the stages of wellness; these are the successes and failures, the "I walked the four flights of stairs today instead of taking the elevator, but I didn't get enough sleep," and the "I spent the work day with visual access to the exterior and daylight, but worked through lunch eating my food at my desk and therefore didn't give my mind a break" statements that we find ourselves reflecting on again and again.

The key to balancing these highs and lows resides in having access to important resources throughout the day that aid in overall wellness success, such as a wellness-conscious built environment or organizational policies. Fortunately for many, the wellness movement has propelled to the forefront of the workplace discussion, especially in the A/E industry. Designers of all kinds are trained to consider the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants to invite wellness to our professional lives.

How Can We Measure Wellness at Work?

A fairly new guideline, more and more A/E professionals are learning about and adopting the WELL Building Standard. This standard combines best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research to configure buildings in support of human health and well-being. There are ten WELL categories (Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind, and Community) that enable experts to design spaces, measure data, and improve the quality of the health and wellbeing of their clients and respective tenants. The combination of the ten categories creates an environment that fuels our bodies, keeps us moving, inspires our best work, and encourages healthy eating habits.

Within each category are smaller goals that reflect a certain amount of points, which collectively rank the project out of an overall possible 100 points. These points can be achieved through both complex or simple measures, such as meeting acoustical levels, encouraging movement through sit-to-stand workstations, having access to health food options and fitness programs, providing mental health support, granting plentiful access to daylight in the office, and many other ways that improve both the built environment and policies and benefits offered by companies.

How Can Non-A/E professionals Prioritize Wellness?

Wellness solutions can begin with the individual, through an aspect of the physical environment or modern technology called a “nudge.” This concept, which originates from Rex Miller’s book The Healthy Workplace Nudge, represents anything that encourages a person to make healthier lifestyle choices. For example, one may make an effort to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or choose to adapt their personal diet to eat whole grains and free-range food in place of more processed foods. 

We’ve also seen that one-way technology is helping the wellness movement: fitness-tracking devices and mobile applications can now notify the user when they have been sitting for too long. Small vibrations are scheduled to gently remind the user that they should get up and move their body if it notices overstayed rest periods. These nudges remain present, and it’s up to us to take advantage of them.

 

 

How can we apply these strategies for our clients?

At SMMA, our clients have increasingly been interested in wellness after realizing that wellness-focused work environments result in better employee retention. Through interviews and independent research, it’s been found that potential new employees are looking for wellness-consciousness benefits when searching the job market, such as enjoyable and collaborative spaces, ergonomic furniture options, healthy food programs, fitness reimbursements, and more. We are in the unique position to educate and guide our clients on the benefits of wellness, while also implementing wellness strategies into our project designs to provide a wellness-focused outcome.

 

 

SMMA has found success with bringing wellness solutions and WELL Standard elements to several of its projects. For 150-person brand experience agency Cramer, SMMA implemented an outdoor landscape, several community eating areas complemented by a dedicated health-focused chef, standing meeting spaces, and balanced office destinations at the top of staircases to promote physical movement around the building. Another more recent client, Cambridge Savings Bank, also benefits from increased stair presence, an outside patio, healthy food options, sit-to-stand desks, a yoga studio and gym, and monitoring of lighting, water quality, air quality, and noise levels throughout the organization.

Celebrating Wellness

Under the WELL Building Standard, projects must get re-tested every three years to maintain their certification. This not only differentiates WELL projects from others such as LEED projects, but also asserts much-needed accountability for organizations regarding continued wellness performance. This standard will only continue to make itself a priority within the workplace as more people realize that wellness concepts, often abstract (such as the quality of light, air, water, and temperature change), have a profound impact on our wellbeing. We as designers must start analyzing, displaying, and sharing the data with building occupants, in an effort of celebrating this information and our progression working alongside the wholistic individual.

 
Interested in learning more?

For more information about wellness in the workplace,
WELL AP Standards, or getting started with your own wellness solutions,
feel free to contact me at ssopelak@smma.com.