Most organisations don’t have an effective strategy for addressing health and well-being issues in the workplace.
Speaking at our first Vital Topics lecture of 2016, BT Group Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Litchfield said most occupational health schemes were “seriously outdated”, while companies did not give enough attention to the wider importance of well-being.
He said one of the issues was that society today was leaving too many of the factors that affect well-being to the individual, rather than forcing businesses to become more pro-active.
“A company will typically say ‘we’ll subsidise your gym membership, we’ll put fruit on your desks, and we’ll teach you mindfulness and resilience techniques. We give you all that stuff, now you get on with it, you can look after yourself’. To be honest that view is rubbish. What an organisation does affects people’s health and well-being just as much as what individuals do themselves.”
Paul said one of the key issues was that change in the 21st century workplace was accelerating and going faster than our attitudes and structures can withstand. “We know from psychology the different emotions we go through in terms of adapting to change. Most of us see change in a negative light and if you hit people with it too quickly they opt out, they burn out.
“We need to structure our businesses around our people so that we look at them through the lens of well-being as well as through the lens of finance and structures. If we do that we will not just end up with happier workforces but more successful businesses.”
Joining Paul on stage was Oliver Heath, founder of architectural and interior design practice Heath Design and a biophilic design ambassador for Interface.
He said much of his work was looking at how good design can benefit the psychological and the physiological. “I take a more human-centred approach and think about how good design can really impact on people who live and work in those spaces.”
Oliver said that biophilia was much more than the tired cliché about bringing the outside in. “It is about strengthening a real connection with nature and natural systems as a means to reduce stress and create more recuperative and energising environments. If we take a human-centred approach to design which really puts productivity, well-being and the reduction of stress at the fore, small improvements can bring really tangible financial benefits for the business.”
He said companies at the vanguard of workplace design were now grasping the real benefit of the connection with nature and what happens when you introduce it into the workplace. “Not only is biophilic design great for productivity, it is a key element in the war for talent and attracting the best graduates. Organisations and architects are realising that when people are stress-free they can be more productive, creative, and more engaged with the task in hand.”