As a society, more and more of us are adopting city lifestyles and increasingly spending a greater proportion of our time inside (an estimated 90% of our day inside buildings), without thinking too much about how we interact with those buildings and vice-versa.
Along comes the concept of ‘health and wellbeing.’ A phrase that initially sounds insubstantial to most, but has been established by a rush of recent research discussing the benefits it can bring to building occupiers. With the likes of GRESB, UKGBC, WELL conducting research, quantifying and discussing health and wellbeing, this looks to be the next big topic grabbing business’ attention. We look to see where the value lies in businesses adopting health and wellbeing, or whether this is just the next hollow buzzword across the industry.
So, what does this all mean? Health and wellbeing revolves around two basic principles:
- Altering building aspects (e.g. daylight, air quality, thermal control community space) for a more productive work environment. Shown in Figure 1 as the ‘physiological’ factors, altering the ways which our body reacts to the environment it is in.
- The incorporation of operational schemes into working environments (flexible working, learning opportunities). The ‘psychological’ aspects, those that affect our mental attitude in the working environment.
The case for Health and Wellbeing
1. Financial Value
One of the main arguments in favour of the concept is the general acceptance that most of us are more productive working in well-lit, thermally comfortable offices with good air quality as opposed to dark, dingy spaces – with this improved workspace encouraging the greater productivity of staff and, in turn, generating greater returns from staff.
With staff costs typically accounting for around 90% of overall operating costs (Figure 2 below), maintaining employee productivity through health and wellbeing measures can provide substantial monetary value for all businesses, regardless of size.
2. Health and Welfare
Perhaps a fairly obvious point to most of us, but the correlation between health and happiness is an aspect that should not be overlooked for the value it can bring to businesses. Healthier staff are typically associated with lower levels of absenteeism, deductions in sickness leave and higher retention levels in the jobs/buildings which enhance this (PwC UK, 2008).
3. Attract Talent and Business
This is more of a long-term influence. While improvements can be made to the satisfaction levels and retention of current employees and tenants, aspects such as the incorporation of community space, ergonomic work spaces and transport links (which are all associated as health and wellbeing metrics) are also considered as attractive ‘pull factors’ for work environments – attracting new staff and clients to businesses/buildings.
While research into health and wellbeing metrics is increasingly conducted, criticism arises in the lack of tangible ways to measure the progress of improvement measures put into place. While building aspects provide an easier method of measurement (for example, air quality samples can be regularly taken with IAQ meters); operational schemes, such as additional community space, are not so easily measured.
And so comes the introduction of the WELL Standard. A scheme developed by Delos, after 7 years of research, to add a measure, best practice and a benchmark to the concept. The standard is lengthy – 238 pages – covering the seven core aspects of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. While the adoption of the WELL Standard has been slow in the UK, with only 4 registered WELL projects, its outlook to provide a measurement to this increasingly discussed topic will undoubtedly see that is acts as a major player in this growing field.
Who are the real drivers?
With a number of benefits being thrown around by many, excitement is growing for this new up-and-coming trend – but where is this excitement coming from? Health and wellbeing is a principle that is driven by and for building occupiers and, with many occupants never giving any thought to the concept before, it could be that the missing link to this all is engagement with tenants throughout the process.
To date, health and wellbeing is typically only driven through large institutions, who generally view the trend as another way to differentiate the services they provide. This raises questions to the practical relevance of health and wellbeing – if changes in associated aspects/schemes will be relevant across a multitude of building dynamics and to SME’s, as well as large institutions.
At present, health and well-being is held back by a number of questions surrounding the tangible ways to measure and monitor attributed aspects and the practical relevance of the trend. While aspects such as access to exercise and the abundance of community space are consistently mentioned as key attributes to consider for health and well-being improvements, the psychological improvements which these bring to individuals are hard to monitor progress on. Buildings are also extremely dynamic, adding further complications in the lack of a ‘one model fits all’ approach.
Ultimately, the key issue continues to be – who is health and wellbeing for? Is this truly a no-brainer that all institutions should incorporate or is this just another case of an emerging buzzword with little substance? However important, health and wellbeing is an emerging trend throughout the industry that should not be ignored in passing and one which EVORA will continue to engage with, through our consultancy and market-leading sustainability software SIERA.
If you have any questions about Health and Wellbeing, SIERA, or any other topics mentioned in this blog, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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