THE BUSINESS CASE FOR WELLBEING / by Nigel Tresise

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Together with project and programme leaders, Seven Partnership, align co-hosted a highly successful panel event in November at the London showroom of Herman Miller, entitled ‘Is there a business case for wellbeing?’

align Director and Co-founder Nigel Tresise was joined on the panel by Seven Partnership Partner and Co-founder Chris Maddison and special guest Dr Nigel Oseland, an Environmental Psychologist and Workplace Strategist at Workplace Unlimited. Our Chair and compere was Joanna Watchman, a passionate advocate of the well-building movement and Founder of workplace wellness forum ‘Work in Mind.’

Here are a few of the major points our panel was keen to underline on the night:

Wellness & Wellbeing
Wellbeing goes beyond ‘wellness’ and is a complex blend of the physical, psychological, social and relationship aspects affecting employees’ working lives. It includes factors such as their working environment and how employees get on with their managers and colleagues. Wellbeing affects not only the lives of individuals but also businesses, the economy and society.

The Well Certificate    
The new ‘Well Certificate’ lists 250 items for the incorporation of wellbeing initiatives into offices. A couple of years back, only 350 companies had achieved it and that figure now is well over 1000, with France leading the pack. Will ‘The Well Certificate’ become the new BREEAM? The panel felt the cost could be off-putting right now, as it is assessed on a sq m basis. As a predictive rather than experiential tool, it also suffers from a lack of benchmarking, though could eventually be a marketing tool and signify higher rental values for agents.

Challenges
On-the-ground challenges right now were seen to include the importance of business owners understanding that wellbeing is not just a capital expenditure; the failure to bring big thinkers in on projects early enough; the fizzling-out of initiatives because of lack of proper ongoing budgets and an overly superficial understanding of biophilia. The panel felt there was a need to share empirical data across the industry and to quantify data before projects start, so that post-occupancy data shows true progress.

Wellbeing Key Factors
For well buildings, these include: thoughtful office planning and design / access to natural light and views out / management of glare / temperature control and acoustic control. A multi-sensory perspective is vital.

Responsibility & Leadership     
The future will include in-house Wellbeing Directors in most large companies, but for now projects must include HR personnel from an earlier stage, as well as FMs. Wellbeing should be measured, just as productivity and performance have previously been measured. A much higher impact will come from having a well-being strategy rather than ad-hoc initiatives and leadership is essential to embedding health within an organisation. Engaging employees has a measurable benefit on performance, especially as the best ideas may not come from the top.

The Relationship between Mental Health and Technology       
With the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development)’s 2018 survey showing the mixed impact of technology on mental well-being, with 87% of respondents citing an inability to switch off out of work hours as the main negative effect on employees, what more can be done to monitor and limit the negative effects of technology in the workplace, given our increasing dependence on it?

If money was no object, what would the panel implement tomorrow?
The answers were nothing to do with well buildings interestingly, but ranged from stricter curbs on working hours and results-oriented rather than hours-oriented working, as well as curfews on out-of-hours work-use-technology time, following the Scandinavian example

Is there a business case for wellbeing?
Yes! There is a business case for action (improving the bottom line), a moral case (the ‘right thing to do’) and a taxation case (lost productivity and long-term sickness absence = lower corporate tax returns and higher spend on long-term health-care and disability benefits), with ‘health’ too often still being seen as a cost, rather than an essential investment. Well-buildings only account for around 10% of wellbeing outcomes, however. The much greater impact is from company culture. Business owners have to think about legacy. Do you want to be known as a pioneer and pathfinder or a follower and begrudger? Everyone is convinced the business case is there. The really convincing benchmarking quantifying data is only a matter of time.