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The Future of Holistic Wellbeing in the Workplace

[June 30, 2021] BY Worker's Resort Editorial Team

New ideas around comprehensive wellbeing in a post-pandemic workplace 

Wellbeing has increasingly become a hot topic in professional settings. Now that teams are working virtually and face-to-face interaction is becoming rarer, companies need to put more effort into ensuring their employees’ wellbeing and mental health. 

WORKTECH x Wellbeing, a virtual event hosted by WORKTECH on May 26th and 27th, 2021, brought together leading professionals to share their fresh takes on topics such as employee engagement, mental health, inclusive leadership, healthy buildings, sustainability and more. 

Three main themes emerged from the event: equality in the workplace, the importance of personalized workspaces, and new mental health findings. We will explore each theme more deeply in the following paragraphs. 

1.An equal and inclusive workplace

Equality and inclusion are more than just buzzwords– they are crucial concerns for any company, especially in this post-pandemic world. 

Professor Peter Goldblatt, Senior Advisor at UCL Institute of Health Equity, discusses how overall health in England has stalled since 2010, which is linked to the country’s widening social inequalities. 

He advocates for good management practices, which can reduce stress for employees. It may seem counterintuitive, but those who are managed have more stress than those who manage. Thus, it’s important for managers to do their part in reducing as much added stress as possible through good management. This includes things like clear communication, leading by example, showing trust, and learning each individual’s strengths/weaknesses. 

Climate change and health equality are interlinked as well. Providing access to active travel options (like biking or walking) or public transport with clean fuel can help mitigate both issues. Goldblatt also mentions the decline of the high street (main street) in England, where shop spaces have been replaced with fast food outlets. He argues that in order to achieve health equality, we need to also revitalize the local high streets. 

WELL is one company that is helping companies create healthy workplaces in all aspects, from mental and physical to environmental health. They do this through the WELL Building Standard, a roadmap for creating spaces that advance human health and well-being. By becoming WELL-certified, companies are committed to creating equitable, safe, and sustainable offices to help its workers be more productive and happier. 

Neurodiversity, which refers to differences in the human brain, is another aspect of inclusivity that cannot be ignored. Individuals with autism, tourettes, ADHD, and dyslexia are all considered neurodiverse. Although 1 in 7 people are neurodiverse, less than 50% of them are aware of it. 

Therefore, we need to create diverse work settings that fit everyone’s needs. Acoustics play a big role in this, as sound can have a large effect on us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively, and even behaviorally. Workplaces should not be too loud, but they shouldn’t be silent either. 

Julian Treasure, founder of The Sound Agency, notes that companies should prioritize soundscapes in the office, as sound is just as important as other givens like interior design. He recommends that employers plan themes for each space in the office (e.g. different sounds for the cafeteria meeting areas, desk area, etc). He also stresses that one size fits nobody, companies should celebrate neurodiversity, design for all five senses, follow the natural circadian rhythms, and share control of the environment among employees. 

Since many people do not know they are neurodiverse, Kay Sargent, Senior Principal at HOK, argues the first step towards accommodating neurodiverse workers is to have people identify their brain wiring through sensory intelligence assessments. 

Employers should give choices and provide different work settings so that workers can self-discover what works for them. According to the Leesman Review, just 28% of those with open-plan offices are satisfied with their acoustic conditions. This shows how the vast majority of employees want to change their acoustic design, and how important it is for offices to give options. If we design for people that are neurodiverse, then neurotypical people will also benefit. 

2.Personalized Workplaces 

As work environments and preferences change, companies are realizing that having personalized workplaces leads to happier employees. Thus, there is growing demand for workplaces that are user-friendly and tailored to each individual’s needs. 

Chiswick Park is one such place in London that is a leader in this new effort. Their goal is to develop an optimum environment for companies to be successful. They prioritize wellbeing, bespoke building management, great experiences, and community development. They also believe strongly in communication and have monthly guest meetings, annual guest surveys, COVID-19 updates, and daily contact with their internal guest relations team. 

Interior of Chiswick Park building (courtesy of https://enjoy-work.com/)

Another new workplace that is changing the game is London’s Worship Square, set to open in 2023. It works to nurture wellbeing, protect the planet, and create vibrant communities. It does so through things like cycling spaces, roof terraces for yoga or meditation, having a fully electric building with net zero carbon emissions, concierge services, and communal events and areas. 

Having a more personalized workplace is also key to giving employees a reason to come back to the physical office. By adapting spaces and keeping up to date with workers’ needs, this can help companies design work spaces specifically for the user. It’s also important to create safe office spaces that cultivate culture and interaction. People will feel more encouraged to return if they don’t feel like they are simply coming just to plug away, and instead feel as though they are returning to a safe, interactive, fun environment. 

The CXAPP is a company that is using tech to create personalized work spaces. Users can get notified when a colleague books a room so that they may be enticed to come into the office and book the same room to work together. It also has an indoor navigation tool to help users easily find rooms within large buildings, and utilizes AI to help people re-book rooms or types of rooms that they prefer. It also encourages ways to improve physical health through posture or stretching videos, and even gamifies exercise. 

Personalization can also be applied to remote work, as health does not stop at the physical workplace. Organizations should prioritize their employees’ wellbeing at home by giving them choice over which technology or gadgets to buy, or providing appropriate work equipment like ergonomic chairs. This will help provide employees with a more comfortable and healthy remote work environment.

3.Improving mental health at work

Wellbeing and mental health dropped significantly due to the unprecedented uncertainty, stress, and anxiety caused by COVID-19. Since wellbeing and engagement are typically reciprocal, engagement should have decreased in 2020 as well. Instead, they diverged– employee engagement increased or stayed the same throughout the pandemic, while wellbeing fell. This has created a recipe for burnout. 

Chart of employee engagement during COVID-19 (Gallup study 2020)

Burnout refers to when one’s energy is depleted or exhausted, leading to reduced professional efficiency, and increased mental distance from one’s job. Some people experience it as not being able to breathe, feeling irrelevant, overwhelmed, or as if they are failing. 

Dr. Ben Wigert, Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Strategy at Gallup, states that there are 5 root causes of burnout: Unfair treatment, unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support, and unreasonable time pressure. 

In order to prevent employee burnout, Dr. Wigert encourages managers to communicate their priorities and align expectations with their team. As Goldblatt also mentions, it’s important to free people from unnecessary stress, and discover their team members’ strengths so that they can utilize them to the fullest within their roles. Dr. Wigert also advises leaders to ask questions, communicate more than what may seem necessary, revisit employee resources that encourage wellbeing (e.g. time off), and model healthy behaviors.

Stress, however, is an evitable part of life, pandemic or not. Katelyn Dowling, Founder & CEO of Sustainable Self, believes there are ways to make the office more of a place of healing rather than stress. 

One way is through the technique of coherence. It is a way to reduce stress, feel calm, and perform at your best. To create a state of coherence, Dowling recommends first visualizing all of your mental energy and thoughts in your head, and then breathing them into your heart. Then, try to generate positive feelings, like joy or peace, in your heart and let that energy reach your brain. This helps balance your thoughts and emotions, allowing you to experience ease and inner harmony.

This can be utilized in practical ways in the workplace, such as before entering a difficult meeting, on a sales call, or during a conflict with a coworker. This can enable a more healing, positive, sustainable workplace. 

The remote and hybrid workforce has also changed our interpersonal relationships and neurobiology. Humans don’t like change, such as having to completely revamp their work style. This leads to anxiety, which can then lead to a lack of trust. 

This lack of trust can certainly exist within a remote environment, where there is often delayed response, role ambiguity, increased perceived risk, and increased misunderstandings.

Dr. Fiona Kerr, founder and CEO of The NeuroTech Institute, suggests that human-to-human interaction can help build trust as it releases positive chemicals in the brain. By building interpersonal connections, this “excites” our brain and forms new connections. This increase in trust boosts collaboration, creativity, strategic thinking, and complex decision-making ability. 

But how can you build trust in a remote environment, where human-to-human interaction is done virtually? 

Dr. Kerr suggests using multi-media connections (e.g. both video and phone), and ensuring face-to-face interactions for critical periods that require more direct interaction. She also recommends that for onboarding, companies should have employees start in-person for the 1st week or so to ensure ample contact on day one of the job. Employers should also introduce the new employee to all coworkers and assign them to a buddy who can act as their mentor for the first couple of months. It is important to show that they are valued by making sure all the IT infrastructure is in place before they start, have plans and objectives set for them, and offer multiple communication methods. 

Dr. Kerr also emphasizes that employers should not start with technology– rather, start with understanding neuroscience. Then, identify the needs and find the technology that solves those specific needs. 

The future workplace will prioritize inclusivity, personalization, and mental health

Wellbeing is no longer an option for employers– it is an essential part of any corporate culture that wishes to stay ahead of the curve. However, wellbeing does not just mean staying fit physically. It incorporates everything from physical, mental, to even organizational health. We need to be well, but the environment and the places in which we work need to also be well. 

As we shift from a remote to hybrid workplace, it is an exciting yet challenging time for companies to figure out the best ways to ensure both corporate and individual wellbeing.