Create a healthy workplace: Part one

Dec 19, 2016

Over the years, we have developed work styles that are not good for our physical, mental, or emotional health, but that can be changed.

It’s not that we’re bad people, or that we aren’t working hard. The problem is that what our minds and bodies need at a basic level is in conflict with our work style. We are so focused on work, on getting things done, that we’ve changed the way we eat, move, and sleep in a way that is actually counter-productive.

It turns out that taking care of worker health and wellbeing is the most effective way to increase engagement and performance. Putting yourself and your health first isn’t selfish, it’s exactly what we all need to do to make our businesses thrive.

So how can we improve the health of our work place? Here’s a comprehensive list:

Build flexibility into how, when, and where you work.

  • Change where you work. Many people can work effectively and efficiently at home, in a satellite office, co-working facility, a park, or a coffee shop. Working this way requires good mobile technology and the right protocols to pull off (so everyone knows how to reach you), but can be incredibly empowering.
  • Adopt a more flexible work schedule. Flexible work schedules are an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour work week. They allow you to vary your arrival and/or departure times and include programs like job sharing or a compressed work week.
  • Move more. Take a look at how you work and explore alternatives to sitting in one position all day. Change your position often and move around frequently, e.g., stand at a table in the break room, walk during conference calls.
  • Adjust your work environment. Even if your organization does not provide desks that move up and down, making small adjustments, like moving or adding a computer monitor, turning on a task light or re-orienting furniture can make a major difference in your posture and your productivity.

Nurture “biophilia.”

  • Add natural elements into the workplace by putting small plants or a water feature on your desk or nearby. These elements are soothing psychologically and reduce stress.
  • Move your desk or any workspaces occupied by people next to a window if possible. More natural light will decrease eye strain, improve well-being, and if you sit close enough to a window, it can help reset your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
  • Use features in the workplace that mimic nature, such as pictures of trees and water, building elements that mimic shells or leaves, furniture with organic rather than geometric shapes, and wood with a visible wood grain. These features, referred to as “natural analogues,” can have the same biophilic impact as the real thing.

Leverage choice architecture to improve eating habits.

  • Reduce the number of unhealthy foods that are available. Work with your local food service provider or local restaurants to provide healthy options for meetings and events.
  • “Hide” unhealthy foods in the kitchenette or break room by putting them in opaque or translucent containers (versus healthy food like fruit or nuts in glass containers). Companies that provide subsidized snacks are starting to opt for refrigerators with glass doors to encourage employees to grab healthy foods with a shorter shelf life (boiled eggs, salad, fruit) versus processed foods that can be left on the counter.

Make getting healthy a team sport.

  • Create competitions between teams or different office locations to encourage more walking, biking, or participating in team sports over the course of a work week.
  • Consider creating a community garden (if you have the real estate available). Studies show that people are more likely to eat more healthy foods if they have a hand in growing their food as a community, even more so than if they grow it on their own!

Create healthy “nudges” to take the stairs.

  • Paint the stairwell a lighter color so that it appears brighter and less foreboding.
  • Add artwork to give it a personal touch and add visual interest.
  • Pipe in pleasant music. Some companies are actually taking music out of elevators and putting them in the stairs to make the stair experience more desirable.
  • If your local building code will allow, install a magnetic “hold open” on the stair door (which will release in the case of a fire). Psychologically, having a staircase that is more open feels safer, which increases use.
  • Want a really simple trick to nudge stair use? Studies show that by just by putting up signs that explain the health benefits of taking the stairs (such as a sign in the elevator lobby that shows how many calories you can burn), stair usage increases by 54 percent!

Leigh Stringer is senior workplace expert for EYP Architecture & Engineering. Learn more at She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.