How to Create a Positive Health Culture Through Modern Workplace Design

Apr 27 2023

According to the Global Wellness Institute, workforce unwellness, which encompasses chronic diseases, work-related injuries and illnesses, work-related stress, and employee disengagement, may cost the global economy 10-15% of economic output each year.   

Prioritizing workplace wellness has transformed from a fad to a smart business strategy. Multiple studies have shown that companies focused on employee and workplace well-being have improved productivity, increased morale, fewer employees calling out sick, and better staff retention.  

There are several ways that companies can introduce a positive health culture to the workplace, including implementing new policies and practices in the office and reimagining the design of the office to incorporate principles of wellness design.  

What Makes a Space Healthy?

The World Health Organization defines health as not simply the absence of unwellness, but as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” Quality design that enhances the health and well-being of building users seeks to encourage movement, foster social connections, improve occupants’ mental and emotional health, and provide a connection to the outdoors.  

Physical Health

Research conducted by the CDC shows that one in four American adults sits for more than eight hours a day. Over the years, multiple studies have shown the harmful effects of sitting for prolonged periods. To combat this, some people have purchased standing desks or desks with treadmills, and while these are great solutions for some, these solutions are not practical for all.  

There are several ways that architects can naturally encourage regular physical activity in the workplace through design. These measures include:   

  1. Increase stair usage for those who can use them by placing stairs in convenient locations, posting motivational signage encouraging users to utilize them if possible, and designing visually appealing staircases.  
  1. Place communal spaces such as conference rooms and breakrooms within a reasonable distance to encourage brief bouts of walking.  
  1. Provide amenities that promote physical activity, such as secure bike storage, locker rooms, gyms, and drinking fountains.  
  1.  Create appealing and accessible walking routes throughout the building.  

Emotional Wellbeing

It is estimated that more than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While good design alone does not have the same impact on helping those experiencing mental illnesses as access to mental health care, using elements of wellness design in the built environment can help alleviate some stressors and can shape the user’s experience in the space.  

There are several ways architects can relieve workplace stressors through design. A few solutions include:  

  1. Creating flexible workstations that allow for group work and individual work. Giving workers the option to choose where they work can allow them to be more productive, less distracted, and less stressed.  
  1. Good acoustic design can help block sounds coming from outside and inside the workplace.  
  1. Design comfortable breakrooms and outdoor seating areas for employees to use during their lunch breaks. Taking brief breaks from work can help employees avoid fatigue.   

Foster Social Interactions

Forming social connections at work is important for a lot of reasons – social connections at work can help increase productivity, bring more innovative ideas to the table, and can help employees feel happier and more included in the workplace.  

The design of a workplace plays a role in aiding employee interactions with each other by providing places for them to work together on projects and places for them to naturally strike up conversations like in the breakroom or while passing by each other.  

Connection to Nature

One proven method to improve the physical and mental health and well-being of employees is by including aspects of nature in the design of a workplace. Access to lots of natural light through windows and skylights, indoor plants, and even imagery of nature has been shown to reduce stress, improve productivity and creativity, and increase feelings of positivity. 

Creating a Positive Health Culture Influences All Aspects of the Workplace 

Creating a positive health culture in the workplace is about a lot more than simply re-designing the office; however, creating a work environment that is conducive to physical and mental well-being is a step in the right direction. Creating a positive health culture in the workplace has been proven to help reduce turnover and absenteeism, increase productivity, and create a happier atmosphere at work.  

Project Spotlight: The Snow Building  

 A historic landmark, The Snow Building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and exudes the intricate art deco details that original architect, George Watts Carr, and builder, George Kane, created together. 

MHAworks was hired to renovate the basement of The Snow Building. This basement serves as a collective meeting space, breakroom, and mindfulness area for the various businesses housed inside the building. Through careful selection of lighting fixtures, furniture, flooring, and millwork design and finishes, our designers transformed this once outdated basement into a modern workspace that prioritizes collaboration and the health and wellness of employees.  

Elements of Design in The Snow Building That Promote a Positive Health Culture

Exterior photo of The Blue Light Living. This 7 story apartment building located in downtown Durham has 80 units, a rooftop pool and lounge, and a parking deck.

One of the client’s requests to be included in the renovation was a wellness room. The design of the wellness room closely mirrors a yoga studio with calming colors on the wall, a full wall mirror, and plenty of open space for users to come and meditate, move, and stretch during their breaks. 

Modern meeting spaces were included in the renovation of the basement to encourage creative thinking and collaboration among employees. Conference rooms, a break room area, and wellness rooms provide all users in the building with opportunities to connect with people they work with and not.

Exterior photo of The Blue Light Living. This 7 story apartment building located in downtown Durham has 80 units, a rooftop pool and lounge, and a parking deck.

A market area was created in the basement to provide employees with access to a variety of different snack options for free. Providing free snacks in the workplace encourages employees to stay properly nourished throughout the workday to help them continue to focus on their work without being distracted by hunger.  

Together, we can all create a healthier working world through wellness design.