C-Suite Advisory

Creating Workplaces That Support Employee Wellness

The word “wellness” might conjure mental images of meditation sessions, bike commutes, or bowls of whole grains and greens. But there’s more to this trend. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion and growing rapidly. Many people of all demographics are motivated to take their health and wellbeing into their own hands, and increasingly seek out employers who’ll support them in this effort.

For employers looking to hire in this environment, providing a desk, computer, phone, and a paycheck is clearly no longer enough to keep employees happy. Recognizing that people are any organization’s most valuable asset – and that turnover is both time-consuming and expensive – business leaders increasingly are taking steps to support their employees’ interest in wellness by investing in strategies that reduce stress and increase job satisfaction and personal happiness.

With that in mind, many companies have instituted policies that allow employees to work from home one day a week, reclaiming some of the time normally lost to commuting. Others have adapted flex-time schedules, enabling employees to make their own choices about when and how they want to work. Still others encourage workers to move from their desks to some other space in order to get a change of scenery and socialize with their colleagues.

All these strategies are designed to improve employee morale and, of course, their wellness, ultimately motivating workers to do their best on the job. Recognizing that shifting workforce demographics mean a greater mix of generations in the workforce with differing attitudes about wellness, though, many employers are going beyond simple policy changes to turn their entire workplace into a means for effectively engaging employees.

To that end, more business leaders are creating workspaces integrated with technology and furnishings which can adapt to different ways of working, from individual focus work to small group huddles to large team meetings. Often, such spaces also offer places where mobile workers can plug in and connect quickly, with seamless access to programs and files.

Such workplaces are designed to foster collaboration and connection, and to nurture a culture of inclusion. Team adjacencies are deliberately planned to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas, and ample space is set aside for sharing to occur. Technology is seamlessly integrated too, facilitating virtual collaboration and eliminating geographical barriers. This type of workplace is also more personal, since a uniform design solution would not satisfy such a diverse audience.

New technologies are making the space even more powerful and productive. Sensors placed throughout a space, for example, can measure how it is being used by tracking human activity and movement. This puts actual data into the hands of decision makers – addressing the question of real estate’s effectiveness and efficiency, while helping a company to ensure that its space continues to serve the changing needs of its people.

This kind of flexibility provides a sense of autonomy which enables employees to work the way in which they’re most comfortable and productive. The workspace itself becomes a living thing that flexes and moves with the people who occupy it, ensuring that it remains relevant and productive, even as employees’ work styles and attitudes change.

Properly executed, such a workplace has the power to enhance and support a culture that’s inclusive, responsive, and forward-looking. People grow and change, so the office must too in order to support the ways they work as goals shift. After all, an employee who feels hindered or held back will never be motivated to contribute. And a business that isn’t agile will struggle to succeed. By designing with flexibility and agility in mind, a company’s workspace can be effective for years to come.

Employee wellness doesn’t end with technology and furnishings. Proximity to natural elements in the office and amenities that promote good health outside of the office represent additional drivers of employee engagement. Research from Interface suggests that “employees who work in environments with natural elements report a 15% higher level of wellbeing, are 6% more productive, and 15% more creative overall.” While these percentages may seem small on the surface, consider that a 6% increase in productivity for a million-dollar company means a return on investment of $60,000.

The addition of natural design elements like wood, stone, or living plants (all of which are natural air filters) can transform interior spaces. Updates to the lighting can be even more powerful. When larger scale renovations are possible, moving enclosed spaces to the building’s core allows natural light from perimeter windows to flow freely through an open office. And when walls or partitions are required, translucent ones enable that natural light to extend further. Windows that open or doors that provide access to balconies, patios, or similar outdoor workspaces allow employees to breathe fresh air throughout the workday – another well-known stress reliever.

Perhaps the most important component of employee engagement, though, is asking workers what matters to them and then genuinely listening to their responses, regardless of their role or level within the organization. Providing an easy-to-use feedback mechanism may reveal that a companywide book club won’t resonate, while stocking the break room with healthy snacks or catering meetings with salads instead of pizza would be a popular option.

There are obviously many dimensions to wellness, and it’s important to take a holistic approach that addresses each of them carefully and thoughtfully. Savvy employees will see right through strategies that are superficial, rather than genuinely supportive of their health and wellbeing.

Moreover, a wellness strategy can be implemented in phases. After all, slow and steady wins the race. But it must be authentically focused on the company’s most valuable asset – its employees – to be successful. The health and wellbeing of your business depend on it.

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Steven Lang
Steven Lang is the president and CEO of dancker. A leading interior solutions firm, dancker works with its clients to create spaces that maximize the flow between people and ideas to unleash creative, productive human potential. Steven Lang is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.