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Employee Wellbeing 2019

Light, space and movement key to wellness

iStock / Getty Images Plus / fizkes

Paul Patenall

President, BCO

We’ve all heard about wellness. It’s a topic that gets raised at board meetings and met with nodding heads and agreement, but then not taken seriously.

Companies can often just box tick. They might offer staff a few interminable seminars on the topic, some free smoothies in the canteen, maybe even a ping pong table. Job done, says the board, now let’s move on to something that’s actually important to the business. This approach is, to put it gently, misguided.

Firstly, it ignores the importance of wellness. As outlined in the BCO’s Wellness Matters report, a well workforce is more productive, more likely to stay put and less likely to be sick, all of which directly impact a business’ bottom line.

Secondly, the above approach reduces wellness to a series of token gestures and gimmicks. Wellness cannot be achieved by mollycoddling staff with freebies, games tables and warm words. Too often, I walk into an office that has been built to resemble a child’s creche, while its adult workers sit around unhappy and unfulfilled.

Wellbeing is not likely to be achieved through freebies and gimmicks

Encouraging wellness is difficult and doing so requires genuine commitment from a business. However, that does not mean it is overly complex. Workplace design is a sensible place to start, since our environment has a big impact on how we feel. Rather than fill this environment with gimmicks, we should instead focus on a few core tenets that make humans feel good: space, natural light and movement.

Let’s start with space. Space, particularly in cities like London, comes at a premium. Therefore, there can be a temptation to pack together workers like sardines in a briny tin. This only fosters unhappiness.

Rather, space should be jealously protected and, where possible, a workplace should try to encourage large, central areas where workers can meet, greet and work discretely. People work better when they have room to think and breathe.

Along with space, natural light is also vitally important to wellbeing. Yet this presents its own challenge – not every employee can be given a window seat. Instead, workplaces need to be designed to encourage light. For instance, a workplace could be fitted around a central atrium, which not only spreads light across the office but also creates a spacious central area for staff.

Finally, a workplace needs to encourage people to move about and stay active. Too many workplaces are built around people taking the lift, which turns already sedentary jobs into almost static affairs. Workplaces like The HKX Building in King’s Cross, London, encourage movement by being built around big, bold staircases instead.

There are, of course, other ways to encourage movement. Look to London’s 2Television Centre, where workers can splash about in a top floor swimming pool or Kirkstall Forge in Leeds, which operates a cycle hire scheme for occupiers.

Designing a workplace that encourages wellness is not easy, but it can be kept simple. Rather than chase trends, we should focus on the core tenets that help keep people happy.

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