14th December 2017

Creating a happy, engaged and productive workforce


The early arrivals to the Acre Bench’s first breakfast briefing – Creating a happy, engaged and productive workforce – were treated to a fantastic view from the top floor of The Crown Estate’s new offices in St James’ Market, overlooking a magical London skyline in preparation for an eye-opening morning of discussion. There was a fantastic mix of senior professionals in the room from Health and Safety, Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility and HR, ready to discuss what organisations are doing to create happy, engaged and productive workforces and to find out who is leading the way.

Colin Mooney, Head of Health, Safety and Facilities at The Crown Estate welcomed us to the building by describing how they have designed their workspace to have a positive influence on wellbeing and how this has helped improve productivity across their workforce.  The group were lucky enough to see first-hand some of the interesting aspects of the workspace which advance physical and mental health, the most memorable examples being their Living Wall and messages written in the bathroom mirrors that “it’s okay to not be okay”.

David Short, an Acre Bench consultant specialising in sustainable buildings, guided the group through the measures organisations are taking to maximise wellbeing and productivity via building design and operations. He outlined the immense opportunities in this area, highlighting that 90% of a typical organisation’s operating costs are directly related to staff By contrast, business energy costs are typically just 1%. In the last few decades organisations have explored various means to minimize energy usage and maximise performance. Imagine the change in wellbeing and productivity if organisations understood how to focus on maximizing the 90% investment in their people. David introduced the group to a number of different frameworks for measuring and reporting on wellbeing in buildings, and talked us through the seven key factors that organisations should look at, as outlined by the Well Building Institute: Air, Light, Water, Nourishment, Fitness, Mind and Comfort. He emphasised that changes can be extremely cost-effective and achieved without necessarily moving offices. Biophilic design principles establish that we thrive when we feel a connection to nature, so simple additions such as including plants into the workspace can have a fantastic affect on our wellbeing and motivation at work without requiring significant financial investment.

Creating a happy, engaged and productive workforce

The Crown Estate’s “Living Wall” – an example of biophilic design that helps with creating a happy, engaged and productive workforce

David emphasised that to get things moving in this space, we must encourage more collaboration across different functions. Real Estate, HR, Finance and Sustainability have a shared responsibility to create positive change in the workplace. There must be also be conversations between both landlords and occupiers. Members of the audience felt empowered to consider the ways they can encourage their landlords to implement some small changes that could create a surprisingly significant effect on their people.

The discussion moved on to look at employee wellbeing in a more holistic sense as Sarah Piddington, Acre Bench consultant and specialist in corporate mental health and wellbeing, presented the clear evidence that organisations need to act on workplace wellbeing. She provided some sobering statistics. We learned that 45% of all lost working days are due to stress related illnesses and 48% of UK employees are not happy at work.  However, Sarah clearly identified the business case and opportunities to deal with these issues, showing us that employees with positive psychological wellbeing are 31% more productive and that the FTSE 100 companies that have robust arrangements in place for employee wellbeing and engagement outperform the rest by 10%.

Sarah was not afraid to rock the boat: asserting that wellbeing programmes should be pioneered by Health and Safety teams instead of HR, though also highlighting the growing appetite for organisations to appoint Directors of Wellbeing to address the issue longer term. She suggested that we need to aspire to train a wider variety of employees in mental health awareness, especially looking to move beyond those who have dealt with mental health issues themselves who often are the first to volunteer to receive training in the workplace. The most important opportunity Sarah suggested we seize is getting leadership teams effectively trained in mental health issues and emotional intelligence. We need to see these leaders changing business cultures so employees do not feel expected to respond to calls and emails at all hours, preventing them from truly switching off. She emphasised the need for modern organisations to truly understand that staff who are engaged and in a positive state of wellbeing will ultimately be more profitable than those who are overworked and stressed.

Hamid Senni then brought the debate on to his area of expertise: Diversity and Inclusion. He established that true inclusivity is most likely to be achieved when business leaders embrace the idea of diversity, not just because it is seen as the morally “correct thing to do”, but because they understand that inclusive organisations greatly outperform their peers. He presented a case study of L’Oreal, who after being comparatively early adopters into the diversity mould, saw their share price outstrip the FTSE100 progression within a few years of the pioneering effort they took in this space.

Hamid argued that organisations need to look beyond implementing simple measures and specific diversity quotas. Instigating these types of measures can be counter-productive, as they potentially breed disillusionment within the workforce, and their existence rarely leads to an holistic change in culture. He argued that organisations need to take a macro-level view, focusing on the changes that will truly drive a significant shift in diversity and inclusion. Too many businesses devote significant resources on micro-level programmes and individual weaknesses without understanding the benefit of taking this higher-level view. Leaders ultimately need to adopt an inclusive leadership mindset, where directors in businesses truly understand and embrace the value of including different voices and opinions within the overall makeup of the team.

The event was a brilliant opportunity to get a diverse range of professionals in a room to discuss how we can best set organisations up for success in the future. I’d like to express my sincere thanks to David, Sarah and Hamid for sharing their expertise with us, and to Colin Mooney and The Crown Estate for kindly hosting the event.

David Short, Sarah Piddington and Hamid Senni are members of the Acre Bench. The Acre Bench is a curated community of best-in-class consulting professionals who provide organisations with a variety of consultancy and interim services. You can learn more about the Acre Bench here. If you would like to discuss support for your organisation, please contact Bryn Cochrane-Milne on (+44) 207 400 5598.