Is office design being overlooked when it comes to employee wellbeing?

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Last week, we attended a Work Well event in Milton Keynes. Organised by Milton Keynes Council and with guest speakers from a range of local and national organisations, including MIND BLMK and Leap, this employee wellbeing event was highly informative and enlightening.

The main focus of the event was the array of workplace wellbeing initiatives that businesses can adopt to support and encourage the improvement of employee health, which will ultimately result in a more engaged, productive workforce with an attendance work culture.

an image showing a powerpoint presentation about employee wellbeingOne thing that struck the CMIW team is that there’s a vastly untouched and possibly unrecognised topic when it comes to employee wellbeing: the actual physical design of the office.

When you take into account that apart from the common cough and cold the most prevalent causes of ill health and absence from work are musculoskeletal and mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety, it’s obvious to us how these two health factors are directly correlated to office design but we wonder if that link is so obvious to others.

Many workplaces still operate with open plan offices housing row upon row of workstations. They have meeting rooms typically with one table and seating 4 – 8 people, possibly a board room, and a kitchen area (although most people tend to eat their lunch at their desks). The entire office, including the outdoor space, if there is any, is grey and uninspiring. This traditional setup is bound to foster musculoskeletal problems due to people being tied to their desks for hours on end; only getting up to venture to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee or to a meeting room, where they are sitting down again. Likewise, as many studies have reported, traditional open plan office environments contribute to increased mental health issues such as anxiety and stress through factors such as background noise.

So, how can office design improve employee wellbeing?

an image of two people stood in a designated meeting room designed by CMI WorkplaceTo help combat or minimise musculoskeletal problems, a good office design should encourage movement. Research suggests that employees should move every 17 minutes per 52 minutes spent working in order to stay alert and engaged and that employees are more productive if they work in a setting that best suits the activity at hand, for example, project work, brainstorming, innovating, or lone working. An office that is designed to provide an array of working zones to facilitate these different types of working practices will encourage movement and thus reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues.

Employees don’t even have to move to reap health and wellbeing benefits; simply standing rather than sitting will get the blood flowing and improve posture. So, designing an office that includes sit-stand desks, provides facilities for standing meetings, as well as a variety of seating options, facilitate a move away from adopting the same sitting stance for too long.

Mental health issues can also be alleviated through encouraging regular breaks and relaxation. Organisations who provide well-equipped kitchen and dining spaces, contemplation and relaxation areas will see an improvement in employee engagement and reduction in stress related illnesses.

Ensuring the office is designed to provide good air quality, abundant natural light and green spaces with living plants into the workplace are also proven to improve mental health and wellbeing for employees. According to Human Spaces, Biophilic Design in the Workplace, greenery and sunlight yields a 15% increase in wellbeing and creativity and a 6% increase in productivity. Also important is making sure that employees make good use of the outside space available to them. Extending your office design to incorporate the great outdoors by providing spaces designed specifically for outdoor meetings, eating and reflection will vastly improve employee wellbeing.

We are thrilled to have attended the Work Well event and we’re hoping that there will be more exciting information to come from this initiative. Many of the initiatives discussed are offered nationally and so we encourage you to seriously consider how your organisation can improve wellbeing at work.

Employee wellbeing is definitely on the agenda for 2017 and beyond and we are keen to ensure that office design is part of the journey. If you are looking to improve employee wellbeing, take a good look at the design of your office and ask yourself could you make improvements that will impact have a positive impact on your employee wellbeing?

We would love to talk to you about how you intend to address employee wellbeing and how we can help to create an office design that places wellbeing at the heart of your organisation.

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