She said that while wellbeing is a “hot topic” there is no universally-accepted definition for it and that, in part, this is because wellbeing is dependent on context and task. It is probably easier to understand the opposite: people are often able to articulate what is stopping them from feeling great, but find it harder to say what is giving them a sense of wellbeing.
Wellbeing could be applied both at home and at work and indeed these situations overlapped. What is clear is that workers are more resilient and productive and cost employers less when they have a good sense of wellbeing: “in essence where you work and how you feel is important”.
Lynne cited the management theory of Abraham Maslow, who is famous for his theoretical pyramid. His research, published in 1943, posited that human beings have five types of need to reach their full potential to not only survive but to thrive – with self-fulfilment at the top, psychological in the middle and basic needs at the base.
Which lead Lynne to an interesting point: namely it is not enough to remove the negative: we have to go beyond “do no harm” with our buildings to “do good”. Specifically: hygiene factors: cause dissatisfaction and need to be minimised or removed while motivation factors: need to be added or improved to get the best from workers. Lynne said: “It is not enough to do one without the other – one must do good.”
Lynne gave three main strands to wellbeing:
- Physical (to do with the body).
- Functional (related to tasks).
- Psychological (related to the mind).
The first of these is measurable, and so should be the easiest, and yet we still get it wrong. The functional aspect is becoming more complex as we demand more flexibility and the work life boundary is becoming more fuzzy. We are also becoming more aware of the psychological aspects of wellbeing, as we are increasingly health conscious and recognise the importance of access to nature.
Despite some interesting case studies in wellbeing best practice, she suggested that wellbeing standards are generally seen as setting the maximum levels to be achieved, rather than the minimum and that there is still a hesitancy to change.
Lynne gave an example of a printed media story where, last winter, 55 airtight homes were tested for minimum ventilation provisions and only two fully met the guidance in Approved Document F (building regulations on ventilation). Added to this is the “thorny perpetual question of the performance gap”.
She continued: “We can talk theoretically about the demands of clients and the case for wellbeing, but we still have a journey to make in terms of improving design, improving build quality and improving the way we collaborate across the supply chain and break down our silos. We also need to learn from things that don’t work, not hide them.”
She said that BSRIA believes Soft Landings can help – where talking to the end customer and the organisations who will own or lease the buildings helps. To encourage them to require Soft Landings as part of their procurement process, Lynne believes they need to be more involved from the beginning of the design and construction process, “not just picking up whatever comes out at the end”. Investor interest suggests there is growing agreement with this.
Specifically regarding building temperature, Lynne said that there was no “magic setting” to suit everyone: “You can’t please everyone all of the time! And of course women feel the cold more than men!” People are not lab rats, they vary, Schrodingers cat effect (being watched or being aware of monitoring or an experiment changes the outcome). There is no substitute for tuning a building, and equally providing flexibility and user controls. Hotels were notorious for “standard settings”: there is no “magic bullet” and substitute for fine tuning.
In relation to the workforce, expectations of generation Z millennials are quite different to generation X – and the modern office will need to accommodate both. The Lendlease example – when employees were forced to take the stairs, they have to pass each other and have to be active and – especially interactive – with colleagues from other departments. “Beware of the chair – sitting is the new smoking!” Flexibility is clearly the key: with millennials choosing to work off their laptops in coffee houses and those with childcare considerations working in shifts.
Access to nature could be external access, indoor plants, views, images, or even soundscapes – waterfall noises and waves on a beach. And playfulness – which ranges from the beanbag and ‘executive toys’ to Google's headquarters in Zurich which has a massage room, aquarium and a slide to deliver engineers smoothly and quickly to the canteen!
Deloitte's Amsterdam office was designed with one empty room on each floor for employees to put what they wanted in them: most have gone for games such as table football. At LinkedIn's Californian HQ there is a music room, stocked with keyboards, drums, guitars and audio equipment.
All of this is about motivating people, making the workplace an attractive place to be, promoting interaction and collaboration but needs “user tuning”.
Lynne closed by saying that the cost efficient way is to provide a good supply of buildings that promote wellbeing for their occupants. BSRIA’s purpose is making buildings better: “We are about helping our members and the industry to achieve this virtuous triangle through our research, testing, training and information sharing. We invite all of you to collaborate with us to speed the journey.”
Professor Paul Cullinan, Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Brompton Hospital, presented a contrasting angle on the subject with his presentation entitled: building health and ill-health. His work focuses on respiratory diseases resulting from environmental influences, and he has co-authored a publication about the lifelong impact of pollution: Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of pollution – what it means for you (February 2016).