UBC Graduate Research

Working towards wellbeing : UBC staff Kramer, Marabeth; Adhikari, Binay; Turnbull, Elliot; Wong, Bryan


It is now being recognized that the built environment can play a determining role in a population's lifestyle. Nowhere is this more important than the environment where people spend the majority of their lives: the work place. Over the past few decades, employers have been recognizing the importance of health and wellness for their employees. Benefits and programs have been enacted to ensure that employees are able to maintain healthy lifestyles in the physical, psychological, social and organizational realms. This report focuses on UBC's staff and synthesizes several key physical and programmatic recommendations focused on the workplace, the public realm (campus) and the surrounding community (Metro Vancouver and beyond). In the workplace, several strategies to boost employee wellness were explored, based on relevant academic research. The necessity of open-plan office layouts has opened a dialogue on their advantages and pitfalls. When done correctly, an open office concept can provide many benefits. Here, a "palette of space" is recommended in order to accommodate various needs: private areas, project spaces, and collaboration zones. Glass portioning, personal control over the environment, and noise mitigation strategies can all improve group cohesiveness and work satisfaction. In terms of psychosocial workplace health, a programmatic approach which allows for work time flexibility is encouraged. For example, flex-time, compressed work weeks and telecommuting all increase staff retention and attraction and allow for more family time for employees. Workplace gardening is a creative opportunity to boost both the physical and mental health of employees. Currently UBC has no staff gardens and this would be an easy area for improvement. A programmatic approach to community engagement is another opportunity to boost mental health. For example, employer-sponsored volunteerism provides many benefits to employees who participate. Another important piece in the workplace is the informal learning space. Informal learning space is spontaneous, context dependant and unbounded space where daily learning can occur. This space has several benefits which include boosting social capital and mental health for employees. The first recommendation here would be for tea-rooms as informal space. This is simply a break room which is less formal, giving control of the space over to employees to do things such as write on white boards or interact with each other throughout the work day, thus creating opportunities for informal learning. Another option for informal learning is the staircase, an often underutilized space in buildings. By improving the design of staircases, they can actually become meeting points where informal learning can occur. Finally, the use of space syntax, which analyzes space and identifies where the most casual interactions are likely to occur, is encouraged to ensure efficient planning of a space to promote social activity and informal learning. In terms of the public (on-campus) realm, there are numerous recommendations we propose. The sedentary nature of many of UBC's staff necessitate built environment interventions to promote physical activity. For example, a staff/faculty only gym is proposed to counteract the discomfort many may feel at the current on-campus gyms where the majority of users are students. If these gyms were free or heavily subsidized, their use would be ensured. This could be a dedicated larger gym, such as the leasable space in the Brain Center on Westbrook Mall, or it could be smaller in nature, with each department having a room devoted to weights and fitness equipment. Another recommendation is for the provisioning of a fitness trail network on campus. A fitness trail is a trail with exercise equipment incorporated into it course. Users follow the trail and stop at various stations to engage in exercise. Another strategy to get employees out walking is a cultural walk on campus. This would be a well-designed trail which incorporates way finding techniques and interesting cultural artifacts such as colored pavers or distance markers to encourage walking. Sidewalk cafes and covered areas will add value to this system. These types of trail should be accompanied by some programmatic intervention to ensure their use. This could take the form of incentives to exercise, such time spent exercising during breaks gets your name in a draw. Or, weekly fitness walks could be organized by a fitness team. These could rotate through departments and take place outside of regular break time. The final area we addressed is the surrounding community, where there is only one issue which we discussed: commuting. The expensive nature of Vancouver, especially close to UBC, means that most employees likely commute long distance. Long commute times are extremely detrimental to the physical and mental health of employees, for several reasons. To counteract this issue, we recommend two strategies. The first is easy, and can be implemented quickly: that is, car-pooling. Car-pooling is a social setting which counteracts the boredom of commuting alone. This strategy should be organized by human resources and heavily promoted. For example, free parking, flexible start times, or gas bonuses could be incentives used to encourage car-pooling. Another recommendation, which is more difficult to implement but extremely beneficial, is that of more on-campus, non-market staff housing. Having affordable zero-commute housing would make UBC a very attractive workplace for potential employees, and would help to retain current employees. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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