The British Council for Offices has published a comprehensive review of workplace wellbeing that includes a detailed plan for implementing a range of health and wellbeing initiatives.
There have been many reports on the theme of health and wellbeing in offices, but few as comprehensive as Wellness Matters, published in June 2018 by the British Council for Offices (BCO). The 233-page report examines why workplace wellness is important, how it can best be measured and how to achieve the optimum outcomes. It then goes on to set out a strategic ‘roadmap’ for all those involved in constructing, running and furnishing offices – building owners and operators, occupiers, designers, contractors and suppliers – to help them deliver 55 separate health and wellbeing outcomes.
Here are 10 of the key issues raised by the report:
1. Barriers to adoption:
Significant factors holding back the implementation of measures to increase health and wellbeing include the perceived cost of project delivery and wellness certification, a lack of expertise and guidance, and confusion as to who should lead wellness initiatives at each stage of the office lifecycle.
2. Scattered evidence:
The evidence base to back up workplace wellbeing initiatives is drawn from a wide range of disciplines and is thus hard to navigate. As the report says: “At present there is no single resource that effectively brings together research data, analysis and knowledge.”
3. Language problems:
There is a lack of a common vocabulary in the field of wellness, with differing terminology found in medical research and in industry, making it difficult to exchange ideas and to translate research into practice.
4. Questioning the evidence:
As the report puts it: “When presented with ‘definitive’ or ‘conclusive’ proof of ‘links’ or ‘relationships’ between aspects of the office environment and health and wellbeing outcomes, it is important to question the evidence that is presented – its quality, relevance and any biases.”
5. A need for implementation tools:
While there is extensive legislation and guidance on health and wellbeing in the workplace, there has been limited uptake by those who design and construct office buildings, and by occupiers. It doesn’t help that the two leading health and wellbeing frameworks, WELL and Fitwel, both originated in the US and rely on US regulations and standards – although this is becoming less of a problem as local expertise is brought to bear on adapting these standards.
6. Green doesn’t mean healthy:
Although there is an emerging correlation between green buildings and the wellbeing of their occupants, the link is not guaranteed; green building standards such as BREEAM and LEED contain few compulsory wellness measures.
7. Certification is useful:
“WELL and Fitwel are useful tools that provide a structured approach to credibly document wellness strategies,” says the report, before pointing out that they have different structures and emphases (and price points), and that the absence of such certification should not be seen as negative as long as health and wellbeing are being properly addressed. What’s powerful about WELL certification is that it’s not a tick-box exercise. Buildings are assessed after they’re occupied and you have to demonstrate that those environments are doing what they’re supposed to.
8. Focus on outcomes:
While wellness certification tends to focus on processes and actions, there is a need to focus on outcomes – hence the 55 Wellness Outcomes that the report devotes more than 100 pages to documenting.
9. The importance of data:
Data collected before, during and after health and wellbeing initiatives are implemented is essential to measure their effectiveness, and to identify areas for potential improvement.
10. A collaborative effort:
Finally, the report stresses that “wellness is a team sport – requiring an integrated response, early engagement and a new cohort of integrators.” Teams will need to work collaboratively across a range of disciplines, as health and wellbeing is a complex area that can’t effectively be addressed in silos.
This is an important piece of work by the BCO, helping to structure the way wellbeing is thought about within the context of the workplace. A summary of the report is available for download here.