Health and well-being in all its many guises has frequently made the front page of newspapers and magazines, the top stories section on newsfeeds, and trended on social media platforms over the past few years.
Recent memorable headlines have screamed that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ or some such variant. The point is that all of this has brought to the fore some of the more pressing health issues that affect the global population.
Says Michel Spruijt, General Manager EMEA at ergonomic product manufacturer Ergotron: “Health and wellness in the workplace has always been around, but its focus has changed over the years, from being associated purely with regulation around hazards like slips and injury prevention, to becoming a board level discussion encompassing physical, social and intellectual considerations. Today’s workers are at a desk all day, resulting in a very different set of safety, health and wellness needs. The key here, though, is that it is not a ‘trend’, but an important issue that evolves with employees’ changing circumstances.”
As the world’s workforce culture has changed to one that is predominantly desk-based, it has affected our health in ways that were previously unforeseen. This has led to a rethinking of the workplace which encompasses not only ergonomic office furniture, but has branched into all aspects of working life – from the building itself, to what we eat and drink there and the air we breathe, our mental health, and the furniture and accessories that provide musculoskeletal benefits.
“Health and wellness in its simplest definition is a company’s ability – through the use of internal programmes – to keep staff in a healthy environment and therefore avoiding excessive sick days. This then equates to business opportunities in the form of increased productivity for employees and cost savings for the employer,” says Tom Hoffmann, VP of Purchasing for US-based dealer group TriMega.
It has generally been firms like Google, Amazon and Bloomberg that have led the health and well-being revolution in the workplace – starting with the construction of the building to biophilic interiors, vending machines, running tracks, gardens and much more. While the vast majority of businesses don’t have the financial resources to create those kinds of working environments, small, incremental changes can be achieved.
There are a variety of disparate but interlinked reasons for the increase in health and wellness in the workplace. The first is a growing awareness of health-related issues such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, etc. The second is the cost of employee illness – whether they are life-threatening illnesses or musculoskeletal disorders related directly to the sedentary working lifestyle – and how to mitigate these effects. In recent years, the focus has also expanded to include mental health.
Neil Basham, Purchasing Director of UK dealer group Integra Business Solutions, believes that more companies are adopting well-being initiatives or are forced to implement schemes that benefit employees. “Staff now work longer, more unsociable hours, with smartphones being the main culprit. With this comes an increased level of sick leave and, in some cases, mental health issues that often lead to long periods of absenteeism, costing businesses money and reducing productivity.”
Additionally, health and wellness programmes are becoming increasingly popular as recruitment tools for millennials. As Hoffmann points out: “Millennials have the greater influence on certain areas and categories of wellness. As a group, they are a driving force for the sit-stand category as office landscapes transform from the traditional ‘sedentary’ cubicle set-up, to a more open, collaborative ‘moving’ environment. And let’s not forget the healthy breakroom that they also command.”
The majority of office furniture manufacturers offer a range of ergonomic desks, seating and accessories such as anti-fatigue mats. While sit-stand desks have garnered the most attention, according to Basham, key partners have said that sales of these desks have been slow to take off. “In time, we believe they will become part of the norm, but the price point is potentially still too high, resulting in a ‘nice-to-have but not a necessity’ attitude.” However, he adds that chairs, backrests and desktop accessories are readily available at competitive prices and normally form part of the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment in the UK.
Tina Russell, Director of Purchasing for fellow UK dealer group Nemo, agrees, adding that furniture has long been the lead in this area with versatile chairs and stools, and now the recent surge of new sit-stand desking and accessories. That said, while businesses want to get the maximum benefit from their investment in sit-stand desks, the real need for associated ergonomic accessories is often overlooked.
Although the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting have now been widely documented, the latest research also warns that the consequences of standing for prolonged periods of time can be just as harmful. “For users to get the maximum benefits from stand-up working, they need the correct ergonomic support. Anti-fatigue mats provide the optimum combination of bodily support and comfort while incorporating features to encourage regular movement and adjustments to the standing position,” says Floortex Marketing Manager John Barker.
“When specifying standing or height-adjustable desks in particular, dealers should offer a complete solution to clients rather than just the headline products,” he adds.
Office products manufacturer Fellowes, which continued to drive into the ergonomics category last year, also believes furniture should be sold as a solution. “When it comes to healthy working furniture, it needs to be even more of a holistic offering. The consultative sales solution approach can answer questions and reservations, educate and inform buyers, and reassure customers that they are getting the best proposal for their needs,” says Fellowes President EMEA/Asia Pacific Michel van Beek.
Indeed, Integra encourages its members to sell themselves as a solutions provider and make use of access to key partners that can deliver support in terms of carrying out assessments and helping with product recommendations. Fellowes, for example, provides trade customers with market insights, attitude and usage studies, buyer personas and behaviour, along with sales training toolkits and days, catalogue pages and brochures, white papers, digital marketing collateral, as well as support for trade shows.
Thanks to the increase in interest by employers in health and well-being in the workplace, this ‘solution’ now extends much further than just furniture and accompanying accessories. “Health and wellness is a ‘solution sell’. A fully integrated programme of surface disinfectants, hand sanitisers, air cleaning products and what we call ‘out of the chair’ daily movement items all add to a complete company strategy,” says Hoffmann.
Innovation to the fore
Additionally, in an ever-expanding category, as Basham points out, dealers should be thinking outside the box – healthy eating and drinking options for the office in the form of fruit or water coolers, for example. “This can also lead to a regular discussion with a customer and may open up other doors,” he notes.
There is no shortage of innovative products available to ensure employers provide a healthy workplace. At the 2018 Orgatec show in Cologne, Germany, for example, trends focused on redesigned offices which incorporate lounges, quiet zones and collaboration areas with attractive and comfortable surroundings and furnishings. This lends itself to new ideas such as living walls, acoustic solutions and meeting pods. BuzziSpace, for example, has introduced ‘BuzziMood’ wall panels that not only reduce background noise but can be upholstered or combined with biophilic surfaces.
In the ergonomics space, Fellowes has added the Levado height-adjustable desk to its collection, while Ergotron recently launched the JŪV Wall worksurface, a panel or wall-mounted desk that reclaims space by flipping down when not in use. With no floor supports, it provides ample legroom and additional space for storage or accessories.
Integrating technology such as USB ports into ergonomic desks is fast becoming standard. German furniture components firm Kesseböhmer Ergonomietechnik has taken this one step further with the introduction of its new YOYO smart ergonomics platform. YOYO is an intelligent furniture system that optimises office space through a flexible reservation system. Additionally, it provides biodynamic workspace wellness for employees through the use of an app that automatically adjusts the desk, chair and lighting at each workstation based on each individual’s personal preference.
With the multitude of creative products being continuously launched in this sector, along with the breadth of available sub-categories, there is plenty of scope for growth. Concludes Ergotron’s Spruijt: “It’s a cliché, but we believe the future will bring evolution, rather than revolution. Right now, although health and well-being is increasing in importance for most firms, it still sits on the periphery of the organisation and viewed very much as an ‘add-on’ or ‘nice to have’. Moving forward, we believe companies will adopt a ‘total worker’ health approach by moving health and wellness to the very core of the business.”
Global wellness economy monitor October 2018
The latest report from the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a research and education resource for the international wellness industry, estimates that the global workplace wellness economy in 2017 was worth $48 billion, with a projected CAGR 2017-2020 of 6.7%. The increase in growth is motivated by employers’ wishes to lower healthcare costs, improve morale, employee retention and recruitment, as well as improve productivity and competitiveness.
According to GWI, wellness sectors are no longer isolated industries, but are increasingly converging as we integrate wellness into our homes, communities, work and travel. Significantly, the workplace wellness market is a drop in the ocean compared to the huge economic burden and productivity losses associated with a sick workforce and employee disengagement, which GWI estimates constitutes 10-15% of global economic output.
Instead, just 9.8% of employed workers (or 322 million) have access to workplace wellness programmes and services globally. Unsurprisingly, it is concentrated in the wealthier economies of North America, Europe and Asia, with the largest country market being the US with a sector estimated at around $15 billion in 2017. Next is Japan at $4 billion, followed by Germany at $3.5 billion, the UK at $2.55 billion, and France at $2.23 billion.
A future shift in wellness in the workplace will focus on thriving at work in terms of enhancing motivation commitment, creativity, etc. This ‘revolution’ will see employers tying to cultivate more conscious and caring worldviews and increased workplace diversity, while mental wellness and individualised well-being will help to reduce stress and promote productivity through personalised diagnostics and well-being solutions.
For the full report, visit https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/industry-research/2018-global-wellness-economy-monitor
Solving the frustration
Staples Solutions recently surveyed 7,000 European office workers for its report Vocation frustration – Europe’s office workers on the brink.
The study found that many office workers are regularly on the verge of handing in their notice at work, seeking escapism or a different environment altogether. To help mitigate this, a vital connection needs to be made between employees and the physical workspace surrounding them, including lighting, areas to unwind or think in, or simply having easy access to stationery supplies or technology that works. The report found that:
- 77% agree there is a link between how fulfilled people are at work and the quality of their office workspace.
- 80% are of the opinion that a well-functioning and attractive office boosts employee productivity.
- 81% say that an office which is efficient and appealing is important for the mental health of staff.
- 76% believe that staff retention can be encouraged by a well-run workplace.
As Professor Sir Cary Cooper, an expert in organisational psychology at the Alliance Manchester Business School, explains: “Most people spend more of their waking hours at work than at home, so the workplace is extremely important for the health, well-being and performance of employees. As this report finds, 89% seek fulfilment at work, and the physical and psychological environment is critical to achieve this.”