What is a company’s role in human health and wellness? Increasingly companies are creating workplaces with optimized indoor air quality, access to healthy food, fitness and exercise opportunities, and thermally and acoustically comfortable environments.

But why is there growing interest to invest in employee health in the workplace? Because wellness equals big bucks.

Studies have proven that in the day-to-day operations of a company, a wellness program can lower healthcare costs, enhance employee productivity, and reduce absenteeism. In fact the annual costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism totaled $84 billion in 2013, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

While investments in energy efficient technology are now the norm, keep this in mind: over a 30 year period, design and construction accounts for 2% of a building’s costs, operations and maintenance accounts for 5%, and people in the building account for 93%.

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The sustainability industry is paying attention

Just over a year ago, the International Well Building Institute held their first conference in New Orleans, LA and launched the WELL Building Standard. The institute’s standard addresses human health and wellbeing, providing a guide for the building industry to achieve the healthiest conditions in the work place. It addresses building features to provide quality air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Since then more than 20 million square feet of space has been registered under the standard.

Additionally, organizations like the Health Product Declaration® (HPD) Collaborative and the International Living Future Institute have been instrumental in the disclosure of chemicals in building materials so that we can all make more informed choices for healthy spaces.

These efforts point us in the right direction to provide healthy workplaces, and have done a tremendous job increasing awareness of wellness across the building industry. As reporting and disclosure increase, we will see more metrics that prove its value, both in human and financial health.

Healthy returns for early adopters

To address wellness in its organization, CBRE Group, Inc. selected its new global corporate headquarters in Los Angeles to become the world’s first WELL certified pilot office in 2013.

The new space was designed to “improve productivity, sharpen focus, increase creativity, speed and accuracy, and reduce absenteeism.” Addressing each of the WELL Building Standard criteria, the design focused on improving indoor air quality, lighting, water quality, visual acuity, physical comfort, acoustics, and psychological impacts within the work environment.

A post occupant survey for the WELL certification pilot indicated that 83 percent of employees felt more productive in the new space, and 74 percent reported it had a positive impact on their business performance. As more projects register and data is collected, the evidence will be tangible to demonstrate the business value of health and wellness as an embedded building feature.

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Harvard, SUNY, and Syracuse University recently released a study about the impact of indoor office environments on workers’ cognitive function, which found that low-CO2 environments scored higher cognitive performance. On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on the first day spent in a “green building” and 101% higher on the second day as compared to a day spent in conventional building.

Simple Steps to Wellness

Even if you’re not building or renovating a new office space, you can make a commitment to wellness and start improving employee performance. One of the simplest ways to start is to create a workplace health program.

Here are a few of our favorite examples:

You can provide nutrient-rich food from local farms through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program by facilitating the CSA deliveries to the tenants in your properties, like The Tower Companies*.

Create a competition for the most active commute, encouraging walking and biking. Each year, Paladino participates in Bike to Work month, a program that encourages participants to forego other modes of transportation and ride their bicycles to work as much as possible. We support the program through promoting friendly competition, bike workshops, and through infrastructure – offering bike racks and shower rooms for cyclists.

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Engage in fun workplace fitness challenges. EFM agency in San Diego brings in healthy breakfast every Monday to start the week strong, and hosts a creative session each month such as calligraphy or water color to keep imaginations ignited. They even got their cadre of designers and developers to participate in a daily squat challenge, which was posted on their social media pages, and they regularly bring in yoga instructors to help relieve workplace stress.

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Get Healthy

A healthy workplace is more productive and enables employees to work smarter. And if the productivity benefits and the bottom line implications aren’t enough to convince you, consider the growing pressures for transparency in corporations and the benefit to brand and image.

*A Paladino client

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Susie Stokes is a manager in Paladino’s DC office, and leader of the commercial real estate sector. 

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