BY JULIE SAYERS, SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER
We in the design and contract furniture industries know there is a slow-moving storm in this country that has an overwhelming impact on today’s modern workplace. It is an epidemic in our population of unmanaged stress (mostly from work), overeating & poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol & drug abuse, and smoking, resulting in an unhealthy, disengaged workforce. In an effort to address and correct these afflictions, corporations have leaned their ladder against the wrong wall by investing in corporate wellness programs - which research shows do not improve employee health, lower healthcare costs, reduce stress & chronic disease, or change unhealthy behavior.
WHY WELLNESS PROGRAMS DON'T WORK
In a new book written by Rex Miller (Principal of MindSHIFT and author of Change Your Space, Change Your Culture), Phillip Williams (President of Business Development at Delos), and Dr. Mike O'Neill (Director of Global Research & Workplace Strategy at Haworth) entitled The Healthy Workplace Nudge, we learn these programs are failing because:
People with chronic disease are less likely to participate, while healthier people self-elect into these programs.
Education and incentives don’t change unhealthy behavior.
They lack the continuity and accountability to address long-term health.
Chronic diseases take years to develop and years to manage or reverse.
Adding to already unhealthy habits, workplaces traditionally expect employees to be at the top of their game, agree with everything they're told, and be happy and smiling eight-plus hours a day, five-plus days a week. As human beings, not robots, succeeding at this is basically impossible and incredibly stressful. Nowhere in these corporate wellness programs are we addressing what people actually need to reduce stress and flourish, putting the humanity back into the workplace. Positive psychology calls these needs PERMA:
The ability to be optimistic and view the past, present, and future from a positive perspective. Feeling pleasure and enjoyment.
Being entirely absorbed into the present moment, a ‘flow’ of blissful immersion into the task or activity. Having fulfilling work and interesting hobbies.
Connection, intimacy, emotional & physical interaction, and trust with other human beings.
Understanding the greater impact of your work. Having a purpose in life.
Having ambition and realistic goals, important achievements, and pride in yourself.
The less a company focuses on meeting the PERMA needs of their employees, the more stressed their employees will be. And stress can physically tax a person's system just as much as an intense workout does, but in addition it adds all the harmful effects of metabolic syndrome, which Mayo Clinic defines as "a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes."
WHAT CAN WE DO AS DESIGNERS?
As the WELL Building Standard has already begun to show, a workplace CAN be an instrument of wellness. The Healthy Workplace Nudge takes this concept a step further to examine how addressing stress as the chief cause of chronic disease and employee disengagement through "nudges" could be the key to unlocking healthier, happier workplaces.
WHAT ARE NUDGES?
A nudge is a simple way to guide people towards desired behaviors, making the better choice automatic or easy. For instance, economist Richard Thaler's research motivated Congress to change 401(k) enrollment from a defaulted opt-in structure to an opt-out structure. This increased 401(k) participation from 30% to 90%, ensuring way more of our population will actually be able to retire at some point in their lives. The nudge concept can be applied to workspace design as well. Check out the video of Dr. Mike above for some examples.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
In October, one of The Healthy Workplace Nudge's authors, Rex Miller, will join us in our showroom for a Healthy Workspace Nudge workshop, where we'll discuss how “designed nudges can influence policy, programs, work design, workplace strategy, purchasing decisions, physical environments, social networks and other features of contemporary life.” Download the research brief below and let us know if you'd be interested in attending one of the workshops!