What is ‘workplace wellbeing’?

Wellbeing is defined as a state of being comfortable or happy. It covers physical and mental factors that influence our health, comfort and happiness. In terms of office design, this translates to how our office or workplace makes us feel – is there space, light, and fresh air? Does the environment foster good health? Are there the right spaces and equipment to perform your job? Does the environment decrease stress and promote mental wellbeing?

It can take a while to embed changes to workplace wellbeing. It's a slow process that is just as much about your workplace culture as it is about the physical office design or fit out. The reality is there is no quick fix to achieving ‘workplace wellbeing’, but you can look at the factors that contribute to it and see what kinds of solutions might be right for your business. 

The Essentials

For anyone who is familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll appreciate that the cornerstone of any functional workplace design is to satisfy our basic human needs. We can't begin to do our jobs effectively without first satisfying our basic physiological human needs. Once these are satisfied we can then begin to build on the basics with the higher tiers of the pyramid.

Fresh air, natural light, and access to a comfortable atmosphere (we all know too well the ongoing office air-conditioning debate!) are fundamental elements that support wellbeing. There’s no point in investing in a great IT infrastructure, technology or even ergonomic furniture if the air-con is set at 16 degrees all year round and the building smells of damp. You’ll need to fix the basics before moving onto the next level of the wellbeing pyramid.

Striking the right balance of all these elements across the workplace takes considerable time and planning. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, so do your research, consult the experts, and be prepared to invest in solutions that will benefit the wellbeing of your staff – whether that be through a high quality kitchen area or lighting design.

Five-a-day

The reality is that more businesses are seeing the value of providing a fresh fruit bowl for staff. Whilst boosting vitamin intake and encouraging healthy eating, this simple gesture can promote a healthy workforce, which can reduce sick leave from ill health. 

It also increases the reasons for you to get up from your desk, pop into the office kitchen and have a spontaneous chat with a colleague. Equally important is the subtext behind it; as a company perk, you’re saying we care, which boosts the psychological bond between employer and staff. This makes people happy and more likely to stay in their jobs, because they know their employer cares about their wellbeing.

If you want to take this a step further, you can provide breakfast essentials (such as milk, spreads and bread), healthy lunches, or nutritional advice workshops to promote a healthy, happy workforce.

Meditation spaces

These areas allow staff to just step away, clear their minds and take a break. How a meditation space looks will very much depend on what is right for your business – it could be a small quiet room, an unused office, or just a dedicated meeting room. Your staff are your companies biggest asset, so it pays dividends to invest in them. With the help of an external instructor, you could have a meeting room that transforms into an on-site yoga studio simply by clearing out the furniture and popping in a few yoga mats.  

Biophilia

Another constant buzz term, whether we’re talking about wellbeing or design trends, is biophilia. It represents the way we, as human beings feel when we’re closer to our natural environment. It can be described as that relaxed feeling you get when you sit in a garden on a summer day, or the sense of calm you have walking through a park. So it’s no surprise that with our focus on wellbeing, office designers are trying to recreate these sensations in the spaces we work in.

Subtle touches can help to recreate this connection with nature: from a faux green wall, to using wooden paneling or just featuring well-positioned indoor plants. Since humans didn’t work 40 storeys above the ground a century ago, these touches help us feel ‘grounded’ and closer to nature even though we might now be working in some evidently very man-made structures.

Activity based working

Self-actualisation is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, so there’s no surprise that the final element in our wellbeing jargon buster is around autonomy.

Giving people control and a sense of autonomy is central to wellbeing, so workplace wellbeing shouldn’t be any different. This is achieved by freeing people from their desks. Activity-based working allows staff to choose the setting that they want to work in, based on their current task at hand. This is facilitated by providing varying work environments to complement your team's different working styles. While open plan offices may be great for collaboration, they’re not always conducive to quiet, private working or indeed small meetings that may distract others.

The solution is to offer quiet rooms, breakout areas, huddle spaces and touch-down points, where people can choose to work. Enabling this type of working requires enabling office technology and implementing policies and promoting your company culture – so it’s not a simple change. The results are more than worthwhile, with an engaged and productive workforce that'll stay with you for the long run.

Read our comprehensive wellbeing checklist for more.