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Tina Casey headshot

Wellbeing is As Important As Safety in a Post-COVID Workspace, Employees Say

Employees are looking for more than safety assurances when they return to physical workspaces: They also expect their workspaces to support personal wellbeing and offer resilience to future crises like climate change, according to a new survey.
By Tina Casey
Workspace Office Workplace

The end of the COVID-19 crisis is finally coming into view, but its disruptive impact on the U.S. workforce is only just beginning to take shape. In one especially significant development for employers, the struggle to recruit and retain top talent has intensified. The fresh wave of competition is not simply a matter of which company can offer more financial rewards. According to a new survey from Armstrong World Industries, successful employers also need to pay much closer attention to the connection between a workspace and overall wellbeing.

Workspaces do not exist in a vacuum 

The connection between workspaces and employee satisfaction should be an obvious one. Although many jobs are physically walled off from the world, broader trends and occasional crises can have a significant impact on the way employees feel at work. Forward-thinking employers have already absorbed this lesson, at least in part. 

One good example is the sustainable building trend, with an emphasis on healthful indoor air quality, daylighting, natural materials and green spaces. A growing number of workspaces are also incorporating areas for play and relaxation, a trend most famously spearheaded by tech firms seeking to encourage behaviors that stimulate creativity, teamwork and innovation.

Employers that invested in more healthful, sustainable and enjoyable workspaces early on may be better prepared to address worker concerns in the wake of COVID-19 today.

After COVID-19, a return to normal is not enough

As a leader in the building materials sector, Armstrong is naturally interested in the trends and circumstances that motivate employers, lease holders, and property owners to redesign the work environment. Part of that is simple common sense, as in the case of adjustments to prevent COVID-19 transmission in workspaces, but Armstrong’s latest research indicates physical safety is only the start of what employees expect.

Armstrong’s survey examines how workers in offices, schools and medical facilities view their employers' responses to COVID-19. The findings draw a portrait of a workforce that is well aware of the disconnect between past practices and the increasingly complex, changing and challenging world around them — in and out of the workspace.

In particular, the survey suggests that workers value overall wellbeing practically as much as they value physical safety and security. Regarding the overall work environment, 86 percent of respondents expect to feel “very or somewhat safe in their workspace” upon return to work after the pandemic. Beyond that, 84 percent said they expect their employer to deliver a workspace that supports personal wellbeing.

The concern for overall wellbeing also lines up with the 83 percent of respondents who expect their companies to be more prepared for future crises, such as climate change or another pandemic.

“The findings are reflective of the pandemic’s influence in heightening awareness and understanding of the importance and interconnectivity of healthy environments and one’s own personal environment,” Armstrong said in a statement. 

The workspace as an asset

The survey provides a roadmap for companies that appreciate the need for a holistic approach to the indoor workspace — and it teases out two broad conclusions that employers should keep in mind when working with architects and designers.

First and foremost, employers need to recognize the importance of investing in workspaces and treating them as assets that can attract and retain workers who are educated and aware. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a swell of enthusiasm among the public for learning, sharing information, and keeping up with the news. Talented workers expect their employers to be just as informed, educated, responsive and adaptive. That includes responsiveness to future crises and trends, as well as the current pandemic.

Second, this heightened awareness should be reflected in bold action. It is not enough for employers to vocalize their awareness of worker expectations. Companies need to assess their work environments and adjust them in accordance with their employees’ expectations. They should strive for workspaces that enable their employees to feel as safe and comfortable as they do at home.

Raising the bar to meet worker expectations

Armstrong underscores that worker wellbeing and building sustainability are complementary. In that regard, the corporate social responsibility movement has also become an employee recruitment and retention movement. Companies taking meaningful action on social and environmental issues have an edge in today’s workforce marketplace — and that starts with setting clear goals and taking steps to achieve them.

That lesson applies to Armstrong itself, as well. Through its 2030 goals, the company aims to “cultivate thriving environments for employees and communities, more actively meet demands for healthier, circular products, and do more with less to preserve and protect the planet’s resources.” Environmental goals include specific commitments to source ethically and environmentally responsible materials, as well as targets for lifecycle sustainability, carbon reduction, and water conservation.

The message is that investing in a more holistic approach to the workspace is an essential step in the race for top talent, but it is not the only step. Companies that are fully engaged in the social responsibility movement will also have a long head start on the competition as the U.S. emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article series is sponsored by Armstrong World Industries and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Armstrong World Industries 

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey