If winter’s dark mornings and frosty weather make it hard for you to crawl out from under your duvet and head to work, you’re not alone.
Last Monday, February 1st, was unofficially National Sickie Day in the UK, marking the worst day of the year for worker absenteeism, with an estimated 375,000 Brits ‘throwing a sickie’.
It’s a situation that costs the UK economy about £34 billion a year, with the average Briton taking 9.1 sick days a year, according to accountancy firm PwC. The odd sickie is commonly excused by employers, although excuses like, ‘I thought it was a bank holiday today and I'm 500 miles away’ don’t always go down too well.
However, the proliferation of greener and more energy efficient office buildings being built across the country, means that it’s going to get harder for you to rationalise.
You see, there is now “overwhelming evidence” that better office design significantly impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff. That is according to the World Green Building Council which says that a host of factors contribute to maintaining your health, satisfaction and job performance if you work in an office.
• Air quality. Lower concentrations of carbon dioxide and pollutants, and better ventilation, can boost productivity by up to 11 per cent.
• Thermal comfort. If you are able to personally control how hot or cold it is at your desk, you are likely to get up to 10 per cent more work done.
• Lighting. A number of studies point to a connection between improved productivity and proximity to windows. The Urban Land Institute has it that access to sunlight in an office increases staff productivity by 15 per cent.
• Noise. Getting work done is practically impossible in a distracting environment. By reducing that noise and improving acoustics, you will free your mind and achieve more.
• Layout and design. This is less about feng shui, and more about the way your office is configured. The direction your workstation is facing, how much personal space you have, whether there is a common break-out area or social space – all of these elements will impact on your health and happiness at work, as well as your levels of concentration, collaboration and creativity.
• Exercise. Does your office have an on-site gym, bike-storage or garden? All of these things will incentivise you to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle – and be fitter to work.
As you might expect from the National Trust, it’s headquarters in Swindon is one of the greenest office buildings in the UK. Its carbon footprint is 65 per cent less than for similar developments, thanks to a big array of solar panels on the roof which provide 30 per cent of the buildings’ annual electricity use. Inside, eco-friendly materials such as PVC-free linoleum and water-based paints were used throughout. And the fact that the carpets in the building were made from wool from sheep on the Trust’s managed land and the ventilation snouts on the roof come from recycled beer cans, no doubt make the people that work there very proud indeed.
The WGBC has created what it calls a ‘toolkit’ to get companies to think differently about ‘greening’ their offices, perhaps by installing new lighting or upgrading heating systems that give occupants more control over their environment. With salaries and benefits typically accounting for 90 per cent of a company’s expenditure, the argument is that refurbishment and construction costs might well be covered by improvements in staff performance and a reduction in absenteeism.
But it’s not just in an office environment that healthier buildings are creating healthier people. New evidence suggests greener retail stores – with good levels of daylight, fresh air and greenery – are more attractive to consumers and more profitable for retailers.
And imagine if the same rationale was adopted when considering school buildings. In the US, 13 million school days are missed every year because of asthma-related illnesses. Greener buildings could be a crucial part of the answer to reducing the cost burden on our healthcare systems which account for 19 per cent and 9 per cent of GDP in the US and across Europe respectively.
So, if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that has invested in a lean, green and efficient building then you should count yourself lucky. And you might want to think twice before throwing a sickie next time.
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