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What is WELL? How Will It Benefit Our Space and is it Worth the Money?

Wellness is a buzzword that is used frequently when it comes to workplace design, company culture, and individual health. We’ve all seen a social media post or poster in a workplace promoting “self-care” or “wellness routines”, but beyond a marketing campaign, what does wellness really look like in the office? While most employers know that employee happiness is important (especially during this time of “The Great Resignation”), not all employers know how to actually accomplish positive and productive culture in their workplace. The WELL Building Standard seeks to bridge that gap in knowledge by seeking to enhance the quality of life and promote the physical, mental, and emotional health of the body.

History of WELL

We spend 90% of our time indoors. Shouldn’t our built environment be healthy, comfortable, and functional? That is the question that the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) sought to answer when developing the WELL building standard 10 years ago. When launching in 2014, WELL was the world’s first building standard solely focused on human health and wellness. While LEED is more concerned with sustainable building practices and sustainably sourced materials, WELL focuses on the way that the built environment affects our health and wellbeing. In 2018, IWBI released the 2nd version (v2) of the WELL standard in an effort to stay up-to-date with new technology and scientific research.

WELL v2 projects fall into one of two main groups, determined primarily by ownership type:

  • Owner-occupied: The project is mainly occupied by the project owner (which may be different than the building owner).

  • WELL Core: The project owner occupies a small portion of the project area and rents/leases most of the space to one or more tenants.

WELL v2 focus on these 10 concepts, with 108 features that detail the specific requirements for certification.

WELL Concepts:

  • Air - achieve high levels of indoor air quality across a building’s lifetime

  • Water - quality, distribution, and control of liquid water in a building

  • Nourishment - availability of fruits and vegetables and nutritional transparency

  • Light - promotes exposure to light and aims to create lighting environments that promote visual, mental, and biological health

  • Movement - promotes physical activity in everyday life

  • Thermal Comfort - promote human productivity and provide a maximum level of thermal comfort among all building users

  • Sound - bolster occupant health and well-being through the identification and mitigation of acoustical comfort parameters

  • Materials - reduce human exposure, whether direct or through environmental contamination, to chemicals that may impact health

  • Mind - promotes mental health through policy, program, and design strategies

  • Community - support access to essential healthcare, build a culture of health that accommodates diverse population needs and establish an inclusive, engaged occupant community

  • Innovation - address a novel concept or strategy not already included in WELL features

Similar to LEED, in order for a building to meet WELL certification requirements, there are certain preconditions that must be achieved in order to qualify for certification. Not meeting one of these preconditions, disqualifies a project from certification. In addition to these preconditions are optimizations that increase a project’s point total, which determines the various levels of certification: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Cost of WELL

WELL certification costs are determined by both the v2 project types, as well as the project’s square footage. For example, an owner-occupied project type at 100,000 square feet would be approximately $25,000 for certification. This price includes the onsite performance testing required for some preconditions and optimizations, as well as the enrollment fee. However, there are costs associated with additional design time, coordination, and paperwork as well.

Benefits of WELL: Improving Employee Experience & Retention

One of the goals as designers, constructors, project managers, and owner’s representatives is to help our clients accomplish their own goals; be that revenue, employee retention, efficiency, etc. So, the big question is: what would a WELL certification accomplish for your business?

As previously mentioned, WELL is about maintaining the health and wellness of the user of a space. This directly correlates to employee happiness and retention. The healthier and happier your employees are, the more likely they are to stick around. We’ve all been hearing the phrase “The Great Resignation” right now, and it’s not just a trending topic on social media. In August of 2021, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs. That’s over 2.9% of the entire workforce across all industries. It turns out that a global pandemic really makes you rethink working at a job that you do not enjoy. Whether these resignations come from lack of interest, excitement, or agency, is hard to tell. However, what we do know is that it costs an employer a lot more money to onboard and train a new employee than it is to maintain and cultivate your existing staff (over 1 trillion dollars annually in the U.S. to be exact).

Obviously, the 10 WELL concepts include valuable information about cleaner building systems for the health of employees. These concepts also include new and innovative ideas surrounding employee amenities like affordable/healthy foods, free/affordable fitness classes, adaptable/active furnishings, and increased organizational transparency. These amenities are attractive to many prospective employees, as well as current employees looking for increased empathy from their employers. IWBI says it best on their website: “WELL is an investment in the world's most valuable asset – it’s people.” IWBI encourages this investment through:

  • Prioritizing the health and well-being of your employees

  • Aligning real estate, operations, human resources, and the C-suite under a shared vision for health

  • Enhancing your brand through market leadership

  • Validating your commitment through rigorous third-party review and onsite testing

Final Thoughts

The importance of the individual is not something that can be taken out of the construction, design, and management process. Each person has unique needs, experiences, and desires when choosing a place to work. The WELL Building Standard has become a resource for the design industry to use when creating human-centered designs. It is more important than ever for employers to focus on the health and well-being of their workforce.



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