Why Wellness in Workplace is already the ‘Next Big Thing’

We move onto the much bigger topic of health, well-being and the built environment. It’s an emerging hot topic – but why is it important?

23 Apr 2016

By Peter Andrew

Why Wellness in Workplace is already the Next Big Thing
In my last blog post I discussed the nuances between ergonomics and activity based working. Turn that up a notch and we move onto the much bigger topic of health, well-being and the built environment. It’s an emerging hot topic – but why is it important?

People in the developed world spend 90% of their lives inside buildings – and medical science is now guiding us where we can get best “bang for the buck” in terms of investing in better buildings and workplaces that enhance the health and well-being of building occupants. With respect to office buildings the benefits are obvious: healthier people perform better, and will be retained longer by organisations that look after their health and well-being.

On November 25, 2013, when the idea of “wellness” and “health” in office spaces was nascent, the CBRE Global Headquarters in Los Angeles (DTLA) was the first commercial office in the world to be awarded WELL Certification; a new standard that assesses the design and operational practices for buildings.

The WELL Building Certification is built on many individual features, which when combined, have an positive health impact, says Dr Deepak Chopra, Board Member of Delos, the founder of the WELL certification.

A WELL certified office promises to optimise occupant health, improve health related habits, improve quality of life and increase productivity. For instance better lighting leads to better sleep and then lower levels of stress. The WELL Building Certification criteria are founded on seven years of medical research and careful deliberation – by organisations such as the American Medical Association, the Cleveland Institute and the Green Building Council.

WELL certification set standards and KPI’s in seven key areas – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. This, as mentioned in my earlier blog, has been calculated recently in the US to come up to a $18 return on investment for every $1 spent on good ergonomic design.

What helped DTLA achieve WELL certification was not just good design, but a mixture of passive (ergonomics) and active (behavioural) features that removes toxic materials, encourage exercise and good nutrition. By stimulating the mind, a WELL certified office space can in itself restore health.


Air quality can have a severe impact on people, especially in relation to asthma and allergies. This is also especially important in cities like Beijing and Delhi where the air quality is known to hazardous to health and wearing a face mask is a necessity. In CBRE’s DTLA office we utilize a central ventilation system that brings in 100% purified outdoor air, and also incorporated humidity controls to eliminate fungal growth.


The quality of drinking water, and getting people to actually drink water instead of sodas or sweet fruit cordials is a challenge. By installing water filtration systems and introducing hydration stations with signage at numerous locations through the office encourages employees to drink more and avoid unhealthy beverages (I think the jury is still out on whether coffee or red wine is considered unhealthy).


The easiest way to encourage healthy eating is to have healthy alternatives easily accessible, and reduce access to unhealthy foods. The CBRE DTLA office prohibits foods with high sugar, calories or trans fats to be served in the office. The world class CBRE Japan office builds on this by incorporating a café in the office space that serves healthy options for employees.


With the advent of smartphones, a side effect many face is eye-strain and thus the popularity of apps like f.lux and twilight that change the brightness of the screen depending on the time of day to reduce eye fatigue. This same theory was put into play in CBRE’s DTLA office, as circadian lighting (colour temperature of light changes to match natural cycle of sky colour) helps to also increase our alertness level, and restores the natural 24-hour cycle in the human body and thus helps sleep and reduces stress.


Sitting is commonly referred to as the ‘new smoking’ of health habits. In fact, a person who sits more than 6 hours a day has a 29% increase risk of heart disease and 7% of diabetes compared to those who sit for less than three hours a day. Our offices worldwide adopt a Workplace 360 strategy, meaning no one has a dedicated space, and there are a variety of sit / stand / mobile locations in which employees can choose to work – like treadmill desks and stretching stations.


Ensuring employees are comfortable while working is key in reducing anxiety, tension, fatigue and to increase productivity. Partnering with companies like Humanscale to install ergonomic features into the working spaces, like dual screens at each hot desk. Hygiene is also an issue, especially with shared work-spaces and we utilize an anti-microbial treatment and UV light on a nightly basis to kill germs. Large windows to allow in natural light also help to provide a welcoming environment. Sound dampening devices and use of cork substrates aid in acoustic comfort.


Nature has proven to be an agent to aid in relaxation and the colour green has soothing effects on the mind. However in many metropolitan cities, access to nature is a luxury, thus the CBRE DTLA office installed over 1,000 plants to improve the physical environment we occupy. As we spend time in lifeless, sterile settings, our wellbeing is diminished, and this is an easy way to allow our employees to be better connected to the natural environment.

There is unprecedented interest at the moment in WELL Certification to create competitive advantage: from corporations seeking to enhance employee performance, engagement and retention; and from building owners/developers seeking to position their assets for the next generation of tenants. For instance developers in China are very keen to incorporate these principles in a country where citizens are so concerned with pollution levels many corporations are driven by their employees to undergo an up to 4 months of intensive air quality testing before they can feel safe working in a new workplace.

But your office or your workplace doesn’t have to be WELL Certified to be a working environment that enhances health and well-being. The WELL Building standard has clear guidelines that allow organisation to assess what works best for them and which elements are best to invest in to get an optimum outcome for their people and their organisation - and the standard is freely available. We now incorporate these discussions into the vision setting we do with new clients – holistic solutions for high performance places to work. Some organisations choose to apply the principles informally; others take pride in achieving certification as a way of communicating to their people how serious they take their health and well-being.

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