Workplace wellness: the next shift


by Farshad Razmdjoo and Ted Bowie

Workplace wellness programs have been around for decades and typically include tangible offerings that directly improve physical health, such as ergonomic enhancements, incentivized workout programs, and providing healthy food options in the workplace. More recently, however, there has been a shift in wellness programs to focus more on intangible offerings. Studies have shown that employee job satisfaction, retention and overall health improve when employees believe their company cares about them. Instituting this “culture of caring” can be achieved in a number of ways, such as giving employees more autonomy, promoting a more social workplace, encouraging a work-life balance, and focusing on the employee’s overall emotional and mental health rather than just the physical aspects.

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Workplace wellness is in high demand by both employees and employers. Employees want it because they care about their overall health. Employers are starting to push for wellness programs because they realize that it can be a powerful recruiting and publicity tool, and can help reduce health care costs. More importantly, they are starting to appreciate that workplace wellness can make employees feel valued, thereby improving morale, reducing turnover, and having a positive impact on the bottom line.

KBS seeks to provide its tenants the best operating environment and evaluates a variety of wellness features when purchasing a property, including clean air, good lighting, minimal noise distractions, and adequate functional space that help employees better perform their jobs. KBS looks for properties where the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system has been properly designed and maintained; properties that take advantage of natural light, as artificial lighting can contribute to anxiety, headaches, and difficulty concentrating; properties with appropriate soundproofing materials; and properties that have a good mix of smaller, private work areas and larger, open spaces that encourage teamwork and comradery. In addition to these elements, we also look for properties with features that promote work-life balance, such as onsite or nearby gyms, daycares, and healthy eating options.

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The demand for wellness programs has increased in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue in the future. Over the next few years, expect to see technology play an increasingly larger role in wellness programs. This might include cheaper and better options to facilitate telecommuting.  Also, wearable technology like the Fitbit have helped galvanize employee interest and participation in wellness programs, and some companies are starting to give wearables away as incentives (though tracking employee health data has privacy ramifications, which is something to watch in the future as well). In addition, expect to see increased flexibility in employee work schedules. For example, several tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area have started offering unlimited paid leave for vacation, and they trust their employees to not abuse the policy.  Finally, expect to see more programs to help manage stress. This might include an expansion of more traditional programs like meditation, but also could include promoting employee involvement in communities through volunteering, and offering financial management and loan assistance, especially for new hires saddled with student debt.

 

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Farshad Razmjdoo

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Ted Bowie

Farshad Razmjdoo is the managing principal of Ramboll Environ in Irvine, California, specializing in environmental and health.  Ted Bowie is a senior manager with the firm based in San Francisco with expertise in air quality.  A premier global consultancy, with over 2,100 employees worldwide, Ramboll Environ is trusted by clients to manage their most challenging environmental, health and social issues.  KBS has been proud to work with Ramboll Environ for over two decades