Architecture & Design, Health Care, and Real Estate

Empowering personal wellness in the workplace

May 31, 2019
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Ology height-adjustable desk Custer
The Ology height-adjustable desk. Courtesy Custer

Can the workplace actually be a place where people leave healthier than when they arrived?

Ask someone stuck at a desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the answer might be “no.”

Ask someone who doesn’t feel challenged at work, or whose skills are underutilized, and the answer might be the same.

Ask someone who can’t do their work because of noise, interruption, or distraction, and — you guessed it — the answer again may be no. Or no way!

The list could go on. The truth is, many of us don’t think of the workplace as a proponent of our well-being.

But what if we could change that? What if our workplaces weren’t just neutral spaces — or, worse, detrimental spaces — but environments that supported us on a deep, human level? What would happen if you spent your working days in a space where you felt connected to others, empowered with choice and control, and present to your work?

What then?

You might just leave healthier than when you arrived.

Most of us know inherently what workplace data increasingly shows: the places where we work have an impact on how people think and feel, and how well they perform.

That last part is the key. We are all part of a working world that requires better and faster innovation to thrive as organizations. After all, new players enter the market everyday; mergers and acquisitions constantly redefine the landscape; technology is shifting what’s possible and expected in every industry. This is our new reality. And in the face of great change and drive for innovation, we can’t afford disengagement. We need individuals and teams who are empowered to do their work well from a place of health.

Meanwhile, stress and burnout are at all-time highs. Gallup’s “Dying for a Paycheck” study shows the numbers that many of us inherently feel: 67% of full-time employees studied were experiencing burnout, and 50% were missing work due to stress. That’s an enormous loss to health, productivity and presence at work. The cost of work on our well-being is real.

So how can we create work environments that aren’t a detriment to our health, but actually increase employees’ sense of well-being?

There is no perfect answer, of course, but we can begin by adopting the following six concepts to move ourselves in the direction of well-being.

Mindfulness: We need to draw our attention toward what’s important and away from distraction. We can design the work environment to promote mindfulness by prioritizing privacy, choice and control for all employees.

Authenticity: We need to feel like ourselves in order to do good work. That means designing work environments that aren’t sterile and stuffy, but that incorporate personality while still being supremely functional.

Belonging: Connection to others isn’t just important. It’s the centerpiece of good work. The workplace needs to foster connection through easy-to-use technology and spaces that bring people face to face.

Meaning: The workplace can and should foster a strong sense of purpose. When an organization overhauls its work environment, its values should drive the design of the new space. Communicating values connects people to purpose.

Optimism: The workplace should be the engine that drives creativity and innovation. That means incorporating spaces for people to recharge, experiment and play. It’s not about “office perks.” It’s about tending to the full scope of human needs.

Vitality: Failures, busy seasons and high-stress projects can sap our working energy. The workplace should give energetic resilience back to the process of innovation and production. Creating spaces where people are comfortable, connected and supported are key to maintaining a culture of vitality.

More than ever, we need the workplace to serve the needs of the human person, not the other way around. At Custer, we believe the workplace can actually be a place where people leave healthier than when they arrived.