Thriving employees are the backbone of every business, big or small. Employers have become increasingly invested in the health of their workers, and with good reason. The more conscientious and comprehensive the office design and employee health policy, the more your business outperforms those who don't subscribe to employee well-being standards.

Loyalty and job satisfaction lower turnover ratios. Healthier environments reduce absenteeism and the spread of germs. When employee health is considered from a multitude of angles, everybody benefits. So how can you design your business around promoting the healthiest workforce possible?

Encourage Movement

Sure, a common perk for the last decade or more has been an on-site gym or supplementing gym memberships, but employers can do more. According to the WELL Building Standard, employees who move throughout the day are healthier than those who don't. Sitting burns 50 fewer calories per hour than standing. Longer term studies are showing people who sit for more than 3 hours per day have a lower life expectancy.

At Microsoft, they know a good exercise incentive when they see one. Or several. Not only do they offer to fund gym memberships or fitness related purchases, they have free on-site Zumba classes, walking and running tracks on campus, and courts for pick-up basketball and volleyball games.

The solutions are not that difficult to implement. Aside from allowing employees to take breaks as necessary to get up for a short walk, employers can invest in sit-stand desks. The beauty of these is employees are still actively working while getting in some much needed movement. If you want to take it to the next level, consider a treadmill desk, a bike desk, or even an under-the-desk elliptical machine for employees who want to exert more energy throughout the day.

Another way to encourage movement is to carefully consider the placement of staircases. If the stairs are easier and faster to take, workers will use them. Beautiful staircases can really open up office space to natural light, serve as a meeting ground for company announcements, and double as an area for people to congregate for those exciting, collaborative discussions that make your business hum. The added benefit is reducing the use of the elevators and getting your employees' blood pumping.

Support Active Transportation Support

If you're in the market for new office space, consider its proximity to public transportation. Google headquarters in Mountain View, California offers their employees free shuttle transportation every day, eliminating the stress and cost of a long commute and helping the environment. Being only a block or two away from a busy transportation hub can not only save money and the environment, it can give your employees a reason to walk the rest of the way to work.

Provide a safe place for employees to lock up their bikes if they choose to cycle to work. On-site shower and changing facilities can also help workers who want to incorporate as much exercise as possible into their day.

Let The Outdoors In

We all need sunshine to keep up our Vitamin D, and being stuck in a dark office is no one's idea of fun. Positive effects of natural light in the office are innumerable, including visual comfort, supporting a better sleep cycle, minimizing headaches, and more. Overstock.com headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah is a prime example of this. Overlooking the panoramic Salt Lake Valley, the company's CEO wanted employees to remain connected with the view while working. So the company installed 30,000 square feet of smart windows, which adjust automatically to optimize natural light while shielding glare from employee computers. Subsequently, employee productivity went up by 2%, which translated to an annual savings of $2 million.

Just as importantly, natural lighting improves the mood of employees, who feel less closed in and trapped as they go about their day. By placing enclosed offices and meeting rooms in the middle of the office space, and spreading the employee workstations around the perimeter in proximity to the windows, you're giving a higher percentage of your employees access to natural light with minimal effort on your part. Situate computer monitors perpendicular to windows and ensure your overhead lighting doesn't shine directly at computer screens to minimize glare. Carefully consider window treatments that will allow the light through but reduces solar glare.

Plants and greenery is another way to promote the health of your employees. Not only do plants improve the air quality, they add texture and interest to the overall design of an office. Green is the color of growth and renewal, and can drastically improve the mood of your employees. Biologically, humans react

Make Healthier Food a Priority

Offices have had a long-standing relationship with food vendors for as long as most office workers can remember. If your company has in-house eateries, go over the menu with an eye for reducing the foods that make us unhealthy: processed foods, industrialized oils, and junk food. Check portion sizes. Perhaps offering the choice of half-sized entrees can save on waste, save your employees money, and help employees maintain healthier weights overall.

Asana does all this and does it well. They have an in-house culinary team to provide three meals a day plus snacks to their employees, and their offerings are all organic, as locally procured as possible, and always sustainably farmed and fished. The reason? Good food is a better source of energy than junk.

Services like Fruit My Cube can be a great alternative to vending machines, where local famers and growers enter partnerships with employers to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables area offices. Such arrangements support local economies, provide quality food to employees, and benefit the environment, so your company can feel good about the snack options you're providing your employees.

If you don't have a local farmer's co-op to join, leave the candy out of the vending machine. Vending technology has improved tremendously, so keeping fruit and vegetables instead of candy and chips is an option. Providing more water and tea and fewer sodas and sugary juices is another way to keep calories down.

Make It Policy

Curating a healthy environment isn't just about how the office looks and feels, or how many plants are in a room. Having a comprehensive sick leave policy that encourages workers to use it when they need it can go a long way in reducing employee stress and the spread of illnesses. Ensure your healthcare coverage is top notch, and when employees exercise their benefits, support them in whatever ways are necessary. That way, when they're healthy, they're enthusiastic about coming back to work.

Mental health is also just as important as physical health. Putting policies in place to ensure workers with mental health situations are treated the same as those with physical ailments reduces stigma surrounding mental illness, and lets employees know that no matter what their medical needs, your company backs them in every way possible.

Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark, a live chat software company, praised an employee in an email, thanking her for reminding him of the importance of taking time for mental health. The employee's tweet showcasing the email went viral, proving reducing mental health stigma matters.

Thoughtful design and policy in your office has the potential to elevate your company above the rest in terms of employee health and wellness. Medical and scientific research prove that employee wellness is a vital aspect of every thriving business. It does more than help your bottom line to consider all aspects of employee health. It ensures your employees, and therefore your company, have everything needed to thrive.

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Published on: Nov 12, 2018