Research shows that wellbeing at work is improved when workplaces accommodate family and home life, as well as entertainment and fitness activities. Jonathan Walsh makes the case for healthy work environments.
Quality of life is heavily influenced by an individual’s chosen career path, goals, aspirations, social life and professional needs, while the means to do what they enjoy is influenced by where they go to work each day. Yet work and wellbeing are rarely seen as compatible partners and studies have shown that workplaces could actually be causing people to age beyond their years.
A survey conducted by Britain’s Healthiest Company examined everything from exercise and diet to blood pressure and depression, producing a regional breakdown of different “work ages”. This presented some alarming results, as it showed a disparity between some employees’ actual ages and their fitness levels. Geographically, it also found that the regions trailed behind a more “youthful” London working lifestyle.
Despite the threat that these results pose to the UK workforce, they are unlikely to prove surprising to conscientious employers. Many businesses are acutely aware of the importance of its staff remaining active, healthy and balanced within the workplace, and aim to develop work environments that not only attract new talent, but also nurture current staff while they are at work.
This is partly due to the diversification of working models; the term “agile working” is indicative of flexibility in more ways than one. Providing more options for staff means that employers can stimulate fitness, health and general mental wellbeing. This can mean offering anything from brighter spaces with bigger windows and open-plan offices with room to move around, or encouraging remote working.
Employers and developers are also increasingly locating leisure amenities in close proximity to office spaces, making sure that employees have improved access to gyms, entertainment, good food and green spaces, all of which can promote positivity and productivity at work. The challenge for employers is to create workplaces that slot easily into lives, accommodating family and home life, as well as entertainment and fitness activities.
London is a model of how work can be moulded to complement the other elements of life. This is perhaps why the research finds the capital to be the healthiest place to work in the UK.
London has become a hub for flexible working and high-quality, accessible facilities for employees. Though it might be more polluted than the North-East or Wales (where the highest “work ages” in the survey were recorded), the advanced transport options available and the popularity of cycling within the so-called “smoke” also suggest that there is a more subtle link between the commute to and from work and employee wellbeing than exhaust fumes.
Close to home
People are increasingly choosing to work closer to home, with rush-hour traffic and crowded trains contributing to feelings of stress and dread from the moment their alarm clocks sound in the morning. This is a new facet of working life that companies have to embrace, situating their offices in well-connected, convenient areas.
Bringing workplaces closer to homes and transport links is one improvement, but employers also need to promote the benefits of physical health. As people move closer to their place of work, they might have more free time but still lack the motivation to use it as an opportunity for exercise or bettering their health.
Internal wellbeing initiatives from companies are significant; they are the markers of responsible employers and are essential if we are to repair the divisions between work and wellbeing. In the North-West, workspaces rank in the middle of the employee health figures. However, I predict that the area will move up the chart in the next few years, as developments such as Birchwood Park and Manchester’s Spinningfields, First Street and MediaCityUK continue to provide workspaces with quality amenities and open spaces.
It is not just about heading for the gym or eating healthy food; the aim is to create a sociable, comfortable space that blurs the distinction between work and leisure.
Employers are tasked with removing anything that might obstruct a relationship between work and happiness. This means building a place in which people are happy with their role, but also content with their bodies, minds and the community that surrounds them.