Wellbeing, your office and sleep…

10 Dec 2018

A recent article in The Times pondered the damage done to the economy by poor sleep. Not only do sleep-deprived workers cause accidents, but according to the RAND Corporation insufficient sleep is knocking about 1.9 per cent or £40 billion off annual UK gross domestic product in lost hours and weakened economic productivity. ‘That,’ added the article, ‘is about the same as the output of the country’s entire restaurant and pub sector.’

What’s interesting about this is the attempt to put a figure on factors that affect people’s wellbeing. As the article pointed out, ‘we are barely starting to understand the value of what economists call non-monetary activity.’ Such as a good night’s sleep. Yet it’s widely accepted that wellbeing – or the lack of it – has a direct impact on productivity. It seems obvious that unhappy, discontented, disengaged, even sleep-deprived employees will perform less well than those who bounce into work refreshed and looking forward to the day. But it’s surprisingly hard to find official figures that support this.

In 2014, a report from the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, ‘Does worker wellbeing affect workplace performance’, said cautiously: ‘As yet there is relatively little empirical evidence on the relationship between employees’ subjective wellbeing [SWB] and workplace performance. This paper begins to fill that gap for Britain.’ The report did little more than acknowledge a correlation between SWB and job performance, but it did note that feelings of wellbeing are affected in part by the workplace environment.

Stronger connections between wellbeing, office design and productivity were being made elsewhere. In the same year, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) published its influential report ‘Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices – the next chapter for green building’, which pulled together a lot of statistics relating to issues like indoor air quality, thermal comfort, noise, layout, even biophilia. This was followed in 2016 by another report, ‘Building the business case: health, wellbeing and productivity in green offices’.

Terri Wills, CEO of the WorldGBC, said: ‘While our earlier work presented the overwhelming evidence between office design and improved health and wellbeing of workers, this report breaks new ground by demonstrating tangible action businesses are taking to improve their workspaces. The results are clear – putting both health and wellbeing, and the environment, at the heart of buildings, is a no brainer for businesses’ employees and the bottom line.’

But arguably the most influential development of 2014 was the publishing of the WELL Building Standard by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Following six years of research, the institute identified seven factors that have to be addressed for a building to achieve WELL certification: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

WELL-certified buildings are generating the kind of statistics that are helping to make the case for healthy buildings. CBRE Group’s global corporate headquarters in Los Angeles was the first commercial office building to be WELL-certified. In a post-occupancy survey, employees reported that the new space created a positive effect on their health and wellbeing: 83% of employees felt more productive in the new space, 74% reported the new space had a positive impact on their business performance, and 93% said they would not go back to the old way of working.

The case for specifying furniture and office designs that support employee wellbeing is compelling. The WELL Standard’s fitness category, for example, prescribes workspaces that reduce sedentary behaviour by promoting activity-based working. Comfort covers ergonomic furniture to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders and good acoustics to suppress distracting noise. Air requires material selection to take account of the impact on indoor air quality.

Mind urges a nurturing of the innate human-nature connection, including flooring, furniture and furnishings that incorporate natural patterns. It also specifies ‘occupant comfort and spatial familiarity’ by designing spacious, familiar and aesthetically appealing spaces.

WELL buildings are spreading rapidly around the world. It’s an encouraging sign that boardrooms are taking workplace design and employee wellbeing more seriously. If you want to get more from your people, don’t load them with extra hours – address the underlying factors that help them to feel happy, motivated and engaged.

As the article in The Times put it: ‘Why are we not rewarding people for getting a good night’s sleep rather than crowbarring them into working patterns that force them to sacrifice rest?’

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