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January 19th 2016, by David Menkveld


The active working environment for health and focus

The distinctive theme for the next few years is the strong relationship between health and the risk of stress for organizations. According to a recent study by The Economist, lowered work productivity caused by employee stress or depression has the most significant negative impact on the operating results of organizations (Economist Intelligence Unit, Financing the future: choices and challenges in global health, November 2015). It is evident that the correct approach to stress will be a success factor in the continued development of the theme ‘health’. While the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment advised during the ‘De week van de Werkstress’ (the week for work-related stress) that work-related stress should be a topic that can be openly spoken about, this edition of Focus provides insight into the impact of health on the organization, the individual, and the working environment and the value that health can add to an organization if it its utilized as a strategic capital resource. More succinctly put, this demonstrates the shift from a focus on health as something that is a useful tool to combat stress in the working environment to HEALTH BY DESIGN which will work towards 2020 in a determined, faster, and more focused manner.

Health as a higher end-goal

The previous key trend addressed in this edition of Focus describes the Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) as the most important shared characteristic of exponential organizations. At its core lies the higher purpose to make radical changes and to make the world a better place. Several years ago, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) gave way to sustainability as the standard value. It is likely that health will be the next distinctive factor. In this context, corporate focus on health should not only be concentrated on the internal organization and improving the health of the working population, but should also flow externally as a form of social identification to create a connection with the world outside of the business practice. According to The Economist, businesses should ‘go beyond the own workforce and also address the health of customers, by developing new products and services, and of suppliers, by requiring those companies to have appropriate health policies in place.’

The contribution of health programmes within organizations have proven effective in terms of reducing absenteeism due to sickness. Besides the indirect returns for the organization, tangible personal goals are also attained such as exercising more, drinking less, or quitting smoking. Both successes have intrinsic value. By adding an external health policy, organizations can make a sustainable contribution to improving the health of society as a whole. Health as an additional dimension for external identification: social relevance and a social contribution to a healthier world.

Human performance From measurement to customization

While the impact of health on an organization forms an additional dimension for external identification, for the individual employee it presents the opportunity to analyse and apply the measured health data of 2015 to reaching their own peak performance. Samsung has formulated it as follows, ‘People will restructure their working lives around personal “Power Hours’’ – as technology reveals peak performance times.’ In this context, health can be translated as the amount of energy the employee can give to their employer based on their capacity to handle workloads.

Colliers Corporate Solutions, which started the quantified workplace experiment in 2015, is ready to link the personal data from employees to personal coaching to enhance employee understanding of personal capacity and improve their performance. Personal data, which is measured by a Fitbit wearable and computer software and then presented on a personal dashboard, provides important insights. However, Fitbits, Apple Watches, or other wearables with dashboard functions do not come with proactive coaching. Besides the physiological elements, customized coaching intervention is also concerned with cognitive elements and personal character traits.

In the coming years, every person will have access to direct feedback tools that are informed by the results from the personal dashboard. The employee can consult with an external health coach about their personal requirements. In turn, the coach can proactively contact the employee if, for example, high stress levels are reached or if work or private goals might not be achieved. Where, in the past, the employer would simply decide your health plan, this new style of occupational health and safety services (in the Netherlands this is knows as Arbodienst Nieuwe Stijl) that is based on personal data and preferences can actually make concrete changes to individual health goals and needs. This, in turn, results in a more significant contribution to the higher goal of the organization to work in a more healthy way. It is, of course, imperative to protect privacy within the employer, employee, and external health coach triangle. What is the role of an independent health coach? What information may be reported back to the employer? Is the health coach allowed to report to the employer? May anonymous and/or aggregated data be compared with other employees or subteams? If organizations can find solutions to these questions in the next few years, it is possible to achieve an entirely new and healthy working culture where measurement becomes customization.

Healthy office, intuitive workplace

The impact of health on an organizational and personal level also results in changes in real estate. While RE & FM had to take agile working into account in 2015, concepts such as ‘adaptive’ and ‘intuitive’ are currently being applied to the demand for real estate which caters for the individual and stimulates health and well-being.

The impact of health on real estate can be identified on two levels. Firstly, there are the interventions on the level of the buildings. The Deloitte office building, The Edge, serves as an example. The light and air quality within this building are the success factors of a healthy working climate. This is a positive initial development for the emergence of healthy offices. These office concepts are driven by smart technology and are primarily focused on sustainability and efficient energy use. However, the impact of health also results in more revolutionary changes to the working environment. As we predicted in the 2015 edition of Focus, the working environment of the future is an intuitive workplace which is based on neurological and psychological elements and interventions aimed at stimulating activity and creativity.

Challenges have become evident for real estate organizations on the levels of the office and the working environment. The focus on making buildings more sustainable in terms of sustainability and energy usage following the BREEAM standards must also take health interventions into consideration. After all, the category of 'Health’ within the BREEAM rating system makes up 15% of the total score (in the Asset section this goes up to 21%). An example of a broader form of making buildings more sustainable is the WELL Building Standard® which is based on best practice design and construction combined with medical and scientific research. This standard assesses seven performance categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind and is aimed at the improvement of health and wellness in the working environment. At the level of the workplace, the challenge is the optimal connection of concept and design in order to create a customized working environment that has the ability to adapt to the needs and demands of the employee and makes a real contribution to personal health, wellness, and creativity. This can be achieved by being able to work standing or even cycling, but also by introducing conference routes or automatically adjusting ‘moods’ in rooms to create the correct balance between rest and dynamism.

Health as a strategic advantage

The success of exponential organizations depends on the strength of their organizational culture. Health can play an important part in this, internally (empowerment of the employee) as well as externally (contribution to a healthy society), strategic advantages can be made in both directions. Organizations that adhere to a health policy appeal to other ‘healthy’ organizations which can lead to new and lasting collaborations or winning a pitch. IBM, for example, has a Chief Health Officer who gives direction to a Integrated Health Services Organization and so creates a healthy working environment for their own employees and their families.

In addition to making a connection with the outside world, maximizing the appeal of a healthy working environment and the connected community herein is a strategic option for organizations to secure new talent. A Well-Being Workplace as a basic condition of employment that new employees prefer over traditional work environments.

The Well-Being Workplace is the next frontier for the optimal work-life balance and is the foundation for a healthy and focused existence. Outdoor attire brand Patagonia takes its staff on hiking outings, cycling tours, or surfing lessons during lunch and provides employees with the opportunity to do charity work for pay. Perhaps less challenging, but certainly not less effective, is providing employees with a fitness room or gym membership, or creating a space for rest and mindfulness in the working environment.

In 2016, health means much more than healthy employees or a healthy building. The optimal introduction of health by organizations has an impact that extends beyond the working environment and will ultimately result in strategic advantages and a healthy corporate climate. HEALTH BY DESIGN can therefore be identified as a key trend for all HR, RE and FM professionals for the year ahead.