Sustainability — Businesses and employees can work together to create long-term solutions for the company and the natural world. An example of business sustainability is paying for recycling services and ensuring that all employees follow the recycling protocols. An increasing number of consumers are concerned with how products are sourced and a company’s sustainability efforts. Carbon offsets and energy efficient replacements are two more ways that businesses can practice sustainability.
The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Byler (they/them).
Elizabeth Byler (they/them) is the Creative Image Director and Owner of Eden Environments, a design firm committed to creating inclusive and sustainable interiors. They are passionate about designing cohesive workspaces that encourage creativity and productivity. Elizabeth’s intuitive process and thoughtful interconnection with people and spaces creates opportunities for flourishing.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.
Thank you for having me! I’m excited to dive into a conversation around workplace wellness! My first job out of college was at a nonprofit focused on serving children around the world. I looked forward to the position because I felt like I could make a difference. While working there, I noticed a culture of negativity and resistance to change, in addition to microaggressions. The outdated interior design reflected the culture and made me physically unwell. The bright fluorescent lights often gave me a migraine. I became tired and withdrawn, dreading going to work in the morning, and leaving drained. I saw that this was not sustainable and took initiative to change what I could. I knew that work took too much time to be somewhere that didn’t support my well-being. I advocated for myself and transformed the interior into a vibrant first impression. The new space was energizing and full of life. I experienced the tangible impact it had on my well-being and the well-being of everyone around me. I believe that every employee deserves to be in a space where they can thrive.
Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?
When it comes to wellness, I take a holistic approach and am looking for indicators of flourishing. Order, beauty, and abundance are three guiding signposts of flourishing. Eden Environments values rest, pacing, collaboration, and people over profit. A sense of urgency for everything often leads to increased stress and mistakes resulting in burnout. Building a culture that allows for mental health days, pauses, realistic timelines, no-meeting days, and asking for help significantly improves employee output and the health of the business. Moreover, this type of professional cultural shift creates sustainability, and above all, values the inherent worth of everyone involved in the process.
Wellness is something achievable on a collective and individual level. Often in workplace and business discussions we look for the solutions that work for the most people and make that the standard. Eden Environments seeks those who are being left out of the discussion and explores what wellness means to them. Solutions that are beneficial for those individuals are often things that benefit the collective.
A workplace should be a place that works, for everyone in the space.
Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?
Have you ever had a delicious home cooked meal and after inquiring about the secret ingredient been told that it is love? I believe that a similar thing happens in business. Comfortable and cared for employees create things that are better.
Aside from the observable differences there is also research being done around the effects of healthier office buildings and the many positive impacts. The University of California at Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment shows that less than 40 percent of office workers are satisfied with the comfort of their workplace. That means there are far too many employees who are working in uncomfortable conditions contributing to poor mental and physical well-being.
If an office were to improve ventilation by doubling the rate of outdoor air delivered into an office, it would improve staff performance by 1.7%. Additionally, 57% of all sick leave can be traced to poor ventilation, whereas improvements in ventilation can create benefits between $6,500-$7,500 per person every year.
Research also shows positive effects from biophilic or nature-inspired design. Studies have shown a decrease in stress, anxiety, and even blood pressure. Many businesses are missing out on these benefits when they ignore their space. A business is not thriving until it is well.
Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?
I believe strongly in people over profit and that in most situations you can embrace a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Employees are integral to a well-functioning business. While ROI should be considered, it is never a long-term solution to neglect employees. Leaders and organizations that are having a hard time investing in the wellness of their people should consider how they would want to be treated and/or how they would want someone they loved to be treated.
These past few years have been brutal on people’s well-being. We cannot expect people to just be okay and perform without putting the necessary supports in place. Trauma research shows some of the long-term damage that can occur while in a prolonged state of instability. The good news is that most of it is reversible, but we need to be proactive and not just work, but be well while working.
Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?
The physical space of a business is a large part of a candidate’s first impression. My first project started after I sat in a lobby waiting for an interview and wondered why the space looked stuck in a different century. I felt much more comfortable accepting my next job when I walked into a space that had been intentionally designed. Prospective employees may not verbalize that they are concerned about the physical space but it is something that they are aware of. When trying to attract talent from underrepresented communities it is especially important to consider ways that you can make the space more welcoming. With the national shift toward working from home, Eden Environments offers options for employers to include a home office design package for their remote employees as part of a hiring incentive.
We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.
- Mental Wellness:
- Emotional Wellness:
- Social Wellness:
- Physical Wellness:
- Financial Wellness:
An often-overlooked aspect of work culture is the physical space where the work is taking place. Our space has a huge impact on us in all areas of wellness and can be used to create a positive experience with the desired outcomes. Businesses should take advantage of the ways that they can use their built environment to promote their brand, reinforce their mission, provide comfort for their employees, boost creativity and productivity, and increase wellness.
The shift towards remote work and how office space is being used is the perfect time to have this conversation and reimagine better places to work. Most people hastily threw together a spot in their home that may not be working for them as well as it could. Organizations who have brought employees back to the office are in a position to elevate their interiors. Eden Environments specializes in using a human-centric design strategy that improves the mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being of people, businesses, and the planet.
The primary strategy we implement is biophilic design, the goal of which is to connect humans with nature, and promote the wellness of occupants. Using responsive light to simulate natural light patterns helps regulate circadian rhythms, improving sleep quality and overall function. Being in proximity to natural elements such as plants or having the soothing sounds of water helps to reduce stress.
Trauma-informed design considers how people can experience psychological spa in a space. The mind is a powerful tool and leveraging design elements like calming colors, clear exits, and areas of refuge can allow employees to do their best work.
Additionally, it is possible to design a space for stronger social connections, having round tables helps everyone feel included and equal in the conversation. Activating breakrooms to be a comfortable space to recharge and socialize improves company culture. Arranging huddle spots can encourage impromptu brainstorming and collaboration.
Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?
For employers looking to spend less on employee turnover, healthcare costs, and energy waste, investing in well-designed office spaces is imperative. Workplaces who are community facing can attract more visitors in a space that is inclusive and accessible. Having a lobby that considers different needs creates a positive experience and association with your business.
Neurodivergent design uses techniques like a visual inventory to save money on purchases while also saving time. It considers different amounts of stimulation in the space and offers options for more and less depending on someone’s needs.
Covid-19 has shown us how unprepared our workplaces were for a pandemic. Now that we know better, we can do better. Designing a space to be more resilient with better ventilation, screening areas, and a variety of layouts will cause less disruption in the future.
How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?
Engaging with the most impacted communities is a vital part of understanding what it looks like to work well for a variety of individuals. Remaining open to various lived experiences is possible when approaching spaces ready to listen. One way I’ve found this successful is through the Enneagram methodology. The Enneagram has helped me learn how to work best with others and create spaces that are uniquely designed to address their needs.
In addition, therapy has been a meaningful healing tool for me. Investing in the importance of my own mental health allows me to show up, listen, and advocate for the mental healthiness of employees. Investing in these tools of self-awareness and growth create a ripple effect of healthy environments for myself and others. I continue learning and adjusting whenever I can.
Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?
The first step of an office redesign is to evaluate the space. Take inventory of what you have, things that are working, and things that are not working. Send a survey to your employees to understand their perspective. This will help you develop a list of needs and prioritize from there. It is important to get employee buy-in as this is an initiative to benefit them. Redesigning does not have to be expensive, you can use things already in your space, in your local community, or items that you can make or grow. Add a plant to your workspace, add another light, or shift your desk to face the window, these are all simple steps that you can take today.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”
2020 brought pandemic shut downs and increased momentum to social justice movements. When looking to the future and trends that require a shift for organizations, I see a theme around caring for individuals and the earth. To propel a healthy business into the future, here are 5 areas to reflect on and address.
- Sustainability — Businesses and employees can work together to create long-term solutions for the company and the natural world. An example of business sustainability is paying for recycling services and ensuring that all employees follow the recycling protocols. An increasing number of consumers are concerned with how products are sourced and a company’s sustainability efforts. Carbon offsets and energy efficient replacements are two more ways that businesses can practice sustainability.
- Trauma-Informed — Trauma is unique and looks different for everyone. Using trauma-informed strategies creates optimal space for dialogue and practices of mental healthiness. Trauma-informed trainings enforce the importance of employee mental health days and benefits for mental health services.
- Size-Inclusion — Fat liberation is a movement that is gaining traction. Businesses need to update policies that are discriminatory towards larger bodies and create spaces that are comfortable and accommodating for them. Health comes at every size and all bodies have value.
- Neurodivergent Celebration — Workplaces assuming that everyone operates exactly the same is a mindset of the past. Embracing and celebrating the way that different minds function is to the betterment of an organization. Neurodiversity improves clarity, efficiency and assists in problem solving.
- Somatic Intention — Improving the mind and body connection creates a grounded individual that interacts more effectively in the workplace. Biophilic design, connecting humans with nature, is one way to support harmony within. Organizations can lead the charge of reconnection by providing greenspaces, adjusting lighting, and increasing natural elements indoors.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?
I find a lot of hope in observing the rising generation. I see people wanting more from their work lives and the work lives of the people around them. There is increased advocacy for fair wages, diversity, equity, inclusion, and sustainability. The disruption of 2020 shines a light on the things that are not working, causing businesses and employees to uproot and build better moving forward as a result.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.