Can your workplace's architecture contribute to your well-being?

-Taken from the book, The Elemental Workplace by Neil Usher

Wellbeing may have been an implicit factor in Duffy’s original assessment of a workplace as efficient, but it is one of the key considerations of the age. Energy can be defined as “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity”. The logic runs that fit, healthy and happy employees are more likely to be present (physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually), energized and productive. The idea of ‘energy’ provides a link between the physical workplace and its potential to support the wellbeing of its occupants. The physical space you inhabit, whether at work, at home or socially, will be making a contribution either for or against your wellbeing. No space is neutral in this regard. It will either give you energy or sap it. You may deploy resilience if your space applies a negative influence, but this is no reason to ignore the positive contribution space is capable of making.

Wellbeing in the broadest sense has become a subject of much focus since the beginning of this century, with a developing debate over whether organizations have a duty or even a responsibility to protect and enhance the wellbeing of their employees, given the time they spend working. Taking the workplace as an entity, it has the ability to make a specific contribution to individual wellbeing in two ways, outlined below. We will say more on this after a discussion of the Elements when it will be clearer how the Elemental Workplace can operate as a wellbeing framework. The Elements collectively do not guarantee higher productivity, deeper innovation or greater quality of work, but they certainly make these things possible and make for a better place to work.

Wellbeing is promoted through the architecture of the workplace, its interior design, mechanical and electrical systems, and installations. This all occurs without the conscious knowledge or participation of the occupants unless they are particularly interested in the field. Secondly, it is promoted through the provision of amenities, facilities and services that enable better decision-making – on the part of all who use the space – concerning their own health and wellbeing.

In establishing this duality, the Elemental Workplace manages to avoid being drawn into a debate about personal responsibility and other influences on our wellbeing. The workplace should energize and vitalize the individual, and make a contribution to wellbeing. It should at any rate never create the conditions for the opposite.