Work + Well

If Sitting is the New Smoking
Work Can Make You Healthier

Improved workplace performance is top priority for leading corporations — right up there with bottom lines, ROI, and quarterly earnings. Many companies are actually finding ways to help their employees maximize their work ability and improve their quality of life at work. Happier, healthier employees are more engaged and more productive. With this fresh focus on wellbeing, companies are re-evaluating the workplace. We are working with these companies to create environments that not only support work but also support the workers and their wellbeing. 

Companies with the right culture find a greater percentage of their employees actually want to
come to work. The workplace environment is a reflection of corporate culture and values. When workers are energized about coming to work productivity increases. 

We have found that within any work environment there are passive and active attributes that contribute to employee wellbeing. Passive qualities are inherent to the building, construction and operation of the building. These items are included based on early decisions by the corporation. Passive qualities do not require any commitment or action from an individual to reap the benefits. Active elements promote an active workstyle but ultimately require individual commitment to reap the wellbeing benefits. Balance between active and passive environmental qualities promote a healthier work environment.

Interestingly, employees may drive the need for sustainable and wellbeing initiatives, however their companies are the prime decision-makers that identify and implement the passive elements within the workplace. These qualities can be readily found in the indoor air quality, water quality, thermal comfort, access to natural light, views of nature, glare control and acoustic performance.

While many organizations can provide the setting and other components of an active workstyle, it’s ultimately the decision of the individual worker to take advantage of the opportunities.

Here, corporate culture plays a critical role and encourages employees to take part in the health-focused options including fitness and wellness centers, nourishment, active layouts, magnet spaces and furniture.

Many companies view fitness facilities as a necessity in recruiting and retaining the best talent, ranging from small rooms with cardio and strength equipment paired with showers and lockers to beautiful freestanding buildings offering premium services and activities found in commercially operated fitness centers. Often called the corporate “wellness center”, vanguard facilities include health services, juice bars and exhibition kitchens that demonstrate how 
to cook healthy meals.

Nourishment and nutrition are becoming a recognized component of a healthy workstyle. Whether it’s a corporate dining facility, subsidized on-site snack kiosk, cafe or food court, companies are improving their food services options. Some companies are increasing subsidies for the healthier food choices or offering healthy dinner-to-go options and providing nutrition labels to help workers make informed decisions.

An increased understanding of the positive impacts of sustainable design has contributed to the corporate embrace of healthier workplaces. Recent research, such as the report from the World Green Building Council, finds “overwhelming evidence” that office design significantly impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff.

Behaviors in life influence behaviors at work and vice versa. By encouraging healthy behaviors at work, employees will often bring these habits home with them, nutrition awareness being one obvious example. 

What about the actual workspace? Can the design influence healthy behavior? Stress reduction is an essential goal of healthy workplaces and active workstyles help. The blending of work and life can be a major stressor for many people. Technology certainly allows companies to ask workers to do more at all hours. Designing work environments that allow for better work life balance can reduce stress providing corporate culture allows and accepts non-work tasks be performed in the workplace. 

To encourage movement and collaboration, many companies are investing in communication stairs, wide interior circulation paths and optional exterior pathways. The investment in circulation space represents a significant shift from making decisions based on square footage efficiencies to thinking holistically about workplace performance. 

Circulation spaces are being leveraged to support people working away from their desks and to encourage quick collaboration. Wide interior paths allow two people to stop and converse and still permit space for others to easily walk by. If paired with seating areas, the paths become alternative work areas that support collaboration. 

Perimeter circulation along the window wall favors experience over efficiency by providing more egalitarian access to daylight and views. Even more, exterior pathways and gathering places entice people to get up, move around and spend time outside in fresh air. 

Spaces that offer community wide support — coffee, food, meeting areas and technology — are magnets. People are naturally drawn to these spaces for the services or tools they offer. Strategically locating magnets on a floor or within a building can encourage movement and foster collaboration. Co-locating them with other active elements like communication stairways, active circulation paths or exposure to natural light further the chances for people to benefit from an active workstyle.

Furniture plays a crucial role in employee wellbeing. Studies suggest that “sitting is the new smoking.” Sitting for long consecutive hours at a desk is detrimental to a worker’s health. However, sit-stand desk options offer the employee versatility in the way they work — more comfort, more control. This ergonomically-focused solution adds to the variety of workplace choices that embrace great posture, open views, light quality and a customizable work experience.

Many workplace strategies are easy to implement at a low cost; others require a substantial investment, but all require a company culture that embraces the link between performance and worker wellbeing. A healthy workplace is a competitive workplace — one that attracts and supports the kind of people needed to build a competitive advantage. The real question is: can your company afford not to provide a healthy, productive work environment?