Benefits Think Why prioritizing wellness is essential for today's employers

Fostering wellness in the workplace may not be at the top of most CEOs’ to-do lists. But it should be.


People spend significant time at work — usually at least half of their waking hours. Therefore, it’s imperative that employers prioritize creating an environment that nurtures physical and mental well-being.


As employers, we are responsible for contributing to people’s happiness, purpose and health. Nurturing wellness in the workplace needs to be part of our business planning, objectives and goals.


Recent media articles highlight the current discord between employees and leadership, especially regarding return-to-work policies. Numerous studies confirm the unpopularity of inflexible work schedules; LinkedIn reports that 50% of applicants say they don’t want to be in the office full-time, and 40% of employees are ready to quit if the mandate is enforced.


In this environment — where top talent remains challenging to find and retain — creating a welcoming work environment that prioritizes your employees’ well-being and health is good for both your company and your employees.


When job candidates and current employees know that you are investing in their physical and mental health, they are more likely to have a positive attitude about working for your company, returning to the office or accepting your job offer. Just one example is a well-documented American Society of Interior Design case study, which confirms that perceived environmental quality significantly affects turnover intention.


Investing in wellness improvements such as upgraded lighting, ergonomic and safe furnishings, pure water and air isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about safeguarding cognitive function, productivity and overall health.


You can implement many improvements to promote employee well-being, from stocking the kitchen or break room with healthy snacks to creating space for a yoga studio. Here are four we see as essential:


Pure air: Studies published by prestigious institution Harvard and the highly regarded medical journal The Lancet underscore the profound impact of air quality on employee health, from immediate well-being to long-term cognitive performance.


The Harvard study compared the cognitive function of people working in a green environment — where there was excellent air quality, in terms of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and carbon dioxide (CO₂) — to people working in a more typical office environment. Testing several cognitive parameters, they found that the cognitive functioning of the people working in a healthier “green environment” was 100% better than those working in an environment with elevated CO₂ or VOC levels.


People over a lifetime who are exposed to higher levels of both VOCs and particulate matter have a significantly higher incidence of cognitive decline, strokes, heart disease and hypertension.


Air quality in indoor workplaces is generally not monitored — even though maintaining clean air and adequate ventilation is essential for employee health and well-being. Monitoring CO₂ levels and having adequate ventilation is essential for alertness. But CO₂ levels constantly fluctuate depending on the number of people in a room at a given moment, the time of day and the office’s location. Offices on a busy thoroughfare may have higher CO₂ levels than those on a quiet street. Monitoring these levels is key to ensuring CO₂ levels don’t harm employees. You’ll also want to keep CO₂ levels below 800 ppm.


Avoid items that contribute to indoor air pollution in offices. When you paint or carpet the office or buy furnishings, for example, make sure they don’t emit or “outgas” any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the office environment.


Installing high-quality portable air filtration systems with HEPA filters to remove harmful particles, allergens, viruses, bacteria and activated carbon filters to reduce VOC’s is a simple way to dramatically improve air quality. They should be adequately sized to circulate the air five times per hour, as recommended by the FDA and CDC.


Lighting: The presence of natural light in the workplace has been associated with reduced eye strain and improved cognitive function, leading to greater focus and efficiency. A new study, titled “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” concludes that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life.


When natural light is unavailable, studies have demonstrated the importance of adequate lighting for improved cognitive function, enhanced consciousness, reduced drowsiness, more energy and shorter reaction time. Among commonly available LED light “temperatures” (2700k, 4000k and 6500k), studies reveal that 4000k lighting is preferred by employees because it creates the optimal visual comfort while at the same time enhancing focus and attention.


Furnishing that promotes health: Investing in ergonomic chairs promotes comfort and proper posture and reduces the risk of pain and discomfort. Standing desks are a popular alternative for those who don’t want to spend their eight-hour workday sitting. Both ergonomic solutions help prevent musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, muscle strains and carpal tunnel syndrome. They also enhance overall workplace satisfaction and productivity.


Pure water: Providing access to clean, pure water is fundamental for employee hydration and overall health; it’s also OSHA law. However, the water provided by water fountains or wall mounted bottle filling stations is generally not actually pure. Municipal water contains chlorine or chloramines (a combination of chlorine and ammonia) to prevent biological growth; these chemicals often interact with organic matter and create a carcinogen called trihalomethanes. In addition, water may also contain contaminants such as lead due to aging infrastructure.


Recently, we’ve learned that according to the U.S. government, at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is contaminated with one or more types of PFAS or forever chemicals. PFAS are forever chemicals because they don’t degrade over time and accumulate in the human body forever. Health authorities have concluded that there is no safe amount of PFAS. They cause various health problems, including disruption of an individual’s hormones and the increased risk of cancer and diabetes.


Single-use water bottles are not a safe alternative.


In a trailblazing study conducted by Columbia University, researchers discovered bottled water sold in stores contains an average of 240,000 plastic particles from seven types of plastics, of which 90% were identified as nanoplastics; the rest were microplastics. Nanoplastics are the most worrisome type of plastic pollution for human health. These minuscule particles can invade individual cells and tissues in major organs, interrupting cellular processes and depositing endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including PFAS and heavy metals.


In addition, single-use plastic is extremely damaging to the environment. Out of the 80 billion single-use water bottles sold yearly, only a small fraction is recycled. Most of the bottles end up in our landfills, polluting our oceans and adding to the nanoplastics we ingest in our water supply.


Installing a multi-stage reverse osmosis water filter is the most comprehensive solution to remove all types of impurities and ensure safe drinking water for employees. The water tastes great, and you’ll save a bundle not purchasing bottled water while contributing to environmental sustainability.


Implementing these wellness enhancements in the workplace is well within the range of most companies. The dividends these improvements provide regarding employee engagement, satisfaction and wellness will give an ample ROI. From a purely business perspective, a commitment to creating a healthy and supportive workplace for employees results in improved employee morale and overall organizational success.