In our modern age, where industrialization has radically transformed our lifestyle and the way we work, it is becoming more and more important to be aware of the interdependency between cognitive function, physical activity and healthy habits. This was common knowledge amongst ancient Romans: an active, healthy life is fundamental for physical and mental well-being.
Exercise has multiple physiological benefits but it also impacts on our psychological well-being: physical fitness is linked to positive moods and a reduction of anxiety and stress. The workplace has significant potential to stimulate physical activity through design interventions.
1. Using adjustable equipment - In order to encourage healthy postures and regain the participation of the whole body, elements of the workplace such as chairs and workstations should provide adjustment options so that tasks can be carried out in different positions, alternating between sitting and being on one's feet.
2. Encouraging changes of position during the day - Creating settings where workers can move, sit and rest comfortably proves hugely beneficial: it improves productivity and reduces the rates of absenteeism due to illness.
3. Promoting activity through workplace design - This is about creating environments that support moderate physical activity and stimulate behaviours such as walking in order to speak to colleagues, standing, rather than sitting down, at meetings, incorporating high tables for formal gatherings, etc. Another option consists in a strategic analysis of staircase location and design with a view to encouraging their use over the elevators.
4. Exercise can also be promoted through layout design - based on everyday activities (individual work and group work, focus-based tasks, areas for learning, resting and socializing, etc.) This provides the staff with specific spaces wherein to fulfill different tasks while simultaneously promoting movement and avoiding long days sitting at a workstation.
5. Fostering active commuting - Commuting to work not only causes traffic jams and an increase in the emission of harmful gases, but it also affects workers’ quality of life. Relatedly, it is possible to implement a program to stimulate the use of bikes that includes a fleet of vehicles that can be used during office hours, parking for bikes and showers on site.
Nutrition plays a key role in preserving health, controlling weight and preventing diseases. Often, the rhythm of work and the long working hours favour the consumption of fast foods and unhealthy snacks. It is important to ensure workers’ access to healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, to limit harmful ingredients and encourage healthy eating habits.
The growing interest in mindfulness practices in the workplace is directly proportional to technological changes and increased volatility and uncertainty in the job market. This is generating stress across all organizational levels. The practice of mindfulness, like a fusion of mind and body, represents the antithesis of multitasking and it encourages us to be completely focused and involved, to enjoy what we're doing.
Creating areas where workers can control sensory stimulation, and supplying places that foster relaxation by playing with materials, textures, colours and lighting can help to recharge energies and make a difference during the working day.
PSYCHOSOCIAL FACTORS OF WELL-BEING
Companies can help to improve people's well-being by establishing a corporate culture that promotes positive behaviour, trust, autonomy, sense of purpose, etc. The workplace is instrumental in reaching these goals.
→ CUSTOMISATION, CONTROL AND TERRITORIALITY
Jacqueline Vischer, a Canadian researcher specialized in environmental psychology, links workers’ psychosocial features to space design and management through customisation, control and territoriality.
Incorporating elements that can be adapted to personal preferences and necessities has a hugely beneficial psychological impact: people become more productive, they feel more satisfied and committed to the organization, and they adapt better to their workplace, thus decreasing employee “burnout” and turnover costs.
Vischer claims that territoriality in the workplace also has psychological value, represented both by personal space and by the place each individual takes up in the organization, expressed through the customisation and appropriation of space.
Modern technology allows us to work anytime and from anywhere; therefore, the case for more flexible working practices is powerful and it's here to stay. Workers gain a better work-life balance, they become more productive and they experience less stress and shorter commutes; this also helps workers feel more in control of their workload while simultaneously generating trust and loyalty.
Services provided by companies to their employees in the workplace are evolving constantly. Gyms, healthy food, and rooms for resting, napping, breastfeeding, meditation, yoga, and so on.
Incorporating spaces intended for recreation is another way of improving employees’ participation and mood while also promoting professional satisfaction. This is because play activates the brain's reward mechanisms, yielding feelings of gratification and stimulating both learning and the repetition of positive behaviours.
→ A BALANCE BETWEEN WORK AND FAMILY LIFE
Many companies are beginning to realise that workers are more productive when the needs of the personal and family life are met. Facilitating the conditions that foster a good balance between the two also improves women's rates of professional inclusion, reduces absenteeism, increases commitment, helps to recruit and retain the best talent, and increases employee well-being, thus reducing expenses due to sickness.
Therefore, integrating all of these factors into the workplace can ensure workers are supported on a range of different levels and thus feel more committed to their companies. Thus improving working environments can have incredibly positive effects and ensure workers' physical, psychological and social well-being needs are met effectively.
 VISCHER, J. (2008): “Towards an Environmental Psychology of Workspace: How People are affected by Environments for Work.” Architectural Science Review.
 OBINO MOKAYA, S. & WEGOKI GITARI, J. (2012): “Effects of Workplace Recreation on Employee Performance.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.