Collective Connects Nov 2012

“The door handle is the handshake of the building.”
Juhani Pallasmaa

Today’s workplace well-being agenda is embraced by most sectors of business. Having changed dramatically with the shift from an industrial to an increasingly more knowledge based and service economy, this agenda has become expanded beyond the basic concerns of physical health and safety to now include the broadest considerations of well-being. Addressing the risks presented for mental health, such as emotional comfort, well-being is an important and serious aspect of the business culture which requires focus and development.

Daily experiences such as feeling well-rested, happy, enthusiastic and valued, along with the unfavorable feelings of concern, sadness, stress, and anger, contribute to measuring the behavioral economics of a nation’s well-being.

Well-being is today a global issue. When surveyed, 124 (out of the worlds 193) countries, averaging a median of 21% of the population, reported a favorable outlook on life. A country’s standing in the world seems to contribute to its population having a positive or negative outlook on their well-being, much of which is mediated by working hours.

Promoting the well-being of workers is in the best interest of businesses and society. For example, the African nation of Chad has a legally regulated work-week of a possible 59 hours per week. In comparison, Europe’s Denmark has a legally regulated work week averaging 37 hours /week, which must be segmented by 11 hours of rest for each 24 hour period. On the well-being scale the population of Chad averages 6% while Denmark averages 72%.

In the UK, the average work week is a 40 hours per week with 28 days of entitled paid holiday each year. Despite this ratio, the direct cost of stress and mental health at work is estimated at 25.9 billion British pounds per year. Some 415,000 people out of a total 38 million in the UK reported suffering from stress, anxiety or depression that they believed was caused, or made worse, by their current or past work. Globally mental health has surpassed issues related to musculoskeletal disorders.

Australia is an interesting example when looking at the effects of mental health. Even with a large number of wellness programs already in place, and an unprecedented 31 paid annual vacation days, poor employee well-being, costs the employers in excess of 33 billion Australian dollars per year.

The importance of addressing well-being in the work place is underscored in consideration of a recent survey which highlights that of 47 countries, 66% already have or are actively developing workplace wellness programs. More poignantly, workplace wellness programs are deemed to be lucrative.

On average globally, for every British Pound spent on preventive employee well-being measures, medical costs fall by £2.05 and absenteeism costs are reduced by £1.71. It is well known that the least healthy employees are 25% less productive than the healthy.

As civilization has moved from agrarian to a predominantly technologically dependent society, the issues of well-being have compounded from spending considerable amounts of time indoors. Poorly designed interiors can affect the well-being of people at work, and carrying out their daily lives, in ways that result in absenteeism, distress and illness. Today, when everything is designed, our well-being and our human-to-environment relationship is reconciled through and by design.