Improving the Employee Experience with a Healthy Working Environment
In today’s tight labor market financial institutions are waging a war for both front and back of house staff. Creating great customer experiences starts with motivated and passionate employees both in the branch and supporting operations from headquarters and call centers, but organizations are finding it difficult to staff these positions with the right people and to retain and motivate current employees.
This labor squeeze has put the employee experience in the spotlight, and organizations that win on this front will also pull ahead with the best customer experiences. Creating comfortable and healthy working environments is a critical part of the employee experience.
But promoting wellness in the built environment has always been somewhat of an abstract concept, with many publications and organizations discussing wellness in generalities without coming up with specific, actionable strategies. This led the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) to introduce WELL Certification to help organizations pursue healthy workplaces. The IWBI proposes seven areas where organizations have the opportunity to help or harm the wellbeing of their employees through both policy and the built environment. These areas are air, light, water, comfort, fitness, nourishment, and mind.
Let’s take a look at how these areas have an impact on the people visiting and working in your facilities, as well as a few immediate and long term solutions you can embrace for improvement.
The air we breathe outside is not as fresh as we’d like to think it is, particularly in areas where we live and work. Pollution from cars, industry, and recent forest fires contaminate the outdoor air, which makes its way into buildings. At the same time, chemicals off gassing from building materials contaminate the air from inside.
This isn’t just a long term health issue. Much like smoking, air pollution can lead to cancer an emphysema risks, but also like smoking, the effects of air pollution can be observed in day to day life. It can trigger asthma symptoms, and a study recently published in the journal PNAS showed that poor air quality can impede cognitive performance. This can make people feel sluggish or unhappy.
Immediate solution: Upgrading and regularly replacing air filters can reduce outdoor pollution, while commercial air filters can remove harmful particles coming from indoor sources.
Long term solution: Make air quality a priority in your next renovation or new branch project, selecting a high-end HVAC system and choosing building materials and practices that minimize indoor contamination.
For most of human evolution we’ve been outside throughout the day, and many of our biological processes are influenced by the daylight cycle, processes which follow our circadian rhythm. Today many of us work inside under artificial lighting and stare at computer screens, which disrupts our circadian rhythm. This disruption can cause sleep issues, as well as metabolic issues that can lead to obesity and diabetes. Artificial lighting can also cause eye strain, exhaustion, and irritability.
Immediate solution: Automatically adjust monitor brightness and color temperature in sync with outdoor lighting via apps like f.lux, adjust monitor positions to reduce both indoor and outdoor glare, and install lightbulbs that reduce eyestrain.
Long term solution: When undertaking a remodel or building a new facility, take circadian rhythm into account during the design process. Design the layout to maximize exposure to natural outdoor light while reducing glare, and invest in a smart lighting system. Many lighting systems available now are able to adjust the indoor lighting to match outdoor light to promote natural circadian rhythms.
Water is often taken for granted, but it’s an important aspect of a healthy workplace. If local tap water is contaminated, or even if it tastes bad, employees may not drink enough to stay hydrated and healthy. And worse, contaminants such as volatile organic compounds or lead can have a severe effect on their health.
Short term solution: Test water on a regular basis, and provide filtered water in kitchens and break rooms. Water bottles can also encourage proper hydration.
Long term solution: Invest in a filtration system that treats all water coming into the facility and establish policies for monitoring water quality.
Comfort has one of the biggest impacts on an employee’s experience in the workplace. We’ve all seen the articles that proclaim that “sitting is the new smoking,” and many aspects of a workplace from the chair you sit in to the temperature of the air and even ambient noise levels can have an impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Uncomfortable employees can develop back problems, and the stress of noise and temperature levels can lead to other issues.
Immediate solution: Invest in ergonomic chairs and encourage employees to move around as much as possible. Taking calls away from the desk is a great way to stay active, and sit-to-stand desks can also give employees breaks from their chair even if they’re tied to the workstation. Also consider polling employees on their preferred office temperature and rearranging workstations.
Long term solution: Make acoustic and temperature control a priority in the design of your next facility. Choose sound absorbing materials and lace them strategically to eliminate noise pollution, and invest in a smarter HVAC system.
Fitness ties into comfort. With modern work comes sedentary lifestyles, especially for office workers. This presents numerous health issues from back and joint problems to obesity and heart disease.
Immediate solution: Invest in programs that get employees active, such as gym memberships and fitness activities. Promote in-person collaboration over email so that employees move around the building.
Long term solution: Design your facility around movement and activity. In a multi-story office the elevators are typically at the forefront while staircases are dark and gloomy. Consider making staircases a central design element, the main way that employees move around the building.
Meal prep is tough, and work lunches and snacks tend to be unhealthy processed foods. When food is brought in for meetings, it’s often pizza, pastries and donuts. These are not great elements of a healthy lifestyle.
Immediate solution: When providing food for staff, choose fruits, vegetables, and fresh, healthy snacks and meals.
Long term solution: Consider policies to promote healthy eating, such as providing a stipend for employees to leave the office for food versus microwaving a frozen item or providing an office kitchen that gives more options for preparing healthy food with ample refrigerator space and a variety of kitchen tools like knives and cutting boards.
Mental health is every bit as important as physical health, and they each have the potential to impact the other. Bland workplaces can be depressing, as can working policies that shift the work-life balance too far towards work. This is one area where very minor changes can have a major impact.
Immediate solution: Create more flexible policies around work-life balance, especially around working hours and business travel. If a trip requires two days of travel for a one day meeting, consider teleconferencing instead. And be mindful of the work employees do from home, particularly responding to emails and completing non-urgent tasks in the evening. Adding plants to the office can also improve employee’s moods by inspiring their natural sense of biophilia, or connection with nature.
Long term solution: Consider both the aesthetic and functional design of your facilities and the impact they have on your employees and staff. Is this a bright and cheerful place to work and visit? Are there places to work together and socialize, as well as quiet places to escape for low-stress focused work?
The WELL Building Standard
Our suggestions here just scratch the surface of designing for wellness. The IWBI’s WELL Building Standard takes occupant wellness into consideration throughout every aspect of a building’s design, construction, and occupancy, fundamentally shifting the primary focus of a project to the wellbeing of those who occupy the facility.
Many organizations, including HAPO Community Credit Union in Vancouver, WA, are recognizing the idea that they fundamentally exist to serve their communities and the people that live in them. This is what led HAPO to build the world’s first WELL Certified credit union branch.
These investments don’t go unnoticed by potential customers and employees, but the real impact is that a happier, healthier workforce and community means a more prosperous economy. And that’s not just a platitude, the World Health Institute backs this up with numbers.
Ready to kick off your next project or just want to know more about how to promote wellness in your organization? Start a conversation via the form below!