Good Office Design Reduces The Hidden Costs Of Healthcare

The office space at Behr Paint Company features two historic roads– Pacific Coast Highway and Route 66 – encouraging staff to move throughout the workspace while nodding to the company’s California roots. Image courtesy of H. Hendy Associates.

The office space at Behr Paint Company features two historic roads– Pacific Coast Highway and Route 66 – encouraging staff to move throughout the workspace while nodding to the company’s California roots. Image courtesy of H. Hendy Associates.

It’s no secret that the cost of healthcare in the U.S. continues to rise year after year. It’s the country’s largest industry by gross domestic product (GDP) and is projected to rise 5.5 percent each year. In fact, healthcare costs are expected to reach $5.7 trillion by 2026, making up 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.

For many U.S. employers, healthcare costs represent the fastest-growing and second-largest operating expense after employee wages. Today, companies nationwide spend $18,000 per employee on annual healthcare expenses, and this is expected to double by 2030. So, what can employers do to minimize costs?

While healthcare spending may seem unmanageable, reducing the “hidden costs” of healthcare is under your control. Hidden costs include employee disengagement, turnover, and lack of productivity. When designed effectively to support and bolster employee health and wellness, the physical working environment can reduce costs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this cost reduction can reach $1,685 annually per employee.

By focusing on the following four key drivers of U.S. healthcare costs, design strategists can help businesses create employee-centric and healthy workplace environments that increase productivity, happiness, and retention.

Physical Inactivity

Employees are living more sedentary lifestyles than ever before. Physical inactivity in the workplace can negatively affect the mood, focus, and productivity of team members. It can even lead to chronic diseases. To promote workplace health and wellness, consider incorporating the following design strategies in the office:

  • Sit-Stand Desks: Research shows that standing while working—even for 30 minutes at a time—can have a major impact on health. Benefits include reduced back pain, lower risk of heart disease, less weight gain and obesity, lower blood-sugar levels, improved mood, and higher levels of energy. Many businesses are integrating sit-stand desks to enable workers to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Some employers are using automated sit-stand technology to encourage employees to sit, stand, and move all at the same time, making it a team effort rather than an individual choice.

  • Stair Use: Taking the stairs can provide significant rewards for both employers and employees. Stair climbing is an effective yet short burst of activity that increases heart and lung capacity and burns more calories than jogging. When designing an office layout, consider incorporating a centrally located staircase with natural lighting, unique artwork, and music. To encourage stair use, place infographics and signage nearby to promote the health benefits.

  • Walking Meetings: Encourage workers to turn their conference-room meetings into collaborative and engaging walking meetings. Moving meetings not only allow employees to integrate physical activity into their workday, but this type of movement also improves energy levels, sparks inspiration, and enables workers to make stronger personal connections.

Stress Management

According to The American Institute of Stress, nearly 80 percent of all U.S. workers suffer from stress and anxiety while on the job. Stress significantly impacts health, and work-related stress is currently costing employers up to $300 billion a year due to accidents, absenteeism, and employee turnover, in addition to medical, legal, and insurance fees. While stress is often caused by job demands, a poorly designed work environment can be a contributing factor. To reduce stress and stress-related healthcare costs, businesses should consider implementing the following design strategies:

  • Acoustics: One of the most important factors in office design is noise mitigation. From telephones to machinery to conversations, disruptive noises affect concentration and productivity. Studies show that excessive noise contributes to stress, fatigue, and poor cognitive performance. To minimize noise distraction, consider installing sound barriers, using white-noise machines, or incorporating sound-absorbing materials like carpet, window coverings, and soundproofing insulation. For highly focused work, offer enclosed offices and workstations. 

  • Biophilia: Biophilic design, the infusion of direct and indirect natural elements into the built environment, helps fulfill our instinct to connect with nature. This holistic approach to design offers many health benefits from decreasing stress and lowering heart rates and blood pressure levels to promoting creativity and boosting overall mental and physical well-being. Examples of biophilic design include daylight, plants, natural ventilation, and water elements.

  • Stress-Management Seminars: As research continues to highlight the effects of employee stress on a company’s bottom line, stress-management programs and seminars have become more popular. Through stress-management techniques, tools, resources, and training, employees are learning to overcome business-related stress, and in turn, companies are benefitting from reduced stress-related expenses.