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15 March 2018

James Stawniczy and Betsy Nurse Discuss Strategy and Health Benefits of WELL Building Standard

HOK’s James Stawniczy, a senior consultant, wellness, and Betsy Nurse, director of interiors for the Atlanta practice, spoke with Tradeline on the people-focused nature of WELL and the impact on employee health, well-being and recruiting.

Excerpted from Tradeline:

The WELL Building Standard™ codifies several design and operational attributes that promote human health and wellness in the workplace. The outgrowth of a collaboration among architects, engineers, and the medical community to identify and address today’s top public health concerns, WELL takes conventional wellness initiatives several steps further by advancing a people-centric agenda that focuses holistically on employees’ physical, mental, and social well-being.

There are many findings and statistics that justify such an expansive approach, according to James Stawniczy. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that the physical and social environment is the most significant determinant of an individual’s state of health, far exceeding the combined total of the other three contributing factors: lifestyle and health behaviors, medical care, and genetics (which is actually the least influential). Given that people spend roughly 90 percent of their time indoors, Stawniczy notes, interior surroundings have a tremendous role to play in their health and well-being.

“We are not just changing architecture, but behaviors.”

“WELL is commonly known as a building standard, but in reality when you take a deep dive into it, it is all meant to be focused on the individual people who are occupying spaces,” he continues. “There is a lot of opportunity in the built environment to impact humans’ overall health makeup, and there is also great opportunity for ROI, considering that people represent such a large portion of a company’s costs.”

The WELL fitness standard is playing out primarily on two fronts: stairways and fitness centers. Both are undergoing design transformations to encourage physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior. For a long time, stairway use had been confined to the drab concrete fire evacuation staircase, but that is changing dramatically. Betsy Nurse reports that today’s clients, particularly in higher education, are opting more and more frequently for a monumental staircase.  Generally spanning two to four floors in an active zone in a central location, these inviting structures are wide, airy, and well lit, inspiring people to travel on foot.

Because many WELL features relate to comfort and mind, Stawniczy points out that the standards will also trigger changes in human resource policies, whether participation in a bike-share program, parental leave (paternal or maternal), or philanthropy. “For the first the time in 20-plus years, I’m having conversations with HR professionals to make sure policies align with WELL standards. We are not just changing architecture, but behaviors.”

When it comes to questions on the cost of designing to meet WELL standards, Stawniczy and Nurse both agree that the greater value lies in the results. Some savings are more easily quantifiable than others, for example, in health insurance rates. Increased productivity might be hard to measure, but “engaged, comfortable, happy employees will work harder than those who are physically uncomfortable,” says Stawniczy.

It’s also a boon for recruiting. Interest in recruiting and retaining the right talent has more than doubled since 2009, Nurse reports. “When candidates see signs that the company is investing in employee well-being, it just might be that extra nugget to pull in top talent.”

Read the full story at Tradeline.