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Designing Workplaces for Health, Well-Being and Productivity

Experts across disciplines launch an important new book, Built to Thrive.

Many adults spend much of their waking hours at their jobs, indoors at their desk and sitting in meetings. Studies show that these environments unintentionally affect our physical, emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. From an organizational psychology and public health perspective, this subsequently affects a person’s motivation, satisfaction, and overall health. This may impact business outcomes such as employee performance and loyalty. Recognizing this is one thing, but how do we build workplaces that are conducive to the people that work in them?

Berkeley Public Health’s Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces (ICHW), has answered this question in a new book titled, Built to Thrive: How to Build the Best Workplaces for Health, Well-Being, and Productivity. During a 2017 “Science to Practice” conference, ICHW discovered that a one-dimensional approach to healthy workplaces wasn’t working, which set the foundation of Built to Thrive. ICHW brought together experts from multiple disciplines to develop a holistic understanding of—and integrated approach to—designing for people’s health, well-being, and productivity. They’ve researched and implemented evidence-based models on basic needs, as well as drivers of satisfaction, and how to design for Generation Z.

“The solutions for today’s health problems are found when silos are broken down.” says Dr. John Swartzberg, Berkeley Public Health Clinical Professor Emeritus and Chair of the Editorial Board for the Wellness Letter. Swartzberg is a featured author who conducted literature reviews to uncover the link among design, stress, sedentary behavior, and infectious disease in workplaces.

Built to Thrive is an evidence-based book that provides readers with scientific research and best-practices from contributors from public health, architecture, sociology, psychology, and other disciplines. Authors include experts from Berkeley Public Health, in addition to Gretchen Gscheidle from Herman Miller, Sally Augustin from Design With Science and ICHW Core Researcher, Galen Cranz from UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Design, Kevin Kelly from the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration, Gervais Tompkin from Gensler, and Anthony Ravitz from Google’s Real Estate & Workplace Services team.

Each chapter is driven by ICHW’s research or built on a foundation of knowledge from the contributing author’s field. Built to Thrive proposes a significant shift in the process by which buildings are designed, by positioning people at the forefront.

“This book will be useful for a diverse group of thought-leaders including physicians, infection control practitioners, architects, administrators and academics,” says Swartzberg. “Americans arguably have the best medical care system in the world; but we do not have the best health systems. Workplaces are an ideal setting to foster health. The design of these settings are integral to the health gains our society needs.”

ICHW has hit the ground running in putting knowledge from this book into practice. “We applied for a research grant from NASA to study the internal spacecraft habitat that goes to Mars,” stated ICHW Director Cristina Banks. “This is where astronauts live, work, and play. Our approach is to integrate psychological features into the habitat design, which have the potential to make—or break—a mission.”

Closer to home, ICHW is also partnering with UC Berkeley Health Services and Human Resources in the Healthy Campus Initiative to prioritize healthy campus design for health and well-being.

If you’re interested in making this book a part of your curriculum and/or seeking a guest lecturer, please contact