The 6 Dimensions of Office Wellbeing: #6 Vitality

Open walkways and natural lighting help promote movement and energy, improving vitality.

As the modern workforce has tranformed from being physical laborers to knowledge workers, our minds are asked to be very active while our bodies sit in one place. In order to perform well, workers need a variety physical activity and stimulation. How do you create an environment that encourages activity and improves workers' vitality? As part of our series on office wellbeing, the article below from Steelcase addresses the sixth - and final - dimension of wellbeing, meaning. You'll learn how organizations can communicate a sense of meaning to employees. This culture inspires workers to be passionate about what they do and can improve performance and results.  We'll also share some tips and design considerations that helps cultivate a sense of meaning in the workplace.


Scientists continue to make breakthrough discoveries about how the mind and body function as an interrelated system. Brain chemistry expert Dr. Candace Pert, a neuroscientist at the U.S. National Institute of Health, wrote in her 1997 book, “Molecules of Emotion,” that receptors and peptides run every system in the human body, creating what she termed a “bodymind’s intelligence.”

Continuing to explore the science of vitality, recent medical studies published in respected journals such as the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and mass media such as The New York Times, have raised awareness of the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic, a leading researcher in the field of inactivity studies, has noted an explosion of research in this area “because the health care cost implications are so enormous.”

The risks are mental as well as physical, since muscle inactivity produces a series of harmful metabolic effects including a slowdown of the flow of nutrients to the brain, affecting alertness.

Clearly, engaging the body in movement is essential for supporting physical and mental vigor at work. Movement is the body language of ideas,” says Nicholas de Benoist, who collaborated with others in Steelcase’s exploration. “Taking different postures stimulates the mind, and healthy environments encourage people to move, eat well and exercise as healthy practices.”

In addition, sensory experiences in work environments are important, too. Using our senses and nervous system, we interact constantly within the context of spatial environments, processing touch, light and sound and other stimuli that influence mental and physical states. Because stimuli have direct and often immediately perceptible positive or negative consequences, as humans we naturally want choice and control of our environments, seeking out the places that “feel good” to us.

“When you get to the workplace, you need the tools and environments that are going to support you, whether it’s to work alone or have a collaborative session or eat a meal in a pleasant place or go outdoors,” says Beatriz Arantes, a Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researcher. “Providing a palette of place that supports frequent movement is fundamental for sustaining vitality.”

Cultivating vitality in the workplace

How we experience a place affects our actions. Investments in the workplace can completely change employees’ attitudes and behaviors, creating a new spatial vibe that boosts people’s motivation and performance within a relatively short time.

Design Considerations:

  1. Design areas that give people choices for controlling the level of sensory stimulation around them.
  2. Provide easily adjustable furniture to fit a range of sizes, needs and preferences and to promote movement throughout the day.
  3. Include cafés with healthy food choices and displays.
  4. Bring nature in with daylight, views, ventilation, patios, etc.
  5. Support active, healthy lifestyles with centrally located stairways, outdoor walking paths, bicycle racks, etc.


IBM’s CEO Study notes that the move toward a more collaborative, communicative, creative, flexible, and ultimately more innovative organization is not something they are delegating to HR. They see the challenge as so critical to their business performance that they plan to engage the entire C-suite and personally lead this shift.

To impact this goal, leaders at all levels of the organization will gain greater traction if they incorporate a focus on wellbeing into their strategy. Employers make a significant investment in people and expect a positive ROI over time. For those who understand that their employees’ wellbeing is imperative for bottom line success, the potential return is high. Conversely, it’s shortsighted and risky to shortchange people’s potential with inadequate, unsupportive or uninspiring work environments that undermine their wellbeing.

“Businesses understand that they need people more than ever to get innovative work out the door. It’s really about getting people to blossom,” says Arantes. “In the past leaders may not have recognized the impact employee wellbeing could make. That’s changing, there’s a different mindset.”

Wellbeing is a competitive advantage in today’s business world. To achieve it, workers need mental and physical health, nurtured by a supportive environment that gives them the emotional capacity to interpret and experience events in a way that leads to productive, positive actions. The best places help people engage deeply in what they do by giving them what they need for wellbeing at work.

The results can be self-perpetuating: a systemic sense of wellbeing that easily becomes positively contagious, amplifying the performance of individuals, teams and the entire enterprise.

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