Presented by:, June 26, 2018

Author: Jennifer Walton, Principal, H. Hendy Associates

On the surface, it may not seem that there is an obvious relationship between employee wellness and the bottom line. To employees, fitting in their wellness objectives and activities usually happen when they’re outside the office – from taking long walks on the weekend, preparing nourishing meals at home, and attending workout classes before or after office hours. But what if employees’ innate interest in their own health could be supported by the workplace itself? And what if that investment had a proven, positive impact on business?

A recent study by Harvard researchers validates that companies that have initiated wellness programs reap positive business results. For every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs decrease by $3.27 and absenteeism drops $2.73, a 6-to-1 return on investment.

Beyond the proven bottom-line impact, employee wellness programs can also help to reduce sick days, while also increasing employee productivity, creativity and workplace satisfaction. Research also has shown that health and wellness benefits are important factors for potential employees when choosing an employer.

For employers, people are their most valuable asset. In fact, today’s employers allocate more than 90 percent of their annual operating costs to their people. To that end, focusing on employee wellness is an investment well-spent. Here are six wellness factors with direct impact on workplace productivity.

1. Air Quality: In the U.S., poor air quality results in an estimated $150 billion of illness-related costs, $93 billion of which represents lost productivity from headaches, fatigue and irritation associated with sick building syndrome.

Because airborne pollutants can be two to five times higher indoors than outdoors, creating a well-ventilated workplace is key to avoiding productivity loss. A 2015 double-blind study from the Harvard School of Public Health confirms that people working in well-ventilated offices with low levels of pollutants have double the cognitive function of those in offices with average levels of exactly the same pollutants.

2. Hydration: Dehydration as mild as two percent can impair mental functions, including memory. To avoid this, ensure that employees have easy access to quality drinking water. Or, better yet, implement a water challenge or provide employees with large water bottles to encourage them to stay hydrated throughout the day.

3. Healthy Eating: Unhealthy eating increases the risk of low productivity by 66 percent. While many consider themselves educated on nutrition, sugar intake is still shockingly high among Americans. However, adults with the greatest knowledge of nutrition are 25 percent more likely to eat a healthy diet. Implementing programs that help to educate employees about nutrition can have a measurable impact on their ability to make wholesome choices and, in turn, be more engaged and productive on the job.

4. Natural Light: Natural light regulates the body’s hormones, giving the body cues about sleep, awakening, synthesizing vitamin D and digestion. Indoor light, which is often static (one color and one brightness), can significantly disrupt these cycles. Employees working near sunlit windows have a 15 percent higher production rate than those working under artificial light. When natural light isn’t an option, adding circadian lighting can help with the transition from cortisol-producing blue light in the morning to melatonin-producing red light in the afternoon.

5. Physical Activity: Among other health-related impacts, those who rarely exercise have a 50 percent increased risk of low productivity. Implementing wellness strategies that focus on education, physical activity in the workplace, interior and exterior activities, and ongoing employee support, can be a low-cost and high reward way to increase productivity, and reduce absenteeism and turnover.

6. Biophilia: Biophilia, a new field that recognizes the human need to connect with nature, can reduce stress, enhance creativity and expedite healing, and is a major component of relieving stress in the workplace. Just a 40-second break to see the green of nature – either outdoors or on an indoor living wall – increases one’s ability to concentrate by six percent.

Not only do employee health and well-being programs help to build staff loyalty and attract talent, but they also result in improved performance and increased profit – key contributions to a company’s bottom line. By creating a workspace that supports the well-being of its occupants, employers can create a mutually beneficial environment that helps all occupants reach their potential.