Well-being's rise up the corporate agenda has been rapid and compelling. But what can facilities managers really do to affect their end-users' levels of happiness, for instance? Martin Read looks at what the fast-evolving well-being landscape means for FM.
11 April 2017 | Martin Read
Ultimately, well-being in a facilities management context is about the individual happiness of the workers provided for.
So with that as the ultimate goal, it's understandable that the focus in recent years has moved from physical to mental comforts, or at the least a clear combination of the two. But working to provide facilities to maintain physical health is a lot more straightforward than sustaining a workplace optimising mental health.
This is a giant leap in terms of a facilities manager's priorities. The avoidance of stress, for example, would have been laughed about if identified as part of FM's agenda back when the sector was first codified in the 1980s. But consider that today the impact of stress is at an all-time high. Last year's CIPD Absence Management Survey marked out stress as the biggest cause of long-term absence and second-highest cause of short-term absence.
The difference, then, is clear. Or is it? As staff well-being becomes a policy to be designed in to buildings (see our Healthy Building Standards article), is FM's role really any different to what it's always been? If it's about making people comfortable, happy and healthy, then FMs will certainly argue that they have always done this. What a higher profile to well-being means for the sector is, theoretically, a higher profile for FM. It is FM, after all, that delivers the day-to-day working environment within which they function.
Crucially, a common component of any discussion about advancing well-being talks about the value of strong communication between management and employees. Facilities managers are already the most likely to come into contact with the widest range of workers across departments. For example, variety of work is seen as a component of worker well-being. FMs have overseen the development of a wider range of working environments from open-plan to multiple informal meeting points. In their management of these spaces and their interaction with those using them, FM is a key touchpoint.
But there's no denying that the implications on physical performance of mental performance have gone mainstream. Perhaps the most direct way in which FMs can make a difference is through the admittedly difficult link between workplace management and productivity output, a key focus of the recent Stoddart Review and a topic that continues to excite debate. Aside from that document's emphasis on the statistic that nearly half of workers surveyed feel their workplace does not make them productive, there is a growing evidence base to support that statistic.
Consultancy AECOM argues that what it terms 'toxic' workplaces are "jeopardising employee well-being, leading to poor productivity, long-term sickness and ultimately impacting staff recruitment and retention". While most responsible organisations recognise the importance of keeping their employees safe, the same focus is not currently given to wellness."
Organisations that do not prioritise employee wellness and design workplaces accordingly will lose talent and potentially face bottom-line repercussions, says AECOM.
Nicola Gillen, global practice lead at AECOM's Strategy Plus team, says the link between employee well-being and the built environment must not be overlooked in the drive to increase efficiency and the bottom line.
"Redesigning and reimagining the workplace to better support how work is done now and in the future not only enhances well-being, it also improves performance and productivity. With four generations occupying the same space, it is important [that] the physical environment meets their different working styles."
The concept of well-being and happy employees is likely to generate more discussion amongst end-users than, say, behaviour change campaigns in support of sustainability and energy cost control initiatives. And it's a dialogue process that FMs are well placed to manage.
'Detoxifying' the workplace
Consultancy AECOM's suggestions
1. Reduce internal pollutants - consider where furniture is sourced, air filtration standards, proper ventilation and operational policies such
as green cleaning.
2. Establish team 'neighbourhoods' - create spaces for teams and departments so employees can work alone and collaborate, according to their changing needs and personal preferences.
3.Reflect the natural world - (see below)
4. Use data to design, prepare and measure performance - explore using data to assess health and well-being risks, and to drive a change management approach - changing behaviours is far more impactful than changing space.
5. Recognise that wellness goes beyond the built environment - job demand, content, resources, and level of autonomy can all influence occupant well-being.
Green spaces = happy workplaces
Adam Ralph, landscape director at Gritit Grounds Maintenance, puts the case for biophilic design
The notion that access to good-quality green and open space improves well-being and productivity at work is not new. In the 19th century enlightened wealthy factory and mill owners would create parks to make sure their workforce had access to clean fresh air and places to relax when not working. Today, this relationship between humans and nature, and understanding of the essential human need to connect to a natural environment in the workplace is being taken increasingly seriously by architects, developers and employers, and is described by the phrase 'biophilic design' or 'biophilia' - the practice of incorporating nature into the built environment.
Making biophilic design effective in this way, and overcoming the limitations of locations, is a matter of ingenuity. Where external space is lacking, companies are creating innovative features such as living walls and roofs, or making the most of internal spaces and plant species.
Retrofitting landscapes to improve biodiversity can be implemented with no increased budget or investment; it can often be delivered as a cost-neutral benefit in line with a landscape management and maintenance plan or over an agreed period of time. For example, planting a wildflower meadow in place of lawn may involve some initial investment, but it will ultimately require far less continuing maintenance than a lawn that has to be frequently mowed.
The most effective way in which these type of schemes can be implemented and maintained is through consultation with a specialist landscape manager or landscape architect.