When it comes to wellness, the modern American workplace has come a long way, making strides in prioritizing the mental and physical health of employees by implementing both in-office changes and post-work incentives.
And research continues to show that organizations have a good reason to invest in wellbeing. Employee wellness has been linked to increased productivity, according to research from the Lillehei Heart Institute at the University of Minnesota. It found that worksite health promotion programs can yield a $3 to $6 return on investment (ROI) for each dollar invested, with the potential to result in more than 25 percent reduction in absenteeism, health care costs and workers compensation costs.
According to Nina Charnotskaia, Senior Director at CBRE Workplace, workplace experiences that are intentional about enabling user engagement and productivity integrate six variables: ease of work, intuitive design, community, learning and development, brand connection, and wellbeing.
“Among these six, wellbeing is particularly impactful in that it optimizes the user’s capacity to access the other five,” says Charnotskaia. “In other words, when an employee is physically and mentally healthy, work activities, social interactions, learning and engagement are all positively impacted.”
Try these eight workplace changes to promote the wellness of your employees and, in turn, boost productivity:
1. Promote in-office physical actifity
People who sit more than eight hours a day with no physical activity face similar mortality as those who suffer from obesity or addiction to smoking, according to a study review by Mayo Clinic.
Luckily, however, physical activity can help counter these effects while improving mental and physical energy, which is why employers should encourage workers to stand at least once every hour and take part in walking meetings. Companies should provide nine to fivers with standing or treadmill desks, so they can burn calories and stretch their muscles while at their computers.
To go the extra mile, companies can offer in-house yoga classes to boost productivity, which CBRE studies found raised work performance by 30 percent.
2. Reward healthy behaviors
Many company wellness programs reward healthy behaviors, like smoking cessation and out-of-office exercise. For example, First Green Bank in Mount Dora, Florida, provides employees with an annual $500 fitness allowance and offers $250 to the employee who loses the most weight each year.
Employers also offer health insurance-related rewards to encourage lifestyle changes, contributing to employee medical expense accounts or covering deductibles when they reach established wellness goals, like keeping their blood pressure down.
3. Add plants to your office landscape
A 2017 report by the University of Twente, VU Amsterdam and CBRE found that adorning the office floor with plants and greenery energized 76 percent of the workers surveyed, with 78 percent reporting a boost in happiness. Sixty-five percent of employees also reported improved feelings of healthiness.
According to a NASA Clean Air Study, plants can trap air pollutants in their tissues, providing cleaner air for employees and preventing the spread of germs and viruses that can prevent employees from coming to work.
“When an employee is physically and mentally healthy, work activities, social interactions, learning and engagement are all positively impacted.”
4. Introduce water features
Just as many prefer to fall asleep to the sounds of ocean waves crashing, bringing water features into the office can provide the same sense of calm to employees. Man-made waterfalls and fountains can reduce stress by producing noise-cancelling sounds and visuals of serenity.
Offices in dry climates can benefit most from the presence of running water, as droplets from installed water features evaporate, providing moisture and the right amount of humidity to eliminate stale and stagnant air.
“By facilitating wellness, you are signaling to your employees that they are your most valuable assets, recognizing that the time they commit to the organization has great value.”
5. Light up the room
Natural light provides your body with Vitamin D, which is essential for absorption of calcium to promote bone growth. Vitamin D also helps prevent heart disease, depression, weight gain, and can help treat diseases and disorders like diabetes, autism, chronic pain and depression.
Natural light can help employees stay productive, too, according to a study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. It found that employees working in environments with natural light recorded higher levels of energy than those working under artificial lights.
Too much artificial light can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, which can interrupt our sleep cycles. Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute says workplaces can combat this with “circadian-appropriate lighting,” which can help mimic the amount of natural sunlight we should be getting during the day.
6. Encourage nutrition
People with poor nutrition are more likely to experience sleep problems, like apnea or insomnia, which can cause daytime fatigue and restrict energy levels and productivity at work.
Per the CBRE Amsterdam study, a test group was given cream-filled donuts during a 3 p.m. lull, while the other was fed green smoothies. Both groups were immediately tested for their ability to focus, and the group that ate the green smoothies reached a 91 percent accuracy rate while the other group only tested at 46 percent.
7. Consider napping
Workers often forgo the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep they need every night, and napping can give them a necessary energy boost. Several companies have added naps to their curriculum, and NASA has been doing it for years; the company found a 26-minute nap boosted performance and alertness by 34 and 54 percent, respectively.
8. Establish flexible working arrangements
While evaluating employees in a Fortune 500 company, researchers at Stanford University found that flexible workers produced better results, were sick less often, worked longer hours, and were happier in their jobs. These workers felt more supported and trusted by their companies to exercise independence over their schedules without being micromanaged. They showed less burnout and stress when they were able to, for example, work from home, take longer lunches, and travel during the workday.
While a company can reap financial and organizational benefits when they implement workplace wellness strategies, Charnotskaia emphasizes that an investment into wellbeing is, at its core, an investment in people: “By facilitating wellness, you are signaling to your employees that they are your most valuable assets, recognizing that the time they commit to the organization has great value. This not only enables healthy behaviors, it can impact entire communities.”