On average, we spend 90,000 hours in our waking lives working, so where we spend that time matters for our overall health. Our environment shapes what habits we form, what choices we make, how well our sleep cycle is regulated, and passively influences us through the quality of our surroundings.
Because of this, the International WELL Building Institute has created a certification for companies to aspire to achieve, the WELL Building Standard, which focuses on enhancing people’s health and well-being.
Much like the LEED Certification which helps maintain high environmental standards, WELL Building Standards seeks to improve the lives of the work force for greater impact in health standards by combining the best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research. The result is an office environment becoming a vehicle to achieving and supporting human health and well-being. The qualification process is rigorous, but the certification is a meaningful tool in recruitment, employee satisfaction and retention, and general well-being of your workforce.
What standards does the WELL Building Standard regulate?
Air quality is the first feature the WELL Building Standard considers. Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature mortality, so the air in your office is of vital importance. WELL Building Standards consider ventilation design and effectiveness, smoking bans, air filtration and filtration maintenance, mold reduction, guidelines on pesticide methods, and the building materials and interior décor used in construction of your office building. This includes the paint on the walls, flooring, and furniture. Purer air minimizes allergens for employees, which lowers absenteeism and helps employees reduce stress and breathe easier in their environment.
Next up is water quality. The human body is comprised of more than two-thirds water, the component of nutrient and waste transport from the body as well as regulating the internal body temperature. WELL Building Standards test for sediments, microorganisms, metals, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer, as well as public water additives such as disinfectants and fluoride. The accessibility and taste of drinking water, as well as maintenance of water faucets and dispensers is also under scrutiny, making the water in an office building an important factor for achieving WELL Building Standards.
Nourishment and Nutrition Quality
Possibly the greatest of the components measured in WELL Building Standards certification is nourishment. What we eat is a key aspect of overall health, and while at work, quite possibly one of the most difficult to maintain in healthy aspects. We get busy, so we skip lunch and grab a snack from a vending machine. We may suffer the afternoon slump and snap ourselves out of it with sugar or caffeine.
A WELL certified office can change that by making available fresh, wholesome foods, limiting unhealthy ingredients, and providing a culture where healthy choices are easier to make than unhealthy ones. WELL certified offices provide easy access to fruits and vegetables, restrict refined ingredients and ban trans fats. They also label all food choices for allergies, provide full nutritional content on all food items available within the office, and maintain cleanliness standards of all food preparation areas and hand washing stations. Nutritional messaging and advertising are part of producing environmental cues to which people respond, with information about serving sizes, the availability of alternative choices for those with specialized diets, and participation in sustainable and humane agriculture. The people who work in a WELL office have at their fingertips the best possible foods for their health, so when it comes down to making choices, it’s a no-brainer.
The next facet of a WELL Building Standards office is lighting. The lighting in an office can have a dramatic impact on overall health, and the WELL standards address how lighting is designed to improve visual acuity, focus, and brightness management through circadian lighting design, glare control, window shading to minimize solar glare. But the standards don’t stop there. Color quality and surface reflectivity play a role, as does access to sunlight through window size and availability. These regulations improve eyestrain, minimize headaches, and overall affect the mood of the office. An airy, open office space does more for employee health than a cramped, poorly lit office, and not just in terms of productivity.
WELL Building Standards look to improve fitness for employees as well, by integrating physical activity into every day life through support for an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity is essential for optimal health, improving weight management, the building of immune systems to fight off ailments, and fitness maintenance. By WELL standards, a building should have easily accessible stairways, incentive programs to promote activity, structured fitness opportunities with physical workout space with quality fitness equipment, pedestrian amenities throughout the office, and active transportation support such as bicycle storage. The furnishings themselves can also help promote activity through the use of sit-stand or treadmill desks.
Employee comfort is a major component of health and well-being. When part of the work environment is uncomfortable, it’s difficult to focus on tasks at hand and ignore things such as back pain or thermal temperature that’s too high or low. By reducing the most common sources of physiological disruption, WELL Buildings help employees’ overall well-being. How? Through exterior noise level control, acoustic planning for interior noise management, and thermal comfort via ventilation and natural adaptation. Other considerations include olfactory comfort, sound masking, sound reducing surfaces and barriers, and radiant thermal control of common spaces and lobbies.
Emotional and Mental Wellness Quality
The last, and possibly the most important aspect of WELL Building Standards is the mind. Our minds and bodies, while often separated medically as individual domains, are inextricably connected. Exercise promotes mood elevation through the release of serotonin, improved sleep cycles, and reduction of worry and stress, which are all psychological responses. WELL certification includes access to a health and wellness library, learning how interactive design and beauty of the environment impacts employees through post-occupancy surveys, and the adaptation of biophilia in the workplace to bring nature indoors (which has the added bonus of improving air quality). Policies for business travel, workplace family support, and benefits providing access to stress and addiction treatment are also important in a WELL Building Standards certification.
Through the use of thoughtful design supported by medical and scientific research, transforming an office to WELL Building Standards will elevate your employees’ health and show your workforce you care about their well-being. A company invested in their employees as much as their office is indeed a company on the cutting edge.