Feeling sick of work? Could your office be the cause?

Business owners are being warned that their workplace environments could be making employees ill, according to a new report on wellbeing in the workplace.

Indeed, according to the study by the British Council for Offices (BCO), as many as one in six employees believe their workplace is having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing – despite 96% of respondents saying that workplace health and wellbeing is important to them.

The report, ‘Wellness matters: health and wellbeing in offices and what to do about it’ is believed to be one of the largest pieces of research ever undertaken, taking more than a year to complete and costing in the region of £100,000 – and findings could make uncomfortable reading for employers.

Less than half of those surveyed said that their workplace had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing, with 17% of them believing that their working environment had a negative impact on their personal wellbeing.

Launched at the BCO’s annual conference in Berlin this summer, the study claims that businesses willing to invest in health and wellbeing are reaping the rewards of increased productivity, lower costs from illness and enhanced reputation.

It also includes lessons for government, quantifying the impact of office wellness through reduced costs in health and social care and increased productivity.

Rob Groves of property developer Argent and chairman of the BCO Midlands and East Anglia committee, said:

“The work achieved in this study represents a significant step forward in the industry’s understanding of health and wellbeing and provides a definitive guide on how to tackle the issue. The team has provided real academic rigour and engineering know-how, along with enthusiasm for the subject matter and its impact. We are delighted with the initial peer review and government response. It is one of the BCO’s most significant studies.”

The new report critiques existing health and wellbeing measurement and certification. It identifies the most recent and relevant medical evidence justifying a proactive approach to health and wellbeing in the built environment and articulates the business case for investment in this space beyond simply improving productivity.

The research also delivers a practical and professional guide to creating a healthy environment across the different stages of a building’s life cycle, from design, construction and leasing to occupation and asset management.

Whilst the data does not suggest a workplace wellness crisis, it does suggest that opportunities to improve health and wellbeing are being missed.

Elaine Rossall, chairman of the BCO research committee, said:

“The health and wellness agenda is, rightly, growing in importance and prominence. ‘Wellness matters’ responds to this and provides practical advice to BCO members on the issues surrounding health and wellbeing in offices and what they can do about it.

“There is still a perception in the industry that health and wellbeing is ‘just something an occupier does in its fit­out and staff management’ and by association investors, developers and designers need not concern themselves. We fundamentally challenge that – there are opportunities throughout a building’s lifecycle to enable change. Successful intervention should manifest in shorter voids for developers; greater income retention for investors and healthier, happier staff for occupiers who will gain from better recruitment and retention.”

Established in 1990, the BCO is Britain’s leading forum for the discussion and debate of issues affecting the office sector. Its members are organisations involved in creating, acquiring or occupying office space, including architects, lawyers, surveyors, financial institutions and public agencies.

The report was led by a consortium of Sentinel RPI, Elementa Consulting, Perkins +Will and Will+Partner’s, backed by medical and academic input from Royal Brompton, Imperial College and Queen Mary University. Evidence was reviewed from the USA, Europe and globally.

For further information, please visit: www.bco.org.uk