Business News

How employers can design workplaces to promote wellness

  • Written by Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University

Companies spend tens of billions of dollars[1] each year on wellness programs - on gyms, health funds, yoga classes, and the like. But research shows only mixed success[2], with low take-up rates among employees and a poor return on investment for companies.

People attending work while sick costs the Australian economy about A$34.1 billion each year[3] through lost productivity.

Rather than promoting these wellness programs, companies should instead design the workplace itself to support wellness[4]. Sleep pods, air filtered by green walls, and selectively placed healthy food are already realities in some workplaces.

Through this kind of design, employees are “opted-in” to an environment that supports their health and well-being during the day. They don’t have to choose to take a walk at lunchtime or think about taking the stairs. The design of the workplace is engineered around creating these positive choices.

Read more: Research shows if you improve the air quality at work, you improve productivity[5]

It isn’t just “presenteeism[6]” (showing up to work in spite of medical problems such as back pain, headaches, or mental health issues) that is a problem. The cost of absenteeism in Australia is estimated at A$7 billion[7] a year.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of chronic disease[8] including obesity, diabetes and heart disease continues to rise among the workforce.

Modern work practices contribute to these diseases through the largely sedentary nature of modern office work. Increased sitting, for example, has been associated with higher risk[9] of chronic disease.

How employers can design workplaces to promote wellness Putting staircases in the middle of offices can encourage more use. Author provided

Wellness programs have become increasingly popular as companies and researchers have realised that productivity lies in the health of individual workers[10]. The focus has also shifted to prevention of health problems rather than treating them after the fact.

Traditionally, this was accomplished by offering a range of services, from discounted health fund and gym memberships, and medical screening services, to activity-based programs such as in-house massages and yoga classes.

But simply giving employees lots of information about their health and telling them what to do doesn’t work. Research[11] has shown that these programs don’t often change behaviour or help us to build new habits. If we are faced with too many choices, for example, our self control is quickly depleted.

So instead of simply presenting employees with options that are good for us, companies can borrow from behavioural economics[12] and “nudge” us to change our behaviour.

Read more: 'Nudging' people towards changing behaviour: what works and why (not)?[13]

Many workplaces[14] are already using this design, covering a range of factors including lighting, air quality, materials, furniture, physical activity, and food.

Take the stairs, for example. In traditional offices lifts are generally positioned centrally, making them the easiest option. If you wanted to take the stairs that often means using the fire stairs, with the added risk that you might be locked out when you try to re-enter on another floor.

By simply moving the staircase into a central position you can make them the most convenient option for quickly moving between floors. This is common practice now at a wide variety of companies such as the Boston Consulting Group’s New York offices[15].

But let’s not stop there. By using experience design[16], employees can be incentivised in other ways to take the stairs.

Timber walls, natural lighting, art and music can be used to align with our natural preferences for attractive and calming environments, and nudge employees to take the stairs. At the offices of Delos[17] in New York, sensors in the stairs record the number of trips employees take during the day.

Every time an employee uses the stairs, a drop of water is added to an electronic “waterfall” display. The more times you take the stairs, the bigger the waterfall gets.

This use of technology represents a bit of gamification within the workplace. It’s like a scorecard for stair use, and every trip comes with a visual reward that gradually adds up.

How employers can design workplaces to promote wellness Communal areas and greenery in the Delos New York HQ. Author provided

Read more: Not just nice to have: nature in the workplace makes employees happier and healthier[18]

By creating well-designed, centrally located eating areas and providing healthy food choices, organisations can also encourage employees to make better food choices.

In one study[19] researchers from Yale teamed up with Google to try and nudge employees towards healthy choices. Simple changes in the office cafe had huge results. Replacing loose M&Ms with small packages reduced service sizes by 58%, and putting up prominent signs increased the number of employees eating certain vegetable dishes by 74%.

Research[20] also shows that air quality and lighting at work can have significant effects on brain function and productivity. Poor oxygen levels, toxic gases from furniture, and toxic chemicals are commonplace[21] in modern workplaces, while poor lighting can cause[22] headaches, eye strain, and tiredness.

Workplaces can be designed to counter some of these problems, by using circadian lighting systems for instance. Circadian lighting follows the patterns of natural light over the course of a day. Sleepy in the morning? The system will provide the right amount of light to wake you up. Circadian lighting[23] results in your body releasing melatonin at the right times, helping employees unwind after work and improving sleep quality.

Using air filtration systems, as well as materials and furniture that don’t contain chemicals like formaldehyde, can significantly contribute[24] to employees’ well-being and productivity. Providing natural ventilation, views of nature, and greenery in the workplace have also been shown to improve[25] employee’s wellbeing and productivity.

Read more: Research shows if you improve the air quality at work, you improve productivity[26]

Investing in office design has been seen as a “nice to have”, but the research shows that it can also be seen as an investment. The costs of employee illness and lost productivity are high and even simple changes can have huge impact.

And while employees may be concerned about companies designing environments to engineer behavioural choices, this inclusion of behavioural insights is widespread, and can be seen in areas as diverse as city planning[27] and retail[28].

By providing environments that support and encourage employee well-being organisations can ensure that well-being is not something that people have to make a choice to opt-in on.


  1. ^ tens of billions of dollars (www.researchgate.net)
  2. ^ mixed success (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. ^ about A$34.1 billion each year (www.sipmel.it)
  4. ^ design the workplace itself to support wellness (www.asid.org)
  5. ^ Research shows if you improve the air quality at work, you improve productivity (theconversation.com)
  6. ^ presenteeism (hbr.org)
  7. ^ A$7 billion (www.usc.edu.au)
  8. ^ chronic disease (www.usc.edu.au)
  9. ^ higher risk (oem.bmj.com)
  10. ^ the health of individual workers (journals.sagepub.com)
  11. ^ Research (hbr.org)
  12. ^ borrow from behavioural economics (theconversation.com)
  13. ^ 'Nudging' people towards changing behaviour: what works and why (not)? (theconversation.com)
  14. ^ Many workplaces (www.asid.org)
  15. ^ New York offices (www.bcg.com)
  16. ^ experience design (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  17. ^ offices of Delos (delos.com)
  18. ^ Not just nice to have: nature in the workplace makes employees happier and healthier (theconversation.com)
  19. ^ study (hbr.org)
  20. ^ Research (www.sciencedirect.com)
  21. ^ commonplace (dash.harvard.edu)
  22. ^ can cause (www.cass.city.ac.uk)
  23. ^ Circadian lighting (www.psychologytoday.com)
  24. ^ significantly contribute (www.sciencedirect.com)
  25. ^ improve (adobe99u.files.wordpress.com)
  26. ^ Research shows if you improve the air quality at work, you improve productivity (theconversation.com)
  27. ^ city planning (www.researchgate.net)
  28. ^ retail (www.mckinsey.com)

Authors: Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-employers-can-design-workplaces-to-promote-wellness-91983

Business Daily Media Business Development

4 Best Budget-Friendly Attractions in Las Vegas

Perhaps no other city in the world deserves the moniker “Sin City” more than Las Vegas. This city has been illustrated in countless works of art as the place where dreams are made, lives a...

News Company - avatar News Company

Bahrain Property Show 2018: How does it reflect the real estate market development in Bahrain

It is no secret that the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are currently going through a lot of pivotal changes. Such changes do not include economic or po...

News Company - avatar News Company

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The black-tie Gala Dinner s...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Five Reasons Melbourne Rules

If you are traveling in Australia and have left Melbourne off your destination list, then you are going to want to reconsider. Many people consider Melbourne to the best city in the world...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Making Friends During Your Campsite Stay

Part of the excitement of vacation is meeting people who you would never otherwise encounter. Staying at a campsite isn’t just about taking in nature. It’s also about sharing the beauty of n...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Have More Fun On Your Business Trips

Whether you are a traveling salesman or someone who finds themselves on the road more than in their office you probably are grateful for any tips you can get especially if they involve havin...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Business Daily Media Business Reports

Di Jones real estate recognises high achievers

Di Jones celebrated its outstanding performers on Saturday (24 February 2018) evening at the Di Jones Real Estate Annual Awards.                               The bla...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull

Eclipse Travel Expands Operations to New Zealand

Eclipse Travel, specialists in key adventure destinations such as Antarctica, the Arctic, Africa and Latin America, have announced today their expansion of operations to ...

Yvonne Kong - avatar Yvonne Kong

How medical professionals can benefit from an overall wealth management solution

As a health care professional, you have made it your life's work to focus on the care and health of the general public. While this kind of work can be extremely rewarding...

News Feature Team - avatar News Feature Team

Why Pinterest Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Pinterest is a growing social media platform that can deliver significant traffic to your website and new followers to your brand. With it’s steady growth and outrageous ...

Greg Nunan - avatar Greg Nunan

The top reasons why gyms fail

Steve Grant is a Business Coach and Founder of GymHub.com.au   Every month thousands of new trainers walk out of their 6-month course with the qualifications needed ...

Steve Grant - avatar Steve Grant

WHITE LABEL NOBA’s Winter 2016 season: Earth + Country

Taking cues from the warm winter colours of tobacco and caramel, and combining them with the strength of navy and the embracing lightness of whites and creams; and then...

Kath Rose - avatar Kath Rose

Former Etihad boss brings substantial event insight to PMY Group Board

Paul Sergeant PMY Group, the architects of the digital insurgency occurring at major venues across Australia and New Zealand, are delighted to welcome 35 year even...

Annie Konieczny - avatar Annie Konieczny

More training for coffee making than property sales: REINSW

Sydney 9 May 2016. An overhaul of education and training standards for the real estate profession must take place to help prevent illegal activities, according to the Rea...

Helen Hull - avatar Helen Hull