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Building for WellbeingJuly 2019

BSRIA’s Facilities Expert, Nick Blake writes a very thought-provoking article stressing the importance of facilities management on the health and wellbeing of workforce.

About half of any waking workday is spent in ‘the office’ wherever that may be. That equates to approximately 35% of our total waking hours over a 50-year working life period being spent at work. For most of us who are lucky enough to be employed, the only single activity we do more than work is sleep. This article is written not to induce the latter, but to raise awareness of how the former can be made better by our friends and colleagues in the FM (Facilities Management) department.

Traditionally our FM teams are thought of as being deep in the bowels of the building working with building services: only surfacing to attend to reactive repairs or the occasional check on an asset in the main occupied area of the facility. That stereotype has been modified to include the softer services, and now often incorporates the first face that a visitor or employee sees as they walk through the door. Furthermore, the cornerstone of most office work; the coffee stand, tea making area, or the restaurant is also recognised to be the dominion of the facilities management team. So, for most, the FM team is an established padstone of their working day.

The perception of facilities management in the workplace

Till now however the Facilities Manager (also FM), has been seen to be working very much in the physical world, whether it is on the hard or soft side of FM. What is changing now is that as more senior FMs find themselves being given a voice at the board level within in the organisation. The inevitable result of this is that they are being recognised for the positive impact they can have on strategic and overarching projects that affect the whole workplace as opposed to just the provision of services.

A major movement of our time is the destigmatisation of mental health issues and the focus on wellbeing. The construction industry is still a male dominated and ‘macho’ environment. It is perhaps for this reason that wellbeing may be lower on the agenda than it should be. Between 2011 and 2015, over 10,000 men took their own lives in the UK. The ONS (Office of National Statistics) conducted analysis on a large proportion of the recorded deaths and about 80% of the analysed suicides were males. It was found that males in the construction industries were 3.7 times more likely to take their own lives than the national average.

It is noteworthy that CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) studies across the pond show similar information across the board, i.e. that men in construction and women working in Culture, Media and Sports are at greater risk.

Peter Drucker is usually credited with being the first to publicise the much-paraphrased statement ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. If we start from here, the metrics we use may be influencing our reactions in the workplace. Buildings and spaces have a carrying capacity threshold, but often, there is a drive to reduce costs by adding another desk, feature or workspace. If we were to investigate using different metrics in FM, we might be able to influence different behaviours. For example, focusing less on the cost per square meter and moving towards monitoring revenue per square meter. By implementing this simple change, we may find that it is easier to prove our actions to be positive, neutral or detrimental on business turnover. Benchmarking of these costs will establish norms across industry types.

Some of the primary features of wellbeing standards (such as WELL, Fitwel and even BREEAM) are areas that naturally fall to the FM to manage. Lighting, air quality, noise levels, thermal comfort, space management all on a base of safety are standard areas for FMs to cover. To satisfy the industry need for support in this area, BSRIA is in the process of authoring a guide to Facilities Management for Wellbeing. The guide walks readers through the transformation of the workplace from somewhere that is compliant and safe, to somewhere that nurtures wellbeing in a human-centric, people-focused and biophilic way.

Working with an FM who understands the business will allow designers to plan for flow. Whilst this term will be more familiar to practitioners of lean transformations (and subsequently lean Six Sigma) and is indubitably related to efficiencies. What FM insight can offer is real world experience of where physical flow is interrupted in the workplace, and from this design teams can work to mitigate issues before they occur. These types of intervention have an important influence on both experiential and declarative wellbeing.

The influence of the guide on a project

The Guide does cover how an FM can influence a new build or refurbishment project, but those types of building represent a fraction of an FM’s work. The role of the FM becomes even more important in existing complex or aging buildings as they are often not designed with wellbeing, sustainability and efficiency in mind.

Lighting is a service that has a great influential on the human system. We have evolved in an environment where there is a clear cycle of dark and light. Humans evolved in an area of the planet where this cycle is very regular and does not change much throughout the year. The human is active, productive and alert in the daylight. In darkness we sleep, our temperatures change throughout the body, our respiration rates drop and our heartbeat slows. These physical changes are entrained by the changes in the spectral distribution of light that we can perceive.

The sun can provide us with over 120 Kilolux although normal ranges are up to 100000 Lux. Even in the UK we are regularly experiencing tens of thousands of lux. A traditional and energy sapping 100W incandescent light bulb gives off around 1600 lumens! CIBSE recommended lighting levels in offices range from 100-500 lux in most cases and appear to top out in Atria with plants at around 3000 lux. These are all well below the recommended 10000 Lux levels to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Further studies highlight wavelengths as being key to our performance and prevention of melatonin production and that peaks at around 480nm. Avoidance of exposure to this wavelength in the evening is beneficial to wellbeing as it supports our natural circadian rhythms.

We have seen the evolution of FM and its influence on different elements in the workplace. We have looked at the importance of wellbeing, and how it must be brought to the forefront in the construction industry and we have explored a few of the topics in the upcoming BSRIA guidance.

We can close with a second Peter Drucker quote. ‘Only three things happen naturally in organisations; friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.’ In this instance, leadership has given clear indication that they are onboard with the wellbeing movement and are looking for FMs to support with implementation. We look forward to sharing the tools with you in our guide when it comes out later in 2019.


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