Don’t Forget A Comfortable Pair of Shoes

JLL’s Melissa Walker explores how workplace fashion directly impacts your wellbeing.

Much has been written about the workplace of the future and what will the office look like post-COVID. Studies abound about what percentage of time people want to spend in the office versus at home and many leaders are trying to find the magic combination of perks, amenities, and cajoling (or mandates) that will bring their workforce back to the office. The phrase “Work as Resort” has popped up in many trade magazines addressing that the workplace must be exciting enough to draw the employee back from the comfort of their home.

So, what will it take? Perhaps a comfortable pair of shoes?

I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world.

—Bette Midler

An Overlooked Element that Throws Wellness Off Track

In the earlier part of my career, I did personal nutrition counseling and coaching for clientele of all backgrounds, generations, and fitness levels. One element that stood out to me over and over was how often a person with a deep understanding of effective wellness principles, and with the best intentions, was thrown off course by the built environment and the workplace culture in which they were employed.

On more than one occasion, I have witnessed a colleague pulling off their shoes in the bathroom or in the privacy of their office to massage their aching feet or to stretch their sore back. I cannot imagine after a day of swollen toes and a throbbing back that pursuing wellness activities after work is incorporated into their evening plans. If one goes home after work with only enough energy to get take-out and binge watch television, there is something inherently wrong with how we are engaging with our work.

Due to these consistent observations of how much impact the built environment and corporate culture had on wellbeing, I changed career paths and began focusing on ways to systemically improve the environmental and cultural aspects of wellness that highly influence one’s ability to be well wherever they live, work, and play. This included looking at the social influences that prompt a person to dress and interact with an environment in certain ways that may or may not enhance the opportunities for wellbeing.

Moving Naturally and Often

Could the design of the office space and comfortable clothing that allows for natural and frequent movement throughout the day leave us feeling energetic and excited to pursue activities outside of work that leads to better overall wellness?

For many, the start of each morning begins with the question, “What should I wear today?” As someone who has worked in wellness for more than two decades, I will admit I don’t know much about fashion, but I do know a thing or two about wellbeing. And for a good portion of the population the opportunity to be well on any particular day is highly correlated to what is selected from their wardrobe.

Each of us knows that we have a choice to make as we stand in our closet or look in our drawers and decide how to dress for our day. Often it is influenced by important meetings with clients or leadership which in most industries prompts a more business-like- attire. At other times, our day might be mostly heads down work in front of a computer, allowing for a different and often more comfortable take on the day’s outfit – if you are lucky enough to work for a company that allows you to dress for your day.

The topic of workplace fashion and wellbeing is one that is complex and nuanced so let me target specifically what I intend to discuss. How one dresses directly impacts the amount of movement (spontaneous or scheduled) that we partake in each day and the design features implemented to enhance wellbeing in your workplace are utilized based on how you dress.

We have read the research that people are reprioritizing what is important to them after the experiences of living with a pandemic for almost two years. Recent research enlightened us that people are expecting their employer to support their wellbeing and that for many work/life balance is now more important than compensation. Many companies are initiating and revamping their employee wellness programs and are in the midst of revitalizing their office space to be a destination for employees. This is great news for the employee BUT without consideration towards the most basic of cultural and workplace policies, the company dress code, many of these new and innovative wellbeing features within the built environment will be under-utilized.

Aligning Wellness Amenities to Policy and Culture

Meditation rooms, outdoor exercise paths, relaxation pods, creative rooms with various seating options are all great considerations. But if the dress code and corporate culture do not align or enable the use of these spaces, these great interior and exterior enhancements will be nice to look at, but won’t deliver on the promise of helping a person achieve better wellbeing.

Wellness designs that invoke inspirational moments of wellbeing can help drive the conversation and adoption of healthier office protocols around dressing for your day. If the moments exist to take a relaxing swing or climb to the top of a bird’s nest feature to relax and have some quite space this could spawn discussions on the policy and cultural shifts needed for employees to dress comfortably for their wellbeing.

In the case of industries where dress code is not up for discussion, wellness design should consider how to adapt so there are not unintentional inequities in the design allowing certain populations greater access to wellbeing than others. Instead of a bird’s nest quiet space, perhaps a cocooning space that is ground level and private so people of all dress styles can utilize it.

I believe designers have an amazing opportunity to help move the wellbeing conversation forward in profound ways and help organizations move towards policies that allow employees to regularly partake in natural movement and to freely utilize design features that can enhance mental, physical, and, social wellbeing.

As we see the transformation of the “office of the future” come to life, maybe now is also the time to “move naturally” towards a complete wellbeing culture, as without, we are innately held back from utilizing the spaces that can truly imbed wellness into our day to day lives and workflow.


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