By Truddy Cheung
Head of Workplace Solutions - North Asia
In a series of posts on global workplace trends, my workplace strategy colleagues and I explore the five core areas where we believe businesses around the world must make significant progress over the next five years. Today we'll explore one of the hottest topics in workplace design: wellness.
In the coming years, people will expect that they will be healthier when they leave the office than when they arrived. This means access to high-quality air, light, water and other environmental features in addition to opportunities for exercise, health care services and social engagement.
Wellness programs are becoming increasingly common in the workplace. The RAND Workplace Wellness Programs Study found that in 2012, about half of U.S. small businesses (50+ employees) and 90% of large organisations (50,000+ employees) offered wellness programs. But while businesses know that wellness in the workplace is important, many are still exploring how to get it right.
In a survey Colliers conducted, 85% of businesses said wellness ranked at the top of all company initiatives due to employee demand and competition with peers. Yet, our study showed that companies are struggling to quantify the benefits of wellness in the workplace and focus their efforts — even as they are faced with wellness-related challenges, from rising health care expenses to the drain on productivity caused by stress and illness.
Roadmap to 2022: Lead employees to workplace wellness
Ultimately, individuals are responsible for their own health. But it is in a company’s best interest to have a healthy workforce — both physically and mentally. According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 34% of a sample of global businesses said low productivity due to stress and depression causes damage to their bottom lines, followed by 33% naming damage due to unhealthy lifestyles. In the U.S., overweight workers and those with chronic health conditions contributed to more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually.
Wellness in the workplace is all about shaping behaviour. You can’t tell employees they must take the stairs but you can design a well-lit, attractive staircase that is more appealing than the elevator. You can’t force employees to eat well, but you can provide high-quality, healthy choices in the cafeteria and minimise unhealthy options. You can’t require employees to care for their health but you can offer access to programs for assessing and managing chronic diseases.
Businesses must also consider the impact of everyday work on wellness. The StressPulse report from ComPsych suggests that nearly three-quarters of people point to workload or people issues in the workplace as primary causes of stress. Consider: Do employees have freedom in their work? Do their responsibilities and roles lend themselves to healthy levels of stress? Are managers provided with training to help them effectively engage with their teams? These factors can all make a significant impact on wellness and productivity.
Getting wellness in the workplace right can have meaningful benefits. For some companies, wellness programs have generated an average return on investment of about 3:1 in terms of lowered medical costs and heightened productivity. Many also see a reduction of employee absenteeism, staff turnover and employee stress, which can in turn improve productivity levels.
Some companies have extended their wellness programs beyond physical and mental health to also include cultural health and workplace health. In line with this holistic approach, international health care group Bupa thinks about wellness programs based on four “quadrants”: healthier places, healthier bodies, healthier minds and healthier cultures.
Bupa works with companies to develop programs that address each component, using tools like an “online health assessment” to provide insight into the health of the individuals. Other tools and platforms can help generate a gap analysis in the areas of healthy minds, cultures and workplaces.
Source: “Your 2017 workplace health strategy," Bupa Services
Roadmap to 2022: Make technology a wellness enabler
The rise of fitness-tracking tools has made it clear that technology can provide valuable insights and motivation that contribute to wellness. But companies have a long way to go to make technology a true enabler of wellness in the workplace. In a Colliers study, only 26% of companies said they subsidize or support employee use of fitness wearables such as Fitbit® trackers. We expect this will look very different by 2022.
In several of our own offices in Europe, Colliers launched a program through which employees wear Fitbits and answer daily questions to assess exercise levels, stress levels, productivity and overall well-being. Employees can translate data-driven insights into decisions around how, where and when to work to balance productivity and wellness.
“I found out that my stress levels went up and productivity went down when I worked more than six hours consecutively without going outside. So, I started experimenting: three times a week, I went running during the day. My sense that this made me more productive was clearly confirmed by data, which made it easier to commit to changing my behaviour.” JanJaap Boogaard, Head of EMEA Workplace Solutions.
In the coming years, we envision that every employee will have access to a personal wellness dashboard and a health coach familiar with their personal requirements. If organisations can find a way to provide technologies that offer valuable insights to employees, we may achieve a new wellness-oriented working culture that values individual needs in the quest for health and productivity.
Roadmap to 2022: Take designing for wellness to the next level
By 2022, we expect that the importance of benchmarking built environment performance to wellness standards will increase dramatically. Already, certifications like the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) are becoming significant in the way buildings attract and retain tenants. WELL was introduced in 2014 as the first building certification to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of people based on seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
Today, there are more than 400 projects registered, certified or pre-certified with WELL and the U.S., China, Australia, France, Canada and the UK are leading the way. I’m based in Hong Kong and have witnessed the strong growth in the healthy building sector in China, where there are more than 72 active WELL projects — compared to 185 in the U.S., where WELL has been even more widely adopted. This is just one example of the emerging indicators that call owners and occupiers alike to take notice of the importance of wellness-focused certifications.
It will become increasingly essential to make wellness a seamless part of the workday. Think about how circulation path planning can help foster movement in addition to social wellness. The layout of a medieval Italian town is a great example of this: all the paths and roads lead to the central piazza. It’s a natural place for people to bump into each other, socialize and connect.
Replicating this principle when planning an office can work in the same way. The circulation paths around the office are the streets and pathways. The common break area: the piazza, drawing people in with amenities (read: the coffee machine!) but also providing a social forum and a visual clue that employees are part of a bigger community.
Basic building systems should also contribute to wellness. We expect more offices to replace the glare of fluorescent lights with circadian lighting systems designed to support natural human rhythms by mimicking the colour, angle and intensity of sunlight throughout the day. Studies have shown that circadian lighting designs can contribute to increased alertness, improved productivity, faster cognitive processing and enhanced mood. Who couldn’t use a bit more of those things during the workday?
Roadmap to 2022: Go back to nature to enhance well-being
An emerging trend in workplace design is the integration of biophilia — or the recognition of humans’ innate connections to nature — into the overall design agenda. Biophilic design seeks to incorporate natural elements in aesthetically pleasing ways (think natural materials, views of nature, access to natural light, etc.) to address the human desire to be close to nature and capitalize on the impact natural elements can have on psychological well-being.
Some leading organisations are integrating biophilic design in the workplace to drive wellness, sustainability and organisational behaviour. One recent study shows that employee well-being and productivity increased up to 13% in response to the presence of natural elements in the workplace, including greenery and sunlight.
Yet while biophilic design elements are consistently associated with higher reported levels of happiness at work, many companies have been slow to adopt this approach. The same study found that 42% of office workers in EMEA do not have access to natural light and 55% don’t have access to greenery. We expect that this will change.
In our view, the top five biophilic elements of workspace design that companies should view as high priority considerations are:
- Natural light - Research has clearly shown the impact of natural light on productivity and overall well-being. In a study on the impact of workplace daylight exposure, office workers without windows reported poorer sleep quality and higher daytime dysfunction than their counterparts with access to natural light.
- Strategic use of colour - The colours surrounding employees have also been shown to have a demonstrable impact on mood, stress levels and productivity. While colours like grey have been associated with lower levels of creativity and higher levels of stress, colours like green and blue have been shown to have positive impacts on well-being and creativity.
- Quiet working spaces – With the rise of open office floorplans and shared working environments, access to quiet spaces for concentrated work can be important for some organisations. In research conducted by Steelcase, 98% of highly engaged employees reported that they had “the ability to concentrate easily” in their workplace. In contrast, only 15% of highly disengaged and dissatisfied employees said they could concentrate easily.
- Indoor plant life – A potted plant in the corner might seem like a simple nod to décor, but plants are powerful. Not only can greenery contribute to indoor air quality, but plants in the office can help reduce stress, increase productivity and even improve physical health.
- A view of water or other natural elements – The impact of greenery and other natural elements outside the office building can also be highly impactful. Window views of greenery and water have been linked with lower levels of stress.
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The average person will spend a significant portion of their lifetime in the workplace. How can you ensure that time contributes to your employees’ health and well-being, rather than detracts?
Consider this “Workplace Wellness Checklist” and how each of these features (and more) can play a role in your workplace strategy.
- Access to natural light
- Ergonomic equipment
- Quiet, restorative spaces
- Active noise reduction
- Tall ceilings
- Strategic use of colour
- Interior walls made of glass
- Stress-management resources
- Views of natural elements
- Access to healthy food and drink options in cafeterias, vending machines and break rooms
- Indoor air quality
- Design features that encourage walking, such as stairs or the placement of shared resources (think printers and waste bins) in the centre of the workspace
- Sit/stand desks or treadmill desks
- Anti-microbial surface protection, particularly in shared environments
- Multi-spectrum or circadian lighting
- Plants and greenery
- Wearable technologies
- Spaces that encourage social engagement
- Management training and resources to encourage healthy work relationships
Click here to download the article as a PDF.
Stay tuned for more on the '5 shifts companies must make over the next 5 years' as our experts delve into each topic over the following weeks.
This post is part of a series on the workplace trends and insights that Colliers International’s global workplace and office experts see as the most crucial for companies to align with in the future. Don't miss out on the weekly updates, email email@example.com to subscribe today.