By Jane Henley, Chief Executive Officer, World Green Building Council.
Few businesses understand the relationship between their two biggest expenses – their people and their buildings.
And yet, we now have overwhelming evidence that the design of an office affects the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants.
The World Green Building Council has just released a new report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, which finds a range of factors – from air quality and lighting to views of nature and interior layout – can affect workers’ health, satisfaction and job performance.
Take daylight, for example. While the stereotype of the coveted ‘corner office’ may be outdated, research finds that workers with access to natural light and views are more productive than their colleagues who are squeezed into dark, dim cubicles.
A recent study by neuroscientists has found that office workers with windows sleep an average of 46 minutes more each night, while their windowless colleagues report poorer scores on quality of life measures related to physical health and vitality.
Another 2011 study, which investigated the relationship between view quality, daylighting and sick leave of employees in administration offices of Northwest University, found those in offices with better daylight and views took 6.5 per cent fewer sick days.
Absenteeism is a significant drain on business productivity – which ultimately impedes profitability. The annual absenteeism rate in the United States is three percent per employee in the private sector, and four percent in the public sector, costing employers US$2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year respectively. In the United Kingdom, poor mental health costs employers £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence In Australia, the aggregate cost to business of ill-health and absenteeism is AUD$7 billion per year.
Understanding the design factors that help or hinder workplace performance can inform financial decision-making. When employee salaries and benefits make up 90 per cent of a typical organization’s budget, a small improvement in staff performance can have a big impact, and will outweigh higher construction or occupation costs.
Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building – sponsored by JLL, Lend Lease and Skanska – also presents a simple toolkit that businesses can use to measure the health, wellbeing and productivity of their buildings and inform financial decision-making.
In many cases, sustainable design strategies trigger a virtuous circle that delivers both economic and environmental dividends. For example, designing a building to maximise daylight reduces the need for artificial daylight, and with it energy costs and carbon emissions, while also creating a more pleasant and productive workplace for people.
While this report doesn’t have all the answers, it does establish a pathway to help building owners and managers measure the previously unmeasurable – and to make business decisions that are better for people, performance and profit, and leave the planet better off too.