I recently attended a fascinating conference on the future of work. Aimed at exploring how our working lives are changing, it attracted a wide range of delegates. Among the job titles I noticed: head of wellbeing; wellbeing and engagement consultant; head of global diversity, inclusion and wellbeing; and head of safety, health and wellbeing. Two things struck me. First, just how many of those job titles would have existed 10 or 15 years ago? Secondly, and not unrelated to that thought, how high wellbeing has come up the agenda for many businesses.
Hardly surprising. According to the charity Mind, 29%of men and 43% of women say they’ve taken time off work for a mental health issue. The future does not look good either. Rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, and the number of children and young people arriving at A&E with psychiatric conditions has doubled since 2009 (both figures quoted in The Guardian, 23 September 2017). It seems that these days you are far more likely to have to take time off work for a mental health issue than a physical health issue.
The reasons for this increase are complex. Specialists point to everything from social media to the changing patterns of work that make ‘switching off’ more difficult as the boundaries between home and work become ever more blurred. But there are other factors – and one that should be at the top of the agenda is the working environment itself. Because as work itself changes, the places where that work is done have often failed to keep pace with that change – and indeed can contribute to or even exacerbate feelings of stress and illness. Changing that environment (often in very simple ways) can have a significant impact on wellbeing.
For example, access to natural light. Good lighting improves employee performance by 18%. Seventy-one per cent of employees feel healthier in offices where they are able to move about more easily – and this can be as simple as making staircases an integrated past of the building design – as well as cycle racks, showers and changing facilities. Drinking enough water lifts productivity by 14%. The presence of plants can have a huge impact. Offices with plants can see tension levels reduced by 37%, depression cut by 58%, and fatigue down by 385, while ensuring the workplace has a supply of fresh unrecycled air can improve productivity by 10%.
Buildings also have an impact on more than just health. Better building design has a positive impact on your ability to attract talent. Well-located, well-designed and attractive buildings don’t just improve the way people work; they act as a magnet, especially to new generations of employees entering the workplace for the first time, who place things like the working environment above things like financial rewards.
As those job titles at the conference suggest, wellbeing is not a passing fad. More and more businesses are taking the issues of employee wellbeing to heart – and looking at the ways it can be improved. Buildings and the office environment are a critical element in that – and more so as work itself continues to evolve in new and different ways.
As a developer of offices in West London and the wider Thames Valley we have put wellbeing at the heart of what we do. That includes our latest project The Porter Building in Slough. Launched this month, it is the first office building in the UK to achieve certification through the WELL Building Standard. This is an international performance-based assessment methodology, grounded in medical research, that is exclusively focused on human health and wellbeing in the built environment. WELL building certification is like a ‘nutritional label’ that outlines all the ingredients that go into making a building healthy for its inhabitants: covering things such as air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It then rates a building against those criteria, with independent verification.
So as office developers we are doing our bit to improve the wellbeing of the people who will use our buildings. But what can HR do to improve the situation? In the second article in this series I’ll outline what we believe are the key drivers of choice when it comes to the working environment.
For now I’ll leave you with this thought. Around 2% of working hours are wasted because of unsuitable office temperatures. As well as making employees less productive – and less happy – that’s also a loss to the UK economy of £13 billion every year. Yet another reason to make sure your workforce is well by improving the buildings where they work.
Chris Hiatt is director of Landid