What are unhealthy buildings actually costing us? Part 1

This is the first of a 2 part series of blog posts on the costs of unhealthy buildings.

With our increasingly busy lives, workplace and lifestyle are so interlinked. Our fast lives make us time poor, there are services now for grocery and beauty product delivery, pre-prepared dinners and school lunches. These busy lives mean more time working, and at work. So how well are our workplaces?

The WELL Building Standard is helping shift the wellbeing focus from purely organisational to the physical environments in which people work. Changing the physical environment can’t magically fix all issues from poor productivity, but it can help.

A US study showed the cost of poor wellbeing at 25-35% of the payroll from absenteeism, turnover, low engagement, delays etc. Staff with high wellbeing cost organisations less. But it is much bigger than that; this is not just about organisational productivity but prolific economic costs of poor health.

Lifestyle and the environments around us contribute to chronic illnesses. Sedentary behaviour, poor diet and stress are major contributors. We spend around $27 billion per annum on chronic disease.

Getting people moving pays off. Very few organisations commit funds to wellbeing programs, despite the fact that they have been shown to have an ROI between 144%-3000%.

Physical activity

On a global scale physical inactivity is predicted to cost $67 billion annually, and within that $135 million in lost productivity. We know it’s a problem, but are we really doing enough? Obesity is the second top risk factor (behind diet) for chronic disease.

The gym before or after work doesn’t curb health impacts from prolonged periods of sitting.  Before a day is gone it is easy to have been sitting for three of four hours with minimal movement.

Whilst designing out the ability for sedentary behaviour is ideal, such as central staircases and premium end of trip facilities, not every workplace has this option. Most of our buildings are decades old and high cost fitouts aren’t an option.

Small changes can enable easy and continual movement for staff all day, and it helps if leaders are on board:

  • Make stairs accessible, fun and easy (not locked off or difficult to locate). Check out Step Jockey to help gamify step taking.
  • Provide a variety of workspaces people can move around to during the day – standing desks, break-out areas, kitchen areas
  • Promote outdoor walking meetings – a brisk 15-30 minute walk in a close location to get the hear rate pumping
  • Centralise printers, bins and other services so people need to get up
  • Provide communal lunch areas to encourage less desk lunches
  • Make it fun, if it feels like hard/extra work it is harder to motivate people

Depending on location, active transit (public transport and walking or cycling) can be limited. The proximity to childcare facilities and other amenities are also important, otherwise people spend longer in transit to work, and exercise time tends to be the sacrifice.

First published as one post on Sourceable

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Dr Sam Hall

Dr Sam Hall

Sam is the founder of Spaces Alive. She's an advocate for re-imaging our cities and buildings to prepare for the future of work and study.