Atkins: Could buildings be the missing piece of the wellbeing puzzle?

Mention the word ‘wellbeing’ and the last thing most people think of is buildings. Yet there’s growing evidence that they should. We spend 90% of our lives in buildings, and poorly-designed buildings are now being linked to everything from ill health to underachievement in schools and reduced productivity in the workplace.

For companies, there’s a real financial, as well as a people, benefit to thinking about user wellbeing in a building’s design. Workplace studies have demonstrated the enormous impact the buildings we work in can have on our performance, with research linking improvements in ventilation with productivity gains of up to 11%. Studies have also highlighted the negative impact bad ventilation can have on employee performance, decreasing things like typing speed by up to 10%

Buildings can impact people’s wellbeing both physically and psychologically

Atkins Wellbriefing hexagons smBuildings also shape how we interaction with each other socially. People need a working environment where they feel comfortable, have a sense of belonging and feel connected to the people around them – without increasing their stress levels by putting them in environments that have too many people and too much noise. Research has found a staggering 66% drop in performance when people are exposed to distracting sounds.

Providing employees with better working environments can also help to ease the huge personal and economic burden associated with mental health problems, estimated to cost UK employers £30billion each year. Analysis published last week by the World Health Organisation found that without scaled-up treatment, a staggering 12 billion working days – or 50 million years of work – will be lost to depression and anxiety disorders each year between now and 2030. It puts the annual loss to the global economy at £651bn – a figure we can’t ignore.

So, designing buildings that will actually improve our health and wellbeing is something we can’t afford not to do. It’s easy to get buildings wrong. Getting them right requires a little more effort, but the payback in terms of productivity and health is potentially enormous. Surely it’s better to spend some time up front to ensure we get our building design ‘right for wellbeing’, rather than trying to fix our staff’s health and wellness problems after they’ve happened?

By incorporating principles of good design for wellbeing – and prioritising what will actually have the biggest impact on people’s health and happiness – we could find that building design has been the missing part of the wellbeing equation all along. By slotting in this last piece of the puzzle, we could start to make real strides to actively improve, instead of reactively treat, wellbeing.

Watch Atkins’ wellbeing video to find out more.

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