Workplace health has been a concern for employers since the beginning of industrialization. Originally the focus was on reducing risks in the workplace, keeping illness and injury away. Today, the focus has shifted to looking at the workplace as a health-promoting environment, as a place that has an impact on employees that goes beyond the workday.

Why Be Concerned With Making Your Workspace Healthy?

People spend a significant part of their life at work. It’s widely recognized that the work environment not only has an impact on productivity and employee retention but also on people’s overall health and well-being. Work stressors and strains don’t simply disappear when you walk out of the office at the end of the day.

A great deal of effort has gone into measuring the positive impact of a healthy work environment on worker productivity, satisfaction, and overall well-being.

Here are a few findings:

  • The World Green Building Council recorded an 11% increase in productivity due to better air quality at work
  • Cornell measured 84% less eye strain, headaches, and blurred vision for employees sitting within 10 feet of a window
  • The Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report found that 93% of tech workers say they would stay longer at a company that offers healthier workspaces
  • The Global Impact of Biophilic Design reported higher overall well-being and feeling more productive and creative at work among employees who work at healthy office workplaces

Focusing on making your office workspace healthy is an investment in your business and your employees. The ROI can be measured in improved productivity, creativity, and employee retention.

What Does A Healthy Office Workspace Look Like?

Clean. Airy. Well-lit. Open. Modern. Inviting, yet calming. These are some of the words that come to mind when thinking of a healthy office workspace.

The International WELL Build Institute has developed a standard for the design, construction, and operation of buildings that help people thrive. Through the Institute's review process, buildings are certified as healthy by meeting the WELL Building Standard.

This standard has been adopted by some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies, including the Cleveland Clinic and Symantec.

The WELL Building Standard is made up of seven key concepts, each contributing to overall well-being, productivity, and creativity. Each concept is fully described in the WELL Building Standard using measurable terms.

The seven key concepts of the WELL Building Standard are:

  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Nourishment
  4. Light
  5. Fitness
  6. Comfort
  7. Mind

The Cleveland Clinic, in designing and building its Center for Functional Medicine, addressed lighting, air quality, the water supply, and worker comfort. The lighting is designed to mimic the natural light cycle of the day and minimize disruptions to people’s circadian rhythms. Air quality is supported by minimizing particulates through the use of building materials and furnishings with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The water supply is filtered and water quality is tested regularly. And worker comfort is supported with the use of ergonomic workstations throughout the facility. (Learn more in An In-Depth Look At Workstation Analysis).

Symantec, in renovating its headquarters to meet WELL Building Standards, paid particular attention to worker fitness. By putting an open staircase in the centre of the building people are encouraged to walk up and down instead of taking the elevators. An indoor walking track promotes walking meetings as a regular practice. Additionally, access to a nearby outdoor path makes it easy for people to walk or run for exercise during the day. Impromptu exercise and movement are also encouraged by hanging hula hoops and jump ropes from the walls in open spaces for people to use. (Learn more in Encouraging Employees To Achieve Healthy Eating and Fitness Goals in the Workplace).

How Can You Make Your Office Healthier Without Breaking The Bank?

Thankfully making healthful improvements to your office doesn’t necessarily require building a new structure or major renovations. There are a number of ways you can modify your current workspace to gain the benefits of a healthy office workspace.

Here are some suggestions for each of the seven key concepts that are quick and can be done at a reasonable cost.

Air

  • Use green cleaning products that minimize VOCs
  • Service the HVAC system regularly
  • Install air filtration
  • Open windows when possible

Water

  • Install water coolers and/or filters
  • Educate employees about the health benefits of staying hydrated
  • Test water quality regularly

Nourishment

  • Make fresh fruits and vegetables more easily available in the cafeteria and vending machines
  • Provide refrigerators and microwaves so that it’s easier for employees to bring or make healthful meals and snacks
  • When catering meals and snacks for meetings and events, choose a healthful menu

Light

  • Maximize natural light
  • Minimize glare
  • Move furniture or plants that block sunlight away from windows
  • Time the opening and closing of window coverings to counter glare

Fitness

  • Unlock stairways, making them easily accessible
  • Mark out a fitness track on your corporate campus
  • Educate employees about the health benefits of moving more
  • Sponsor a workplace fitness challenge

Comfort

  • Install adjustable (ergonomic) workstations
  • Establish quiet zones
  • Designate spaces for specific uses like meetings, brainstorming, etc.

Mind

  • Create spaces where people can gather and collaborate
  • Add greenery to workspaces
  • Provide mindfulness or stress management training

Making your workspace into a healthy office doesn’t have to require massive investment. Affordable adjustments to your current set up can yield benefits for your business and your employees.