Reinventing the wellness wheel: designing for six areas of wellbeing

Wellbeing is an essential component of workplace performance, but what does ‘wellness in the workplace’ look like when we split our workdays between offices, homes and everywhere in between?

To create thriving and high-performing workplaces, leading organisations need to consider how the various places their employees work enhance or hinder their wellbeing. Wellbeing was a complex concept to address prior to the pandemic, but with employees split between offices, homes, and elsewhere, the challenge has only grown.

Engineering and design firm AECOM has developed a model coined the ‘Wellness Wheel’ to help workplace designers incorporate multiple aspects of wellbeing into offices. Based on the World Health Organisation’s research and AECOM’s experience creating high-performing spaces, the wheel encourages organisations to design across six dimensions: physiological, material, mental and emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual.

Now that our homes and our third places have become integral to how we work, it’s time to extend this thinking. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of investment. AECOM’s ‘People+Place’ Advisory practice has identified low-effort, high-impact steps that organisations and employees can take today to improve their well-being across all six dimensions.

Physiological wellbeing

Physiological wellbeing refers to the health that allows us to get through daily activities without undue fatigue of physical stress.

Physiological health is foundational to wellbeing and an individual’s nutrition, sleep schedule, and physical activity are critical to maintaining it. However, it can also be impacted by ambient qualities of the built environment, including building infrastructure, access to daylight and nature, air quality, temperature, and acoustics.  These are some areas where physiological wellbeing can be improved int eh home and office:

At home:

  • Leave home when you can – go for a daily walk or take a call outdoors.
  • After 20 minutes of staring at a computer screen, your eye muscles begin to fatigue – reduce eye strain using the 20x20x20 rule: look away from the computer every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds at a time, at visual stimuli that are 20+ feet away.
  • Tailor your lighting, temperature, and acoustics to your needs. A 2019 USC study found that women perform best at temperatures between 70 and 80˚F, while men perform better at temperatures below 70 ˚F.

At the office:

  • Move around. Leave your desk and use different work settings for different work activities throughout the day.
  • Adjust the ambient conditions of your workspace to meet your needs – use task lighting when necessary and adjust your desk, chair and technology to optimize ergonomics. Refer to this Mayo Clinic guide on office ergonomics for tips.

Material wellbeing

Material wellbeing is about feeling financially rewarded from work, as well as having the tools and environment we need to perform well.

Since working from home puts control of the work environment squarely into the employees’ hands, it is much harder for organisations to ensure those remote employees are provided a productive and healthy environment in which to work. Many organisations are changing their policies to allow more remote work. A recent survey conducted by Mercer found that 70 per cent of companies have introduced or are planning on introducing more flexible working arrangements to address talent acquisition and retention. It is important to consider access to adequate equipment and to ensure that the material needs of all employees are being met no matter where they are located.

At home:

  • Find out what your organisation’s policy is regarding stipends or work-from-home kits to provide employees with ergonomic furniture, equipment and technology.
  • Think about what you, personally, need and would benefit the most from in your home workspace.

At the office:

  • Commit to mobile work by utilising all work settings, storage solutions such as lockers and shared filing and taking advantage of mobile technology.
  • Familiarise yourself with any new policies and tools for mobile work, such as seat reservation systems and etiquette.

Mental and emotional wellbeing

Mental wellbeing is linked to specific psychological symptoms and job-related experiences relating to happiness and positivity and how those impact job satisfaction and attachment.

At home:

  • Don’t be afraid to broach the topic of mental and emotional health with peers, managers and leaders. It is a critical concern when working remotely – a 2020 Qualtrics study found that 44.4 per cent of those now working from home have reported a decline in mental health.
  • Regularly check in with your colleagues and leaders to assess how well you are being supported by the organisation and work settings. For example, some organisations are utilising existing buddy or mentorship programs to have colleagues provide a sense of connection, as well as advice and support.

At the office:

  • Find spaces that provide inspiration, connection, and refuge – such as wellness rooms, recreation and social spaces.
  • Look at your own company’s approach to culture and wellbeing; host a workshop with your teammates to talk about what this means to you individually and to your team.

Intellectual wellbeing

Intellectual wellbeing is the ability to use knowledge and skills to perform well and develop new ideas, individually and with others.

Workplace intellectual stimulation is tied to many factors, including tasks, teams and physical surroundings. It can be impacted by the space we’re in, as well as the ways we communicate with each other. Our intellectual needs go hand-in-hand with our mental and emotional needs, so wellness strategies in support of these areas can feed and enhance or deter and detract one another based on strategic application.

At home:

  • Encourage regular team collaboration and virtual work sessions to exchange ideas and share knowledge.
  • Use virtual workshop tools to recreate the experience of whiteboarding at home.
  • Explore new and innovative ways of connecting virtually. We use our virtual rooms tool to engage our teams, clients, and external partners in a dynamic and interactive way.

At the office:

  • Participate in in-person, impromptu knowledge-sharing in spaces created for quick conversations. Find space to pin up or lay out documents and whiteboard ideas.
  • Create displays of project work, employee achievements and inspirational material to recognise employee efforts and increase team morale. A series of Harvard Business Review studies found that symbolic rewards such as public recognition can significantly increase motivation, performance, and retention rates.

Social wellbeing

Social wellbeing is the ability to relate and connect with others to form and maintain positive relationships and create a supportive environment.

The impromptu connection that occurs when people pass by each other in the hallway or meet at the coffee machine has yet to be replicated behind a video screen. The ability to see one’s team and colleagues face-to-face is essential to social wellbeing and unsurprisingly, spaces that reflect the organisational culture and help strengthen social bonds are currently in high demand. This aspect of wellbeing ensures our humanity shines through as part of our working relationships and allows us to remember that there are real people behind all those virtual calls.

At home:

  • Organize social events such as virtual happy hours, team lunches, or other opportunities to meet up and maintain and strengthen social bonds.

At the office:

  • Use spaces intended for casual and formal social interactions, such as cafes, lounges, and large gathering spaces.
  • Try to find out about and participate in your office’s social events and cultural programs and initiatives.

Spiritual wellbeing

Spiritual wellbeing is the coming together of a person’s values, ethical principles, morals and beliefs with work activities and organisational values.

Ethical alignment is often described as finding meaning and purpose in the work we do. An essential aspect in supporting engagement, attraction and retention, spiritual wellbeing can greatly influence the day-to-day work experience. There are many avenues to demonstrate and exude an organisation’s ethos.

At home:

  • Research your organisation’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspirations and explore how they connect to your day-to-day work. (See AECOM’s environmental, social, and governance strategy here).
  • Get involved with organisational programs and community outreach, whether virtually or in-person.

At the office:

  • Explore how your organisation represents its mission, vision and values visually throughout the space, using branding and artwork. Find opportunities to embody these values in your personal and team spaces.
  • Inquire about any sustainable and responsible practices used in workplace operations and explore how you can integrate them into your day-to-day project work.

All six dimensions of wellbeing should be considered when planning a holistic, well-run employee experience. Most employees can likely tie at least one less-than-desired professional experience to an aspect of wellness being out of alignment, in turn amplifying a negative response. Some dimensions can be impacted quickly and easily using the strategies discussed here, but all should be measured and monitored on an ongoing basis to develop a long-term workplace strategy that encompasses the home, the office and even third spaces. It’s time to reinvent the wheel: to rethink which aspects of wellness, in each of our lives, needs optimisation.

AECOM is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy
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