Does your facility help or hinder its occupants’ health? Surprisingly, even green buildings can neglect human wellness in
favor of environmental sustainability.
“For a long time, we’ve been so focused on making our
buildings sustainable that we’ve forgotten we’re ultimately designing for people,” says Kay Sargent, director
of workplace strategies for Lend Lease, an infrastructure
solutions provider. “Sitting stagnant in a chair all day is
killing us faster than what any wall is offgassing.” A study
in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health supports
this, observing a significantly increased risk of disability
linked to sedentary behavior in people 60 and older, even
when the study subjects also exercised regularly.
Because people spend so many hours a day at work, an
unhealthy workplace can impact more than just individual
wellness. The repercussions are far-reaching and include
absenteeism, presenteeism (in which employees come to
work but are unable, unwilling, or unmotivated to work at
their full potential), higher healthcare costs, and more.
“People have realized that employee costs are 10 to 15
times the cost of corporate real estate and IT combined,”
explains Sargent. “When statistics are saying 60% or more
of the workforce is disengaged and 85% of your corporate
money is going toward people costs, that’s a huge hit. You
have to focus on engaging and empowering people.”
Luckily, your building can help with that. The facilities
department can (and should) play an important role in
supporting wellness through the built environment.
Follow these five tips to make sure your building is
contributing to occupant health.
1) Build the Business Case for Well-Being Initiatives
Start by obtaining trackable baseline information that
will both demonstrate a need for a comprehensive well-
being program and allow you to compare your progress
later. An employee survey can work wonders, recommends
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics,
which conducts research and consults on workplace issues.
You can outsource the survey work to a third party
or conduct your own study internally. However, outside
organizations that specialize in employee wellness may
have more up-to-date screening technology. Make sure
they’re examining a wide spectrum of issues that can af-
fect employee health and productivity, such as how many
days employees came to work while sick.
“If you do a study of an organization and find out they
have a low level of obesity and a high level of stress, you
should be dealing with stress instead of obesity,” says
Lister. “However, because there are so many off-the-shelf
programs for things like smoking cessation, people tend to
use those vs. what their organization needs the most.”
Combine the survey data with existing studies dem-
onstrating the most useful workplace interventions. For
example, multiple complaints of back pain might indicate
that you need to start ordering ergonomic chairs from
your furniture vendor. High levels of stress might prompt
a small renovation to create a collaborative area where
employees can gather, relax, and rejuvenate.
“The other piece of the puzzle is chronic disease,” says
Sue Schmidt, vice president and portfolio manager for
Regions Bank. “Any health problem impacts the bottom
line. If you can do something as simple as getting people
standing and walking more, that improves each individual’s
Spearhead well-being initiatives and gain recognition for them