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Why Should Facility Managers Care About Health and Wellness?
Imagine one day out of the blue you’re called into the C-suite for a meeting. You’re a little nervous, unsure what this is about, but everything has gone well lately and so you shouldn’t really have reason to worry. The CEO puts your mind at ease, and tells you she wants to ask you one simple question: “How would you describe your job?”
What would you say? Would you explain that you keep the building running? Would you tell her about the value you bring for the organization in terms of savings and efficiencies? Would you talk about how you’re an advocate for the building’s occupants to make sure their space can contribute to their productivity? All off the above?
It’s true a facility manager’s job is not one thing. Far from it. But consider this idea: Your job, in a word, is about empathy. That means, in all aspects of your job, it’s about putting yourself in your leaders’, visitors’, and occupants' shoes, and fully understanding the effects that the strategies you’re implementing have on all the people that use your building on a daily basis.
Perhaps no category of facility strategy better encapsulates this idea that facility management is about empathy than health and wellness. That’s because facility strategies that focus on the health and wellness of anyone who uses a building help promote productivity, mental and physical health, and general well-being.
If that sounds like a bunch of hippy-dippy new age jargon, well, that’s what people said about sustainability before it exploded, too. And health and wellness strategies, because they represent not just financial efficiencies, but also are strategies that can help recruit and retain top talent, are the next crucial step in how buildings are operated and maintained.
We recently talked with a health and wellness expert at consulting firm, Stok, to understand the state of the art of health and wellness strategies as we continue to emerge slowly from the pandemic. Emily Dunn, director of workplace well-being and strategy, was kind enough to answer a few questions.
FacilitiesNet: How has the pandemic changed how facility managers and organizations are approaching health and wellness strategies?
Emily Dunn: When it comes to health and well-being, one of the key lessons learned from the pandemic is that everyone has different experiences and circumstances within their home environment. To create an equitable and supportive experience, organizations and facilities managers need to understand what aspects of the employee experience are well supported at home and what aspects are not. Before we start thinking about health and well-being within the office space, you need to understand who is coming back to the office and why. Understanding how people intend to use the space can help inform which health and well-being strategies an organization and their facilities team need to focus their efforts on. This is also a unique opportunity for organizations to rethink their real estate strategy and what purpose the build environment serves for their business and their employees and then plan accordingly.
FN: As hybrid work is taking root, can you describe the financial benefits of focusing on health and wellness in facilities? Are health and wellness strategies something that can make in-person work more appealing?
ED: Certainly health and well-being strategies can have a positive impact on a number of levels. First and foremost, engaged employees that have their well-being needs met are more likely to stay within their existing employer. We know that for most organizations, the cost of human capital is close to 80 percent of overhead expenses and the cost of replacing key talent, especially in a job-seekers market can be pricey. Understanding that employees are looking for flexibility to support their health and well-being needs is also essential.
Future Forum research indicated that 80 percent of survey respondents want flexibility in where they work, and 94 percent want flexibility when they work. With this information, the design of a workplace and the health and well-being features within the design and operations of the space need to be flexible and resilient as well. The experience within the space can also certainly impact a person’s desire to be within the space. Elements such as access to natural light, exposure to biophilic elements, thoughtful acoustical design, and even outdoor space that might not be available in someone’s home workspace, can make a stronger argument for in-person work. Again, the key to incentivizing people to come in the office is about providing experiences that are not available at home. Conversely, elements that individuals had control over at home, such as individual acoustical and thermal comfort are going to be essential to get right in the built environment, and this should be a focus for facilities teams. (Note: I would also refer you to “The Financial Case for High performance Buildings” that Stok issued a few years ago)
FN: What are the benefits of using a ratings system like WELL in existing buildings? How can facility managers implement WELL strategies cost effectively?
ED: Rating systems such as WELL offer third-party, research-based concepts and features to impact the various aspects of health and well-being within the built environment. In addition to helping facility managers and organizations take a more holistic and human centered approach to the design, operations and policies within a place, the third-party verification process allows occupants more comfort in knowing that the building has achieved certain criteria that benefits their well-being. The other benefit of systems such as the WELL standard is that the structure provides pre-conditions (or must haves) and then the opportunity to choose other features within the rating system to achieve their desired level of certification. This allows for organizations and landlords to choose options that are important to their occupants and also gives them an opportunity to find cost effective alternatives to concepts as needed. Many times, design features can be difficult and costly to retrofit, but numerous features focus on operations and policy driven interventions that can potentially be less costly.
Greg Zimmerman is senior contributor editor for the facility group, which including FacilitiesNet.com and Building Operating Management magazine. He has more than 18 years’ experience writing about facility issues.