Designing for Mindfulness
by Sam Barry
The International WELL Building Initiative (IWBI) provides a series of benchmarks for designers dedicated to creating spaces centered on the health and well-being of occupants. When it comes to mental health, IWBI is clear that the mind and body are interconnected and that design can play a part in improving mental health:
“The WELL Building Standard® recognizes the features of the built environment and identifies workplace policies that can be implemented to positively impact mood, sleep, stress levels and psychosocial status in order to promote and enable overall occupant health and well-being.”
IWBI mentions the connection between exercise and the release of serotonin, a chemical in the mind that improves one’s state of mind and sleep cycles. And access to natural light can enhance one’s mental state.
However, there’s more to mindfulness in the workplace than access to exercise facilities and natural light. Let’s look at some best practices.
According to the 8th Annual Survey on Corporate Health and Well-Being by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health, which included 141 large- and mid- sized organizations, 22% of employers offered mindfulness training programs in 2016. That number was expected to double in 2017. Among the companies offering programs are Apple, Target, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google and the U.S. Army.
Aetna not only offers mindfulness program to its employees, last year it opened a mindfulness clinic at its headquarters and has a Chief Mindfulness Officer who oversees the corporate initiative to help drive mindfulness? Why has Aetna invested so much in mindfulness?
Aetna calculates that a highly stressed employee equates to $2,000 in additional annual health care costs, and its mindfulness programs have reduced stress by 35 percent. In fact, Aetna estimates its mindfulness programs have cut health care costs by seven percent and also resulted in productivity gains of $3,000 per year per participant. In other words, mindfulness has dropped millions to Aetna’s bottom line. So a clinic is a small investment with significant mental, emotional, physical and fiscal returns.
Some companies—like Casper, the World Bank and Eileen Fisher—have taken an approach similar to Aetna’s, and dedicated spaces to calm, quiet or meditation. But in this era of accelerating density, dedicated square footage can be hard to rationalize. So, Headspace, the meditation app, has created a meditation pod; other, similar furniture solutions are also available for those seeking a brief respite.
But design can also encourage walking meetings over seats at a table, or introduce textures, aromas and views outside that engage the senses and help one be present in the present moment. And policies and procedures can help, too. Little things, like banning smart phones from meetings can aide focus and collaboration. Studies have shown mindfulness can increase empathy and teamwork—as well as productivity and health—and those are all smart reasons to design to help occupants be mindful.
To learn more about mindfulness, how to practice, its benefits and how to design with mindfulness in mind, please contact us for a CEU presentation.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.