Think about how much time you spend inside. Seriously, think about it. People in developed countries spend 90% of their time indoors, and if you work 9-5 (on a good day), then the majority of that time is spent in an office building.
Now, think about how offices are portrayed in movies and TV shows. An elevator door opens to rows of cubicles with no window in sight, someone on the other side of the room is describing an extremely boring weekend activity too loudly (no one cares about your spring cleaning, Rick), the temperature impossibly oscillates between frozen tundra and desert hellscape no matter what the thermostat is on. And the people. Oh, boy, are the people miserable to be in that office.
Although exaggerated, these depictions are rooted in truth that most office workers can relate to. In most offices, people are uncomfortable, feel drained by the end of the day, go home to get a poor night’s sleep, wake up and repeat it all over again. Organizations have largely been willing to accept that people are not happy and energized at the office. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
“Health and well-being of employees” is a term that often gets written off in a dismissal of the notion that investments in physical and emotional health should be a priority. Yet not only should every business think about the health and well-being of their employees, but they should also be making it an organizational priority. Not out of the good of their heart or for good PR, but because it’s the best business decision they can make.
The investment on employees
People are expensive. REALLY expensive. Employees (salary + benefits) are typically 90% of a company’s operating costs. Don’t you think it’s important to maximize the return of this huge expense?
To no surprise of many real estate professionals, a well-designed and operated building can do exactly that: significantly increase productivity and thus your ROI on employee benefits.
What you get in return
The examples of how an improved indoor environment benefit someone’s ability to be productive, energized, and happier are endless, but here are a few examples.
Let’s start with daylight. Studies have shown that workers with access to daylight end up getting more sleep on average per night than those without. Have you ever tried being productive without much sleep? As all new parents can attest to, it’s not easy. Not only are workers with access to daylight better rested, they also end up taking 6.5% fewer sick days – sick days that the company pays for in salary and lost productivity. It doesn’t stop there; studies have shown when the temperature is too high or too low, productivity decreases and error rates increase.
Occupants in well-ventilated offices had higher cognitive functioning scores in a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Not by a small margin, either; researchers found that the cognitive performance scores of participants in well-ventilated offices (offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide) were on average double the scores of participants in conventional office environments. The largest improvements were in the areas of crisis response (131% higher), strategy (288% higher), and information usage (299% higher).
The implications of these types of studies are massive! People may scoff at health and well-being, but I do wonder if they’ll continue feeling so smart when they realize they are choosing to lower their employees’ cognitive ability by more than 100%.
Make your choice
So what to do? Start by understanding that this is the best business decision you can make. Businesses negotiate and pore over the details of their rent, which is around 9% of operating costs, so why not do a cost-benefit analysis on improving the indoor environment if it will result in more productivity from 90% of your operating costs?
Businesses normally have all the data they need across the organization for this analysis. Human Resources probably collects data on sick leave, employee satisfaction, and performance; whereas property or facilities managers know the building and its systems like the back of their hand. Connect these two parties, collect the relevant data from them in one place, then link that data to financial performance and make the right business decision.
Talk someone’s ear off
Start the conversation about health and well-being as a business decision. The real estate industry is governed by norms that are all too inflexible and take eons to change; be the trailblazer. Talk about it at the water cooler, in the elevator, in the bathroom (well, maybe not there), wherever! As you continue to push this conversation, what’s now considered a mindset shift will become the norm. Then you’ll get to tell people, “I told you so.”
It’s no exaggeration to say the real estate industry can drive change through the entire economy. Every company needs office space, and if stakeholders start demanding that their office space contributes positively to employees’ health and well-being, this shift will become the new unwritten standard – a standard that moves upward from commercial brokerage to the capital markets, where it has the opportunity to make a healthier, more productive, and higher performing economy.