Your Workplace is a Proxy for Your Health and Well-Being

An excerpt from The Healthy Workplace Nudge by Rex Miller, Phillip Williams and Dr. Michael O’Neal.

Delivering a healthy building and one that transforms your culture and business may sound daunting, but is very achievable, increasingly necessary, and surprisingly economical. The largest catalyst to understanding and transforming our organizations is literally under our feet. When an organization thinks about changing their workspace, that very idea raises fundamental questions, excavates old assumptions, and causes everyone to roll up their sleeves to understand and rediscover “why we do what we do.” Solutions that rise out of that process bring transformation.

Our workspaces send powerful messages about what our organizations value. Lew Horne explained that his employees walk in each day, see their WELL certification, and know that means something:

“I think the WELL certification speaks to employees knowing we built this space with their health in mind. Our space is also having a positive effect on the home front. I hear employees talk about how they are eating differently at home, or becoming more active. We are in the building business. We believe buildings make a difference, but I have not seen anything quite like this before. It is also helping us with our clients. Because we’ve gone through our own journey, and it’s made a huge difference for us, our clients seem to sense we can do the same for them.”

Let There Be Light!

The WELL Building Standard lists more than 100 health issues. Let’s look at one, just one, feature to examine – light. This one area will give us a lens for viewing how buildings can contribute to greater employee happiness and health.

Maybe the reason I resonate to the subject of light is that my father graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology, specializing in reprographics. So, I grew up hearing and knowing about light frequencies, UV waves, additive and subtractive lighting. Light is a magical essence that invades our bodies with electromagnetic radiation, influencing both happiness and mental health.

The sun, in its daily or circadian cycle, regulates our biological clocks. Body temperature and cortisol elevate during the morning hours, responding to the rising blue light spectrum. But body temperature decreases and melatonin elevates to prepare us for sleep. That’s why light is such a significant health issue. As the WELL Building Standard reminds us, “Given that people spend as much time of their waking day indoors, insufficient illumination can lead to a drift of the circadian phase.”10

During an interview with Paul Scialla, I noticed a light fixture I had not seen before. I asked him about it. Now, understand, asking Paul a simple question ignites his authentic curiosity. He confidently gazes at objects, people, and ideas as a genuine seeker of knowledge. As he seeks, he talks.

“Forget the fixture. You see that lighting? It’s a very high-lux temperature of light. It’s supposed to match the sky. It’s doing that for a reason. We are conditioned to be outside, active, energized, and mentally acute during the day, and sleep at night. That stems from tens of thousands of years of biological history. That was until we created these little boxes around ourselves; now we spend 90 percent of our day inside. Even more disruptive, 100 years ago we invented artificial light, and for the first time, the human body was exposed to artificial light in the evening. That completely disrupted our natural circadian rhythm.

“The more we can match lighting to what we’re supposed to get outside during the daytime and adjust to a softer yellow and lower lux light in the evening, the more we’re going to have the right hormones created in the evening for sleep and in the daytime for activity.

“Do you know there is a nerve in our eye that was only discovered nine years ago? It’s called the circadian optic nerve. It is the first time medical science has realized there’s a mechanism in your eye that has nothing to do with vision. It takes in peripheral light and darkness and controls your sleep-wake cycle. That’s it.

“We can extend the workday in a very healthy manner by applying higher lux, higher temperature, bluer, brighter, whitish light in an office setting to keep the body stimulated like it was still early afternoon, to keep mental acuity hormones and productivity hormones elevated, and stop the early secretion of melatonin. If you’re already making a lighting decision, if your facility’s manager is doing LED swap, the health attributes of lighting can have a profound impact on the bottom line of the company. That could extend and enhance the productivity for a couple hours a day for three months out of the year. That’s your upside calculation. That additional performance factor comes at zero cost. The ROI for a simple swap is infinity.

“I installed circadian lighting in my bedroom. It’s dynamic. It basically changes and creates the sunrise, midday, late-afternoon, early evening, and evening light inside.”

Artificial light, and especially blue spectrum light, may be the single most harmful assault on our minds and bodies. Providing circadian lighting and harvesting natural light may also be the easiest, least expensive, and most immediate with the highest positive impact investment on 100% of your employees.

 

  1. “The Well Building Standard,” Delos, https://delos.com/services/programs/well-building-standard.