From a mental wellbeing perspective, important aspects include: having a clear purpose and feeling valued (both of which the workplace can communicate); feeling a sense of community within the organisation (which the workplace can accommodate); having a feeling of being in control (e.g. by means of flexible working arrangements); and being offered the right tools and infrastructure that enable maintaining focus and high energy levels (e.g. spaces without distraction, the right noise levels, places for relaxing and taking breaks).
So how well are today’s workplaces supporting wellbeing?
Last year, we joined forces with Delos, the founder of the WELL Building Standard™, to develop a new set of questions that investigate how the workplace supports wellbeing at work. The questions can be added to our workplace experience survey and more than 31,000 employees from 37 organisations globally had responded to them pre-COVID.
The results suggest that organisations are performing best in offering freedom of how and where employees do their work, with 74% and 65% of the respondents agreeing that they have that. This freedom has certainly been put to test as organisations worldwide have been forced to send their people off to work from home. The even bigger test will be to see which organisations will take the opportunity to grant their employees trust, flexibility and choice of where they work also in the future.
A lack of investing in the workplace truly is a lack of investment in the workforce. And as offices start reopening, organisations who have not made the investment may find that employees are reluctant to return.
Further, only 36% of the respondents find that the design of and/or the location of their workplace encourages them to be physically active. In contrast, 72% of respondents to our home working survey say that they’re able to be physically active when working from home. The two are not directly comparable due to the questions probing different things, but they do reveal that there’s a lot of room for improvement in office design, and also that a considerable proportion of employees may risk not being active enough when working from home.
However, the most alarming numbers are found in the questions related to mental wellbeing, with roughly only one in three (35%) respondents agreeing that the design of their workplace helps them maintain the energy levels needed to do their job well. Hardly surprising, to be honest, considering that ‘Noise levels’ is a feature with consistently low satisfaction levels (32% satisfaction globally). To make the matter worse, also only one in three (35%) employees say that there are places they can go and refresh, should they get mentally exhausted.
Escaping to the home workplace is not necessarily the answer either, as it may then have a detrimental effect on our sense of belonging. This large home working experiment has revealed that maintaining a sense of connection is a challenge: despite all efforts to create virtual catch-ups and hangouts, only 62% currently say that informal social interaction is supported and 67% say that they feel connected to their colleagues when working from home.
The flipside is, of course, that this leaves a lot of room for improvement. Many of the employees who have responded to the workplace wellbeing questions have in fact responded in a pre-project phase as their organisation has committed to making changes in the workplace.
And a look at just one of the workplaces where the questions were asked post-occupancy, in a WELL certified workplace, shows just how big a difference the workplace can make: two out of three (66%) employees say that the design of the workplace helps them maintain needed energy levels and 72% find that there are places they can go and mentally refresh, should they need to. Some 88% found that the workplace generally supports their wellbeing and 83% think that the design of the workplace shows that the employer values them. While many employers continue to underinvest in the workplace, illustrative figures like these are testament to the profound changes a workplace can make in an employee’s life (both physically and mentally). And when the current global home working experiment eventually comes to an end, there’s a real opportunity for organisations to give their people more choice and flexibility to utilise the home environment as an extension to the corporate workplace, making it possible to get the best of both worlds.