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Cultivating Wellness in Your Workplace

Organizations are powered by the teams behind them: the employees who keep the operation moving, growing and evolving. An investment in the health and well-being of your people is an investment in the health of your business. A growing number of leading organizations are putting this wisdom into practice and realizing the returns.

Take for example, Arup, that recently achieved WELL Certification at the Gold level for its office in Boston. By pursuing multiple green building certifications, it is achieving a 12.6% energy cost reduction. Use of circadian lighting in particular has contributed to this reduced energy consumption and also increased occupant satisfaction. ASID, an organization serving thousands of members in the design community, chose to design its WELL Certified Platinum headquarters with a focus on indoor air quality, employee satisfaction, and productivity. In its new office, employee absenteeism has decreased by 19%. By investing in employee health and well-being, these organizations are having measurable impacts on their bottom line.

Many organizations are testing new approaches toward keeping their employees healthy, happy, mindful and motivated at work. But are these efforts truly making a difference? The number of companies offering employee wellness programming continues to expand, yet these initiatives, while well intended, often fall short of their desired outcomes, with research showing that fewer than one quarter of employees actively participate in their company’s wellness offerings.

For a wellness program to truly succeed, workplace design and workplace culture must be integrated as one. Recently, I connected with the chief mindfulness officer at a Fortune 50 company. He told me that he had received ample praise for his efforts to provide rooms for meditation and contemplation in all of the company’s corporate offices, but, he said, “That doesn’t mean anybody uses them.” Though we know that taking breaks throughout the day is beneficial to productivity and well-being, a wellness room will likely go unused if company culture discourages taking breaks. And even the most welcoming of spaces for social dining and mindful eating will be sparsely populated if employees believe their supervisors expect them to stay glued to their desks.

When employees of all levels – especially leaders and managers – regularly make use of wellness offerings, they contribute toward a culture of health. Low employee participation in workplace wellness programming is often directly related to a lack of support and engagement from those at the top. Many leaders fail to recognize that investing in workplace well-being requires more from them than a budget. A growing body of research underscores that it also demands their involvement and commitment.

Employees take notice of the commitment their leaders make to their own health and well-being. I learned this firsthand through my own experiences of managing and leading teams. If I send an email at 10:30p.m., my staff believes that they should respond by 10:35. If I take a vacation and send emails for the duration, I signal to my teams that I expect them to do the same during their precious time away. I’ve found that being vocal about my commitment to my own well-being gives permission to others within my organization to do the same. I make a point of letting my colleagues know that I’m leaving the office to take a yoga class or a walking meeting, and I send a company-wide email notifying the team that I’m going off the grid for a well-deserved vacation. With all of these actions, my aspiration is to model the kind of restorative behaviors that are not only encouraged, but imperative for our company and those who work within it to grow and prosper.

Research affirms that when employees perceive that leadership is committed to promoting healthy environments, they stand to benefit significantly from a well-being perspective. These effects are furthered when engagement from leadership is combined with robust wellness offerings and programming, reinforcing the importance of walking the talk when it comes to fostering a culture of health.

As leaders in the workplace, we need to do more than recognizing the value in cultivating a culture of health. We need to contribute to this value through our own actions. After all, “culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior.”

Rachel Gutter

About Rachel Gutter
President, International WELL Building Institute

Rachel Gutter is President of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation with a mission to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. Rachel has led IWBI’s effort to bring a new version of WELL to market; expanded the WELL Building Standard to address all building types, whole districts and communities; shaped IWBI’s research and education platforms to accelerate market transformation; and developed the WELL Portfolio program and IWBI Membership platform. Rachel co-chairs Garrison Institute’s Board of Directors and is member of Urban Land Institute’s Advisory for health and social equity, Walgreens CSR Advisory Council, and Enterprise Health Advisory Council.



WELCOA Summit 

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