Taking time to smell the peonies
Q&A with Leigh Stringer
Leigh Stringer is an architect and a workplace strategist with EYP Inc. She is an advocate of planning new workplaces by assessing how companies work, how they want to work in the future, and how best to design a workspace to meet those needs. A few years ago, Stringer says she “lost that mind-body connection”. She told her boss she needed to take a three-month sabbatical and started to research what it would look like to be really healthy at work. Her book, The Healthy Workplace, was the result of that research.
How Do Our Workplaces Contribute To Poor Health?
Poor air quality, lack of natural light and acoustics – which can be really stressful and disruptive, but also impacts health. Water quality is a huge one and sometimes air quality and water quality are good when the building is built, but over time they diminish in quality. It’s the kind of thing that we’re not as vigilant about as we could be. The other piece of it is that our desks are traps; you can only sit down in one position, Cro-Magnon style (laughs) looking at your laptop. You suffer from all the normal sitting-is-killing-us symptoms, including deep vein thrombosis.
What Do We Do About It?
Often, in workplaces, there’s only one place to work: at your desk, sitting down. I think the forward-thinking organizations are saying, “You know what, let’s encourage people to move around. Let’s provide lots of places for them to plug and play, or go hide if they want to, or go home if they want to.” Another piece of it is the issue of control. There are all these epidemiological studies that show that the more control people have about how, when and where they work, the less likely they are to suffer from heart disease, stress, absenteeism and presenteeism, and all these sorts of things.
What Are Some Of The Solutions?
There are companies that have lots of different settings where you can go and huddle in a really quiet cone-of-silence room and just get your flow. There are workplaces that also have that adjustability and as many work surfaces as possible. Sometimes companies will have desks or whole tables that are standing tables, which encourage shorter meetings but also movement. In Europe they’ve gotten pretty granular about [natural light in the workplace]. There are rules about how deep a building can be because of natural access to light and there has been evidence for a long time that views to nature are great, views to natural light and seeing changes in light during the day is really good.
Is There Anything That We As Employees Can Do To Improve Our Own Workplace Health?
I think the big things I’ve noticed are movement; increasing movement throughout the day, standing every 30 minutes or so and walking every hour-and-a-half. Movement increases creativity and innovation. Getting outside in the morning and getting enough sleep is a big deal. I think that paying attention to your stress levels throughout the day is also bigger issue than we give it credit for.
How Do You Achieve Healthy Work-Life xBalance In Your Own Life?
I work out in the morning. I’m a runner so I run for 20 minutes every day. I have two kids so it’s crazy and I’m trying to get them out the door. I’ve found that if I don’t put myself first no one else will and it’s honestly the least selfish thing I can do for my family and my colleagues. If I’m on the ball and feeling good and have lots of energy, I’m giving them my best.
What Was Your Best Spa Experience To Date And Why?
I went to Miraval Resort and Spa as part of the research for my book. It was awesome! I love the fact that they were really pushing the boundaries and mind-body connection and trying crazy things. I did a rock climbing course – which I know is becoming more common – and there was one point where I was climbing the wall and got halfway up and started having a panic attack. My coach, on belay below, said, “Hey listen, take a big yoga breath, look around at this beautiful desert we’re in, isn’t it nice?” Sure enough, after 30 seconds I said, “Oh, I got this!” and climbed up the rest of the wall. It’s amazing how short a time it takes to get your brain to not be reactive and to be more thoughtful. deep tissue massage really relaxes me and gets my muscles feeling like new again. The next few days afterwards, I feel like I’ve been reborn!