Wellbeing & workplace design: the missing link?

This is my first blog post on here and I’m not really too sure how to begin so I thought would start with some staggering stats:

• £14billion is lost in productivity through poor health in the workplace in the UK and $225.8billion in the US every year
• 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013
• A study in 2014 revealed that almost 1 in 3 employees suffered from a long term health condition

I attended an event recently on wellbeing at work hosted by Place North West; a subject that I was well aware of but I didn’t know the scale of the impact that this has not only on the global economy but local businesses and SME’s.

You have probably seen a lot in news about the health issues linked to spending extended periods of time sitting; you don’t have to look very far and you’ll probably see something along the lines of ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. Linked directly, you will find articles saying how we should be exercising more, eating more healthily, getting more sleep, the list goes on. This stuff is so common nowadays that we don’t take any notice of it. This is probably because we don’t realise the costs at ground level. One small insight in this, a Dutch government body estimated that they could save €27million by just ‘encouraging’ more people to cycle to work.

Even more relevant, it is estimated that absenteeism costs employers in the UK up to £600 per employee every year but presenteeism (the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety, etc., often resulting in reduced productivity) costs employers up to 7 times that figure.

So what’s the link with workplace design?
As you’ve probably picked up, as humans we need to be moving around more and that’s just one point where workplace design becomes even more important. On average, we spend 54% of our waking hours at the office and probably most of it sitting down. Big corporations are now having their offices designed with amenities placed purposely a good distance away from working areas and attractive central atriums and stairways; taking the stairs instead of the lift will raise your heartrate a few times a day which is great for your general health. This not only encourages movement but creates opportunities for impromptu cross-departmental meetings that can prove to be very creative. To quote Steve Jobs, “Ideas don't happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors”. In Google’s offices, people are forced to walk through fairly narrow entrances to force interaction that maybe wouldn’t happen otherwise.

Many buildings are now built with the ‘Active Design’ approach which creates spaces where people have to move around. Studies have shown that incorporating natural light, fresh air and biophilia (green plants etc.) into workplace have a notable impact on productivity. Sit-stand, height adjustable workstations are now being utilised to give workers the ability to work at a standing height if they wish, breaking long periods of sitting. Collaborative working areas and technology mean that workers can work productively away from their desks and generally give everybody more flexibility and agility.

As Tom Helliwell, Project Director at tpbennet llp advised, the hardest thing to achieve in these new working environments is the culture that it is acceptable to work away from your desk. If you can change the shift to finding when and where people work most productively and creatively, then letting them utilise it fully, you can achieve great things in your workforce.

Incorporating these new areas and staff benefits come at an extra cost initially when looking at your office design. These benefits are often regarded as the ‘fluffy’ things that quickly get knocked out when the spec comes in way over budget. I would invite you to have a think about your own workplace and how much of your business outgoings are what we could call staff costs (salaries, vehicles, benefits etc.) and you will probably find it’s close to 90%. How much do you lose every year to absenteeism and presenteeism? How could you attract more and retain more of the best talent? Gen Y and Z are now taking benefits and adherence to the work-life balance over high salaries.

Chris Reay; Spinningfields Estate Director from Allied London told us about their new schemes; particularly the new XYZ building going up in Manchester at the moment. Chris added, “Work places are evolving rapidly. People are now looking for far more than a building to work from – they want a cutting edge work space that reflects their personality and provides the very best workplace technologies. We know that technology drives change and is a building block for enterprise and XYZ will enable innovation, productivity and forward-thinking ideas. There has very much been a realisation that the way that people engage with their workspace affects their productivity and creativity. It is now also widely acknowledged that the workplace environment and an organisation’s culture and brand are key contributors towards recruiting and retaining the highest calibre of staff, which is never more important in an increasingly competitive employment market. With Spinningfields, Allied London created a new calibre of office estate; weaving events, amenity and culture into the heart of the working life and our XYZ Building will take this story to the next phase of workplace evolution. With XYZ, there will genuinely be an eco-system that promotes a real sense of community that connects occupiers with each other, with Spinningfields, with Manchester and with a global network of thought leaders who will inspire with the very latest work place best practice.”

25% of this building is amenity space including a coffee shop, gym, event space, cycling workshop and more. Occupiers need these kinds of benefits for their people; funnily enough the building is now fully let 12 months before completion.

By George Dunbar - Business Development Manager