Wellness is the new wealth

Could your office heal health risks?

Texas Tower - Houston, TX
Caption Texas Tower - Houston, TX

What’s the Point?

Social isolation and loneliness can break your heart—literally. A recent U.S. Surgeon General report found that social isolation, poor social support and loneliness are associated with a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke—among many other health risks, including a shortened life. These findings underscore a major downside of remote-only work—the missed opportunities to build social connections and community at the office that could help your overall health.

The case for workplace well-being

Social isolation has been rising in the United States in recent decades. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of U.S. adults were experiencing loneliness daily, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s report.

Social connectedness is a significant predictor of longevity and better overall health, the U.S. Surgeon General report found. Connectedness can also influence a person’s level of education, workplace satisfaction, economic prosperity, and overall feelings of well-being and life fulfillment—and it creates more resilient communities, too.

These findings coincide with employees’ new workplace expectations for health and well-being. Gallup research finds that employees who strongly agree that their employee cares about their well-being are 69% less likely than employees elsewhere to actively search for a new job—and they are 71% less likely to report burnout.

Investing in workplace well-being can produce significant returns for employers in terms of talent retention and productivity. So businesses are taking note: in fact, 92% of employers are expanding efforts around mental health and emotional well-being, according to a survey by Fidelity.

Well-being is multi-dimensional

Well-being spans multiple dimensions of human experience, bridging the intellectual, occupational, social, physical, environmental, spiritual, emotional and financial realms. In the workplace, well-being elements can include everything from indoor air quality to thoughtful space design and amenities to fitness incentives, engaging social events and community service activities.

Well-being starts in a building itself, with the engineers who fine-tune heating, cooling and ventilation or manage smart building systems that automatically adjust temperature and air flow in response to occupancy levels. A Harvard University study estimated that a business will see a $6,500 per employee, per year, increase in employee productivity when its office buildings are healthy per the standards of the World Health Organization.

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With employee well-being top of mind, many companies are choosing newer buildings with Fitwel, WELL, LEED IAQ, or other healthy building certifications, such as Tour Hekla and T3 RiNo in Denver, and designing workplaces with elements known to improve mood and productivity. Plentiful natural light, open sight lines, outdoor views and biophilic design, for example, reduce stress and can spark inspiration. Providing adequate lactation suites, onsite health services, inclusive design and prayer rooms help employees feel valued.

Within the workplace, carefully curated amenities also can benefit well-being. Global employee research by JLL finds that relaxation space, outdoor space and healthy food options are the top three expectations for office amenities related to recharging. And let us not forget: good coffee is always a must. Some organizations have incorporated new kinds of spaces, such as technology-free zones, infrared saunas, recovery zones, yoga spaces and treatment rooms, in addition to different kinds of workspaces, desk options and ergonomic chairs. But it's not just about the workplace. It’s also about understanding how to compliment the places employees chose to work outside of the office.

"Choice and inclusivity are key factors when it comes to workplace wellness," said Whitney Burns, senior vice president of Global Client Strategy & Experience. "It is imperative to actively listen to what employees need in order to feel valued, connected and inspired. Humans are complex, there is no one-size-fits-all. We have the opportunity to do so much more than just 'return to office.' Let’s take advantage of that."

Programming for social connections and well-being

Workplace experiences and conveniences also contribute to well-being, from reducing the stress of daily life to increasing social connectivity. Employers and their landlords can make socializing a strategic priority in the workplace, cultivating a culture of connection that makes the office a magnet, rather than a mandate. Nearly any building has the potential to create a thriving vertical community of people who choose to be there and to engage in the community around them. The workplace has enormous potential for reducing the risks of social isolation by fostering feelings of connection, belonging, inclusiveness, a sense of purpose and other elements of emotional and social well-being.

In Hines-managed facilities, health and well-being takes the form of pop-ups, programs, on-site services, strategic partners and curated spaces within the office.

A building blood drive, onsite mentorship programs or other onsite philanthropic activity can provide a meaningful opportunity for people to socialize while making a vital community contribution—all without leaving the workplace. Diverse experiences that align with the values, interests and priorities of the workplace community spark connectivity, inspiration and motivation.

Convenience also matters. On-site services such as package return, auto maintenance, tailoring, vaccines, mammography, eye exams and more help people feel more productive in life, not just in work. When employees are able to accomplish more personally at the workplace, that also creates value to making the commute. The key? Using data to tailor initiatives to the needs, preferences and interests of the building occupants.

With the ideal mix of experiences, the vast majority of employees would return to the office, according to Gensler research. Clearly, while workplace well-being may require investment, a workforce that is engaged, connected and cared for is worth its weight in gold.

Visit Advisory: The Healing Effects of Social Connection to read the full Surgeon General’s report.