Workplace Unplugged

Workplace Wellness: How and Why it Needs to Be Measured.

Moira vandenAkker
April 11th, 2016


In sitting with Kate Lister, Global Workplace Analytics we discussed how case studies, academic publications, and recent news articles are likely giving you more reason to believe you can boost your company’s bottom line by boosting wellness in your workplace.

So what factors are involved and how hard could it be to change them? First, how can you, as a facilities manager, justify a need for improving your workers’ productivity? Or, engagement? Chances are it has to be quantified if you’re going make a business case to the senior executives to fund new programs or make changes in the office.

The key is knowing why and how to measure it.

Introducing Kate Lister: President of Global Workplace Analytics.  Kate has spent a large portion of her career dedicated to studying, analyzing, and making a business case for workplace strategies, notably workplace wellness. We sat down with her to pick her brain about the data she collects, studies she’s done, and how she’s helped improve countless organizations.

“What struck me most was how shortsighted companies were being about workplace strategy and focusing largely on reducing their real estate footprint and ignoring the really huge part of the financial situation, which is the people. […] We are just beginning to see a huge impact that work and place, work culture and work practices can have on a person’s health and what that means to a company’s bottom line.”

Just how much can it affect that bottom line? Workplace_Strategy.jpg

Kate has examined more than 4,000 documents including case studies and research papers to build models for measuring the economic, environmental and societal benefits of workplace strategies.

“A person with depression loses 44 days a year in absenteeism and presenteeism, and health care costs are just the tip of the iceberg. […] Thirty-seven percent of the U.S. workforce population is obese, 86 percent of the workforce has at least one chronic condition, and 40 percent of them have at least two. When you think about the fact the person spends at least half of their waking hours working, you can see just how much impact it can have.” 

It seems a healthy workforce can be linked to higher productivity and engagement, but what about those other seemingly hard-to-measure factors, such as innovation and creativity?

“For those who say you can’t measure it, I’m here to tell you, yes you can. The World Health Organization has had a tool for more than 10 years called HPQ, the Human Performance Questionnaire. It was originally designed to measure the cost of world health; poor health from absenteeism and health care costs. It’s survey data, so lots of people will be suspect of that, but it’s been validated by Harvard as being a predictive measure. So you tell me how many people in your organization are obese or how many have any particular chronic condition, and I can tell you on average how many days a year you’re losing and what the cost of that is. That’s something very quantifiable. It terms of productivity there are enough organizations that have developed metrics. It’s not one set of metrics – it’s going to be different in every industry. For example, in the sales industry it might be ‘how many people do you visit with’? ‘How often you see your prospects’? There are predictive measure you can associate with performance. It’s just a matter of deciding what you want to influence and then doing pre and post measurements.”

Kate says there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution.

“For creativity, we all think we ought to all be together at work and that will make us more creative because we’ll be able to bump into each other and have these serendipitous encounters. But in reality the research shows that creativity is strongest in quiet and best vetted in groups. You need your quiet time to come up with your ideas, then come together to flesh them out.”

Healthy_Workforce.jpgOnce you have quantified the issues, it’s time for forming and implementing a solution. And according to Kate, half the battle can be summed up in one word: Trust.

“An interesting thing happens in an organization where there is trust. When you do something new, employees think you’re doing something good for them. In an organization where there isn’t trust, it’s just the opposite, they think you’re taking something away. ‘Oh gosh they just put in a new gym, our healthcare costs are going to go up! They’re going to start charging us if we don’t lose weight!.’ So change management is a really important part of it.” Kate’s company wrote a course for called The Case for Change, which helps leaders made sure middle managers, employees and other stakeholders understand what’s in it for them, and to address their fears. Kate says many Fortune 500 companies are now using this course to avoid those change barriers.

As a facilities manager, learning how to improve workplace wellness at your office isn’t a matter of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ (or Kardashians!).Workplace_Telecommuting.jpg

“What it really comes down to is group dynamics. So even if you do the same thing on two floors of a building, it’s not going to have the same effect. We’ve got this sort of cookie cutter approach, follow the leader ‘Oh Google’s doing this, let’s all do what Google’s doing,’ but we’re not all Google. Putting in a foosball table is not going to work at the insurance company. You’ve got to get to the DNA of who you are. You can’t change that overnight and you can’t try to be something that you’re not by just changing the way you work.”

How about telecommuting? Yahoo shook things up when CEO Marissa Mayer nixed the company’s popular work-from-home policy. Mayer was blasted for what many called a step backwards for workplace flexibility (and wellness).

“I love a quote that GSA Region Manager Sharon Wall said when asked about telework, “telework doesn’t create management problems, it reveals them.” And what it revealed at Yahoo is they did not know what their people were doing. If you haven’t heard from someone in a month you might think we need better managers. And I have to say there have been a couple of other situations with companies in trouble where they feel like they need to bring their people close. It’s sort of a natural human thing. If you think about it, if you’re a floor away from someone you may as well be a mile away. It just doesn’t work to bring them all together and expect that something super is going to happen. The only way to know that they’re working is to trust them, and to do that, you need to measure their performance by results and not by butts in seats.”

Lastly, we had to ask, throughout all of her years in business and working with hundreds of clients, what’s been one of the strangest things she’s seen?

“A woman we spoke to worked as a home-based call center agent. It was ideal for her as she lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere so finding work was difficult. One problem, she had to relocate her pet cow, Moo, for fear she’d bellow during a call.”

It’s safe to say, she’s pretty much seen it all! To learn more about Kate and Global Workplace Analytics, visit her website to read her blog or check out all of her many resources.




Photos: Startup Stock Photos, Olu EletuLuis Lierena, Radek Grzybowski