Wellness and wellbeing are buzzwords at the moment for good reason. It’s no coincidence that the need for round-the-clock wellbeing and our focused pursuit of happiness coincides with a point in time where digital equipment and apps are gently invading our private homes and lives. Today we live alongside tablets, phones and digital add-ons in the shape of chip-reading catflaps (just got one, cat hates it), digital buttons that inform us when we’re out of milk or washing powder, hoover robots and digital know-it-alls like Siri and Cortana. Digital has categorically come home with us, and, like poo on its shoe, it’s accidentally brought work home with it.
Let’s leave that vision for a brief moment and think about what we actually mean by wellbeing. Without wanting to state the obvious, wellbeing is about feeling mentally and physically well. We reach this state of being through a combination of understanding ourselves, taking up good habits and spending time in environments that are conducive to us being well.
At the end of last year, the Office of National Statistics reported that personal wellbeing has improved every year since 2012 when data were first collected, suggesting that an increasing number of people in the UK are feeling positive about their lot. Unfortunately, people in London reported lower average personal wellbeing for each of the measures relative to the equivalent UK averages, but all is not lost – the good news is that London has seen improvements across all the average measures of personal wellbeing, particularly in anxiety reduction.
There’s no doubt that wellbeing is on the up. For many of us, work is substantially more flexible than it was five years ago, meaning more time working at home in order to fit in with other demands such as children, caring roles or simply to avoid gut-wrenching commuter hours. Our lofts, basements, garden sheds and spare rooms are gently transforming into flexible office spaces. Our kitchen worktops are being re-designed to accommodate a plethora of laptops, tablets and phones charging happily in unison. We are ‘herding’ our technology into re-designed spaces.
Urban officewear is taking a turn for the casual in more avant garde parts of the city – just look at the Shoreditch uniform, for example
There are more positive spin-offs to this change in lifestyle than we could possibly have imagined five years ago. The digital age has forced us to look at our physical environment with new and critical eyes, particularly when it comes to our office space, in which many of us spend a large percentage of our adult lives. So how are the urban offices accommodating this seismic shift in the working human’s needs? The answer is slowly. They are being forced to evolve – forced by the employees who inhabit them, and by the employers who now need to factor in wellbeing practices to aid both productivity and staff retention.
So, let’s look at what is actually changing in our day to day working life.
WHAT WE WEAR
When we work from home, we don’t wear uncomfortable clothes such as a suit or high heels. As a result, urban officewear is taking a turn for the casual in more avant garde parts of the city – just look at the Shoreditch uniform for example.
WHAT WE EAT AND DRINK
Working from home gives full, unlimited access to the fridge and store cupboard, making us considerably more likely to eat food with nutritional value over and above a wrap or sandwich.
HOW WE MOVE
Working from home encourages us to take more breaks and stand up more often. This might be to feed an animal, answer the door or home phone, read mail or do the dishes. Small distractions are not always negative once we learn how to manage them. At home, we will tend to stretch more, and re-adjust when our muscles become tired or tense.
HOW WE FEEL
For the most part, working at home means working in an environment that is ‘comfortable to the eye’ – after all, consciously or not, we’ve designed our living space in a way that reflects our personality. The way we work is inevitably affected by ‘ambient negatives’ such as retina-bleaching striplights or stained corporate blue carpets. We want to be stimulated by our surroundings in a positive way.
SO TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT
The thing is that what we actually want is a place at work to chill out and re-charge in comfort. We want Chai lattes. We want a massage when our shoulders feel tense. We want clean food when we’re hungry and the latest super-hydrating liquids like aloe or coconut water.
We want a wheatgrass shot at 3pm delivered by a giant panda. We want sunshine on our skin.
We want wine tastings. We want the best burger in town. We want smoothies and low sugar, gluten free, low carb brainfood. We want good lighting and stimulation in our environment such as artwork or water features. We want things that make us smile and lift our spirits. We want a wheatgrass shot at 3pm delivered by a giant panda. We want sunshine on our skin. We want a sense of friendship and solidarity that stretches outside the confines of work hours. We want to work hard and be productive. We want to be silly. We want to grow. We want to party. We want walking meetings in the park to discuss our personal progress with a line manager. We want cold beers in the fridge. We want to re-charge by going to the gym, or dancing, or by having a singing lesson at a time of day when we naturally flag. We actually want it all because we’re ALL DIFFERENT. There’s good news and bad news here too. The good news is that we want it all and we CAN have it, because we deserve it. The bad news is that some of our employers don’t know that yet. They need educating.
And here’s the nub of what the wellbeing movement is all about – action and education. It involves reminding employers how much more productive their teams are when they’re happy and working full throttle. The wellbeing movement is happening, but we need more teachers.
What can we learn from the wellbeing movement?
We’ve made light of wellbeing in this blog but the message is a serious one. Wellness is a human necessity and ignoring the needs of your mind and body can lead to all manner of physical and mental health issues. If we want to get commercial here, mental health also poses a massive threat to businesses and organisations in every sector across the UK.
A recent report by the BITC suggested only 39 per cent of employees would be honest with their manager when calling in sick in cases where they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.
Despite recent government interventions, mental health problems are still the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK with a massive 70 million days of work lost each year due to workers suffering from stress, depression and associated symptoms [Source, CIPD]. These findings nod towards a whole new deficiency in the wellbeing arena which takes the form of communication.
Communication affects our ability to be happy at work, and that means being able to talk openly and candidly about our levels of happiness and wellbeing at work to managers who are trained to recognise signs of malcontent, such as anxiety or depression. A recent report by the BITC suggested only 39 per cent of employees would be honest with their manager when calling in sick in cases where they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. These statistics illustrate an alarming shortfall in managerial skills – a subject we’ll discuss in a blog of its own.
We all want to grow, and bringing mindfulness and wellness into every aspect of our lives allows us to do this. Blurring the boundaries between home and work life can give us more control over our time and productivity, but it can also trigger setbacks that need to be carefully managed. If you plan to merge your work and home life more this year, remember to factor in periods of total time out. Make your holidays a real work-free zone and avoid the temptation to ‘check in’ during your precious re-charge time. No matter how indispensable you feel you are, the world will continue to rotate without you. Get a new perspective and enjoy the sunshine.
Want to make some positive change? Identify 3 things you don’t like about your working life. Deal with them head on, one by one. Get practical. Get creative – and if you want to share or take advice, come and talk to us on Twitter @mylondonworks