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Last edited 19 Nov 2020
Building for wellbeing
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 who are lucky enough to be employed, the only single activity engaged in more than work is sleep. This article aims to raise awareness of how the former can be made better by our friends and colleagues in the facilities management (FM) department.
Traditionally, 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 and 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, 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 more senior FMs find themselves being given a voice at board level within 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 de-stigmatisation 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 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies in the US show similar information across the board in 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”. Starting 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 different metrics in FM are investigated, it might be possible 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, it might be easier to prove actions as 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 takes 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’. 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 Guide covers 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 has a great influence 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 provides us with over 120 Kilolux, although normal ranges are up to 100,000 lux. Even in the UK, we regularly experience tens of thousands of lux. A traditional and energy sapping 100W incandescent light bulb gives off around 1,600 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 3,000 lux. These are all well below the recommended 10,000 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.
BSRIA has observed the evolution of FM and its influence on different elements in the workplace; it has looked at the importance of wellbeing, and how it must be brought to the forefront in the construction industry, and it has explored a few of the topics in the upcoming BSRIA guidance.
To close with another 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 it is onboard with the wellbeing movement and is looking for FMs to support with implementation. BSRIA looks forward to sharing the tools with readers in its guide when it comes out later in 2019.
 About this article
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- All about wellness.
- Are we doing the right thing? Shaping well-being into the future of our urban communities.
- Assessing health and wellbeing in buildings.
- Biophilic design.
- BRE wellbeing research paper competition.
- Building related illness.
- Building use studies (BUS).
- Human comfort in buildings.
- Indoor air quality.
- Indoor environmental quality.
- Measuring the wellbeing benefits of interior materials.
- Seasonal affective disorder SAD.
- Sick building syndrome.
- TG10 2016 At a glance, wellbeing.
- The full cost of poor housing.
- Thermal comfort and wellbeing.
- Wellbeing and creativity in workplace design - case studies.
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- WELL and BREEAM align.
- WELL Building Standard.
- What we know about wellbeing.
- 2019 Wellness and biophilia symposium.
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