Guest Post by Melissa Walker, Senior Director, Wellbeing Product Manager, JLL

In this era of uncertainty, one thing is clear: We could all do with a little less stress at work. Organizational leaders can’t avert pandemics, nor can we solve global crises—but we can nurture a brighter outlook for our own employees by creating a wellness-centered workplace where people feel valued and inspired.

The societal pressure cooker of the past two years has created unparalleled strain in general, with one Gallup poll affirming that 2020 was officially the most stressful year in recent history. While thought workers have always had to endure stress at work, we reached a tipping point when all that pressure erupted to spark the Great Resignation, and a record-breaking 47.4 million workers in the U.S. quit their jobs in 2021 alone.

To win employee loyalty in these fast-changing times, leaders must do more than give lip service to the importance of mental health. They must bring that organizational value to life by shaping more authentic, human-oriented workplaces that not only reduce workplace stress and burnout but actively support wellness, and inspire individuals to be and bring their best.

This means doing more than conjuring up shiny new wellness amenities ad-hoc. After all, the typical workplace wellness program only garners about 15% participation. To achieve the wellness-infused environment your teams will truly appreciate, shape a more holistic strategy that brings your brand’s values to life in key ways throughout the physical workplace.

How to reduce stress and improve workplace experience

More than a backdrop for productivity, every workplace tells its employees a story about their employer, from its organizational purpose, to the tasks and people it prizes. But most workplaces today offer a muddled story at best. Instead of clearly conveying brand values, they’re rife with well-intended but disconnected design choices that inadverdently send mixed signals—and contribute incrementally to employee stress over time.

By constructing a purposeful workplace “story,” however, employers can foster confidence and a shared sense of purpose, ultimately enhancing wellness and driving mutual success.

Following are key tactics to help give your teams the inspiring, stress-repellent environments needed to thrive:

1. Provide intuitive workplace design. It’s stressful to feel like you’re lost—especially in your own workplace. But it’s easy to get disoriented in cube farms and other high-density work environments where everything looks the same. These “illegible” layouts hamper easy movement, waste time, and undermine confidence.

Instead, intuitive workplaces make it easy for employees to know where they are, and where they want to be. So, skip the monotony and offer a mix of unique areas that support collaboration as well as space to focus and recharge. And use thoughtful design elements to help broadcast an area’s intended purpose.

For example, cool colors, welcoming furnishings and strong acoustics help signal that a space is intended for refresh and recharge. Strategic interior landmarks can also add variety, helping people mentally map their location within the larger space—whether it’s in the form of simple yet effective signage, bold graphic walls in major thoroughfares, or transparency-boosting glass walls and partitions.

2. Design wellness “nudges.” There’s a reason Americans spend $397 million in unused gym memberships—we have good intentions, but in hectic day-to-day life, it feels easier to take the proverbial elevator. Organizations can help turn the tide by making it simple for employees to take advantage of wellness opportunities, with intentional layout choices, visual cues, and recognition programs that are supported by and participated in by leaders of the organization.

For example, you might rally people to get their steps in by opening up the stairwells and reimaging that space with motivating art work or music, spacing out shared amenities, or creating an office “steps challenge” with new winners each month. Whatever you do, be sure to keep nudges upbeat and intuitive, and give positive feedback whenever possible.

 3. Lift employee spirits with views of nature. A vast body of research shows that time in nature has a positive impact on health and wellbeing, from reducing stress and blood pressure to enhancing mood. So, bring the outside in, from maximizing views and access to daylight, to incorporating greenery with potted plants and living walls. Note that artwork featuring nature as well as the sound and sight of water can also have a calming effect.

4. Create tech-free zones to support both focus and rest. Americans check their phones more than 250 times per day, approximately every four minutes, according to JLL research. While most thought workers have mastered the multitask, the sense that we must address email, text or social updates as they come in makes two important tasks especially difficult: focusing deeply, and relaxing.

It’s stressful for employees to feel like they’re responsible for finding quiet time to write or read a heady report, or that they have to be ready to respond to a team ping even when taking a recharge break. So, give people a break—while supporting mental wellbeing and performance—by designating a mix of spaces where normal “always-on” rules do not apply.

5. Replace bland break rooms with modern rejuvenation stations. Many corporate break rooms of yesteryear sit empty because they were a design afterthought. Replace them with more inviting spaces to recharge, complete with soothing nature images and calming music, yoga mats and/or mindfulness coloring pages. Pro tip: Rather than a couple of large shared lounge areas, consider a series of smaller spaces across the workplace.

The workplace of the future is here, and it’s human

COVID-19 cast new light on the importance of mental as well as physical health in the workplace. More than ever, employees need to feel safe, healthy, and supported at work. By putting people first in workplace design, organizations can win employee loyalty, strengthen brand reputation, and ultimately improve business performance. Now, as organizations are actively rewriting the future of work, let’s make sure the workplace of the future is centered in care.

Melissa Walker is Senior Director, Wellbeing Product Manager, at JLL