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The Office Agenda brings together our extensive insight into what makes an office that people – from employees to the board – prefer.

Places People Prefer

The Office
Agenda

Wellbeing

Selling the benefits of wellbeing

A recent seminar gave HR and property professionals the opportunity to find out how to convince their bosses to improve wellbeing in the workplace

Emphasising measurable gains such as cutting working days lost to sickness – estimated to be £137 million in the UK last year – is the best way for HR professionals to argue the case for workplace wellbeing. That was a key message at a recent seminar that examined how workplace design and layout can boost employee wellbeing.

The event was organised by business psychologists Robertson Cooper as part of their Good Day at Work programme and hosted by British Land at 2 Kingdom Street, on their Paddington Central campus.

Expert speakers told a 50-strong audience comprising HR and property professionals from a range of sectors that the evidence shows that workplace wellbeing boosts employee productivity. And they had practical advice on how to convince company decision-makers of the merits of wellbeing.

“Just imposing workspace changes is not the best way; it’s better if you can help people understand the benefits”

Ann Marie Aguilar, of the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), said: “Try focusing on measurable metrics, like days off sick. More specifically, for example, you could focus on days off due to backache complaints, which might be cut by reviewing workstations. You can then bring that data to the table and it can help win the ROI argument.”

The IWBI has created the WELL Building Standard® – the first certification to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of the people in buildings. “It represents the first time medical professionals have sat down with architects and worked out how to design workplaces with public health in mind,” Aguilar explained.

One issue the standard tackles is something as basic as drinking water in the workplace. “It’s been shown that dehydration of just 2% is enough to impair cognitive performance, so the quality, accessibility and filtration of water are all important factors,” Aguilar explained.

A good day at work

Paula Brockwell, Head of Client Delivery at Robertson Cooper, said ensuring that employees were having a “good day at work” was good news for a company because that’s when people are “in their sweet spot, passionate about what they’re doing and more productive”.
She agreed that the set-up of workspace was one of the levers to create wellbeing. “It’s an integrated subject to which a range of experts can make a contribution,” she said, but added: “Just imposing workspace changes is not the best way; it’s better if you can help people understand the benefits, as that will help to persuade them to want the changes too.”

Despina Katsikakis, a globally renowned expert on the impact of the built environment on business performance, and the driving force behind Google’s workspace innovations, declared: “Physical space drives behaviours.”

She added: “Most of our work buildings have hardly changed in 100 years: they are regimented spaces to allow uninterrupted work and ensure visual monitoring. Historically, the design has been about demonstrating power and control, but now the emerging emphasis is more on creating culture and community.” She said work spaces should connect people when they were trying to communicate and innovate, and separate them when they were trying to focus or concentrate.

Laying the foundations

But all the speakers agreed when Katsikakis stressed that there is no approach to wellbeing in the workplace that suits all companies. “It’s important to start with your company’s business goals and then introduce any changes to achieve those goals,” she said. “Then you should evolve those changes as your business evolves.”

Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at British Land, talked about the redesign of the company’s York House HQ in London to maximise employee health. “Our vision for all our buildings is to create places people prefer,” he said. “Our wellness aim is to promote health, productivity and enjoyment. York House is an example of this; we considered air, thermal and lighting issues, plus the layout, location, look, feel and bringing nature into the building.”

“Design of space hasn’t usually been an HR function, but that’s now changing”

He continued: “The differences now include more natural light, a variety of spaces and mini gardens at desks. We’ve introduced ‘social infrastructure’ in the shape of a new staircase that not only keeps people active, but is also an opportunity to meet people and talk.” He said the changes had got a thumbs-up in a survey of employees, while productivity was up and absenteeism down.

However, addressing questions about employee resistance to workplace changes, he said: “It’s about choice. The important thing is to provide the foundations for wellbeing – but if someone chooses to do otherwise, that’s up to them.”

Ben Moss, MD of RobertsonCooper, summed up the mood of the seminar when he said: “All the evidence suggests that physical design of workspace can impact on wellbeing. Design of space hasn’t usually been an HR function, but that’s now changing.” He concluded that it was good that HR people are now talking about wellbeing, but added that there is still some distance to go before it becomes common practice.

Tagged in: DESIGN, PERFORMANCE, WELLBEING

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