In this article, we’re going to look at the holy trinity of workplace wellbeing: culture, environment and health – in a little more detail.
Culture encompasses many factors – it’s about the organisation’s personality (from the employee’s point of view) and takes into account everything from shared purpose and objectives to working atmosphere.
If your employees are your greatest assets you must treat them as such and your culture should reflect that. If your business is built on the idea of sharing ideas and collaboration, then your culture needs to support communication and socialising too. That might be through empowering staff to choose the workspace that suits them, creating more communal spaces or organising staff socials.
“There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” Richard Branson
Richard Branson sums it up with his ‘do unto others’ ethos. The best workplaces, and by best we mean most productive, are those where workers feel engaged, share a common purpose and feel their personal contributed is recognised. Make wellbeing part of the culture rather than the latest management idea and you have the makings of a more motivated workforce straight away. Companies with a strong culture have significantly less staff turnover than those without (13.9% for those with 48% for those without).
“Getting the culture right will release discretionary effort without breeding resentment” Professor Cary Cooper
Over the last 10 years the boundaries between work and home have blurred. Longer working hours, tough economic conditions and the proliferation of technology caused this, in part, and have also promoted the arrival of the wellbeing agenda.
Many companies have come to understand the value of creating dynamic, engaging workplaces that motivate and inspire. The best offices have done away with rows of desks in favour of creative spaces that cater for different working styles and empower the employee to choose what’s right for them. The best workplaces bring the culture to life – they embody their corporate values.
Where once the super corporate boardroom was the location for staff meetings – businesses are now creating more communal spaces that double up for client events, training and regular staff socials, doing away with the shackles of formality in favour of more personality.
‘Village greens’ are popping up on office floor-plates – co-locating services such as printers, tea making facilities and breakout zones in central areas to encourage people to come together. The idea of ‘chance meetings’ helps to improve communication and engenders a more positive and friendly working culture too.
More thought-provoking and creative spaces provide both stimulation and freedom and visual points of interest in the office too – host a brainstorm in a camper van meeting room, use a quiet pod for report writing or a video conferencing zones to avoid an arduous car journey and long day.
Spaces dedicated to wellbeing and fun deliver value too – Auto Trader has a health and beauty room where visiting therapists can set up camp and employees can book treatments. A charity call centre in Bristol has two slides in the office, encouraging movement and making walking to meetings and departments something that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Social relationships are the key to heightened wellbeing and lowered stress and both are an ‘antidote for depression and prescription for high performance according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. He also say: “…data now abounds showing that happy workers produce higher sales, perform better in leadership and learn higher job performance ratings and pay. Study after study shows that feelings of happiness lead people to excel in their jobs.”
But with all this talk of choice freedom and creativity in the workspace, don’t forget the basics. Natural light, good ventilation, minimal noise and adequate space are all needed. Relocating storage might improve natural light, artwork may provide more visual stimulation and a sound-management system could stop distracting inter-departmental noise.
Consider how space is used. A real cause of workplace stress is the absence of or inability to access appropriate resources – it’s impossible to get a meeting room, there’s nowhere private to go for sensitive phone calls or the departments I need to work closely with are too far away. These factors can be addressed by taking a much closer look at your office layout and making changes to better support the real needs of your employees and how they work.
Ask yourself if space can be put to better use and whether your office design reflects how work flows through the business and how your people behave.
Technology has a big role here – the ubiquity of mobile devices has broken the shackles we once had to our desks. Workplaces need to support mobility and that requires a variety of spaces, ample access to data and power and a culture that empowers workers to choose for themselves.
But as workers move about more, you need a clearer and more organised view of how facilities are being used. Resource-booking systems make it possible to identify meeting spaces quickly and simply. Integrated technology in meeting rooms and shared spaces can make space work harder and consequently, employees happier too. Intuitive video conferencing can remove the need for travel and touch-screen presentation technology makes it possible to work on shared documents with people in other locations.
It’s important to highlight the mental and physical impact that the workplace can have on how we feel and operate at work.
“A work culture where everyone is treated with respect and dignity and issues such as bullying and harassment are not tolerated will improve the mental well-being of employees. If you can promote such a culture you will see a reduction in sickness absence, grievance and discrimination claims, complaints and the incidence of mental health problems.
1 in four people experience a mental health problem each year and stress at work is one of the leading causes of people being off sick. Lots of workplaces try to managing health in the workplace but quite often it falls short with ‘feel better’ quick fixes such as offering de-stress massages during working hours.
Reports show that workplace stress is minimal where there is a strong social element to the company culture – an ability to talk and share concerns, meaning the old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has never been truer. Companies with positive cultures are best placed to manage stress and, if they’re doing it right, will have created a working environment and set of values that mitigate this from the outset.
As well as mental health, physical health is a concern too. The Active Working Movement has gained momentum here in the UK – with much more attention being drawn to how sedentary our behaviour is and the chronic health risks associated with our lack of movement during the working day.
The advice is that we should change our working position every 30 minutes, vary the working day by completing some tasks stood up and spend two minutes each hour walking round the office.
In a relatively short time this has given rise to new additions to workplace design – with meeting tables at standing height and sit / stand desks which allow the user to change the height and assume a new working position at the push of a button.
But it’s not just about investing in new equipment – it’s about taking an active interest in health and wellbeing and promoting its benefits to employees. Some of the UK’s largest and most innovative employers offer initiatives such as free fruit, access to doctors during the working day, complimentary gym membership and even yoga and gym classes in the office. Used in conjunction with a positive working culture and liberating, inspiring workspace and wellbeing starts to be addressed.