The Importance of the Workplace Environment to Health & Wellness
It is no understatement to say that 2020 is a year that has re-defined global expectations and standards of health and wellness, particularly regarding public and shared spaces.
Each of us at some point in our day-to-day life are cognizant of our physical and mental health, but never more so than now; when the world has been irrevocably changed by the current pandemic. But beyond the disease-control focus of the health conversation, ‘wellness’ has been becoming ever more prevalent a subject where the rituals and norms of modern life is concerned. Wellness is a modern, defined concept of holistic healthy living, comprised of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. It has also become a colossal industry.
When this surgent interest in wellness is quantified, the numbers are as astonishing, as they are encouraging. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s most recent report in 2018, the global wellness economy was valued at $4.5 trillion up to 2017. As an industry it grew by 6.4 percent annually from 2015–2017, from a $3.7 trillion to a $4.2 trillion market, nearly twice as fast as global economic growth at the time.[i]
Beyond the obvious changes to public health, safety and disease control that 2020 has brought about, how wellness is changing the spaces we inhabit and the way we interact with them on a day-to-day level, is equally as fascinating and is something that has been underway since before the pandemic.
Looking Beyond the Traditional Idea of Workplace Wellness
Corporate approaches to wellness have existed for some time, namely in the shape of organizational programs and policies that govern and encourage physical activity, mental wellbeing and broader health initiatives such as nutrition, smoking and use of technology. However, such programmes are no longer enough to satisfy the demands of an increasingly younger workforce that is largely determining the shape of the wellness economy, and its growth.
"Wellness is understood as more holistic now, and put simply has outgrown the confines of corporate initiatives."
As this workforce continues to influence the approach and policies of corporations that are vying for their employment, they are also adding to an increasingly urban global population that spends up to 90 percent of its time inside. According to the UN it is estimated that 50 percent of the global population currently live in cities, and that will increase to over 60 percent by 2030.[ii] In the MENA region, where the urban population is currently higher than global averages at 58 percent, and is increasingly getting younger[iii]; the out-of-home physical environment therefore becomes more and more crucial to the pursuit of wellness. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that our social and physical environment contributes over 50 percent to our state of health and wellbeing.[iv]
Talent is assessing the workplace environment as it would look at a new home
The upshot of this for corporations is that the wellness-contributing aspects of a workplace are a huge factor in the decision-making criteria of the current and next generation of talent. Indeed, beyond the trope that employees now interview their employer, Joseph G. Allen & John D. Macomber remarks that “businesses need to understand that prospective hires will not just be interviewing you, they will be interviewing your buildings. And you can be sure that future employees will be paying close attention.” (‘What Makes an Office Building “Healthy”’ - Harvard Business Review, April 29, 2020)
Knoll Workplace Research estimates that on average 90 percent of a company’s costs come from people and benefits, which clearly shows where investment should be made not only to attract and retain talent, but to have an impact on overall performance. So, what are the aspects of an environment that contribute to wellness?
Fresh air & ventilation
Whilst the importance of fresh air and good ventilation may seem like a given, the air quality of a building is often overlooked. This comes at a price. The 2000 study ‘Risk of sick leave associated with outdoor air supply rate, humidification, and occupant complaints’ found that in an analysis of 3000 employees, that 57% of all sick leave could be attributed to poor ventilation. The economic impact is even more remarkable: lost productivity as a result of the recommended levels of outdoor air supply at the time could have been as much as $22.8 billion per year on a national level in the US.
Relatedly in its prioritization of the wellness of its occupants, ICD Brookfield Place has increased fresh air by more than 30% above the ASHRAE requirements and significantly above local standards. As an additional measure of safeguarding building occupants, UV light technology will be installed on the HVAC system to prevent the transmission of bacterial and viral infections. Going forward, good air filtration systems will become a fundamental criteria when assessing a buildings viability for future corporate occupation.
Light impacts physical and mental health in a multitude of ways. From warding off seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder), to improving sleep, and to boosting Vitamin D; natural light is a fundamental factor in a workplace conducive to wellness. Studies have shown that people working in an environment with abundant natural light record higher levels of energy than those working in predominantly artificial light.[v]
Social interaction has been proven to reduce stress, and coupled with communal, green space that encourages interactivity in urban spaces; the benefits to physical and mental health are myriad. With over four acres of amenity and public realm - as well as extensive internal and external common areas to promote movement, physical activity and active living – ICD Brookfield Place is addressing a gap in the UAE real estate market for mixed use buildings, helping to foster a true sense of community. Whilst office space with communal areas is shown to improve communications and performance of employees, the surrounding environment and its ability to cultivate a sense of community and connectivity is a huge contributor to wellbeing, productivity and a sense of place.[vi]
The connection between greenery and wellbeing is long documented, and it is no different in the Middle East. Masdar, in partnership with The National and the World Future Energy Summit, surveyed UAE residents and found that 65 percent of respondents found green public space significantly added to their personal happiness. Furthermore, more than a third of those respondents attributed mental health benefits to green public space in their city or urban environment.[vii]
There is no time to lose in the pursuit of an environment conducive to wellness
"There has never been a more vital time for companies to address what impact its physical workspace has on its employees, its advantage in the war on talent and its brand and reputation."
For any company with a clear sustainability and growth strategy, and an ambition to attract the best talent; the space it inhabits is the bedrock of achieving those ambitions, and meeting the wellness demands that that talent rightly expects. What is clear is that not only is wellness is here to stay, it is becoming more encompassing by the minute, and ultimately is made possible by the physical environment where it is being cultivated.