We are witnessing the evolution of the workplace. Everyday another company is rethinking their strategies and spaces, in some cases partnering with aspirational design firms to infuse a bit of youthful energy, hospitality and relatability into their work environment (and ideally their corporate culture).

Not long ago, the office was solely about functionality and utilization. Co-working spaces were temporary arrangements, intended as a stepping stone to something more staid and permanent.

The emergence of ‘Space as a Service’ has placed great emphasis on the importance of experience. An increased focus on comfort, versatility, and hospitality is increasingly reinforced through meaningful amenities and environments that take both physical and psychological well-being into consideration.

The shift is part of a much larger societal epiphany, with employees increasingly making their priorities known, (often through more frequent job leaps) seeking employers who are sensitive to actual human needs, like a stimulating and comfortable workplace, support for working parents, flexible work arrangements, health & wellness promotion – in other words restoring balance through improved quality of life, dignity and humanity at work.

Emphasis on Experience

‘Wellness’ is a comprehensive, cross-organizational effort that starts with the employee experience. It requires going beyond surface amenities and tapping into the true priorities of real people by examining the impact of systems and environments in which teams operate and thrive.

As a workplace ergonomist and champion of health and human performance, an exceptional employee experience is imperative to the success of any intervention. Designing a sustainable wellness program requires a macro, multifaceted approach, using a blend of quantitative and qualitative tools to ensure effectiveness, and employee satisfaction. It involves mapping user journeys, developing service blueprints, including employees in co-creation and ensuring organizational buy-in along every step of the process.

Through the lens of an Ergonomist, employee wellness is comprehensive, having qualitative and quantitative components that yield meaningful metrics, and lasting benefits.

True emphasis on experience comes from a thoughtful approach to shaping systems through evidence based interventions that can be tied to measurable outcomes. The Ergonomist has a complex role in this process. It’s more than just recommending equipment like standing desks or new chairs, and involves creating and sustaining systemic change through the ability to define and ultimately develop a workplace that supports comfort, wellness and productivity. Furthermore, our work depends on an ecosystem of dedicated people and departments who support the cause of workplace wellness and are committed to having a real impact on how employees perceive and engage with their work environment.

Collaborative partnerships with stakeholders from Human Resources, Environmental Health and Safety, Facilities Management, Space Planning, IT, Employee Health, Community Management and many others are vital to creating and implementing an integrated and sustainable wellness initiative.

Embrace the Science

A large body of scientific evidence exists to support workplace wellness interventions – from the proven link between human health and the physical environment, to the impact of work systems on performance, motivation & productivity.

We have evidence supporting the benefits of body awareness, posture, and active work environments in the reduction of soft tissue impingement, weight gain, lethargy, fatigue and musculoskeletal disorders. We know that the quality, color, and intensity of light have an impact on hormone levels and cognitive performance. There are known thresholds for ambient noise levels that soothe versus distract, and an overwhelming body of evidence supporting proof of positive physiological response to natural views, green space and plant life.

Furthermore, the WELL Standard & Fitwel Standards suggest tangible, quantifiable strategies to introduce evidence based interventions in the workplace that improve physical and psychological health & wellbeing.

A true understanding of employee priorities, combined with impactful interventions, policies and service offerings, facilitates optimal conditions that allow people to thrive.

Most importantly, we know that humans are most engaged when involved in meaningful work that offers the right amount of challenge, stimulation, personal reward & societal value. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the impact of perceived autonomy and control on psychological well-being.

There really is no excuse for ignoring the evidence we have in order to save money through micro gestures that offer a veneer of wellness without any meaningful organizational shift in policy, offerings, or outcomes. A lack of consideration when designing systems or spaces leads to negative experiences that in turn communicate negative messages to employees. A true understanding of employee priorities, combined with impactful interventions, policies and service offerings, facilitates optimal conditions that allow people to thrive.

Remove Barriers & Be Transparent

It’s been encouraging to see the steady and prolific support of workplace health and well-being, especially in my profession which helps employees work at their highest capacity through improved body awareness, tools that improve comfort & productivity, and an environment designed for human health & performance.

Whenever possible, I try to dissuade my clients from creating barriers to resources – for example, mandating a doctor’s note when employees show interest in proactive wellness through a standing desk or other nominal expense. Obtaining a doctor’s note is a very obvious barrier that costs the doctor, employee and the employer valuable time. Plus it bodes poorly for company culture, treating the employee with skepticism and viewing their request as an inconvenience rather than an investment. Requiring an employee to prove an injury rather than valuing their proactive interest in personal wellness sends the wrong message that the employer sees wellness as profligate.

If budget constraints are a limiting factor, it’s better to be transparent about it with your employees. While small companies may not have the budget for a sweeping systemic overhaul, transparency and open communication ensure employees feel heard, and help cultivate grassroots ideas and alternatives to help address needs or solve problems. Understanding the cost of equipment or resource request allows teams to make decisions that benefit their group and that use their budget for the aggregate good.

If budget constraints are a limiting factor, it’s better to be transparent about it with your employees.

In my experience, when employees are privy to the cost of a resource request, they view it as a valuable investment and may carefully weigh the pros and cons before making the request. If an employee knows that the bulk of their work takes them out of the office, or that they may be resigning soon, they may defer their request to ensure that money exists to benefit a colleague on their team with a more regular office presence. The result is a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility in preserving resources and caring for each other.

Do the Right Thing

Research has shown the impact of increased agency and autonomy on employee experience , performance and wellbeing. An environment that views employees as active participants in the experience rather than passive occupants, and that emphasizes the importance of personal well-being as foundational allows people to perform at their peak.

The common sense approach to workplace wellness, which champions interventions like proactive ergonomics, active & adaptable environments, family leave, parental support, improved indoor air quality, and provision of healthy food options is a long overdue step in the right direction. While there may not be a formal legal mandate that employees are provided with comfortable and pleasant workspaces, as an employer why strive for anything less?