The WELL Building Standard Series: Its Not All In The Mind
The WELL Building Standard has established, through extensive research, that our built environment can significantly impact on our health and wellbeing. Whilst there is a focus on the physical effects of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness and comfort within our buildings it is the intrinsic link to, and effect on, the mind that concerns the first part of our series.
In the modern world we are becoming more and more aware that although mental and physical health are often treated separately, they are actually one in the same thing. Mind and body are inextricably connected and thoughts and feelings can trigger physiological responses; equally, repeated physical stresses can be seen to affect mental health.
Depression, low self-esteem, chronic stress, anxiety and other mental health problems are common in industrialised nations and can often lead to long term disability. They have been linked to a shortening of lifespan and the prevalence of detrimental physical ailments such as a higher risk of heart diseases and immunosuppression, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders and skin conditions.
The WELL Building Standard identifies that with this knowledge there are things that can be done about the design and provision within a building to aid sleep, lower stress levels and to promote an overall ambience of health and wellbeing. Whilst the focus of the WELL Mind concept currently revolves around provisions in a working environment, many of the ideas and intentions can be applied to the home. The financial benefits of increasing the happiness of your staff cannot be underestimated, the benefits being better engagement, retention and productivity of the workforce.
There are many ways in which the WELL Standard attempts to address the balance of the mind in our workplaces and some of these practical applications for an innovative approach are summarized below.
Beauty in Design
On average we now spend 90% of our time indoors; therefore the importance of interior design as a trigger to physical and psychological wellbeing is becoming an ever more relevant topic. It is not merely about how the interior looks, but how we feel in it, and the way it allows us to act, behave, think and reflect.
In a WELL building project the aesthetics of the interior are carefully considered to create a mindful design with human experience at the centre. The intention is that the occupants of the building derive comfort, joy and a sense of ease from their surroundings and that celebration of culture, spirit and place through design can positively impact on mood and limit stress. Creating a beautiful and meaningful space can be achieved through the consideration of the balance and proportions of the interior, such as ceiling height. There is also a strong case for meaningful integration of public art to create depth and complexity, and in large spaces, spatial familiarity.
The Impact of Biophilia
A deep connection and interaction with the natural environment has existed throughout human history; urban living is a relatively new phenomenon to which we have yet to fully adapt. Biophilia looks at the intrinsic need of humans to be surrounded by nature and seeks to incorporate the psychologically positive effects of nature into design.
A study led by researchers in Cardiff called ‘The relative benefits of green versus lean office space’ have shown those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% increase in productivity over a three month period, in comparison to those working with no greenery or natural element within their environment.
Nature can be incorporated into interiors through natural patterns, lighting, space layout, water features, environmental elements and of course indoor plants and plant walls. Landscaped areas outside the building also provide a chance for interaction with nature. All of these elements can boost positive feelings, enhance mood and increase happiness. Looking at pictures of nature also allows you to feel positive effects on a smaller scale; you can experience these effects right away by setting your desktop wallpaper to a picture of a natural environment.
Provision of a variety of working spaces can also create a more healthy work environment, increasing productivity and job satisfaction whilst reducing stress. The WELL Building Standard recommends that workspaces should be adaptable, with different areas set out for concentrated work, collaboration and resting as necessary. Open working areas should be zoned to ensure private areas for contemplation, focus and relaxation with limited noise, adaptable seating and access to stimulation from the natural world. Creating organized working areas with limited distracting clutter also helps to reduce stress levels. Although this may seem counterintuitive to current working environments naps are far more effective at increasing productivity and mental agility than caffeine, for example, and so naps at work should be encouraged. Areas to nap with couches, roll out mats, sleep pods, fully reclining chairs or hammocks are an integral part of a WELL Building.
Healthy Sleep Policy
Adequate sleep is essential to good health and is necessary for maintaining sustained mental and physical performance throughout the day. Lack of sleep has been associated with a higher risk of debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart attack and stroke. The intent of Well Standard is to support healthy non-work sleep habits by discouraging occupants from working late at night and providing them with sleep support software to monitor sleep and wake patterns.
Lack of sleep can also greatly affect employees who travel extensively for business, causing negative health problems. Stresses such as isolation, impact on family life and jetlag are also considerations to the mental health of these employees. WELL companies should provide further support for business travellers so that they can maintain fitness regimes, recover from travel, work remotely and potentially fly home during longer trips.
Workplace Health & Family Support
Health benefits provided by employers are also promoted by the WELL Standard. Some examples are health insurance, health savings accounts, onsite immunizations and policies such as remote working to encourage workers to remain at home until they are well again after an illness. Investing in the health of employees can be very advantageous for employers as health impacts so much on performance, productivity and concentration. Employees (especially in Hong Kong) often feel overwhelmed and unable to take appropriate rest or time away from work to recover from illness and a company culture that supports good health can only be positive for the mental wellbeing of employees.
Caring for your family is a natural human instinct and the inability to do so can cause huge stresses. Supportive policies by employers such as paid paternity and maternity leave, help with or provision of childcare, paid leave for the care of a close relative and more breaks for nursing mothers are just some of the features that hope to improve work-life balance. Flexible working and the option to take up these policies in times of heightened stress have been shown to improve mental health too.
Workplace awareness of stress and substance addition is another progressive area for the WELL Building Standard, which hopes to reduce the psychological and physiological effects by providing wellness and stress management programmes for employees, short-term treatment and referrals to professionals for treatment.
Engaging in altruistic activities has been shown to have beneficial effects on those involved, in fact The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘helping others increases social support by increasing feelings of belonging, while decreasing feelings of isolation and loneliness’. Acts of charity and generosity provide us with a deep sense of wellbeing that can then impact on our wider lives. Incentivising altruism in the workplace can be done through policies such as paid time off to volunteer and matching charitable donations. Social cohesion, community identity and enhancement of wellbeing are all positive outcomes
Although the WELL Building Standards for MIND detailed above largely focus on how its ideals can impact on the workplace, it isn’t a huge leap to see that all of these ideas can be applied to our homes with similar effects and benefits being seen. Further elements of the WELL Mind concept also look at health and wellness awareness, integrative design, post-occupancy surveys, self monitoring devices and material and organizational transparency, more detail of which you can find here – WELL Building Standard.
Feel free to contact Liquid Interiors, your healthy and eco conscious interior design consultants.