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Betsy Graham Discusses Strategy and Health Benefits of WELL Building Standard

Betsy Graham HOK

HOK’s Betsy Graham, 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.

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).

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, the standards will also trigger changes in human resource policies, whether participation in a bike-share program, parental leave (paternal or maternal), or philanthropy.

When it comes to questions on the cost of designing to meet WELL standards, 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.

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.”

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