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Five Strategies to Improve Wellness in the Workplace

Wellness in the workplace is an idea that has been around for decades, and with good reason.

Many sources, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Harvard Business Review, cite workplace wellness programs have been shown to prevent risk of serious disease to the participants. Not only does this promote healthier and more productive employees, it reduces the cost of healthcare for all parties — a priority with today’s aging population and high healthcare costs.

Recently, the concept of wellness has evolved. Wellness is not just about physical health, but includes mental health, emotional health, happiness and overall quality of life. If you do a quick news search, you will easily discover a myriad of resources to improve your personal wellness, your pet’s wellness, your financial wellness, wellness events and explanations on why wellness is important. This increasing enthusiasm for wellness has improved the way we address it in the workplace.

KZF Design’s Mary Kate Genis presented Healthy Building Role Model, a discussion about workplace wellness at the High Performance Building Seminar in October, 2017. No longer are wellness programs only about step counting or providing fruit instead of donuts. They are about creating environments with a holistic approach for the individual employee and the organization as a whole.

The following five strategies apply a holistic approach to the design of the workplace:

Connection to Nature

Going out, or at least being exposed to, the outdoors is important for our bodies and minds. Specific ways to build this connection are:

  • Emphasize natural daylight and views
  • Provide spaces and furniture for outside gathering, such as patios, balconies, or roof decks
  • Encourage outdoor movement with walking paths
  • Select finishes that are natural materials or evoke biomimicry

User-friendly Surroundings

Incorporating active and passive design elements that make the workplace more comfortable, functional and pleasant create a more content and satisfying working environment, such as:

  • Acoustical materials, sound masking systems, and layout programs based on noise generated
  • Circadian Rhythm light controls
  • Ergonomic furniture
  • Interactive branding that promotes employee engagement
  • Clear and interesting wayfinding

Versatile Workspaces

Workstyles can vary widely based on personal preference or the task at hand. It is important that all these styles and scenarios can be accommodated to encourage fitness, productivity and innovation through elements such as:

  • Sit-to-stand desks
  • Open workstations
  • Collaboration spaces that vary in size and form – from closed meeting rooms to open booth seating
  • Flexible spaces that can act as learning or innovation labs, or training rooms
  • Flexible and mobile work schedules

Respite Zones

As important as productivity is to a company, relaxation, socialization, and alone time are equally important to the individual employee and company culture. Providing zones like these acknowledges that the employee is more than just the work they produce:

  • Pleasant break rooms that provide refreshments
  • Privacy pods or rooms where people can be alone
  • Accessible outdoor amenities for downtime
  • Central collaboration hubs or scattered soft seating to benefit interaction and socialization

Top-down Support

In addition to the physical design of the workplace, policies, programs, and leadership support is crucial to wellness. Some measures we have seen successfully adopted include:

  • Incentive programs for healthy behaviors
  • Fresh food farmers markets provided on site
  • Company concierge for support on everyday errands
  • Healthy food cafeteria and market options
  • Fitness centers and wellness clinics
  • Smoking bans

As with any list of strategies, some may work better for some companies than others. For example, an office in an urban setting may have no need for walking paths or additional amenities. There are also many resources and organizations like Fitwel or WELL Building Institute that provide additional, in-depth strategies, and wellness certifications. The most important thing in promoting wellness in the workplace is to consider all the human needs of the people who work there. And the workplace is a significant tool to do so.

For more information about workplace wellness, contact Mary Kate Genis at or call 513.621.6211.

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