Meditating on the Deeper Meaning of Workplace Wellness

Although yesterday was World Mental Health Day, we need to be comfortable speaking about our mental wellbeing more often, especially in the workplace. Over the last week, I was shocked to learn that more than 1 million people call in sick every day due to workplace-related stress. Given we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by email and our workloads are bigger than ever before, perhaps that figure isn’t so alarming. Our day to day has become a blur of meetings, deadlines and phone calls, leaving us all feeling tired and stretched far too thin. As a result, many companies are now looking for ways to address burnout through workplace wellness. 

There’s been plenty of talk about what works best when it comes to wellness, from subsidized fitness memberships to nap pods, but one of the most popular remedies gaining traction is meditation. Brands like Spanx, Starbucks and Google are embracing everything from providing expert meditation training sessions and creating designated focus areas, to offering on-site yoga classes. And there’s extensive research that demonstrates the effectiveness of meditation on employee productivity, as well as health and overall happiness.   

Work-life balance is increasingly becoming more about work-life integration. Working with a company like ROOM, where we’re focused on the evolution of the modern workplace, I have been thinking quite a bit about wellness, and meditation in particular, as it relates to design and the environments around us. Finding a balance is difficult. There is no magic formula, but I believe there are elements that every company needs to consider when it comes to designing a space that is conducive to meditation and mindfulness in the workplace. 

Designing for Meditation in the Workplace

In order to foster a rich, thriving environment, workplace leaders need to be flexible and be willing to provide employees with a range of options and environments that reflect their personal preferences and needs.

When we talk about creating a workplace that creates a comfortable environment for meditation, my mind of course immediately gravitates to design, but there are fundamentals that need to happen across an organization to encourage wellbeing at work. For me, it all starts with culture. In order for people to develop healthy workplace habits, companies have a responsibility to look at the values that they put forward. 

As a startup, we are constantly reflecting on and fine-tuning our values. We want to ensure that the physical office space that people walk into every day contributes to their wellness and their satisfaction. Every individual interprets and feels environments differently, and companies need to be aware that the spaces we work within have profound effects on our state of mind, and our productivity.  

Ensuring that wellness is a core company value is only one part of the puzzle. Equally as important is embodying those values. It might seem small, but something as simple as creating a private place in noisy open office environments for team members to tune out and tune into their thoughts, can shift the mindset around wellbeing at work. 

Creating the Space to Breathe and Think 

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Although most offices have conference rooms or “quiet zones,” they don’t do much to encourage or inspire mindfulness or relaxation. For starters, they aren’t very private. To meet the needs of true meditation, I recommend that companies create an entirely separate space that is completely dedicated to mindfulness. 

One of the principles of mindful office design is to remove any distractions, such as foot traffic or ringing phones, to help people mentally and physically disconnect. The best way to achieve this is a quiet, private area, free of colleagues or devices. Just having a space to escape to can be incredibly liberating and empowering. 

When I designed the ROOM headquarters in NYC’s bustling Soho neighborhood, finding ways to incorporate sensory stimulation was an extremely important part of creating a space that felt comfortable and inviting. A lot of companies forget to account for our senses, or try and get it wrong. But if done right, it can have a remarkable impact on behaviors and stress levels. Natural light and views that highlight nature are elements that make a space feel instantly calming, and can have a profound effect on our wellbeing. And finding ways to mask disruptive office sounds, like alternate insulation materials such as wool or felt, can heighten mindfulness as well.