What is Workplace Wellbeing?
In today’s extraordinarily competitive environment, levels of worker stress have never been so high. From the pressure of ever-shorter deadlines to concerns about the pandemic and mixing with colleagues, work is a big contributor to this serious issue. Over time, this can have a debilitating impact on the morale, productivity, and eventually, profitability of your people and company.
This has led to a rising focus on ‘wellbeing within the workplace’- how to minimise stress and optimise the security, welfare, and happiness of your people. While wellbeing is often defined as health, whether physical or mental, it actually goes much further than this. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that “Workplace Wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organisation.”
Why Does Workplace Wellbeing Matter?
Once discounted as a passing fad, the importance of workplace wellbeing is now being fully recognised. Extensive research has shown that a focus on wellbeing can have benefits including reduced absenteeism, improved staff retention and increased productivity. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is fast becoming one of the central elements of workspace strategy, crucial to the long-term success of any organisation.
According to the ILO, “Worker’s well-being is a key factor in determining an organisation's long-term effectiveness. Many studies show a direct link between productivity levels and the general health and well-being of the workforce.” Ultimately, an office that is great for your people will be great for your profitability.
While it is cliché to say that a company’s most important asset is its people, there is a reason it is said so much- it’s completely true, and also underappreciated. Progressive companies that are planning their working models for the next generation of the workplace are putting their people at the heart of their space, in order to harness the untapped potential of their teams.
By strategically designing your space to maximise the wellbeing of your people, they will feel valued, supported, and be in the best possible position to deliver the results you need. Investing in workplace wellbeing is not only for companies who think they can afford to – the returns of investing in staff wellbeing are so great, every company can’t afford not to.
How to Increase Workspace Wellbeing:
Just as your company is different from every other company, so are all your people. Not only will your plan for maximising workplace wellbeing be different to every other company, but your people will also have different ways of achieving that within your space. This means you need to carefully balance the diverse needs of your people, your business, and your clients to create a space that reflects and enhances your company culture, helping you to deliver on your vision and goals.
While workplace wellbeing can be a complicated subject, there are several key factors that you need to consider in your workspace to make sure you are maximising the wellbeing of your people.
With the advent of hybrid and flexible working, the way your people use the office has completely changed. No longer do workers sit at the same desk, day after day, week after week, doing the same tasks. Today’s knowledge worker is involved in a wide variety of tasks and projects and needs a variety of spaces to guide and enhance the way they work at any point in the day.
Many modern workspace designs tend to favour more outgoing people, and while this benefits extroverts, it creates many distractions as well as side-lining the more introverted members of your team. To create a supportive environment, your workspace must maximise wellbeing for all your team, no matter their role, superiority, or personality.
To increase the wellbeing of your people, your workspace design needs to have a variety of zones designed for specific types of activities. Providing a variety of spaces, such as collaboration spaces for people to brainstorm, acoustic pods for people to focus without distractions, and social spaces for informal meetings will mean that your people will gravitate to the space that best supports their work. This means your people are kept moving throughout the day, reducing fatigue and remaining mentally refreshed.
Around 20 million adults in the UK are physically inactive, and as the place your people spend around a third of their time, the office has a significant impact on this. However, even active people can suffer from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes if they are sedentary- spending long periods of time without moving. Reducing sedentary behaviour and increasing activity is critical to improving staff health and productivity.
While providing a workspace gym may be beyond the space and budget constraints of many companies, alternative ways to encourage activity include providing facilities such as bike racks and showers, encouraging people to cycle to work or take a jog at lunchtime. Amenities such as table tennis or pool will also keep staff moving and give them a chance to refresh and re-focus.
To reduce sedentary behaviour, ensuring your workspace has a variety of environments designed for different types of activity will encourage your people to keep moving throughout the day. Sit-stand desks and standing meetings can also keep people moving more, proven to improve circulation and reduce blood pressure.
Studies have shown that as humans, we have an instinctive bond with nature and natural surroundings. When denied this, surrounded by harsh and engineered workplace design, creativity and productivity are slowly worn down, leading to reduced engagement as well as physical and mental health.
The concept of biophilic design is often thought of as simply including a few plants, but it also extends to natural light, as well as finishes in your workspace. The simplest solution, introducing plants, can increase oxygen levels and air quality, with all the benefits that arise from improved concentration and creativity, as well as being more visually appealing.
You can also go beyond increasing your greenery within your workspace. As well as maximising natural light (more on that later), you can also increase a connection top nature through the use of natural finishes, such as wood and stone. For companies that have access to balconies, courtyards, or roof spaces, giving staff the facilities to work outside can take biophilia to the next level.
Lighting (or the lack of it) can have a serious impact on wellbeing in the workplace. 8 in 10 UK office workers have experienced health issues, from headaches and tiredness to eye irritation. Lights that are too dim can put undue strain on worker’s eyes, reducing their ability to focus and concentrate. Lighting that is too harsh is even more common and can trigger headaches and even migraines.
The best, and most organic, option is to maximise natural light. A study in the 1990s found that an office that had maximised natural light exposure experienced a 100% rise in productivity within 5 years, as well as higher levels of staff satisfaction and engagement. Ensuring that any access that your people have to natural light is optimised will have a measurable increase on their wellbeing.
Of course, it isn’t always possible to access natural light, or enough of it. In these situations, daylight-balanced LED lighting is the closest replica and can imitate the effects of natural light to a reasonable level. It is also worth considering varying the levels of light in your workspace. While desks should have quite a high lux lighting level, breakout spaces may need a lower level to create a more relaxed atmosphere.
The finishes in your workspace can have a major impact on the atmosphere of your space and the mood of your people. In the past, dull corporate design favoured bland tones and featureless walls in an attempt to remove distractions, but recent studies have shown this to be counterproductive. Vibrant workplaces have become increasingly popular in recent years, as companies become more aware of their impact on wellbeing and productivity.
There has been extensive research into colour psychology, and carefully thinking about how you want people to feel while in your space will affect the colours and finishes you use. Red increases the speed and intensity of our emotions, leading to an increased sense of urgency- less than ideal in an office environment, where it can lead to anxiety and worry. Conversely, hues like gem-coloured greens are great for boosting energy but may not be the best choice if your team need to remain focused throughout the day.