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Health and wellbeing in the workplace

A recent report from the British Council for Offices (BCO) focuses on Health and Wellbeing measurement and certification in the built environment and argues the business case for creating a healthy environment. But what exactly defines wellbeing, and what kind of guidance do employers require in implementing and achieving health & wellbeing within the workplace?


Five years ago, had I suggested running yoga classes at work to improve employee productivity, I would likely have been laughed out of the office. Yet today, many workplaces are doing exactly that.

This is, in part, due to a growing awareness that a ‘well’ worker is a more productive one – that our place of work has an impact on our health and wellbeing and that positive workplaces can actively boost business performance.

Despite this, recent BCO research ‘Wellness Matters – Health and wellbeing in offices and what to do about it’, has identified significant obstacles to businesses adopting a health and wellness strategy for the workplace.

Our research revealed a widespread perception that such a strategy is expensive to implement, with 74 per cent of survey respondents citing cost as a barrier. Whilst there will inevitably be costs associated with any new initiative, the report demonstrates how these can be mitigated if the strategy is deployed throughout the lifetime of a project. The report also makes a powerful business case for health and wellbeing beyond improved productivity – with benefits extending to reduced costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work when ill), as well as contributing to the recruitment and retention of staff.

Concerns around cost also extend to certification. forty per cent of those surveyed claimed that the cost of seeking WELL and Fitwel accreditation was a barrier to them implementing a health and wellness strategy. Certifications are certainly useful, but they’re not essential – and their absence does not necessarily mean a building is unhealthy. Indeed, of 12 best practice case studies featured within the report, a number had neither WELL nor Fitwel certifications. Rather than feel constrained by these standards, businesses should review costs, benefits and the relevance of WELL and Fitwel before deciding whether to commit to registration and certification with either, both or neither.

Lack of expertise and understanding is also a significant challenge. There is no one size fits all model for implementing a health and wellness strategy. However, there are common features of best practice projects which businesses can apply to their own process. A strong, clear and well communicated long term vision for health & wellbeing, shared between landlord, developer, occupier and consultant team is key. Early adoption of improved wellness as a project goal alongside – not in place of – environmental sustainability is another way of helping to ensure success.

Ultimately, the research shows that every business can improve the health and wellbeing of its workforce – and that it should. Workplace wellness has the potential to fundamentally disrupt the entire office value chain. Growing expectations from occupants, new performance standards and third-party health & wellbeing ratings are already transforming notions of value within the sector.

A strong wellness strategy is currently a point of differentiation in the office sector, but it will soon become a hygiene factor. Businesses that fail to take a proactive approach to health and wellness not only risk losing out on the benefits of doing so, but risk being left behind. 



As the realms of facilities management and HR become closer each day, it is becoming more apparent that the physical environment has something to answer for when it comes to creating a healthy and happy place to work. Workplace transformation projects should serve a purpose. There truly is no point in spending considerable amounts of time, money and effort in a new space if it isn’t fundamentally going to work, and support your staff. A key factor to consider when attempting to achieve a successful working environment is that employers should know what they want, how they want it, and fundamentally, what will work for their business – and they’ll know this from finding out what their employees need.

Variety is key in the modern workplace. With the ongoing shift towards activity-based working in order to enhance productivity, there must be a range of spaces available to accommodate different tasks. Effective workplaces should incorporate quiet spaces for concentration, and open-plan spaces for collaboration and just about everything else in between too. In doing so, you will ensure that there is a suitable place to work for any task, any style of working, and any employee. Allowing people autonomy over how they work is a key determinant of good health and mental wellbeing. If a workforce is going to spend upwards of 40 hours a week in one place, they need to feel a valid connection with said space. The most unsuccessful of all designs and offices are those decided by people not actually working in the space 9-5:30, Monday to Friday.

Wellbeing is undoubtedly a difficult term to define. It is subjective, situational, and unfortunately seems to have actually turned more into a sexy buzzword in some cases, rather than an actual term to be taken seriously. For those in the workplace sphere, it’s a hard task to go even one day without hearing the term ‘wellbeing’. And rightly so! It’s a crucially important part of working life, and I, as a manager and business owner, am truly glad that the light is finally being shone on the topic. But to avoid it becoming just another passing trend, companies need to actually invest their time and efforts into it.

Over the years, it’s been increasingly common for people to assume facilities management teams look after the building – and to an extent this is true. But as we’ve been hearing more and more, without the people, there is no building and there is no business.

In the competitive world that is 2018, too many people seem caught up in with one of the dreaded C-words. Competition. Instead, what I propose we focus on is the other C-word. Collaboration! I honestly believe that companies, staff and business leaders can learn vast amounts from one another, if only they embrace the knowledge they hold, and work together to achieve the greater good. And there is no better time to try this approach, than supporting your employees’ wellbeing. FM, HR, IT, property… These are the people who need to collaborate first and foremost, then any external parties can aid the whole organisation effectively, helping the overall health of the workforce. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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