Published in Manufacturing
Steelcase Inc.’s Brody WorkLounge is designed “for the brain and the body” and uses advanced ergonomics. The product offers heated seating and back surfaces. Steelcase Inc.’s Brody WorkLounge is designed “for the brain and the body” and uses advanced ergonomics. The product offers heated seating and back surfaces. Courtesy Photo

Companies increasingly see office environments as key to worker well-being

BY Sunday, June 26, 2016 11:14am

Employers who are increasingly paying attention to the overall well-being of employees are generating opportunity for West Michigan office furniture makers to create the type of workspaces that contribute to workers’ health.

Traditional workplace wellness that focused on improving the physical health of employees to contain medical costs, boost productivity and reduce absenteeism is just now beginning to transition to “well-being,” which takes into account the emotional health of employees as well.

“I’ve seen a shift in some of the thinking,” said Amy Ritsema, a partner at third-party wellness provider OnSite Wellness LLC in Grand Rapids. “Wellness programs are not just about activity minutes and eating right and nutrition. There’s a lot more understanding that well-being is about the whole person.”

For example, a few clients today ask Ritsema about height-adjustable desks and workstations that allow employees to do their work while standing, limiting the amount of time they’re sitting and sedentary. 

Employers also seem more interested in “soft seating” areas that allow staff to decompress and reduce stress during the workday, Ritsema said. That’s all occurring in the name of employee well-being, a movement she says is now in its infancy but that will surely become a larger force in the design of modern offices.

“People are beginning to understand that well-being needs to take place all day — not just away from the office — and the effects that it can have,” Ritsema said. “It’s starting to migrate into a lot of different things. We’re just starting to get a real good handle on it, but I think this younger generation has a better understanding and they’re starting to demand it a little bit.

“They want those different environments. They want to be able to stand. They want to be able to move around. They work better in that environment than the older generation.”

That evolution of workstations was displayed at the office furniture industry’s recent NeoCon trade show in Chicago, where local companies offered an assortment of new products that play into employee well-being.

Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Inc. rolled out its Brody WorkLounge, which the company describes as “a microenvironment designed for the brain and the body” that uses advanced ergonomics and includes a heated seat and back.

Steelcase also introduced enhancements to the Ology height-adjustable table that uses sensors and reminds workers to periodically change desk height, reducing problems associated with static postures during the workday.

Two decades after ergonomics became a mainstay of chair design, new seating such as the Fern office chair from Holland-based Haworth Inc. and the Dotti stool for education by Izzy+ in Spring Lake also play into the greater focus on employee health and safety.

The Dotti stool for classrooms accommodates students’ fidgeting throughout the day, allowing them body movements that burn calories and contributing to their health.

“Small movements all day long are actually better for you than a 30- to 60-minute workout,” said Izzy+ President Kevin Kuske. “What happens is as soon as you sit here for more than 20 minutes, your metabolism starts to drop and you start doing negative things to your body. Just by moving, you prevent that from happening and you don’t have to exercise to overcompensate.

“Most people at a 10-hour day of sedentary (behavior) have done enough bad that a 30-minute workout doesn’t overcompensate. Just those small movements can offset it and do better for you.”

The same dynamics and design concepts behind Izzy’s Dotti stool also apply to the office, Kuske said.

National surveys the last couple of years have shown employers beginning to look at wellness more from the holistic well-being perspective. In the 2015 survey of employee health benefits by Mercer, 42 percent of respondents indicated they planned to expand programs focused on employee health and overall well-being.

Ritsema sees well-being as a movement that’s just emerging for employers. An office’s design with areas that enable people to de-stress, the amount of natural light within a space, and the overall aesthetic of an office all contribute to employees’ mood, morale and health.

That’s part of the reason why office furniture companies in recent years have put more emphasis on designing workspaces that have a residential aesthetic or what Ritsema calls a “coffee-shop feel.”

“If I like where I’m going to work each day and the environment is comfortable and inviting, I’m going to be a happier person at work,” said Ritsema, who considers the higher emphasis on well-being as the “next level” of wellness that encompasses the entire office setting. “We kind of started with the individual and we’re slowly making our way out to the broader picture.” 

MiBiz Staff Writer John Wiegand contributed to this story.

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