Wellness has become a crucial element of workplace design, with Colliers International finding that 85% of organisations place wellness at the top of their employee initiatives due to high demand and competition with peers.
One of the biggest ways that we can have a positive impact on employee wellness is to design buildings in a way that makes employees happier and healthier. For many organisations, this means having their buildings certified by the International Well Building Certification (IWBC).
For the uninitiated, the IWBC is "the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness."
The IWBC is rapidly gaining momentum, both in Australia and overseas. For instance, in 2016, the Green Building Council of Australia partnered with the IWBC to "...promote health and well-being in the design, construction and operations of buildings, fit-outs and communities in Australia". Overseas, China has recently eclipsed the USA (where the WELL Building Certification was created) in square footage of WELL Certified Buildings.
The benefits of wellness in the workplace cannot be under-estimated. The average employee wellness program generates a return of $3 for every $1 spent. This is in the form of:
- Lowered medical costs
- Increased productivity
- Reduced absenteeism
- Lower rates of staff turnover
- Less employee stress
Up until recently, the way that we measured employee wellness has been mostly contained to evidence gathered by educators and research institutes. From the research, it becomes clear that even a simple change can have a massive impact. For instance, employee performance increases by 45% when they are provided with healthy alternatives to sugar and caffeine, according to research by CBRE.
There are limitations to these types of studies. For instance, up until now the amount of physical exercise that workers do is mostly self-reported, but that could change with the implementation of sensors and wearable technology. This will help building owners to evaluate the impact of the change, for instance, does the addition of music in a stairwell increase employee activity, and if so, by how much.
While it is sometimes difficult to measure, there are definite benefits to designing a building for wellness. Not all of these require WELL Building certification to be realised, for instance ensuring that there are healthy snacks available, or plants in an office don't require any structural changes and can have a big positive outcome on worker health.