In recent years academic study and anecdotal evidence has coalesced into a concerted movement for wellbeing in the workplace. As this continues to gather momentum, the smarter employers are actively seeking out facilities that can contribute to the health of their teams and also help secure the best talent, writes Tamlite Lighting’s Head of Wellbeing Debbie-Sue Farrell.
It is arguable that the connection between the workplace and health was first established back in the 1940s with the initial discussion of alkali-silica reaction – more commonly known as ‘concrete cancer’ – and its potentially devastating effect on concrete-oriented buildings. It’s fair to say our understanding, and our construction practices, have evolved significantly since then, but so too has the weight of study around the whole issue of wellness at work.
With a workforce that is going to be obliged to work longer and harder for a variety of socio-political reasons, it’s hardly surprising that workplace health is coming in for such scrutiny. And there is no doubt that much of the latest research offers cause for concern. A recent study published by the British Council for Offices (BCO), entitled ‘Wellness Matters: Health and Wellbeing in Offices and What to Do About It’ (1), indicated that less than half of respondents feel their workplace is having a positive impact on their health.
Meanwhile, the latest statistics issued by the Health & Safety Executive – whose stated objective is to prevent death, injury and ill-health in Britain’s workplaces – point to 1.3 million workers suffering from work-related ill-health in 2016/17, with musculoskeletal disorders, stress, depression and anxiety responsible for nearly 80% of cases. (2)
Given that the same report also concludes that 25.7 million days were lost to ill-health in 2016/17, it’s obvious that there is a strong economic and moral imperative for employers and building managers to think more carefully about the facilities that they use. In this regard the rise of the wellness movement – which essentially urges a holistic approach to delivering healthy workplaces from inception, and the necessary rebalancing of the investment equation that this implies – is proving to be critical: not only does it raise awareness among employees, it also makes it far easier for employers to access information that can lead to them making significant improvements to work spaces.
On the way to getting WELL
Inevitably, the wealth of study taking place in this area is increasingly being channelled into codes of practice and studies. Surely the most high-profile of these is the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard, which offers the opportunity for spaces to become WELL Certified by achieving a defined score in various categories. As of the latest version, WELL v2, there are 10 of these ‘concepts’ in which projects need to show their credentials: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community.
One of the strong selling points for the standard is that it covers every conceivable aspect of a building’s operational lifecycle, including core systems such as heating, air-conditioning and lighting. In the case of the latter, there is plenty of guidance about the need to specify lighting systems that deliver sufficient quality and consistency of illumination, and which are geared towards supporting schedules that provide suitable levels and colours of light at different points in the human circadian cycle. Here at Tamlite Lighting we can certainly attest to the demand for LED-based solutions for offices and factories, in line with the rapid growth in tunable LED lighting systems that have made it far easier to achieve these core requirements.
Given that 90% of our time is spent indoors and employers frequently spend a similar percentage of their annual operating costs on people (3), it is only logical for them to prioritise the conditions in which they oblige their personnel to work. Backing this up is research by global consultancy ATKINS and UCL which concluded UK productivity could rise by a staggering 8% – equivalent to an extra £20bn in GDP) – if workplaces were created using ‘human centred design’.
Attracting and retaining talent
For those who do invest in implementing WELL v2 (or follow the spirit of the standard and others like it), the benefits could be substantial: not only will days lost to sickness be decreased and productivity increased, there will be opportunities for companies to make wellness an integral component of their appeal to the market. This is bound to deliver a boost in terms of brand identity and value perception – effectively giving the employer the ability to state that ‘this is a great place to work and there is evidence to back it up!’ – and thereby increase the chances of attracting (and retaining) the right talent to the business.
In many ways, this puts an awareness of the value of well-specified building services – such as light, ventilation and comfort – on the agendas of HR directors and ‘talent execs’ as much as it does the estates and FM teams. In short, human-centric building services are starting to drive and mobilise the corporate agenda.
Our view is that over the next ten years the emphasis of investment will continue to shift more squarely onto the design and development stages of a building to ensure that it offers the greatest benefits for health from the very first day of operation. But for the sake of both their current facilities, and those they may inhabit in the future, it is incumbent upon employers to now make the time to acquaint themselves with every facet of workplace wellness.
Find out more about Tamlite’s approach to wellbeing.
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(1) ‘Wellness Matters: Health and Wellbeing in Offices and What to Do About It’, published by the BCO, June 2018
(2) Health & Safety Executive: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/
(3) The International WELL Building Institute: https://www.wellcertified.com/en/articles/well-work-benefits-well-certified-office
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