Making Workplaces Human Again

Despina Katsikakis • 15/11/2017

Well being Workplace Image

Well-Being and the World

The future workplace will look radically different as employers respond to a growing requirement for a work-health balance. The well-being industry is a worldwide phenomenon, but corporations are only beginning to understand and interpret implications for the built environment.

For measuring success, money has long been the only thing. At national level, the specific metric that has prevailed is gross domestic product, or GDP. Based on this measurement, we’re ‘doing well’; human beings have made the economy more than U.S. $1 trillion each year since the 1990s.

But scratch below the surface and we see workers who are both aging at a historic rate (18% will be over 55 years old by 2030), and unhealthy (52% are overweight and preventable chronic diseases are responsible for two-thirds of deaths worldwide).

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that most workers are unhappy; 76% report they are struggling with well-being, and research studies estimate the costs of work-related stress from U.S. $300 billion in the U.S. to as high as U.S. $650 billion in Europe.

Most of us work in what are essentially ‘unwell’ offices. Workplaces that are not ‘well’ impair employee performance. Mounting evidence about its benefits mean workplace well-being is becoming a strategic imperative.

Well-being and the Corporate

An abundance of research demonstrates links between employee well-being and bottom line financial outcomes. Human happiness has been found to have large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to motivate, while negative emotions have the opposite effect.

A study by PwC found cost-benefit ratios ranging from 2:3 to 1:10 – meaning for every U.S. $1 spent on well-being initiatives, an organization can expect to receive U.S. $10 in value back. Tim Munden, chief learning officer at Unilever, reinforces this. He estimates that Unilever recoups an estimated €6 for every €1 invested in well-being programs across its European businesses.

Gallup breaks the potential benefits of ‘well-being’ down further. Their global meta-analysis suggests businesses with highly satisfied, engaged employees are rewarded with 37% lower absenteeism, 21% higher productivity, and 10% higher customer satisfaction.

Well-Being and the Workplace

Low levels of staff well-being and engagement can be remedied by the workplace itself. There are proven links between well-being, performance, and the office.

  • There is a 10% reduction in performance if offices are too hot or too cold.
  • Levels of cortisol, a stress indicator, decrease significantly after 20 minutes in a more natural setting.
  • Seeing the color green for just a few seconds boosts creativity levels.
  • Background noise in offices can lead to performance drops of 66%
  • Cognitive functioning doubles when workers are in well-ventilated offices.

The message to the real estate and built environment sector is clear: prioritize well-being – and in turn staff performance – by making spaces human again.

Well-Being Risks

There are three major risks when it comes to the implementation of well-being. If left unchallenged, they have the potential to compound one another and slow progress.

Disregard. Many business leaders express cynicism when it comes to the relationship between well-being and business performance, leaving it lower on the agenda than other priorities.

Metrics. Only a strong set of metrics will compel occupiers to demand ‘well’ buildings and developers to create them. But the impact of the physical environment on well-being is under-recorded. It is also difficult to link occupant well-being to the workplace in isolation from other contributing factors.

Space and cost. According to World Bank research, small and medium enterprises form 95% of businesses globally and employ approximately 60% of private-sector workers. If we do not focus on well-being-enhancing improvements that can be made incrementally over time, or with modest investments and as retrofit, we risk stifling the well-being movement through millions of square feet of office space. Keeping the movement simple and accessible is imperative.

Well-being Predictions

  1. The impact of the office on well-being and bottom line performance will be exposed by new smart technologies, the impact of the built environment on human beings, and on business performance will totally visible. This will redefine the way we select and determine the value of real estate.
  2. We have already seen a disproportionate amount of WELL certification among knowledge sector companies. These companies will be at the fore, competing fiercely for talent globally. As workers come to expect the same things from an employer brand as they do from a consumer brand, ‘well’ workplaces will be a big draw. Expect premium tenants to seek only ‘well’ offices.
  3. For multi-let buildings, it will no longer be the case that a building manager maintains the fabric and common parts and each occupier looks after their own demise. This arrangement makes it impossible for buildings to be smart, to really ‘know’ their occupiers and to enhance workers’ well-being and performance. The office as ‘one-space-for-one-organization’ will be replaced by permeable workplaces with multiple, overlapping communities and a shared level of trust. Wellness departments, or community managers will be tasked with continually enhancing these spaces.

The above is an excerpt from the Fifth Edition of the Occupier Edge. To learn more about workplace well-being, download the full report here.

Despina Katsikakis

Despina Katsikakis is the Head Occupier Business Performance for Cushman & Wakefield.


Insights • Workplace

Leading an Active Recovery to Build the Best Workplace Experience

Leading an Active Recovery shows how an Agile approach can engage the C-suite in real estate decisions that balance the codependent – and often contradictory – needs for efficiency, effectiveness and engagement.
Despina Katsikakis • 10/06/2021
Coronavirus / Covid-19 cases in Italy, Milan, Rome. (9.04.2020) Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at JHU
Insights • Workplace

COVID-19 & Data to Reimagine the Workplace

Despina Katsikakis, Head of Occupier Business Performance reveals the data driven trends around productivity, culture, wellbeing and diversity that will shape the future office.
Despina Katsikakis • 22/06/2020
Part 3 Workplace Ecosystems (image)
Research • Workplace

Workplace Ecosystems of the Future

In this report, we examine what the future of the office will look like in a post-COVID-19 world by exploring investor, occupier and placemaker feedback and analyze historical work from home (WFH) penetration rates.
David Smith • 21/12/2020


Invesco • Banking & Financial Services
Commercial Real Estate Technology
Omnicom Europe Limited • Technology
Learn More


Get in touch with one of our professionals.