The construction industry has a three times higher rate of suicide than any other industry, Rachel Wootliff, Sustainability Manager at Willmott Dixon Interiors, tells us. This is shocking and shows mental health is a key issue. Mental health awareness has rapidly been on the rise, with awareness days and weeks in workplaces. People have been trained to become mental health ambassadors, but responsiveness doesn’t stop there.
Typically, companies are most concerned about attraction, retention and productivity – and they are realising that biophilia is a key way of achieving those aims, particularly in the context of the wider understanding of the impact of working hours/stresses on mental health.
The obvious trend is to use plants and natural materials, but we are increasingly seeing a move towards imitating the outdoors; using LED screens that mimic the sky, forest or the sea; painting walls in natural colours and using circadian lighting, which mirrors natural daylight.
In the last few years, new standards such as the WELL, Fitwel, and Living Building Challenge have helped us to examine how we really live in and adapt to buildings, with a particular focus on social sustainability in building design.
Often there is an emphasis on the fixed workplace – although what happens when your workplace is less permanent?
At Willmott Dixon Interiors, specialists in interior fit-out and refurbishment, we have evaluated site working conditions to improve people’s health and wellbeing. We have looked at how we can apply wellbeing principles in a less permanent setting. This has involved items such as:
• Employees being provided with re-usable bottles, bags and coffee cups, as well as going back a century and ordering glass milk bottles.
• Each employee having his or her own plant to maintain and nourish.
• Using close-door systems and draft stoppers and improving insulation to raise thermal comfort levels.
• Flexible spaces for exercise, quiet, collaborative working, and mindfulness workshops.
• Creative stations – employees can write on walls and share inspirational quotes.
• ‘Fun’ areas on site, such as a games room with a football table, ping pong table and darts board.
• Library of cookbooks, general magazines and books for employees to read, made from reused materials.
• Instead of ordering the local takeaway, decent areas for cooking facilities, which normally include a healthy grill machine and coffee machine.
• Bike facilities, including bike pumps and facilities for bike sharing.
In addition, we have been analysing site conditions for toxins. Using certain plants, such as peace lilies and aloe vera, which are proven to remove contaminants from the air. Finishes, especially paint, are a key factor in indoor air quality and using paints made from sulphur – such as Graphenstone, which eliminates CO2 out of the air and purifies it, enhancing air quality. All our cleaning products meet the EU Ecolabel to ensure they are pollutant free. We have been using air monitors to show the change and improvement of the air.
What other benefits do the above considerations have? It is too early in our research to show if this has decreased suicidal rates in construction – although we have seen that our people are really engaged with this topic as it directly affects them.
We have found it helps to engage people on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, improved communication and productivity in teams, and general happiness in work.
The ever-growing industry research on this topic will continue to influence Willmott Dixon Interiors’ approach to health and wellbeing and we are excited to see what the future holds for workplace design.