Harness the Power of a Workspace Nudge™

Encourage people to move, focus, and connect.

by Haworth, Inc.

Do you remember when employer-sponsored wellness plans started? Corporate leaders believed that ROI on these initiatives would be 300 to 600 percent for every dollar spent. However, there is no data to back up these extravagant claims. Instead, we have a workforce that struggles with chronic illness.

Full-time workers in the US with chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers—resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually. Stress costs another $300 billion, chronic health conditions over $1 trillion, and working in “sick buildings”  adds another $60 billion.

The focus of wellness programs has been physical health; meanwhile, stress is the clear driver behind chronic illness.

Well-being must come before wellness, or we can't get to the root of the problem: the source of most employee stress is the very structure and culture of the workplace.

More than 80% of a company’s overall expenditure is the cost of people. Buildings only account for 5%. However, building design is gaining attention because of the impact it, along with other factors, can reduce stress and therefore chronic illness. This clearly makes a tangible contribution to the bottom line.

Researchers behind the book The Healthy Workplace Nudge: How Healthy People, Culture and Buildings Lead to High Performance have discovered that a human approach is more effective for fostering well-being and employee health. The new view is that leaders who value their employees humanize the workplace.

Nudges make healthy choices “no-brainers”

To understand how workplace design contributes to employee well-being, we borrow the concept of the “nudge” from behavioral economics.

Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, introduced a new approach to 401(k) programs. Instead of requiring people to opt in, he turned convention upside down. Under Thaler’s experiment, people were automatically enrolled in their employer’s retirement savings program. That little “nudge” increased participation from 30% to 90%! 

A nudge makes “doing the right thing” easier than selecting the “wrong thing” by tipping the better choice into the “automatic” or “no brainer” realm. The same theory holds true with well-being.

The Workspace Nudge™: Design to help people move, focus, and connect

Specific cues within the workspace can “nudge” people into healthier behaviors. These “nudges” rely on architecture along with furniture and space application elements that promote the healthier choice for employees.  

Move – Physical environments play a vital role in nudging people to move. Elements like highly visible stairs, height-adjustable tables, and shared storage all promote regular movement. Workspaces that nudge people to move enhance well-being because we humans are designed to move.

Focus – While we need to work together to achieve great things, we also need time to ourselves to prepare for work together and achieve individual goals. A Workspace Nudge enhances the ability of people to focus by creating legible workspaces that make it easy for people to:

  • Find the best place to do their work without distractions.  
  • Find their way around with a minimum of main path intersections.  
  • View what’s outside to give their eyes and minds a break.
  • Locate respite areas for quiet reflection and relaxation.   

Connect – We need each other to thrive. Spaces that allow us to connect (formally and informally) signal to employees the value of working together in a variety of ways. Ways to increase connection and engagement include:

  • Conveniently located small places that prompt face-to-face interaction without disrupting other employees.
    Social and interaction spaces that nudge workers to slow down, seek nourishment, and chat with others.
    Department/team area design cues that define an area and increase a sense of group identity—this can foster social cohesion and reduce stress.

Harnessing the power of the Workplace Nudge to help people move, focus, and connect makes healthier choices easier for all. In turn, organizations—and their bottom lines—thrive.

To learn more about workplace design elements that enhance well-being, read Workspace Nudge™: Design to Help People Move, Focus, and Connect.