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The role of workplaces in the escalating health imperative

Workplace of the future
  • 19 Jun 2024
  • by
  • Alice Drew
  • General Manager, Place Futures
The escalating health imperative

In modern society, the concept of wellness has transcended the traditional boundaries of physical health. Today, it encompasses a multifaceted suite of mental, social, and environmental factors. The shift reflects a deeper understanding that true wellbeing relies on a holistic balance of varied yet interdependent elements, from personal health to professional opportunities to community connections.
We are living longer and better. Advances in healthcare have created the opportunity for many to live longer, even with chronic health conditions related to lifestyle, environmental factors or new pathogens. This means our expectations of wellness are changing, and the new goal for most is longevity – living well for longer, not just living for longer. 

We now see our health and wellness through a much broader prism than our own individual sphere of influence. Factors including the climate, environment, global conflicts and political unrest, state of the economy and the health of Country all contribute to our physical and mental wellbeing.

From Gen Z to an ageing workforce

In recent Gallup research (2024), two thirds of ‘Generation Z’ workers reported feeling stressed ‘a lot’ of the time, and unsurprisingly indicated their highest priority in selecting an employer was finding an ‘organisation that cares about employees' wellbeing’. 

Sustained wellbeing is also foundational for the performance of individuals and teams, and shifts in societal demographics will have a significant influence in the shape of our workplaces, precincts and the very structure of organisations themselves.

One of these major shifts is an ageing population. As we live longer and healthier lives, it’s likely people will remain in the workforce for longer, either out of financial necessity or personal fulfilment. Living well for longer means a focus on endurance, mental health and social health. People are likely to have careers that span 50+ years, working into their 70s and 80s, spurring a focus in how work design for this demographic might change, including workplace conditions that will accommodate people at all stages of life to be an active part of our precincts.

As more people in the workforce will be living with chronic health conditions, and the number of Australians being diagnosed with mental health conditions continues to increase, workplaces and commercial precincts will play an increasingly profound role in supporting health and wellness outcomes for individuals and the broader community. 

“We’re already seeing an increase in allied health services being incorporated into precincts, as is the case with Barangaroo. These services will provide functionality to manage and support health throughout life, such as bookable doctor’s rooms for rotational medical practitioners to have a presence in commercial precincts.” 

Lifestyle services supporting respite and wellbeing will be a welcome addition to precinct life. We’ve moved beyond traditional end-of-trip facilities that offer a shower and locker, to spaces more akin to day spas and wellness retreats that are more service oriented.

At the other end of the demographic scale, younger generations have higher expectations of employers to support their individual health and wellbeing and are likely to seek out a balanced life that prioritises their emotional and physical wellbeing more than previous generations. Attracting the talent of this generation will require meaningful and visible efforts from employers to create physically and psychologically safe and healthy working environments.

Responding to complex health and wellness needs means we need to consider the built environment as a whole, and how people exist within that system, as a reciprocal part of that system. As an example, the proportion of workers who are neurodiverse is rising, and this talent will benefit from thoughtful precinct and workplace design to provide an inclusive and positive experience, that may include appropriate sensory spaces for neurodiverse people to decompress safely. We can also expect to see an increase in purpose-built innovation precincts that are designed to support our needs today, while bringing people and organisations together to solve the challenges of tomorrow.

Embracing nature for health 

Biodiversity and nature, whilst needing revitalisation in our cities, will be recognised as essential to human health. People will increasingly prioritise direct (within a 5 minute walk) access to a place where they can be immersed in the natural environment.

Biophilic design in precincts and workplaces – access to open and green spaces, natural light, good air quality, and quality facilities that support health and physical activity are becoming non-negotiables for organisations choosing workplaces today. This will evolve into greater strategies that will look at how we can bring a more comprehensive experience of nature into workplaces and precincts and provide spaces to retreat from technology and recharge.

We’ll likely see a greater integration of food production in our precincts through innovative urban garden systems on rooftops, in basements, and vertical spaces. There’s an opportunity to create a holistic system where things like water capture and organic food recycling will be used by precincts to literally feed micro farms within buildings that supply the cafes and restaurants that serve precinct workers.

“Similarly, we could see the evolution of commercial precincts into innovation neighbourhoods, with strong collaboration between resident organisations and the full spectrum of health services, such a medical research labs, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in creating tangible and tailored solutions to improve the way we think, live and work each day.”

Looking ahead, the evolution of urban precincts into innovation hubs presents exciting opportunities for collaboration between organisations and health services, which are expected to rapidly evolve in the next decades. By integrating health-focused initiatives  such as medical research labs and lifestyle amenities, into commercial spaces, we can create tangible solutions that support inclusivity and enhance overall wellbeing for everyone.

Workplace of the future