Healthy Employees, Healthy Business: Changing the Work Environment to Promote Employee Wellness

What is the largest expense a business has? Here’s a hint: the answer’s not its real estate.
Sixty percent of corporate expenses are tied up in a company’s people.
In today’s tight labor market, employers need to pay an attractive salary in order to recruit and retain top talent. And with wage growth increasing, these expenses will only continue to rise.
Finding qualified employees is hard enough. Keeping them happy and healthy so that they look forward to coming into work every day may be even harder.
Employee wellness is a hot topic these days. By 2017, almost half of all U.S. worksites offered some type of health promotion or wellness program. Here in Pittsburgh, a recent luncheon program, Teaming up for a Healthy Workplace, tackled this very subject.

While there are certainly altruistic reasons for taking measures to promote employee wellness, initiating a corporate wellness program also makes good business sense. Studies have shown a strong correlation between wellness programs and employee productivity. In fact, these types of offerings can lead to a reduction in both absenteeism and health care costs.
Significantly, though, wellness isn’t only about encouraging workers to run 5Ks. A comprehensive wellness program can and should also investigate whether there are physical changes that can be made to the work environment to benefit employees. Studies are increasingly focusing on how factors such as indoor air quality, lighting, and temperature can impact employee health and productivity.
Just as buildings can obtain LEED certification to show that they are environmentally-friendly, they can now get WELL certified, to demonstrate that steps have been taken to promote the health of those working within. In evaluating a building for WELL certification, seven categories of building performance are considered: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind.

In her article, “Can an office building make you healthier and more productive?”, Katie Johnston discusses some of the design choices and amenities featured in WELL certified buildings, such as the Arup Boston office. These include:

  • building materials containing fewer chemicals,
  • motorized sit-to-stand desks,
  • showers (for employees who run or bike to work),
  • quiet zones and collaboration areas (to encourage movement and to minimize distractions),
  • a filter for drinking water,
  • access to healthy food choices (often eliminating vending machines),
  • proximity to natural light, and/or indirect lighting that mimics the color and intensity of sunlight (enabling employees to sleep better at night, thus making them more productive the next day), and
  • sinks designed to keep people from coming in contact with germs by bumping the basin when they wash their hands.

While not every business owner has the resources to pursue full WELL certification, some of the recommendations can be relatively easy to implement: adding sit-to stand desks, for example, and eliminating vending machines (or at least making sure they contain only healthy snacks). Controlling humidity, providing better lighting—even adding and maintaining live plants can make a difference.
With companies investing so much in their personnel, it’s important to ensure that they are also providing them with a healthy workspace. It’s better for employees, and it’s better for business.

Written By:
Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace