How coastal living boosts wellbeing and business

The science is in: Life by the water has flow-on effects for your mood, health and workplace wellness.

With 17 patrolled beaches, nine ocean rock pools, and a temperate climate that means you can enjoy the coast all year round, it’s no wonder Wollongong has a great coastal vibe.

Access to beaches and the ocean tops most lists when you ask out community what they love about our city – and the reason is clear: research shows that coastal environments offer real benefits for mental and physical health.

Scientists have termed this phenomenon ‘blue health’ and while all kinds of water environments are effective, the biggest advantages seem to be linked to the beach.

In a large-scale UK study published in the journal Global Environment Change, 20,000 smartphone users were asked to rate their wellbeing at random times, while GPS tracked their location. It found that coastal and marine environments were by far the happiest locations, ranking six points above urban scenes.

Wollongong offers lots of advantages for businesses looking for a new office location – with the added bonus of beaches. From Wollongong CBD, you can walk within a lunch break to the ‘Blue Mile’ – a beautiful and historic section of our coastline that has spectacular views, shared pathways and parks, plus plenty of places to eat or be entertained.

Here, we focus on how Wollongong really puts the change into ‘seachange’ and the benefits that could flow for your business.

Wash away workday stress

When it comes to achieving that elusive work-life balance, adding in quality time at one of Wollongong’s many beaches is a smart move.

“I think that coastal environments can definitely make coming home from work so much sweeter,” agrees Wollongong-based performance psychologist Maz Miller.

“Even just experiencing the simplicity of less noise and being outside when we are on the beach allows us that space that we often crave between our work selves and simply being ourselves.

“Not to mention all the outdoor activities that can be a great way to switch off as well as help us relax and feel better!”

It’s certainly the case for Dr Melinda Williams, CEO of the Wollongong-based national health insurer Peoplecare.

“I have a ritual in my life – if I’m down near North Beach, I will always drive around the lighthouse,” she shares. “It’s my reminder of living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and not wanting to take it for granted.”

Build stronger families at the beach

An image of Maz Miller and Dion

Maz Miller and dog Dion

Interestingly, research shows that family relationships also get a boost from coastal environments.

A small study in 2013 found that families with children aged eight to 11 enjoyed greater interaction with each other, a reduction in stress and a deeper connection with nature when spending time at the beach.

Miller says that teens especially could benefit from the calming impact of blue spaces.

“Growing up today, young people are living with screens, social media and continuous reminders of expectations and pressures of who they should be and what they should do,” she explains.

“Learning to use their natural surroundings therapeutically and spend time in the outdoors will no doubt have a positive impact on their ability to switch off, refocus and enjoy the simplicity of being.”

And it doesn’t hurt that people of all ages are more active when they live by the water, which has a ripple effect on mental and general wellbeing.

Because Wollongong doesn’t have the traffic congestion of other Australian cities by the water, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, you can actually get to the beaches easily, either before or after work or picking up the kids from school.

This also means that even when working from home, your team could be healthier both physically and mentally, especially if encouraged to take ‘time out’ every day to enjoy Wollongong’s natural environment with their family.

Why water works

The ocean’s soothing effect on mindset is one of its biggest gifts. Watching waves roll in and out, immersing yourself in the water or just taking a moment to be grateful for the beauty of nature are all mindful exercises with huge rewards.

Miller, who pioneered walk-and-talk therapy in Australia from her base in Wollongong and now teaches other psychologists how to take their practice outdoors, says coastal environments offer many tangible tools for personal reflection and growth.

“From a therapeutic perspective, Mother Nature seems to present so many accidental learning opportunities, and simply observing the natural flow and changes in nature can be so significant and reassuring,” she says.

“I often do walking or sitting mindfulness exercises or meditations near the ocean right here in Wollongong with my clients,” she adds.

“It is so easy to get lost in the ocean sounds, and that grounding moment allows us to restore our minds. Simply watching the ocean in action is a form of meditation.”

Harness ‘blue health’ in the workplace

The coast’s unique ability to combat stress, improve health and refresh our outlook makes Wollongong one of the best places to live – and work. Basing your business in our coastal city presents unique opportunities to harness the benefits of blue health to improve workplace wellness.

“Environment plays a massive role in our wellbeing. Think about how you feel on a sunny day compared to a cloudy, rainy day,” says corporate wellness coach Timo Topp.

“Wellbeing is now being integrated into office design and layout, right down to the types of bulbs that are used to emit the preferred type of light.

“The most important aspects of creating a workplace for wellbeing are open space – hence the move to more open-plan working environments – light, and green space, such as integrating vegetation into building décor.

“Businesses would certainly benefit from moving to more natural settings such as the coast, which offer sunshine, fresh air and open space.”

Aside from offering employees a more pleasant lifestyle, workplaces can step up productivity, reduce absenteeism and improve work-life balance with coast-oriented corporate wellbeing strategies.

“It’s all common sense. What would an employee prefer, staring out the window at a busy, noisy street or enjoying a panoramic view of the ocean?” says Topp.

“A move to the coast could be the move businesses need to improve productivity and workplace culture.”

Consider how some of these ideas, easily implemented in Wollongong, would suit your workplace…

1. Walking meetings

Implementing regular walk-and-talk meetings by the Wollongong harbour, lighthouse or North Beach will add more movement to your workday, helping to counter the sedentary nature of office work, while refreshing staff’s mindset.

A Stanford University study found that walking can increase creativity by up to 81 per cent – perfect for brainstorming sessions. The Wollongong CBD is just 1km from the beach, making it a quick and easy stroll to the water.

2. Flexible hours

Some businesses have found that empowering staff by allowing them to choose their start and finish times allows them to take full advantage of water and beach activities in Wollongong, leading to better mental health, increased energy and greater productivity at work. It’ll also ensure they get a dose of body-regulating sunshine.

“Natural sunlight is so important for mental health, and it strengthens our circadian rhythm – the ability to get to sleep at night,” notes Topp.

Staff could opt to come in a little later, to allow for a morning surf, or start and leave early, to give them time to hit the beach with their family after school.

3. Team-building

Head to one of Wollongong’s many pristine beaches or Lake Illawarra to connect more deeply with your staff. The stress-busting, mood-boosting environment will make it easier for employees to relax and engage with each other, and you can have fun with a game of beach volleyball, surfing lessons, sand sculpting challenges or, for something more chilled, a guided meditation session on the sand.

4. Boost health

A coastal setting makes it easy to nudge employees into greater activity levels, which has been shown to boost mood and productivity at work. Some businesses may consider offering subsidised outdoor group workout sessions on the beach, or an incentive scheme for running or cycling to work (along coastal paths, naturally!). There’s around 42 kilometres of shared pathways to explore from Sandon Point to Lake Illawarra.

5. Embrace community

Fostering a sense of community is a vital but often overlooked aspect of workplace wellbeing. What does it mean? It’s all about having a sense of pride in where you live and giving back to the community at large, which in turn creates a sense of belonging and reduces staff turnover.

“I think your typical Wollongong person is probably somebody who wants to get more out of life than just the office,” says Peoplecare’s Dr Mel Williams.

“It is about that work-life balance, family and community, which I find really fun and inspiring.”

Living and working in a coastal city like Wollongong is a no-brainer – staff are likely to love the natural beauty of the area and want to protect it and the relaxed way of life it offers.

Help them do so by arranging regular beach clean-up days or taking part in a coastal charity event, like the Great Illawarra Walk or Illawarra Memory Walk and Jog.

Meet Melinda Williams, CEO at Peoplecare

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