The Most Important 15 Cubic Feet

The Workspace Nudge™ approach to space planning

by Haworth, Inc.

Look around­ your workspace: up, down, to each side, behind yourself. Everything you see—and even things you don’t see­­—within 15 feet in any direction has a profound effect on every system of your body.

Your muscular and skeletal systems are affected by the chair you sit in and how much you move. Noise and distractions increase stress, which impairs the immune system. Daylight affects your endocrine system, which regulates metabolism and mood. The list goes on—workspace design affects everything from digestion to respiration.

The 15 feet around each of your employees has a measurable effect on their bodies too—as well as your bottom line. Healthcare costs per employee are expected to rise to $25k by 2025. Every company in the nation is affected by rising healthcare costs and chronic disease. Considering that most of us spend 90% of our time indoors, mostly at work, it makes sense to look at the role of workspaces in maintaining health.

The Haworth research team has done extensive study in the new discipline of applying behavioral economics to workplace design called the Workspace Nudge™. Under this approach every factor that affects employee well-being is taken into account.

Where costly wellness programs fail to change behaviors in order to manage disease and improve health, a Workspace Nudge prompts employees to move, focus, and connect—naturally and with ease. The cost of implementing a Workspace Nudge is nominal, but the impact is huge.

Use behavioral economics to increase engagement

In their book, The Healthy Workplace Nudge: How Healthy People, Culture and Buildings Lead to High Performance, co-authors Rex Miller, Phillip Williams, and Dr. Michael O’Neill lay out the findings of a 2+ year, Haworth-sponsored research project. Working with 100 corporate leaders and experts, they found that leveraging behavioral economics is a powerful tool to promote healthy physical, cognitive, and emotional behaviors at work.

Using a Workspace Nudge approach can transform organizations by aligning behavior with values.

“Engagement has become primarily an instrument for achieving improved productivity. Focusing on the broader notion of happiness, or a sense of well-being, naturally results in engagement.” said O’Neill.

When the opportunity to enhance well-being and health through workspace design is overlooked, productivity and engagement suffer. We also know that what someone experiences at work goes home with them. It affects their spouse, their children, and their community.

A Workspace Nudge directs decisions toward healthy behavior

A Workspace Nudge can “reframe” decision-making by redesigning work environments to remove constraints that get in the way of automatically doing “the right thing.” A nudge serves as a tool for managing environments in a way that supports well-being. Let’s take a look at few examples:

  • Highly visible stairs offer a visual nudge to take the stairs instead of elevators. Elevators should be placed in convenient but less prominent locations to reserve priority and ease of access for those with mobility challenges. This nudge gets people to move.
  • Combining a legible workspace with user-adjustable furnishings will nudge people (especially those who work in distracting open environments) to improve focus on work tasks by letting people spend more energy on their individual work and less energy on finding the best place to do their work or fighting off distractions and interruptions. Plus, improved focus is related to reduced physical stress symptoms and improved sense of well-being.

For five years Haworth has extensively researched happiness and well-being. Most notably we’ve discovered that creating spaces that focus attention on physical activity, mental breaks, familiarity, and legibility fosters well-being. And that’s not the only benefit! Workplace design that nudges healthy behavior also fosters creativity and innovation—two factors that have real impact on organizational effectiveness.

Get more insights and learn more about the Workspace Nudge book tour today.


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