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Wellness in the workplace: How design can help

Thoughtful design can help companies attract and retain the best employees

By Lisa Killaby, Senior Principal (Boston, MA)

Ten years ago, “wellness” in the workplace meant providing ergonomic furniture and access to a fitness facility within a corporate campus. But these days, corporate real estate professionals are partnering with their human resources colleagues to encourage everyone to go beyond the simple changes to embrace a more holistic culture of wellness. 

Movement. While stand-up desks and ergonomic furniture certainly help employees break up the sit-all-day routine, the overall design scheme of the office can build movement into natural workday activities. For instance, we designed our office in Boston to house shared services such as coffee/lunch areas on alternating floors with easy access to stairs. This layout facilitates both movement and integration between groups on different floors. One of my coworkers commented, “I always learn something interesting when I use the shared kitchen on the fourth floor. And when I use the shared conference spaces on the sixth floor, I know what clients are visiting the office.”

We’ve seen a similar trend in our clients’ workplaces as well. One of our large financial services clients designed their campus with walking paths and trails, which was a nice amenity – but then they went one step further to support their wellness culture. They encourage managers to have “walking meetings,” providing maps of their campus with distances measured in steps and anticipated walking times. Meetings can be scheduled using the maps, matching their route to time availability or fitness goals.

Nutrition. Of course no wellness plan is complete without paying due attention to nutrition. We’re now designing corporate food service renovations that integrate new, healthier food options into their offerings and inspire staff to make smart choices, including fresh and local food daily. Salad bars offer a multitude of healthy choices and fruit and granola bars have replaced candy at the check-out lines.

Employees are also encouraged to make healthy choices by providing nutritional information including calorie counts and sodium and fat content along with pricing on the menu boards.  Many of our clients are simply providing fresh fruit weekly in place of the candy bowl as a staff benefit and making sure smart choices are available for internal lunch programs.

Incentives. Providing incentives to employees to maintain or improve their health is now prevalent with many major employers – CNN reports more than 80% of large employers now have them. Here at Stantec, our US employees can get health plan cost reductions by signing up for the wellness program and tracking healthy activities. That same CNN story says that studies show that giving financial incentives and then threatening to take them away might actually be the most effective.

Needless to say, workplace wellness is a hot topic, and these are just some of the tools that designers can use to help our clients create a healthier work environment. And if they’re done right, these measures are small changes that have a big effect on attracting and retaining the best employees. 

Lisa Killaby is an interior designer in our Boston office who specializes in workplace design. 

Making stairs an accessible focal feature helps encourage movement.

We’re now designing corporate food service renovations that integrate new, healthier food options to inspire staff to make smart choices.

Workplace cafeterias now offer a much healthier selection.

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