By Magda Krapf, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Wellness in a workplace has become an important factor as companies compete to attract and retain skilled professionals in an increasingly competitive human resources (employment) market. The WELL Building Standard, an evidence based and holistic standard focused on the health and wellness of people in buildings, was first introduced in 2014. Earlier this year, a new version WELL v2 pilot was released. The V2 version has been significantly improved: it offers new pathways for existing buildings with focus on policy-oriented features and minor design changes, decreased the number of mandatory preconditions, and increased optimizations to allow for more flexibility — to list some of the changes.
As a result, getting WELL certified has been made more approachable. Still not ready to pursue WELL certification? In this article we explore some strategies that will take building owners and facility managers one step closer towards wellness in the workplace.
Why should we talk about wellness in workplace? For starters, per World Health Organization (WHO), the determinants of health factors that contribute to a person’s health are: biological, socioeconomic, psychological, behavioral, or social in nature. In theory, genetics and behavior are only 25% of the factors, while physical and social environment is more than 50%.(1)
Secondly, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors. And finally, employees — their salaries and benefits, are the biggest expense for most companies. Studies show the connection between a wellness-oriented space design and employee satisfaction, increase in employee engagement, better employee retention and reduction of absenteeism, so it makes sense to invest in employees wellness.
Daylight And Views Are Number One Wish
From our own research it appears that the two most desired features in a workplace are daylight and views to the outside. Research confirms that proximity to windows increases productivity, helps with learning, and speeds up the healing process. The gaining popularity of activity based design largely improved this aspect of space design. By removing perimeter offices and replacing them with low wall workstations, it allows access to light and views for most of the people using the space.
If your space cannot have windows at all, but there is a roof above, you can install skylights, or solar tubes. The latter are much less expensive than “regular” skylights, don’t create issues with solar heat gain and glare, so don’t require shading and are easier to install but do not provide a view of the sky.
If your space is in the basement or windowless story, the skylights that simulate daylight such as by Coelux are a possibility. Prices vary and depending on a model, and some plenum space and structural support may be required.
Here are some other tips on designing for workplace wellness:
Appropriate Lighting. It is obvious that different functions need different lighting depending on tasks performed. Our individual need for light intensity and temperature from warm (candle-like) to cold (daylight) is different and changes with age. Too much light and large contrasts are just as bad as not enough light. Lastly, we should strive to keep our circadian rhythm unaffected.
- For office areas, instead of flooding the space with 2×2 or 4×4 lights in the ceilings, replace them with ambient LED lighting of 20-25 footcandle light intensity, preferably direct/indirect fixtures (9 ft ceiling minimum height required for suspended linear ones) and illuminate the walls. Ensure the general light fixtures have high color rendering index (CRI > 90).
- Use fixtures with blue-sky light spectrum to support circadian health.
- Avoid creating large contrasts in lighting between adjacent spaces.
- Provide dimmable task lighting controlled by their users.
- Install window shades to reduce glare
Provide For Hydration, And Nourish The Body. Research indicates that thirsty individuals who drink water prior to performing a mental task have faster reaction times than those who do not drink water.(2) However, most of us are mildly dehydrated all the time, which affects performance and overall health. Provide easy access to clean, filtered water and healthy beverages. Clean water dispenser’s protective guards and collective basins daily to prevent lime and calcium build-up.
Research shows that a bad diet and decrease of physical activity are common causes of obesity and overweight. The obesity and overweight are linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers.(3) WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in 2016.(4)
- If your facility provides food service, offer fresh fruit and non-fried vegetables. Place vegetable dishes at the beginning of the food service line and near cash registers.
- Avoid serving foods with refined ingredients and trans fats.
- Provide choice of smaller servings at lower cost.
- Provide variety of seating options in a dining area. If TV is present, make sure there is TV free area to encourage mindful eating.
Encourage Movement In The Workplace. An increased consumption of energy dense foods, without an equal increase in physical activity leads to unhealthy increase in weight. Decreased levels of physical activity will also result in an energy imbalance and lead to weight gain. The prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. WHO estimates at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.(9)
- Subsidize bike sharing memberships, gym memberships, group fitness classes, races etc. Provide bike racks or storage for people commuting by bikes. If possible, provide showers with changing rooms.
- Provide non-monetary awards or programs such as employee recognition, wellness challenges. etc.
- Provide or subsidize self-monitoring tools such as Fitbit, Misfit, Jawbone, etc. Studies show that wearables contribute to positive behavior changes.
- Change some conference tables to high tops so people have a choice to stand during the meetings. Introduce sit/stand desks or bike stations. Word of caution: standing is not a substitute for exercise and prolong standing can create issues too.
- Educate personnel about correct way of seating (one is supposed to be able to ”wag the tail”).
- Position your water and food features in a way that makes people get up and mingle with others.
Nourish The Mind. Mental health and substance abuse is a widespread global problem. WHO estimates than harmful use of alcohol kills more than three million people each year, most of them man (5). Tobacco kills up to half of its users, more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers inhaling second hand smoke.(6). In 2016, over 275 million people used illicit drugs at least once and over 63,000 people died from drug overdoses in United States along (7). 800,000 people die due to suicide each year (8).
These are dramatic numbers and outcomes, and the ideas listed below are not enough to address the issues. However any action to decrease these statistics is valuable. Just everyday stress contributes to many illnesses. It is easy to sing “don’t worry, by happy”, but many people need help with this. As mentioned before, our environment and connection to nature ( or lack of) has a significant influence on our state of mind as well.
- Organize training sessions for employees designed to manage stress, enhance well-being, self-worth, and emotional intelligence.
- Offer mental health screenings at no cost addressing stress, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse including guidance for next steps by mental health professional
- Develop a stress management program.
- Offer Tobacco Cessation program – education, no cost or subsidized counseling, tobacco cessation medications and nicotine replacement products, incentive programs.
- Offer substance abuse and addiction education focusing on management of personal substance use, prescription opioid education, how to respond to a peer struggling with substance use.
- Offer insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment and counseling.
- Support sleep hygiene – no professional correspondence after midnight, no red-eye flights for business or choice of working from home after taking one, provide a place to take a nap.
- Provide opportunities for micro-breaks during the day and paid vacation time of minimum 20 days per calendar year not including holidays.
- Provide access to nature: add plants, especially air purifying plants such as dracaena, weeping fig or spider plants. Add a green wall. If that’s too much maintenance, explore a moss wall requires minimum maintenance and can retain vibrant look and feel for 7-10 years while providing health benefits (https://mosswalls.com/articles and https://www.gardenonthewall.com).
- Incorporate nature indirectly – include natural materials, colors and patterns, and images of nature into surroundings.
And, there is much more that can be done. What’s the downside? None – an investment in health of people can’t be bad.
2. Edmonds C.Crombie R.Gardner M. Subjective thirst moderates changes in speed of responding associated with water consumption. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2013;7(363)
Krapf joined JacobsWyper Architects in 1998 after moving to the U.S. from her native Poland where she graduated with a Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice. Her accreditations include AIA, LEED AP BC+D, and she is a partner at JWA. With her diverse experience of 20 years and cGMP expertise, Krapf brings passion and creativity as a project leader for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, institutional, corporate, and industrial clients. She works to create efficient, sustainable, and aesthetically pleasing environments in which form, function, and structure are in harmony.